German birthday cake

The Choral Art Society perform Mendelssohn's Elijah
By EMILY PARKHURST  |  March 25, 2009

LEADING THE MASSES Choral Art Society music director Robert Russell. 

Tuesday's gift from Portland's Choral Art Society to German composer Felix Mendelssohn, on the occasion of what would be his 200th birthday, will be one of his greatest works (Elijah), and one of their biggest undertakings.

CHORAL ART SOCIETY singing Mendelssohn's Elijah | March 31 @ 7:30 pm | at Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St, Portland | $15-47 || 207.842.0800

"This is quintessential writing for amateur choral performers," says music director Robert Russell. "In the 19th century, civic chorus was in its heyday. That's what Mendelssohn used."

The Choral Art Society performers are only technically amateurs: Russell estimates that nearly one-third of the 120-person chorus has done at least some vocal study, and all members of the chorus must audition in order to sing with the Society. "Many of these singers have long and deep experience," he says.

In addition to the skilled chorus, Russell has drawn four talented soloists together for this performance. Soprano Lisa Saffer and tenor John McVeigh, whose resumes include performances with the Metropolitan Opera, Chicago Lyric Opera, and various other prestigious organizations, both live in southern Maine. Mezzo-soprano Jennifer DeDominici, a graduate of the USM School of Music, now lives in Denver and performs regularly with the Opera Theatre of the Rockies. Nationally acclaimed bass-baritone Philip Cutlip, who performed last year with the Choral Art Society, returns this year, proving yet again that some of the nation's best classical musicians don't hesitate to come through Portland.

Russell has performed this work several times in his career, including many years ago with the Choral Art Society.

"This is the first time I will do this piece with an orchestra," says Russell, explaining that previous performances were accompanied by organ. "This will hit (the musicians) where they live. I don't think (Mendelssohn) wrote anything quite as extensive as this."

Elijah is a complex work with a dramatic story to tell. The prophet Elijah informs Ahab, the king of Israel, that there will be a severe drought because Ahab and his wife Jezebel have encouraged the worship of the Phoenician god, Baal. Elijah invites the worshippers of Baal to summon the powers of their god to set a sacrifice alight. Elijah openly mocks them when their attempts to summon Baal fail. Then Elijah asks the god of Israel to accept the sacrifice. Fire falls from the sky and the rains return, ending the drought. Elijah then orders the death of the Baal priests, which angers Queen Jezebel, who orders Elijah's death. Instead, Elijah flees to the desert, where he is sustained by the god of Israel until he is called upon for another task.

"I've always been fascinated with the story of Elijah. It is gripping drama as well as wonderful music. (Elijah) is engaging from beginning to end," says Russell.

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: Diva-gations, Photos: Ballet mécanique, Wanting more, More more >
  Topics: Classical , Entertainment, Music, Classical Music,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   COOKING WITH STEAM  |  February 24, 2010
    While most of us find the clang and bang of old radiators an annoying aspect of living in an old building, composer Travis Ramsey thought they sounded like music.
  •   TUBA SONG  |  February 17, 2010
    Dan Hunter wants you to know that a tuba is more than an oom-pah-pah machine or the big, shiny bell in the back of the orchestra. To Hunter, the tuba is a storyteller, an opera singer, and a melodic instrument.
  •   HE IS A REAL COMPOSER  |  October 07, 2009
    Joshua Newton wants you to know he doesn't write classical music.
  •   CLASSICAL INHERITANCE  |  September 30, 2009
    A teacher told me years ago that someday "you young people will inherit classical music. Then you can do with it what you want." And so I've been waiting.
  •   STRING VACATION  |  July 08, 2009
    With the Portland Symphony's elimination of its popular, but debt-inducing, Independence Pops concert series, Portlanders will have to travel a little farther to satisfy their classical-music appetites this summer. But it will be well worth the mileage.

 See all articles by: EMILY PARKHURST