With a boost from Mozart, BSO Chorus celebrates 25th anniversary

March 22, 1995|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Ask Edward Polochick whose music he would like to take with him to a desert island, and this is his reply:

"Ba-Mo-Ba-Mo-Ba-Mo-Ba . . . Mozart!" Polochick, the director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Chorus, finally says, as he laughs about the difficulty of choosing between his two favorite composers. That Mozart is the answer, however, explains why Polochick will lead the BSO and the BSO Chorus in an all-Mozart program tonight at 8:15 in Meyerhoff Hall to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the chorus.

"I really could never choose one over the other," Polochick says. "But Mozart has a wider appeal to audiences because Bach has something of a 'churchy' reputation. Mozart -- in spite of all the sacred works he composed -- is really an opera composer. Just think of K. 466 [Mozart's D Minor Piano Concerto], 'Don Giovanni' and the 'Requiem' [the centerpiece of tonight's program] -- it's all opera."

The composer's sense of the dramatic, Polochick explains, comes from the way he melds voice and instrument.

"Mozart found the perfect balance," he says. "He makes instruments sing and voices make music."

Polochick, 42, has been helping the 170-odd voices of the BSO Chorus make music for 16 of its 25 years. The chorus was created in 1969 by Sergiu Comissiona, then the orchestra's newly appointed music director. Until that time, whenever the BSO had needed large choral forces for performances of such works as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, it put together a chorus -- usually from various church choirs -- for the occasion.

"There have always been a number of good choruses in this community," Polochick says. "But if an orchestra wants to perform regularly such demanding pieces as [Elgar's] "The Dream of Gerontius" or certain Mahler symphonies, the needed strength and precision isn't going to be there without a chorus trained specifically for symphonic work."

The BSO's chorus is usually ranked near the top among the nation's orchestras -- some of the others are in Atlanta, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis and Houston -- and Polochick can probably take a good deal of the credit for that.

When he took the job in 1979 as a 26-year-old graduate student at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, he adopted an unusual tactic when he wrote his first grant application to the National Endowment for the Arts.

"Instead of asking for lectures and workshops, I applied for money for individual lessons in vocal study and classes in ear training and sight-reading," Polochick says. "Now there's a high percentage -- more than 50 percent -- of people in the chorus who have extensive musical training."

In their daily lives, the BSO's choristers range in occupation from housewifery to neurosurgery. But many of them have bachelor's and master's degrees in music and several are professional musicians.

What they all have in common, however, is enough love for music to attend hard-working sessions with Polochick every Tuesday evening throughout the BSO's regular season in order to rehearse the eight to 10 programs the singers give with the orchestra.

"After this concert I'll give them a week off," Polochick says. "But then we have to start work on Prokofiev's 'Alexander Nevsky' for the last concert of the season."

"A big challenge -- getting a chorus to sound right in Russian is," Polochick says, with eagerness that suggests he can't wait to begin work on "Nevsky."

L "All those open vowels -- and with so much focus and depth!"

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