A couple of generations back, music lovers were treated to the choral idiom in church, and that was about it. Only sporadically did they hear it anywhere else.
Municipal choirs (and usually only big cities had them) were good for a concert at Christmas and perhaps an annual appearance with the local symphony orchestra. Full-blown concert seasons of their own? Not a chance.
That has changed. With all the musical talent around these days, much of it imbued with the spirits of cultural and entrepreneurial activism, civic choirs have become musical hubs of their communities, presenting diverse, full-length concert seasons, often with their own orchestras in tow.
And it is not only the big cities that get them, which local concertgoers know from following the fortunes of the Annapolis Chorale for the past couple of decades. Under the dynamic leadership of conductor J. Ernest Green, about to celebrate his 20th year on the chorale podium, the ensemble has become a cultural mainstay of the region's performing arts, which its 2004-2005 season makes clear.
As has been the case for much of Green's tenure, the Annapolis Chorale refuses to be pigeon-holed stylistically, preferring far-reaching programs delving into a variety of musical genres.
The season will begin Sept. 11 with a concert performance of The Pirates of Penzance, the colorful Gilbert and Sullivan operetta that spins the tale of lovely Mabel; her intended, Frederick; her father and ultimate Victorian buffoon, Maj.-Gen. Stanley; and the wackiest corsairs ever to assemble on the musical stage.
The season's first choral masterwork, the operatically charged Requiem by Verdi, will be performed at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts Oct. 9.
Christmas with the Chorale has become a tradition. This year's festivities will begin Dec. 10 at Maryland Hall with the annual "Celebration of Christmas," a program of carols, readings and accomplished guest artists.
On Dec. 17 and 19 at historic St. Anne's Church, the chorale will present its annual performance of Handel's oratorio Messiah. The Friday concert is being billed as "Messiah by Candlelight," with the bulk of the work performed as lovely old St. Anne's is illuminated by candlelight.
At Sunday's performance, a truncated version of Messiah will be offered along with Christmas favorites and a holiday sing-along.
Green's 20th season will be celebrated Jan. 15 with a gathering at Loew's Annapolis Hotel. The evening will feature master of ceremonies Tony Spencer, pianist Stef Scaggiari, singer Sue Matthews, Concert Artists of Baltimore conductor Edward Polochick and more of Green's favorite colleagues.
`Broadway in Concert'
This year's "Broadway in Concert" performances Feb. 11 and 12 will offer one of the most memorable musical scores ever, Rodgers' and Hammerstein's Carousel. Classics such as "If I Loved You," "You'll Never Walk Alone," the swaggering Billy Bigelow's "Soliloquy" to his unborn child and Richard Rodgers' swirling Overture, surely the best waltz ever composed by an American, highlight this synthesis of music and theater.
On March 5, the chorale will return to St. Anne's for the bouncy Gloria of Vivaldi; the Stabat Mater of Giovanni Pergolesi, which continues to stun listeners with its evocative presentation of the medieval text that imagines the Virgin Mary's grief as she stands at the foot of the cross; and Ralph Vaughan Williams' spiritually charged orchestral work, The Lark Ascending, with soloist Nurit Bar-Josef, a remarkable violinist who ascended from the Boston Symphony's first violin section to the concertmaster's chair of Washington's National Symphony Orchestra in a few years.
The season will conclude April 30 with Elijah, Mendelssohn's grand, stately, best-loved oratorio.
Like Pirates of Penzance , Elijah was one of Victorian England's musical blockbusters and has been doing boffo box office ever since.
For subscriptions to the Annapolis Chorale's 2004-2005 season: 410-263-1906.