There’s a new chorus in town. It’s the Allentown Symphony Chorus, and it makes its premiere performance this weekend with the major work, Mozart’s “Requiem,” at Miller Symphony Hall. The chorus shares the stage with four soloists whose impressive credits include a repertoire of some of the finest opera companies in the world. One such soloist is New York City bass Matthew Anchel, grand finalist in the 2013 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
Mozart’s “Requiem” will be performed both Saturday and Sunday, at 8 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively, at Miller Symphony Hall, 23 N. 6th St., center city Allentown.
In forming a new chorus in the Lehigh Valley, Diane Wittry, music director and conductor of the Allentown Symphony, said she did not want to compete with existing groups but rather one that would be “more conducive to people’s busy schedules.” Instead of meeting weekly, she patterned rehearsals for just seven weeks prior to actual performance. Because of a shorter rehearsal schedule, it was imperative that participants learn all of the music notes at home before the start of rehearsals so they could concentrate on musical issues early on.
Wittry said she was “very pleased” with the turn-out of auditioners, who came from Philadelphia, the Poconos and parts of New Jersey. The final result was nearly 40 members of “good voice, excellent site reading skills, and teaching experience.” Eduardo Azzati of Moravian College’s music department serves as choral director. Already, the chorus is slated for upcoming major choral-orchestral works including Beethoven’s “9th Symphony,” Orff’s “Carmina Burana” and Vaughan-Williams’ “Sea Symphony.”
Various editions of “Requiem” have surfaced through the centuries of a piece composed in Vienna in 1791, during the last year of Mozart’s life. It came to be his last composition that has remained one of his most popular and respected works. Through the years, it has been questioned how much of the music was by Mozart and how much later on by his student, Franz Xaver Sussmayr. For this weekend’s performances, Wittry said she has chosen the Franz Beyer – Kunzelmann Edition.
“Through the years, some people have had different opinions on how Sussmayr’s orchestrated some of the sections and the voice leading,” she explained. “The Beyer-Kunzelmann edition is a relatively new edition that is more sparse in the orchestration and, I feel, closer to what Mozart may have wanted.”
Her work on the score has been cut out for her, as she explained the use of basset horns for “absolute intonation” and richer sound, the scaling down of brass dynamics, and stress on articulation.
In addition to Anchel, soloists joining the program include soprano Maeve Höglund, mezzo Krysty Swan, and tenor Charles Reid. Christine Lamprea, winner of the 2013 Schadt String Competition, will be featured in Barber’s “Cello Concerto.”
Anchel, 26, comes to Allentown for the first time on the heels of performing the role of Bonze in “Madame Butterfly” for Opera San Jose in California. He joined the 2013-14 roster of the Metropolitan Opera for its productions of “The Nose” and “Die Zauberflote.”
In a phone interview from the West Coast, Anchel said he was fortunate to have made the finals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, one of the most prestigious voice competitions in the world. Ten finalists were selected from nearly 1,500 singers who competed in the auditions throughout the United States. At the time, he was a member of the LA Opera’s Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program, where he said he had “a great experience” working with Placido Domingo. As a young artist, he also was the recipient of a career development award by the William Matheus Sullivan Musical Foundation.
He’s already performed abroad with Opera Leipzig in Germany. After Allentown, Anchel’s next role will be Sarastro in “The Magic Flute,” directed and designed by fashion icon Isaac Mizrahi for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, opening on May 24. But in between, he said, he is scheduled for a tonsillectomy and a month of recovery.
Anchel has been described by the media as somewhat of an emerging artist in the opera scene. Critics have been most favorable to his performances, with the Wall Street Journal calling him “a voice to watch.” It’s no wonder he’s the product of supportive parents, David and Julia (Heyer) Anchel, both opera singers who have performed with regional houses.
Growing up in New York City exposed him to the arts. At age 5, he joined the Metropolitan Opera’s Children’s Chorus, where he met famous singers that included Marilyn Horne. He attended the LaGuardia Performing Arts High School and later the Manhattan School of Music, where he began his studies with renowned voice teacher Patricia McCaffrey. He praises her for inspiring him to teach others. His own students vary from young professionals doing engagement with opera companies, to musical theater performers, pop singers, and beginners who want to sing amazing karaoke.
“As a singer, it’s important to find the teacher who works the best for you,” Anchel said. “It’s more important than where you go to school.”
I couldn’t help but ask this emerging artist what he thought of this year’s Super Bowl XLVIII, where renowned soprano Renee Fleming was selected to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“I’ve always felt that when people who don’t normally go to the opera hear an operatic voice sing, they don’t know why, but they love it,” Anchel replied. “If you watch all the TV shows like ‘X Factor’ and ‘America’s Got Talent,’ people go crazy for operatic voices, but they normally wouldn’t want to go to the opera because they think it will be long, in another language, and maybe even boring. …I hope Renee’s performance gets people to give opera a try.”
For further info: millersymphonyhall.org
John Denver tribute artist Ted Vigil brings some “Rocky Mountain High” to Parkland High (School) on Friday at 7:30 p.m., as part of the 86th series of the Allentown Community Concert Association. Vigil will be performing with Steve Weisberg, lead guitar player for Denver during the 70s.
Singer-songwriter Vigil, who hails from Seattle, does not call himself an impersonator, though he looks and sounds just like the country legend. In 2006, he competed in a talent show in Nevada, where he took first place singing “Rocky Mountain High,” and later won a celebrity look alike contest.
Community Concert will end its series for 2013-14 with an encore presentation of “Tres Voces,” with beloved tenors Daniel Rodriguez, Ciaran Sheehan and Karl Scully, and backed by The Allentown Band.
For further info: 610-395-8379
Kutztown University Concerto Competition winners Julia Costacurta, violin, who won the high school division and Mary McCormick, soprano, who won the college division, will be featured with the KU Orchestra on Thursday, March 13, at 7:30 p.m., in Schaeffer Auditorium on campus. The event is free.