Elgin Master Chorale celebrates 75th anniversary with North American premiere of work – Chicago Tribune
What better way to celebrate a milestone than with another moment of great significance?
In honor of the Elgin Master Chorale’s 75th anniversary, the group will perform the North American premiere of acclaimed British composer Gabriel Jackson’s “The World Imagined”.
“One of the exciting things about commissioning a composer of the stature of Gabriel Jackson is that he has one of the best music publishers in the world behind him, and that’s Oxford Publishing,” said the maestro. Andrew Lewis, Musical Director of the Choir. “The music is already released, so that means it will be widely distributed. And we’re excited about that because it’s work that we’ve helped bring into existence.
The piece is one of two works to be performed at the choir’s final concert of the season at 3:30 p.m. on May 15 at the Blizzard Theater at Elgin Community College.
Lyric Opera tenor soloist Hoss Brock with the Elgin Symphony Orchestra will join the 70-member choir.
“We are very excited. It’s a great program. It’s a substantial and very entertaining program, but also not too long,” Lewis said.
The concert will open with a piece by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a British composer of African origin. Coleridge-Taylor wrote in the late 19th century and early 20th century in the most romantic style, Lewis said.
“He wrote a whole oratorio on Hiawatha, and we’re performing one of the cantatas in that called ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast,’ which is based on (Henry Wadsworth) Longfellow’s poem,” Lewis said. “The premiere of this was in 1898, and it was the London Toast. It was extremely popular and rivaled in popularity even in (Felix) Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah’ and (George Frideric) Handel’s ‘Messiah’. And Handel’s “Messiah” is perhaps the most famous classic work of all time, and in his day it was even more popular than that.
“The piece is very evocative, very colorful. It’s charming, it’s melodious, there’s a lot of rhythmic vitality,” he said. “And it’s also for full orchestra and choir and tenor solo, just like Gabriel’s work.”
Jackson’s “The World Imagined” is “a very uplifting work” that is original and engaging, Lewis said.
“It’s very exciting and of course there are also beautiful slower moments,” he said.
Co-commissioned by Elgin Master Chorale with the prestigious Three Choirs Festival in England, ‘The World Imagined’ has made its UK debut.
“They gave the world premiere last summer, and we were supposed to have given the North American premiere about a year ago, but COVID hit and we couldn’t do it,” Lewis said. “So we do it now.”
The result of a three-year collaboration, the 45-minute piece is for large orchestra, choir and tenor soloist. Jackson took to the words of various poets.
“He is very sensitive to texts and poetry. And he took these five texts, really disparate texts, very different types of poetry, and put them together,” Lewis said. Each poem separately addresses different aspects of the world. Included are works by Samuel Ha-Nagid, a 10th-11th century poet; 19th century poet Giacomo Leopardi and 20th century poet Doris Kareva.
Another movement combines the poetry of 19th-century Walt Whitman, 20th-century Kenneth White, and 4th-century St. Ambrose.
“And then the fifth movement is a poem by Wallace Stevens, Wallace Stevens writing in the first half of the 20th century,” Lewis said.
The piece lasts about 45 to 50 minutes. “The movements are very distinct, the five movements, but they also flow together, which will make it feel like a longer, drawn-out work, but with a clear delineation,” Lewis said.
A pre-concert discussion on “The World Imagined” with Jackson and Lewis will take place at 2:30 p.m. on May 15.
“Gabriel Jackson is coming over from the UK for our performance,” Lewis said. “He will be there to have a chat before the concert. I’m really, really thrilled that Gabriel is coming to Elgin for this.
Calling the Elgin Master Chorale “one of the premier organizations of its kind in the region”, Mr Lewis said it is a real honor to be the band’s musical director, a role he has held for 18 years.
“It’s a group of people who love to sing. They love high-quality music and strive for excellence in our interpretation of that music. We’re just having a good time,” he said “It’s really kind of an infectious, positive energy that we all have with each other and we love sharing that with our audience. Especially considering 75 years old now. It really is quite a legacy.
“The Imagined World” by Elgin Master Chorale Concert
When: 3:30 p.m. May 15 (pre-concert talk at 2:30 p.m.)
Or: Elgin Community College Blizzard Theatre, 1700 Spartan Drive, Elgin
Tickets: $29 adults; $24 seniors/students
Information: 847-622-0300; elginmasterchorale.org
Kathy Cichon is a freelance journalist for the Courier-News.