Singing the praises of 3 music leaders

Achievers

December 18, 2005

Those heavenly sounds being heard in concert halls across the region aren't just ordinary trappings of the holiday season.

Baltimore has a remarkable collection of choral ability - three organizations led by talented people who shaped or are molding some of the nation's finest choral ensembles.

MELINDA O'NEAL

One of Baltimore's longest-performing choral groups, The Handel Choir of Baltimore, which has been singing the Messiah and other classical pieces here for 72 years, is also one of its freshest, thanks to Melinda O'Neal, who made her debut as artistic director and conductor in the 2004-2005 season.

O'Neal's arrival has coincided with reshaping the choir from a larger group to a balanced oratorio ensemble of just over 40 voices, focusing on the baroque and classic-style works of Handel, Bach, Mozart and Haydn. O'Neal, 55, is also a professor of music at Dartmouth College and holds master's and doctoral degrees in choral-orchestral conducting from Indiana University in Bloomington.

Her enthusiasm for adding musicians using period instruments to choral performances has been an appealing dimension of the choir's work.

The choir is also performing pieces of 19th and 21st century music to offer audiences a more varied repertoire. This concert season includes music of Faure, Bernstein, Poulenc and Berlioz.

The choir's performances under O'Neal have won praise from local critics, but she says the group's board has ambitious goals to do more. The choir's board has committed itself to an ambitious fundraising effort to expand its reach and resources.

TOM HALL

If the Handel Choir appears headed for bigger and better things, the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, under direction of Music Director Tom Hall, has clearly arrived as one of the finest cultural institutions in Maryland and the nation.

The chorus, orchestra and chamber chorus perform in the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Kraushaar Auditorium, and other venues across the mid-Atlantic region. The choir has also performed on public television and radio, and has three recordings in current release.

Choral arts programs feature both choral and orchestral music, stage and theatre works, dancers, poets, narrators, and other artists from a variety of disciplines.

Hall is director of choral activities at Goucher College and has lectured and taught courses at the Peabody Conservatory, the University of Baltimore, Towson University and the Johns Hopkins University.

EDWARD POLOCHICK

Also very highly regarded among Baltimore's choral institutions is Concert Artists of Baltimore, founded and directed by Edward Polochick. Concert Artists is an all-professional chamber orchestra and all-professional vocal ensemble that offers a mix of classical music and lesser-known works.

Polochick, who is on the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory of Music, is also an accomplished pianist and harpsichordist. He has guest-conducted and played with major symphony orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra and Baltimore Symphony.

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