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Moravian College Choral Ensembles Break Forth in Song

Major Works by Beethoven to Be Featured in April 28 Concert

(Bethlehem, Pennsylvania) - Beethoven's Mass in C major and the "Choral Fantasy," a "dress rehearsal" for the Symphony No. 9, are the featured works of the spring concert to be performed April 28 by the Moravian College Choir and Chamber Symphony under the direction of David A. McConnell.

Also performing on the concert are the Moravian Women's Chorus and Vocalis, a 14-voice chamber ensemble drawn from the College Choir.

The concert is the season finale for the College's music department, and the performers include a majority of its majors, including its graduating seniors.

Debra Torok of the piano faculty is soloist in the "Choral Fantasy," which is scored for the unusual ensemble of piano, chorus and vocal soloists, and orchestra. The vocal soloists in this work are students: sopranos Rebecca Dishon '04, Toms River, N.J., and Christa Mosher '02, Newark Valley, N.Y.; alto Jessica Smith '04, Sparta, N.J.; tenors Matthew Smyth '05, Doylestown, and Nathan Diehl '05, Coopersburg; and baritone Lawrence Budden '04, Brick, N.J.

The professional soloists in the Mass are Rebecca Milne, soprano; Shelley Milhous, mezzo; Brennan Pursell, tenor; and James Osby, bass.

The 60-voice Moravian College Choir, well known for the annual Christmas Vespers services at Central Moravian Church, spent much of the spring semester learning the Beethoven repertory, though it also prepared an evensong service in February for St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Doylestown. Many of the choir members also were involved in "Dessert Theater," an annual music-theater revue (held this year April 13) that raises funds for Moravian's music program.

The 30-voice Women's Chorus, which also performed at the Christmas Vespers, will sing "Today, This Spring" and "Day Song" by Minneapolis composer Libby Larsen. "Today, This Spring" has a text by Emily Dickinson and was commissioned by two men who lost close relatives to breast cancer.

Vocalis has chosen English repertory: the "Choral Dances," a set of contemporary madrigals from Benjamin Britten's opera Gloriana, about the reign of Elizabeth I; and songs by Charles Villiers Stanford, a turn-of-the-century composer deeply influenced by Brahms.

The chamber symphony is the major performance ensemble for the music department's string students. It adds other instruments depending on the repertory to be played. For this concert, it will have 28 players.

Both the Mass, Op. 86, and the "Choral Fantasy," Op. 80, come from the middle period of Beethoven's life, when he was at the height of his creative powers. Each bears witness to Beethoven's disappointment and rage when he realized that his hero, Napoleon, was just another would-be monarch and autocrat.

The "Choral Fantasy" was written for Beethoven's self-produced concert on December 22, 1808, which also saw the premieres of the Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6, as well as the Vienna premiere of the Piano Concerto No. 4. The composer, famous for his skill at improvisation, barely finished the orchestral and choral parts in time for the concert and probably extemporized the piano solo at the performance, writing it down later. The text, by the Viennese poet Christoph Kuffner, praises music as the highest aspiration of man and is similar in structure and mood to the "Ode to Joy" of the Ninth Symphony (which came 14 years later).

The Mass was commissioned by Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, whose father had been the patron of the composer Franz Joseph Haydn (briefly Beethoven's teacher). Its powerful but often unorthodox settings of the Catholic liturgical text include, for example, an "Agnus Dei" in which the word pacem (peace) is repeated more than 40 times-Beethoven's response to two invasions of Vienna by Napoleon's armies.

The program also includes the "Coriolan" overture, Op. 62, written to preface a production of the play about a courageous Roman general by the Viennese playwright Heinrich Josef von Collin. Shakespeare's "Coriolanus" is about the same tragic hero.

McConnell, who is completing his doctorate in choral conducting at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music, has been interim director of choral activities at Moravian this year while Paula Ring Zerkle is on sabbatical. He is organist/choirmaster at Episcopal Church of the Mediator in Allentown and lives in Reading.

Torok holds a bachelor's degree from Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts and master's and doctorate from New York University. A resident of Bethlehem, she has taught at Moravian since 1988 and also teaches at Lehigh University. She recently released the third CD in an ongoing project to record the complete piano works of the American composer Norman Dello Joio. She also is editing Dello Joio's piano works for publication.

Milne has an undergraduate music degree from Temple University and sings with Delaware Valley Opera Company, the West Jersey
Chamber Music Society and the Philadelphia Singers, with which she will perform the U.S. premiere of James MacMillan's "The Quickening" April 18-20 at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.

Milhous, who holds a Master of Music degree from the New England Conservatory of Music, is on the voice faculty of Doylestown School of Music and the Arts and has a appeared as a soloist with groups such as Princeton Opera, Piccola Opera of Philadelphia, Amato Opera of New York, Opera North of Vermont, Princeton Pro Musica, Palisades Symphony, Philomel, the Choir of St. Paul's Church in Doylestown and Chamber Arts Guild.

Pursell is a specialist in German vocal repertory. He teaches voice at Muhlenberg College and DeSales University, where he also is an assistant professor of history. He and his wife, Irmgard, a pianist, concretize as the Duo Pursell, which is booked for the Zoellner Performing Arts Series at Lehigh University next season. Pursell also has released a CD of Christmas music with the Boston Boy Choir.

Osby, a student at Temple University, sang the lead in Opera Company of Philadelphia's production of Stand by the River, an opera about the Underground Railroad, and is the bass soloist at St. Stephen's Church in Philadelphia.

The concert is at 4 p.m. in Foy Hall on the College's Priscilla Payne Hurd Campus for the performing and visual arts. Tickets are $5 from 610 861-1650.