Monday, March 9, 2009

Missing Mendelssohn

2009 is well underway, and I have not yet made a cogent plan for observing the bicentenniel of his birth. It is a banner year for composer anniversaries, but I have always been a bit shy of death anniversaries. Give me a birth year, or - even better - the significant anniversary of a specific composition, and I can get excited. Give me a composer with so much to enjoy and, even if he is out of general cultural favor like our boy Felix, I at least dream about how to capitalize on the anniversary to do something special.

Where I live, that something special probably shouldn't be Elijah. It is performed every so often on campus at Wheaton College, generally quite spectacularly, and there's no way what I do with the fine musicians at College Church can hope to meet the expectations generated by those performances. So it was our choice a couple of years ago to instead prepare Paulus - Saint Paul. Just months before I came to this position in 1996 this choir partnered with another church in the neighborhood to perform the Lobgesang, and that is another work that could be performed again without being compared to another local performance.

It would be good to explore various Mendelssohn options in the remainder of the year. Over a decade ago we sang the cantata, Vom himmel hoch, in a Christmas festival. Like Saint Paul, a product of the young Felix, it too has its exalted moments, and it coheres. Both works - one quite short, the other arguably "too long," have fine choral writing, a good sense of drama, and brilliant orchestral writing. I have never conducted the psalm settings, but this choir would do them justice. Even limiting ourselves to Mendelssohn's explicitly biblical texts, we would have plenty of good work for the anniversary year.

Oh well, it's not too late to jump in. And I'm sensing that the choir needs some kind of challenge. Maybe the Mendelssohn love fest will give us that challenge.

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