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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NWCS Selects Kevin Kelly as Artistic Director

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Northwest Choral Society (“NWCS”), the premier community-based choral group in the northwest Chicago suburbs, has named Kevin Kelly its Artistic Director.  Northwest Choral Society was founded in 1965, and Mr. Kelly will be NWCS’s fourth Artistic Director when the chorus begins rehearsals for its fifty-third season on September 4.

Mr. Kelly moved to the northwest Chicago suburbs in 2014, after 23 years living in Champaign-Urbana. In 1996, he founded a uniquely entertaining professional chamber orchestra called The Prairie Ensemble, with a mission to “make first-rate music fun, approachable and affordable.” Kevin has been honored three times by the Illinois Council of Orchestras for his work with the Ensemble: for Programming of the Year in 1999 and 2003 and for Meritorious Service in Orchestral Conducting in 2002. Since 1993, he has conducted the East Central Illinois Youth Orchestra—the ICO’s Youth Orchestra of the Year in 1999—and Kevin continues to commute to Champaign for Sunday rehearsals. After 13 years as a classical music host at public radio station WILL-FM in Urbana, he served as host and producer of “Live and Local,” which featured interviews with, and frequent live performances by artists across many musical genres, theater and dance. In the fall of 2015, he became Artistic Director of the Allegro Community Chorus, a program of the Palatine Park District, and Conductor for the Lake County Núcleo of Sistema Ravinia, an outreach program of the Ravinia Festival.

Kevin’s work with choirs included 17 years as choirmaster at Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church in Champaign. As music director of The Prairie Ensemble, he conducted collaborative performances with the University of Illinois Concert Choir and Women’s Glee Club, Amasong, the Chorus of the Baroque Artists of Champaign Urbana and the Central Illinois Children’s Chorus. He previously directed the Sangamon Valley Youth Orchestras in Springfield and the Illini Statesmen Barbershop Chorus in Champaign-Urbana, and he has been active in musical theater with the Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company.

Kevin holds bachelor’s degrees in English and music history and criticism from Northwestern University, and master’s degrees in orchestral and choral conducting from the University of Illinois. He has sung with several Chicago-area choral ensembles, including the Chicago Symphony Chorus, the Grant Park Symphony Chorus, The City Musick, Basically Bach and His Majesties Clerkes (now Bella Voce). He has studied conducting with Kenneth Kiesler, Paul Vermel, Victor Yampolsky and Harold Farberman.

NWCS invites experienced singers from the greater Chicago area to audition to join the organization.  Throughout the chorus’ season (September through mid-June), a variety of sacred, secular, classical and popular music is prepared and performed at three concerts, and this repertoire has become a hallmark of the group.  Basses, tenors, altos and sopranos with previous choral experience and 17 years of age or older can obtain additional information about the Northwest Choral Society at www.nwchoralsociety.org.  


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Mission: Audition Featured at Northwest Choral's June 2 Concert

Selecting a new dynamic, knowledgeable and personable leader is a major undertaking for any organization. However, that is the enviable challenge facing the board of directors and the forty-five members of the Northwest Choral Society (“NWCS”) as they consider the finalists vying to become the next artist director of the chorus. Their concert on June 2, entitled “Mission: Audition”, will be a unique opportunity to both celebrate the rich tradition of NWCS’s contemporary American music repertoire and meet the two finalist candidates who have been chosen from a wide field of applicants interested in being the next artistic director of Northwest Choral Society.

NWCS’s final concert of the 2017-18 season on June 2 will be at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Arlington Heights at 7:30 p.m. Each of the two artistic director finalists, Kevin Kelly of Elgin and Guillermo Muñoz Küster of Chicago, have selected the concert music to be performed during one half of the program. They have rehearsed with and prepared the chorus on alternative Tuesday evenings for the last two and a half months, and will be present at the concert to conduct their respective part of the program.

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Northwest Choral Society Explores 'Celestial Songs' and Premieres Starlight at April 8 Concert

PARK RIDGE, IL, March 6, 2018 – It is rare that one has the opportunity to attend a choral concert that brings together three major themes. However, the Northwest Choral Society’s (“NWCS”) concert on Sunday, April 8 at 4:00 p.m. at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Des Plaines will feature these three premises: the premiere performance of a choral piece that it commissioned, all of the music on the concert program are “Celestial Songs,” and nearly all of the music was composed or arranged by artists alive today.

Carling FitzSimmons is the guest conductor for the April 8 concert.

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