Choral Arts Society picks from A-list of B's

November 08, 1997|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Choral Arts Society has decided, rather waggishly, to call its concert Sunday "The Three B's."

And it doesn't mean Beethoven, Bach and Brahms, the usual three B's, but Bernstein, Britten and, well, Bob.

Leonard Bernstein was too busy a conductor and musical activist to compose as much as the world wished he had. "Chichester Psalms," the work Choral Arts will perform on this program, is one of his masterpieces.

Benjamin Britten is the greatest English composer of this century. Though best known for operas such as "Peter Grimes" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream," he holds a special place in the hearts of choral singers and choirmasters for his rich choral output. Choral Arts will perform his "St. Nicolas" cantata, written for an English boys' school choir. The performance will feature the boys' choir of St. David's Episcopal Church and guest choristers, conducted by David Riley, former choirmaster of St. Paul's Church and School.

That leaves Bob, who is actually Robert Sirota, director of the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

This performance of three anthems by Sirota is the second installment of a season in which his music can be heard in many venues in and beyond Baltimore.

His piano trio was premiered by the Peabody Trio last month, and his chamber opera, "The Clever Mistress," will be performed by San Francisco Opera's apprentice program next summer.

The entire Sirota family -- Robert, his wife, Victoria Ressmeyer Sirota, the minister of Church of the Holy Nativity in Pimlico, and their children, Jonah and Nadia -- will give a concert May 17 at Second Presbyterian Church in Guilford, as part of its Sunday chamber music series. Robert and Vicki are both organists, and their children are both violists.

Capping the year for Sirota is a commission for a large-scale work for organ and orchestra, to be premiered in 2000 for the grand opening of the Seattle Symphony's new Benaroya Concert Hall and the millennial meeting of the American Guild of Organists.

The three anthems Choral Arts will perform were written when the Sirotas were in New England, he as dean of Boston University's school of music and she studying for the ministry.

At the time, Vicki Sirota not only was changing careers (she had been a church musician) but also realizing a lifelong dream of priestly service. The shortest of the three works, "God Is Love," whose text comes from the first letter of John in the New Testament, Robert wrote for her ordination at Yale Divinity School in 1994.

Robert Sirota wrote "How Shall I Repay the Lord?", with a text from Psalm 116, for her choir at the divinity school. And he wrote "Put on the Armor of Light," with a text from Romans, for the choral and instrumental forces of Yale University's Institute of Sacred Music.

Because of the different circumstances of each work's composition, each calls for a different instrumentation.

"God Is Love" has a soprano soloist: Wendy Scheinberg from the choir. "How Shall I Repay the Lord?" includes a string quartet, and "Put on the Armor of Light" has an oboe soloist (Jane Marvine). The organ accompaniment for all three will be played by Randall Mullin of St. David's Episcopal Church in Roland Park.

All three works represent, for Sirota, his own religious struggle when he, "a very secular Jew," observed his wife of 28 years go through "a profound spiritual transition." Vicki Sirota is the daughter of a Lutheran minister, and her conversion to the Episcopalian faith meant she had to come to terms with her past. Sirota himself was baptized an Episcopalian nine years ago.

"As a Jewish Episcopalian," he says with a smile, "it's wonderful to have my music performed on a concert of Bernstein and Britten. Both were very important to me as influences. There's wonderful choral writing in [Bernstein's] 'Candide,' and Britten for me is the greatest choral writer of this century.

"He was able to take the somewhat bombastic traditions of the Anglican Church and make something pure out of it. There's still a sense of struggle in his music."

The struggle echoes his own, he says. "I am sometimes put off by the smugness of those Anglican Victorian composers: Charles Villiers Stanford and Sir Arthur Sullivan [of Gilbert & Sullivan fame]. There's such a sense of entitlement about their music. I'm not nearly as sure of my faith as they were."

'The Three B's'

What: Concert with Tom Hall, conductor; Carl Halvorson, tenor; Randall Mullin, organ

When: 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: Kraushaar Auditorium, Goucher College, Dulaney Valley Road, Towson

Tickets: $10-$22

Call: 410-523-7070

Pub Date: 11/07/97

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