Director hopes choral group will build bridges

THE BALTIMORE SUN

After 25 years as music director of the Handel Choir of Baltimore, T. Herbert Dimmock III would be entitled to put his feet up and rest a spell. Instead, he's plunging into no less than four different choral projects.

"The thing that drives me to do this kind of thing," he says, "is a passionate love of choral music, which is a great way to bring people together, to find a common humanity and create something that is beautiful."

Dimmock will be putting that philosophy to work quadruply this coming season, starting with a new group, the Maryland Jewish Choral Society. The inspiration for it started during his Handel Choir tenure. "We worked very consistently to build bridges and bring in people of different constituencies - different races, creeds, views of the world," Dimmock says.

One of those bridges led the Handel Choir directly into the Jewish community. About a dozen years ago, Dimmock called a local synagogue and said he would like to bring the group there for a performance. "The response was, 'Why would you want to do that?'" he says. "The lesson I learned is that a very significant community had sort of conceded choral singing to the Christian community."

Dimmock was successful not only at presenting the Handel Choir in synagogues, but using local cantors as soloists. That experience gave him the idea of creating the Maryland Jewish Choral Society. "The majority of Handel's oratorio repertoire deals with the Old Testament," he says. "But a lot of those works don't get performed very often. I've done Messiah every December for 25 years. It's a great piece, but it's not the only piece." Such works as Judas Maccabeaus, Esther, Solomon, Saul, Joshua and Joseph and His Brethren are just a few of the Handelian assignments the new choir could consider.

But the ensemble will hardly limit itself to Handel. All choral music "that tells the story of the Jewish people" will be considered. Dimmock lists Bloch's Sacred Service and Honegger's King David among the possibilities. The inaugural concert this fall will be devoted to Mendelssohn's Elijah.

"I hope people of different religions will come and sing with us," Dimmock says. "The choir is open to all experienced singers." Rehearsals for the ensemble, which is expected to be 80 strong, will be held on Monday evenings at Chizuk Amuno in Pikesville, beginning next month. To schedule an audition, call 410-486-6400.

Dimmock's musical passions will find an expanded outlet through his Bach Concert Series, held on the first Sunday of every month, October through June, at First English Lutheran Church in Baltimore. The free series will include cantatas, the Lutheran Mass, St. John Passion and other gems of the Bach canon. There will be room for other composers, too, including Haydn, whose Harmoniemesse is slated. There will be lectures and demonstrations before each performance.

Membership in the Bach Concert Series is open to all qualified singers. The choir rehearses Sunday mornings at First English Lutheran Church beginning next month. To schedule an audition, call 410-235-2356.

During Dimmock's time with the Handel Choir, he developed what was known as the Small Chamber Chorus, a group within the ensemble. The Handel Choir's future plans don't include such a group, so the core of the Small Chamber Chorus is being reconstituted as the independent, a cappella Herb Dimmock Singers. "Almost all the members are professional musicians, or on the edge of being professionals," Dimmock says. "We will do innovative programming, from Gregorian chant to works by John Tavener and Arvo Part."

Six concerts are being planned for the coming season. There are openings for a few more singers. To schedule an audition, call 717-533-6873.

And then there's the Harford Choral Society, now in its 49th year, which has just appointed Dimmock as its new music director. "I'm very honored they would ask me," he says. "They're interested in growth and raising admission standards. We'll be establishing educational opportunities for the singers."

Christmas and Easter programs are planned, offering works by Bach, Britten and Conrad Susa. Auditions for singers in all voice parts will be held. For an appointment, call 410-452-5974.

For many a choral director, one chorus is plenty. Dimmock seems undaunted by the prospect of running four. "I might get physically tired," he says, "but I know that within five or 10 minutes of a rehearsal, I'll be re-energized because of how the music speaks to me."

Handel Choir guests

After a quarter-century under Dimmock's direction, the Handel Choir will perform with guest conductors next season as the search for a new music director proceeds.

Ray Sprenkle will open the season in November leading Britten's St. Nicolas and Festival Te Deum and Vaughan Williams' Five Mystical Songs. Thomas Hetrick will lead the annual performances of Handel's Messiah. Frank Nem- hauser will conduct an all-American program that includes Randall Thompson's Ode to the Virginian Voyage and Adolphus Hailstock's I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes.

Dimmock will also return for a concert next March as music director emeritus, leading the choir in Durufle's Requiem and Kodaly's Missa Brevis.

The Handel Choir, now in its 69th year, is seeking new members in all voice parts. Rehearsals begin next month on Monday evenings. To schedule an audition, call 410-366-6544. The Handel Children's Choir is also holding auditions for ages 8 to 16. No experience necessary. Call the number above.

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