Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Reading Choral Society marks 140th with Haydn's 'Creation'

One of America's oldest musical ensembles, the Reading Choral Society (RCS), is marking its 140th season as its 70-+ voices prepare for a high-caliber musical performance with Joseph Haydn's "The Creation" on Sunday at 4 p.m., at Kutztown University's Schaeffer Auditorium.

Founded in 1875, RCS has survived the decades by attracting dedicated amateur singers from all walks of life, and all ages, from the greater Reading community and immersing them in great music.

Sunday's concert will be under the baton of Graham Bier, the 12th person to hold the position of RCS music director. Soloists will be Andrew Owens, tenor, Amy Broadbent, soprano, and Brian Ming Chu, baritone. Concertmaster is Nancy Bean, former assistant concertmaster with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Bier describes "The Creation" as "a very dynamic piece, over 200 years old, but accessible and entertaining. Haydn wasn't above entertaining the listener, and his sense of humor is never far from the surface."

Bier cited Haydn's "Surprise Symphony" and "Farewell Symphony" as just two examples, with many more to be found in "The Creation."

The RCS has a history rich in vocal excellence and musical distinction, beginning with its first music director, German-trained Edward A. Berg, and his personal connections to the musical leaders of the day. The Society was often accompanied by the New York Philharmonic Club and the Philadelphia Orchestra and performed with such vocal stars as baritone Nelson Eddy and Metropolitan Opera regulars Margaret Harshaw, William Hargrave, Julius Huehn, and Wellington Ezekiel.

The RCS programmed the 20th century's most important choral works, including Orff's "Carmina Burana," Stravinsky's "Symphony of Psalms," Bloch's "Sacred Service," and Honegger's "King David." Many of Samuel Coleridge Taylor's oratorios were given early hearings in Reading. Local premieres included Kurt Weill's "Down in the Valley," Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess," and Dett's "The Ordering of Moses."

Today, educational programs of the RCS include performances with invited local high school and college choirs, and awarding scholarships to promising music students. The RCS sponsors Berks Choir Games, a choral festival for the community choirs; hosts Gloria Singers, which involves Berks County parochial students and RCS members; and collaborates with the Reading Symphony Orchestra, Ringgold Band, and Reading Pops.

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The South African award-winning classic play, "The Island," will be presented by Allentown Public Theatre (APT) for two weekends – Friday and April 29 at Christ Lutheran Church, 1245 Hamilton St., Allentown; and Saturday, Sunday, and April 30 and May 1 at Allentown Arts Park, Fifth and Court streets.

Written in 1973 during the apartheid-era by Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona, it tells the story of two political prisoners on Robben Island who, through rehearsals for a prison performance of the Greek tragedy, "Antigone," give voice to their own dissent. In the APT production, a chorus representing modern-day American prisoners frames the story with music and dance interludes. Through drumming and movement, the chorus bridges the gap between past and present, and heightens the emotional resonance of the play.

"In a society where mass incarceration, police brutality, and ever-growing racial tensions continue to plague our country, this resonance is not hard to find," said Anna Russell, APT's artistic director.

The cast includes Ryan Fields and Jamil Joseph as inmates John and Winston, and the chorus, Chiedu Mbonu, Theophilus Timothy, and percussionist Vernon J. Mobley.

The production is recommended for audiences of high-school age and above.

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TV's "American Idol" may be over, but the Pennsylvania Jazz Collective is making sure to bring on the talent in the Lehigh Valley as it presents the third annual PAJAZZ "IDOL" and awards ceremony on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., at Moravian College's Foy Hall in Bethlehem.

Participants will include local students from regional middle and high school jazz bands who will be judged and awarded cash prizes. Two summer youth jazz camp scholarships also will be presented in memory of Linny Fowler by her husband, Beall Fowler. Additional patrons contributed to program and award funds.

Judges are Tony Gairo, jazz saxophone instructor at Moravian College; Patrick Dorian, trumpeter and distinguished professor emeritus of music at East Stroudsburg University, and Wayne Maura, president of Pennsylvania Jazz Collective.

Also on the panel will be special guest Dave Liebman, National Endowment for the Arts jazz master, who will offer advice to participating students.

Master of ceremonies is Dr. Neil Wetzel, PAJAZZ board member and director of jazz studies at Moravian College. Alan Gaumer, artistic director of PAJAZZ, will introduce the awards, including artist of the year and lifetime achievement.

All proceeds benefit the PA JAZZ COLLECTIVE operational fund and education initiatives.

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Dieruff High School auditorium in Allentown is the scene of "Festival of Bands" on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. The combined concert includes Allentown's four adult concert bands: Pioneer Band, Municipal Band, Marine Band, and Allentown Band.

This year's program features music commemorating the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

There are no tickets to the event; a free-will offering will benefit ARC of Lehigh Valley.

Dieruff High School auditorium is located at 815 N. Irving St., Allentown.


Next stop... "Bus Stop" in Reading at the Genesius Theatre, 153 N. 10th St, with opening night on Wednesday. The production runs through May 1.

A lot can happen in a night when a busload of strangers is stranded at a 1950s roadside diner in a small Midwestern town. William Inge's "Bus Stop" was a Broadway hit and was adapted to film in 1956, with Marilyn Monroe as Cherie, the nightclub chanteuse.

The Genesius cast includes Emily Janssen as Cherie, Julia Bachman as Elma Duckworth, Kathleen Godwin as Grace Hoylard, Apollo D. Loose as Will Masters, Daniel K. Smith as Dr. Gerald Lyman, Randy Miller as Carl, Mark Christy as Virgil Blessing, and Joseph Lovello as Bo Decker.

Director/costume designer is Tina Angstadt, with sets by John Bigos and Betty Girstner, and scenic art by Marjory Ewald.

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Concord Chamber Singers present their spring concert, "Song, Love, Light," under the direction of Dr. Jennifer Kelly, on Sunday at 3 p.m., at St. John's United Church of Christ, Nazareth, Northampton County. Featured will be John Rutter's "Magnificat," and a special organ performance by Susan Frickert, St. John's director of music and full-time organist.

Also joining the "Magnificat" will be Emily Righter, mezzo-soprano, and students from the Lehigh Valley Charter High School in Bethlehem. The program includes works by such composers as Brahms, Purcell, Lauridsen, and Duke Ellington.

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Act 1 DeSales University Theatre presents the Tony Award-winning British musical, "Me and My Girl," opening Wednesday and running through May 8 on the main stage at the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts on the Center Valley campus.

It's the story of Bill Snibson, a Cockney charmer amazed to learn he has inherited an earldom. To the horror of his newfound upper crust relatives, he and his fishmonger girlfriend, Sally, wrangle for his aristocratic family's approval, but every attempt to groom him for nobility results in riotous chaos.

Alumnus Stephen Casey '89 is director and choreographer; musical director is Nathan Diehl; scenic designer is Will Neuert; guest costumer is Linda Bee Stockton.

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The second SouthSide Arts Festival will be held Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Banana Factory Arts Center, 25 W. Third St., Bethlehem. Featured will be an exhibition and painting demonstrations by graffiti and fine artist, DISTORT, of Jersey City, New Jersey. For kids, Philadelphia-based artist Peanutbutter will have a face-painting booth.

Other activities include juggling, plein air painting by Banana Factory resident artists, dance performances by Pennsylvania Youth Theatre, and mosaic tile demonstrations. Local skate shop, Homebase610, will present a Game of S.K.A.T.E. Tournament featuring stunts.

An after-party from 4 to 7 p.m. will feature a fire performance by The Burning Hearts and live glassblowing demonstrations.

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The third student-directed Muhlenberg Circus Workshop with an original contemporary circus performance, "VOD," is underway through Sunday in the Studio Theatre of the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance on the Muhlenberg College, Allentown campus.

"VOD" takes up the story of Pandora's Box, in the setting of a post-World War II traveling circus. It was written and directed by two of the Circus Workshop co-founders, seniors Noah S. Dach and Henry Evans. Senior Tyler Holoboski is choreographer. The talents of 14 aerialists, acrobats, dancers, jugglers, actors, and tappers are showcased. New this year is a performance featuring Chinese pole dancing.

The group operates under the artistic supervision of Muhlenberg's dance program chair, Karen Dearborn.

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Recognized as the longest-running congressional art competition in the country, now in its 33rd year, "An Artistic Discovery: The 15th Congressional District High School Art Competition and National Exhibition" is underway through May 5 at the Baum School of Art in Allentown. Students from high schools within the district have their two-dimensional work from their school art programs on view. Jurors are Heather Rodale and Shelbi Stoneback.

An awards reception will be held May 3 at 10 a.m., with U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent presenting national commendations. First-place winning artist will have his or her work displayed for one year in the Capitol's Cannon Tunnel Gallery in Washington, D.C.

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