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NWCS's Dec. 15 Concert Features Respighi's 'Laud to the Nativity'

PARK RIDGE, IL, November 3, 2019 –Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, Handel’s Messiah, and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio are all wonderful and add to the spirit of the season, but these pieces are not all that classical music has to offer for Christmas. Northwest Choral Society’s (“NWCS”) holiday concert on Sunday, December 15 will feature the beautiful, but often overlooked and underperformed, piece Lauda per la Natività del Signore, known in English as Laud to the Nativity by Ottorino Respighi.   The concert is at St. Raymond de Penafort Church in Mt. Prospect and begins at 4:00 p.m. 

NWCS’s 54th annual holiday concert also will include traditional carols and popular songs of the season, including “Merry Christmas, Darling,” “Let It Snow!,” “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” and “In dulci jubilo” (Latin for "In sweet rejoicing" or, a looser translation, "Good Christian Men, Rejoice”).

For the December 15 concert, NWCS will be accompanied by an instrumental ensemble consisting of two each of flutes, oboes and bassoons, with piano 4-hands.

A complimentary discussion of the concert music will be hosted by Artistic Director Kevin Kelly at 3:30 prior to the concert.

The Laud to the Nativity presents the story of Christ’s birth from the perspective of the humble shepherds and unfolds like a masque (a form of festive courtly entertainment developed in Italy and flourished during the 16th-17th centuries). It utilizes the vocal soloists as the main characters: the Angel (soprano), Virgin Mary (mezzo-soprano), and the Shepherd (tenor), and the chorus portrays shepherds or angels, in turn. The pastoral mood of the piece is a perfect setting for the story, and also epitomizes Respighi’s “new old music” composition style – using more modern harmonies and instrumentation in conjunction with old forms and melodies, such as dance-like madrigals, plainchant and fugues. 

Respighi turned to the poet and Franciscan monk Jacopone da Todi (1230–1306) for the text of this little known Christmas cantata.  During his time as a Franciscan, Jacopone wrote more than 200 lauds, or sacred poems and had a great appeal to the common people.

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) composed this song of praise to the miracle of Christmas between 1928 and 1930, and it is the only sacred choral piece among his works.  He was a versatile Italian violinist, educator, musicologist and composer. Although he is known today mainly for his trilogy of large-scale, orchestral tone poems, Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome, and Roman Festivals, he composed in a wide variety of forms and styles, including several operas.

Three critically acclaimed Chicago-area soloists will join NWCS to sing the Lauda parts of the Angel, Virgin Mary, and the Shepherd: Desirée Hassler, soprano; Sarah Ponder, mezzo-soprano, and Harold (“Hoss”) Brock, tenor, respectively.

Dr. Hassler sings in the chorus at Lyric Opera of Chicago, with the Grant Park Music Festival, Chicago Bach Project, and Chicago Folks Operetta, and has performed roles at Lyric in Tannhäuser, Oklahoma!, Manon, Macbeth, Boris Godunov, Show Boat, Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier. She has successfully competed from the regional to International levels at the Bel Canto Competition, Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and International Franz Liszt Competition and is the recipient of many distinguished awards.  Dr. Hassler received a doctorate in Vocal Performance and Literature and a master’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and currently serves as adjunct instructor at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago where she teaches voice and music history courses.

Sarah Ponder is a soloist and ensemble singer with Lyric Opera of Chicago, Grant Park Chorus, Chicago Symphony Chorus, Chicago a cappella, and Music of the Baroque, singing in genres from opera to oratorio, contemporary to a cappella.  Through her mentorship and outreach work at Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Ms. Ponder has performed several solo concerts with Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Maestro Riccardo Muti at the piano, and she is recording a set of works from Carnegie Hall’s Lullaby Project, partnered with the CSO, assisting young mothers to create original lullabies. She is an adjunct professor of voice at Loyola University. She received Bachelor and Master degrees in Voice Performance (both summa cum laude) from the University of Nebraska and Northwestern University, respectively.

Mr.  Brock is a versatile singer who has enjoyed performing as a soloist and ensemble member with many organizations.  His solo appearances with the Grant Park Music Festival include Poulenc’s Gloria, Stravinsky’s Les Noces, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance and Mikado, and Weil’s Seven Deadly Sins.  He has performed Bach's St. John Passion, Magnificat, Christmas Oratorio and several other major cantatas with "Bach Week" in Evanston, and made his Carnegie Hall debut in Handel's Messiah. He has appeared regularly as a guest artist with chamber ensembles including the Chicago Chamber Musicians and the Newberry Consort, and is a long time member of the internationally recognized Chicago a cappella. A member of the Lyric Opera chorus, Mr. Brock made his Lyric Opera solo debut as Ike Skidmore in Oklahoma!, and has subsequently appeared as the Spanish Ambassador in the world premiere of Lopez’s  Bel Canto, broadcast on PBS Great Performances.

Tickets for the Laud to the Nativity concert are $20 for adults and $15 for students and seniors if purchased online at www.nwchoralsociety.org or by calling 224 / 585-9127 prior to the December 15 concert.  Tickets purchased starting an hour prior to the concert at St. Raymond de Penafort Church, corner of Elmhurst Avenue and Lincoln Street in Mt. Prospect, are $25 for adults and $20 for students and seniors.

NWCS’ 2019-20 season includes two more concert performances.   In Paradise will be performed on Sunday March 22, 2020 at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Park Ridge, and Fascinatin’ Rhythm will be on June 6, 2020 at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Palatine. 

Founded in 1965, the Northwest Choral Society is a non-profit organization that promotes and encourages the appreciation, understanding and performance of a wide variety of outstanding choral literature.  Its adult membership resides in the greater Chicago area.

The Northwest Choral Society invites experienced singers to audition to join the organization.  Basses, tenors, altos and sopranos with previous choral experience and at least 17 years of age can obtain additional information about the Northwest Choral Society at www.nwchoralsociety.org.

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