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The Dessoff Choirs Performs All-French Program 2/26

Hailed as "one of the great amateur choruses of our time (New York Today) for its "full-bodied sound and suppleness (The New York Times)," The Dessoff Choirs turns the church into a petit Paris with an all-French program that puts the spotlight on the brilliant French Impressionists of music: Marcel Dupré, Claude Debussy, Lili Boulanger, Reynaldo Hahn, Jean Langlais, and Francis Poulenc. Joined by accompanist Steven Ryan (celebrating his 20th anniversary season with Dessoff) and Dr. Raymond Nagem, Associate Organist at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, Dessoff presents a magnifique tribute to French composers and to the majesté of the organ.

"Like the French impressionist visual art, music of the same period is rich with texture and color," says Malcolm J. Merriweather, Dessoff's ninth Music Director. "I am excited to hear the choir resonate in the splendor of St. Jean Baptiste as we explore a diverse survey of choral repertoire by the most celebratEd French composers of the 20th century."

In order to appreciate the similarities and differences in contemporary French compositional styles, Dessoff presents a healthy sampling of early 20th century works that demonstrates France's long history of contributing important works to the choral canon. The program begins with the rarely performed Hymne au Soleil (1888) of Lili Boulanger (1893-1918), the first woman to win the much coveted Prix de Rome. Her choral writing is full of intriguing harmonic ideas.

A French program would not be complete without music by Claude Debussy (1862-1918) whose works were a seminal force and changed the sound-world of classical music forever. The a cappella gem Trois chansons de Charles d'Orleans is an icon in the world of classical choral music. The Trois Chansons (Three Songs) are from a 1908 collection, although two of the three works were written earlier. Set to text by prince and poet Charles d'Orleans, the works connect the styles of the past with the harmonic techniques of the time.

Following the Debussy, the choir will perform L'Obscurite (1897) by Reynaldo Hahn (1875-1947) set to words by Victor Hugo. Closing the first half of the program, the choir will present Quatre Motets, Op. 9 (1916) by Marcel Dupré (1886-1971). Sung with gusto and grandeur, the motets are backed by two fine organs that blend perfectly for a delicious French color. Dupré was the foremost French organ virtuoso of his time, an heir to the great tradition of Romantic French organ playing and composing. "I love colourful harmonies, I adore them," said Dupré. "For me, music should be a caress for the ear."

A piano solo follows intermission with Steven Ryan offering Toccata from Trois Pieces (1928) by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), a brilliant piano piece full of unbounded joie de vivre. He will also play Maurice Ravel's (1875-1937) Ondine from Gaspard de la Nuit. Ryan is celebrating his 20th Anniversary season with The Dessoff Choirs.

This program takes advantage of the fine Wicks organ and exquisite acoustics at Saint Jean Baptiste as Dessoff showcases Jean Langlais's chromatically flamboyant Messe Solennelle (1949) for choir and organ. Featuring Dr. Raymond Nagem on organ, the piece combines a striking use of quasi-medieval parallel fourths and fifths, and a mastery of the organ's tonal palette. Langlais (1907-1991) is one of the most important (after Messiaen), and probably the most prolific of the 20th-century French organist-composers. His prodigious opus of organ compositions, more than 300, exceeds even that of J.S. Bach.

About The Dessoff Choirs

The Dessoff Choirs, one of the leading choruses in New York City, is an independent chorus with an established reputation for pioneering performances of choral works from the Renaissance era through the 21st century. Since its founding in 1924, Dessoff's mission is to enrich the lives of its audiences and members through the performance of choral music. Its concerts, professional collaborations, community outreach, and educational initiatives are dedicated to stimulating public interest in and appreciation of choral music as an art form that enhances the culture and life of our times.

With repertoire ranging over a wide variety of eras and styles, Dessoff's musical acumen and flexibility has been recognized with invitations from major orchestras for oratorios and orchestral works. Past performances include Britten's "War Requiem" and Mahler's "Symphony No. 8" with Lorin Maazel in his final performances as Music Director with the New York Philharmonic. Over the course of its 92-year history, Dessoff has presented numerous world premieres, including pieces by Virgil Thomson, George Perle, Paul Moravec, and Ricky Ian Gordon, as well as the first American performance in nearly 100 years of Montemezzi's opera "La Nave" with Teatro Grattacielo; and the American premieres of Philip Glass's "Symphony No. 5," and Sir John Tavener's over seven-hour work "The Veil of the Temple."

Dessoff's recent discography includes REFLECTIONS, featuring music by Convery, Corigliano, Moravec, and Rorem, and GLORIES ON GLORIES, a collection of American song featuring composers ranging from Billings to Ives. Please visit dessoff.org for more information.

About Malcolm J. Merriweather

Malcolm J. Merriweather, recently appointed as the ninth Music Director and conductor of The Dessoff Choirs, is presenting his first season with The Dessoff Choirs beginning in September 2016. Conductor, baritone, and educator, he is also the current Director of Choirs at Brooklyn College of The City University of New York, Artist in Residence at Union Theological Seminary, and the Music Director of the "Voices of Haiti," a 60-member children's choir in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, funded by the Andrea Bocelli Foundation. Merriweather was previously Associate Choirmaster at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine under Kent Tritle. Recent conducting highlights for Merriweather have included Orff's Carmina Burana with the choirs and orchestra of the Brooklyn College Conservatory; Handel's Messiah with the Harvard Club Festival Choir; and the OH, FREEDOM concert with the West Village Chorale and Orchestra, where he previously served as Artistic Director. A protégé of Kent Tritle, Merriweather holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Conducting from the Manhattan School of Music, and Master of Music degrees in Choral Conducting and in Vocal Performance from the Eastman School of Music, as well as his Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from Syracuse University. His professional affiliations include membership in Pi Kappa Lambda, the American Choral Directors Association, the Association for Anglican Musicians, and Chorus America.

About Steven Ryan

Dessoff is honored that pianist Steven Ryan has been its regular accompanist and featured keyboard soloist since 1997. In addition to his duties with Dessoff, Mr. Ryan is a regular accompanist at Montclair State University, working with the choirs and in voice studios. He has participated in Montclair State's concerts at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London and the Isaac Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall.

Mr. Ryan's recent engagements in the United States have included an all-Mozart solo recital in Princeton, New Jersey, as part of the Princeton Symphony's chamber music series; a performance of Schubert's Trout Quintet with the Riverside Symphonia's chamber music series, in Boulder, Colorado, as part of the Prominent Pianist Series and at La Maison Française in Washington, D.C. Of this concert the Washington Post wrote that Mr. Ryan performed with "poetic sensitivity". In addition, Mr. Ryan has recently performed Mozart's Piano Concerto in D Minor, K. 466, with the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic, where critics hailed Mr. Ryan as "simply magnificent" performing with "masterful clarity".

As an orchestral keyboardist, Mr. Ryan has performed with most of the major orchestras in New York City, including members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. He has played celesta with the legendary Berlin Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall; piano, harpsichord, organ and portative organ with The Dessoff Choirs; and synthesizer with the Moody Blues rock band. He has collaborated with conductors such as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Neemi Järvi, Bernhard Haitink, Gerard Schwarz, Charles Dutoit, and Maxim Shostakovich, among others. He earned his bachelor of music degree from the University of Minnesota. While in Minneapolis, he had the honor of assisting Sir Neville Marriner as a rehearsal pianist, often working one-on-one with him and his guest soloists.

About Raymond Nagem
Raymond Nagem is Associate Music Director at the Cathedral and received his doctorate from at The Juilliard School where he was a C.V. Starr Doctoral Fellow and is a student of Paul Jacobs. He teaches a survey course in organ literature at Juilliard. Nagem earned his B.A. from Yale University, where he studied with Thomas Murray, and his M.M. from The Juilliard School. He has held positions at The Parish of All Saints, Ashmont and at Christ Church, New Haven. In addition to his responsibilities for service playing and choral accompaniment, he works regularly with the Cathedral Chorale and the Choristers.


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