CONTACT: PETER ALEXANDER
300 Plaza Centre One
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0072; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: Nov. 16, 2001
UI Symphony and Choruses include Christmas section of 'Messiah' in Nov.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- One of the most popular pieces of classical music ever
written -- the Christmas portion of Handel's "Messiah" -- will be
part of the program for the University of Iowa Symphony and Choruses concert
at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28 in Hancher Auditorium.
The concert, under the direction of Timothy Staler, will be free and open
to the public.
In addition to Part I of "Messiah," with texts relating to the
birth of Jesus, the symphony and choruses will perform the popular "Hallelujah"
Chorus -- taken from a later portion of the work, but traditionally performed
with the Christmas section -- as well as three other works written for the
Christmas season: the "Magnificat" of Gerald Finzi, the "Fantasia
on Christmas Carols" of Ralph Vaughan Williams, and "A Musicological
Journey through the Twelve Days of Christmas" by Craig Courtney.
Student soloists for "Messiah" will be sopranos Stephanie Thorpe,
Collette Conway and Kerri Middleton; altos Molly Phelan, Matthew Walker and
Rachel Lebeck; tenor Dennis Willhoit; and bass Edward Corpus.
UI music faculty member Stephen Swanson will be the baritone soloist for
the Vaughan Williams.
Stalter says that the program is intended to be a diverse celebration of
the Christmas season, but that nonetheless, the program has one point of unity:
an English influence. "Vaughan Williams and Finzi are both English composers,
and Handel spent most of his professional life in England," he explained.
"'Messiah' certainly gained popularity in England, and 'The Twelve Days
of Christmas' has roots in English folk song."
"Messiah" is today the most popular of the many oratorios on Biblical
subjects that Handel wrote during his years in England. It was written in
1741 for a performance benefiting charities in Dublin, where it was first
performed April 13, 1742. That performance, using local singers and choruses
from the Dublin cathedrals, was very successful, earning about 400 English
pounds for the charities.
In contrast, the first London performance of "Messiah" in 1743
was not a great success -- partly because its performance in a theater was
considered inappropriate for a sacred work. Nevertheless, when Handel began
performing "Messiah" in 1750 in benefit concerts for the London
Foundling Hospital Chapel, it was quickly established as the composer's most
popular work, a position it has held to the present day.
Stalter selected the Finzi's "Magnificat" in celebration of the
100th anniversary of the composer's birth in 1901. Shy and retiring by nature,
Finzi spent most of his life living in relative seclusion in the English countryside.
He was influenced by his older contemporaries, notably Edward Elgar and Ralph
Vaughan-Williams. In his own music, he developed an intimate style and concentrated
on songs and choral works, with a particular fondness for texts by Thomas
In assessing Finzi's s vocal works, Diana MacVeagh praised "the finesse
of his response to the English language and imagery, (and) his vision of a
world unsullied by sophistication or nostalgia."
In spite of its academic-sounding title, "A Musicological Journey through
the Twelve Days of Christmas" is a light-hearted piece. It was commissioned
for the 1990 Holiday Pops concert by the Columbus (Ohio) Symphony. Each of
the 12 movements parodies a particular piece, style or genre, ranging from
Gregorian Chant to Wagner to John Phillip Sousa.
Stalter joined the UI faculty as director of choral activities in 1999. He
directs Kantorei, the premier choral ensemble of the School of Music, teaches
graduate conducting courses, and administers the graduate program in choral
conducting. An active member of the American Choral Directors Association,
he frequently presents clinics and workshops in choral conducting around the
In addition to conducting and teaching choral music, Stalter is active as
a tenor soloist in the United States and abroad. A specialist in the music
of the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods, he is known for his performances
as the Evangelist in the Passions of J.S. Bach and Heinrich Schuetz. He has
recorded as tenor soloist with conductor Robert Shaw on two compact discs
released on the Telarc label.
Swanson joined the faculty of the UI School of Music in 1994. For nearly
20 years before that date he had an active operatic career in Europe. During
that time his repertoire grew to 91 roles in opera, operetta and musicals.
He has sung on German, Austrian and Dutch radio broadcasts and has been a
featured soloist in European festivals including the Berliner Festwochen,
the Days of Contemporary Music in Dresden and the Festa Musica Pro in Assisi,
Swanson has also had an extensive career as a concert singer, appearing as
featured soloist with many U.S. orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony
under Sir Georg Solti, Raphael Fruehbeck de Burgos and Margaret Hillis. He
has recorded Mendelssohn's "St. Paul" and Ullmann's "Der Kaiser
von Atlantis." Since coming to Iowa City, he has presented solo recitals,
appeared in and directed UI Opera Theater productions, and performed with
the Chamber Singers of Iowa City.
The Nov. 28 concert by the UI Symphony and Choruses is supported in part
by a contribution from the University of Iowa Community Credit Union.
The School of Music is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
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