This music man never stays idle Conductor: J. Ernest Green directs the Annapolis Chorale and three subgroups, is music director of a church, conducts for an opera guild and a summer opera festival, and has remodeled his house and rebuilt a boat.

November 27, 1997|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Some would call J. Ernest Green a force of nature.

While most people work 9 to 5 jobs and maybe dabble in something on the side, Green directs the Annapolis Chorale and three subgroups -- the chamber orchestra, chamber chorus and the Youth Performing Arts project -- while he serves as music director at St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Annapolis.

He is principal guest conductor of the Boston Aria Guild, conductor of the International School of Performing Arts, a summer opera festival in Pennsylvania and just completed a four-country tour of Europe conducting Teatro Lirico di Milano in Verdi's La Traviata.

The New York Daily News says Green is "gaining recognition as an opera conductor and this spring will lead Turandot with the National Opera of Bulgaria."

And if the conducting isn't enough, he remodeled two rooms in his own house and rebuilt an old Thistle, a 17-foot, wood-hulled racing dinghy, with the help of a friend.

He can't tolerate being idle, he says. He thrives on juggling several things at one time. When the chorale was recording the compact disc it is to release this week, his mind was on the spring concert. He is a man in a hurry.

"Extraordinarily, my family says there isn't a line I'll stand in," he said. "The thing I get most impatient about is when everybody does not immediately get as excited about something as I am."

What he is excited about now is the chorale, which he has nurtured and expanded since his arrival in 1985.

This week, he and the chorale celebrate the organization's 25th anniversary with the release of two compact discs -- a live 1995 performance of the Christmas portion of Handel's "Messiah" and a collection of the chorale's favorite French, Basque, Spanish, Ukrainian and American carols.

"Messiah" is a "piece that needs a sense of the moment," he said.

"It has been recorded so many times by so many groups this was an opportunity for us to do something that doesn't get done very often to show the moment that it happened. The '95 'Messiah' was a wonderful performance."

The recording of Christmas carols demonstrates the variety of Christmas music in the world, Green said. A lot of songs on the disc "you might not know and will say 'why don't I know this?'"

When Green took over in 1985, the chorale had only 70 singers, but "Ernie had vision," said Jane Orr, the general manager at the time. "He knew a chamber chorus was needed and a chamber orchestra. " Orr said. "Without Ernie's inspired leadership, I don't know where the chorale would be today."

Now, the chorale has 145 voices. Add 31 members of the chamber orchestra, 36 in the chamber chorus and more than 100 in the youth ensemble, and the chorale is the largest arts group in Anne Arundel County.

"Ernie Green's enthusiasm and passion for the Chorale is reflected in the enormous dedication and talent of the Chorale members," said Linnell Bowen, executive director of Maryland Hall.

Green was born in Catonsville in 1959 and moved to Cleveland at 4 when his father's career took the family there.

His parents were classical music fans and always had the radio tuned to WCVL Radio, a classical music station in Cleveland. By the time he was 8, Green had learned to play the trombone and later began figuring out chords on the piano. As any adolescent would, he chafed at the music his parents loved and began collecting Rolling Stones and rhythm and blues albums.

Green returned to Baltimore in 1981 as a graduate student at Peabody Conservatory, where he discovered vocal music through Edward Polochick, director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Chorus and a Peabody faculty member who helped him obtain a graduate assistantship in choral music while he already had one in orchestral music. Polochick brought him into the BSO chorus.

"The moment I got with Ernie he was very willing to learn about vocal music, choral music," Polochick said. "He wasn't compartmentally into orchestral music. He had an interest in everything. I love Ernie. He is unique, warm, sincere, charismatic."

Green landed the job with the chorale right out of Peabody. Since then, he has chosen music designed to display its voices and instruments and produce a big sound. He has pushed the repertoire to include vital contemporary music. His mission, he says, is to build a repertoire that includes living composers and to choose music that "speaks to the soul."

He hasn't forgotten the rhythm and blues he collected as a teen-ager. He has scheduled a program of Mozart and Motown in February.

Ask chorale members about their sound, and invariably they say, "It's Ernie."

In rehearsal he moves singers around on stage until he gets the blend he wants. He coaxes a beautiful sound from them with just a call of "Heads up!"

And he inspires loyalty.

In September, Abbie Williamson traveled from Hawaii to celebrate the chorale's 25th anniversary with other chorale alumni. "Ernie raises his arms, and we're home," Williamson said.

Susan Finlay, the Chorale's executive director, predicted that if Green "asked the 150 members to meet him in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. at 3 in the morning, a big group would be there."

For the next few weeks, however, singers and audiences will only have to go as far as Maryland Hall or St. Anne's Church in Annapolis.

The chorale, chamber orchestra and soloists present their Christmas concert on Dec. 12 at Maryland Hall and will sing the first section of "Messiah" on Dec. 20 and 21 at St. Anne's, along with a sing-along of Christmas carols.

Pub Date: 11/27/97

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