The Baltimore Choral Arts Society will highlight storytelling through music and launch artistic collaborations with other area organizations during the 2018-2019 season.
Highlights include David Lang's "The Little Match Girl Passion," based on a tragic story by Hans Christian Andersen; and the U.S. premiere of eminent British composer Jonathan Dove's "The Monster in the Maze," inspired by a myth from ancient Greece.
"We have this great gift of text as a chorus," said Choral Arts music director Anthony Blake Clark. "So why not build a season around narratives and tell stories?"
Clark will contribute one of those narratives. He is composing a piece tentatively titled "Scenes From a Heroic Story" that is scheduled to be premiered during the season-opener on Oct. 28 at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium. That program also offers a choral setting of an old song about an African-American folk hero, John Henry, "a steel-driving man."
The main item on this concert will be the "German Requiem" by Brahms, presented in the arrangement the composer prepared using piano duet for accompaniment instead of orchestra.
The annual "Christmas with Choral Arts" program will be held at the Baltimore Basilica on Dec. 4, when the chorus will be joined by 13 brass players, three percussionists and an organist. The ensemble's other holiday traditions will be continued as well — Christmas for Kids on Dec. 15 and a sing-along of Handel's "Messiah" on Dec. 16, both at Kraushaar.
An a cappella program showcasing the Chamber Chorus will focus on the Lang work, which won the Pulitzer Prize for music a decade ago.
In "The Little Match Girl Passion," Lang relates the haunting story of an impoverished, abused child who freezes to death while trying to sell matches on the street. Lang uses Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" as inspiration for the structure and tone of his work.
Blake plans to include chorales from that Bach masterpiece in the performance of "The Little Match Girl Passion" on Feb. 10, 2019, at Maryland Institute College of Art's Falvey Hall.
"MICA students will be involved," Clark said, "creating art, film and digital media elements. The experience will start in the lobby."
Collaborating with MICA is a new enterprise for Choral Arts. The season finale is all about collaboration.
"That last concert, which we're calling 'Captivity to Liberty,' will be a cast-of-thousands thing," Clark said.
The first half features Mendelssohn's "Die erste Walpurgisnacht" ("The First Walpurgis Night"), a piece for chorus, soloists and orchestra about ancient Druids determined to celebrate their May festival, which has been prohibited by the ruling Christians.
To close the program, Clark will conduct Dove's "The Monster in the Maze," which recounts a Greek myth about the rescue of Athenian children who had been sent as sacrifices to the flesh-eating Minotaur in a labyrinth in Crete.
Dove was commissioned to write this work by the London Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic and the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence as a vehicle for professional ensembles to engage with community musicians; the score calls for professional and student musicians to perform side by side. Clark, then finishing up a graduate degree in England, assisted with the rehearsals for the 2015 world premiere.
For this U. S.premiere, Clark will lead the full chorus and orchestra of Choral Arts, as well as the Maryland State Boychoir, the Larks of the Junior League of Baltimore, members of the Baltimore nonprofit Muse 360 Arts, and an orchestra from the Peabody Preparatory.
"We won't be able to fit everyone on the stage at Goucher," Clark said. "It's going to be so much fun."
Next season will mark Clark's second since succeeding Tom Hall as Choral Arts music director.
"The chorus and I are still learning each other and how we operate musically, but it's going tremendously well so far," Clark said. "I couldn't be happier."
If you go
For information on the Baltimore Choral Arts Society's 2018-2019 season, call 410-523-7070, or go to baltimorechoralarts.org.