Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Choral Music Where It All Began

We are preparing for Thursday night’s concert of music by Rheinberger and Haydn at Church Street United Methodist Church. The two works are completely new to me, and I am enjoying the discovery process. The only other work I have played by Rheinberger is his Nonet, which my wife and I performed years ago in a nonet bash at the Pollard Auditorium in Oak Ridge. (There were also nonets by Ludwig Spohr and Bohuslav Martinu). Rheinberger’s music is best described as “almost Brahms, with a dash of Elgar.” I have of course played a lot of Haydn, but never his Theresienmesse. The style of this mass is like that of his Seven Last Words for string quartet, resembling Beethoven (his student!) more than Mozart. The choirs are the Church St. Church’s own choir and the Knoxville Chorale. The soloist in Rheinberger’s Organ Concerto is the church’s own organist, Edie Johnson. Soprano Jami Anderson, mezzo-soprano Lauren Lyles, tenor Alex Ward and bass Daniel Webb are the soloists for the Haydn mass.

Jami Anderson grew up in Knoxville and her father was the choirmaster at Church Street from 1979 to 2008. When she sang her first notes at rehearsal Tuesday night, I realized that her voice had its upbringing here; I could almost hear the walls saying, “so nice to hear you again, Jami!” All of the voices are familiar, or will be soon. Ms Lyles will be appearing in Knoxville Opera’s Tales of Hoffman, coming up later this month. Daniel Webb was featured in this past May’s Chamber Classics concert performing Bernstein’s Arias and Barcarolles, and Alex Ward portrayed Anthony Hope in Sweeney Todd last season.

The church itself is a work of art; tons and tons of Crab Orchard stone, Gothic grandeur and a fine, 1967 Aeolian-Skinner organ. When FDR was en route to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for its dedication in1940, his route took him past Church St. Church, and he is said to have remarked, “That is the most beautiful church I have ever seen.” It was also, almost 80 years ago now, the site of the first concert of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra as we know it today, under the direction of Bertha Walburn Clark.

People pay a lot of money in Europe to tour grand, historic churches that look like this. For a mere $10, you can experience the church AND the music of Haydn and Rheinberger on Thursday night at 7:30.

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