Annapolis Chorale calendar features choral masterworks

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Three towering masterworks of the choral repertoire, a pair of semistaged Broadway classics and a nice, old-fashioned songfest shared by musical friends are at the core of the 2003-04 concert season recently announced by the Annapolis Chorale.

"This will be a year full of energy, excitement and some real surprises," says the chorale's conductor, J. Ernest Green. "Hey, the more untraditional concerts we plan these days, the better I like them!"

The chorale's 31st season before the Annapolis public will begin at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts on Oct. 18, when several of the group's favorite soloists from concerts past join the ensemble for an evening of hits from a variety of musical idioms.

"We're going to have an absolute blast," says Green of this season-opener, said to include the likes of pianist Stef Scaggiari, soprano Amy Cofield and song stylists Sue Matthews and Tony Spencer. "I can't wait."

Carmina Burana, a scenic cantata by Carl Orff that was inspired by a set of 13th-century texts notated in medieval Latin and archaic French and German, ushers in the choral masterworks portion of the season at Maryland Hall on Nov. 15.

The theme of Orff's brash and brassy work is fate - the spinning of the cosmic wheel - in nature, in love, and, yes, in the tavern.

Flagons are quaffed, maidens reach ecstasy, abbots stutter themselves into incoherence and dying swans lament their fate as the choir, soloists and full orchestra, augmented by extra percussion, let the medieval poetry rip. The choral repertoire doesn't get more colorful than this.

Christmas with the chorale has become a grand tradition in the Capital City, and this year's holiday concert offers up the musical treasures of the season at Maryland Hall on Dec. 12. Kelli Arena of CNN will serve as guest narrator for the occasion.

The next weekend, Maestro Green and his forces move to the more intimate confines of St. Anne's Church for the Chorale's annual performances of George Frederick Handel's Messiah.

The complete oratorio, with soloists and orchestra, will be sung on the evening of Dec. 19. The Christmas portion, plus excerpts from Parts II and III, will be offered at a second concert on the afternoon of Dec. 21, a gathering that will include carols and other seasonal fare.

The third great masterwork of the season will be heard at St. Anne's on March 20 when the Annapolis Chorale performs Johann Sebastian Bach's Passion According to St. John.

"The greatest story ever told" becomes "the greatest story ever sung" in this dark, gritty, musical drama, which is dotted with sublime solo interludes and noble chorales that help put the entire Easter season into spiritual and cultural perspective as they evolve out of the timeless narrative.

In recent years, the chorale has offered a mini-Broadway season in tandem with its classical offerings, and that trend continues next year.

Professor Harold Hill, the musical stage's most magnetic musical con man, arrives at Maryland Hall on Feb. 13-14 to fleece the locals and help sing the irresistible score to Meredith Willson's The Music Man while he's at it. "Till There was You," "76 Trombones" and the fast-talking "Trouble" (Right Here in River City!) are just a few hits from what may be the cleverest musical ever composed.

The chorale closes its season May 1 with Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd.

Maryland Hall will take on aspects of the foggy, sinister streets of Victorian London as the suspenseful, darkly ironic story of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street puts yet another audience under its spell.

Subscription information for the Annapolis Chorale's 2003-2004 season is available by calling 410-263-1906 or by contacting the organization's Web site at www.annapolischorale.org.

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