Music is an articulate form of communication.
Drawing on that idea is the Conversation Concert, a device that ChorSymphonica, a classical music ensemble consisting of a professional chorus and orchestra, uses to explain the music audiences will be hearing.
“A Conversation Concert is an elaborate musical and educational event,” said Richard Allen Roe, the artistic director and conductor of the ensemble he founded in 2011. “The chorus and orchestra are used to illustrate the points of a pre-performance lecture, lasting about 45 minutes. Afterward, the entire work is performed, uninterrupted.”
Inspired to use the technique by watching Leonard Bernstein, the renowned conductor and music educator who presented the New York Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concerts on TV, Roe formed The Advent Project.
The name changed to ChorSymphonica for the choral-orchestral repertoire that spans from the Renaissance to the modern era.
Their next concert, on Oct. 20, is set in Wheaton, which means the Conversation Concert will be presented differently. Because of the large population of Spanish-speaking individuals in that area, said Roe, he will conduct the Conversation Concert in English.
At the same time, Towson University faculty member Diana V. Saez will present the perfromance in Spanish.
The program for that afternoon consists of a motet by composer Johann Sebastian Bach, “Jesu, meine Freude” (“Jesus, Priceless Treasure”), one of a group of small compositions the composer wrote for special reasons. Sometimes, the work was commissioned for funerals, or sometimes used as training pieces for music students, Roe said.
“Much of the singing is challenging theologically,” Roe said. “There’s a lot of fire and brimstone. One source is the Book of Romans.”
The motets are very much influenced by chamber music, he added. The instrumental model is the fugue, trio and concerto.
Another trend in the motets is the way Bach uses instruments to play exactly what the singers are singing. Unlike Bach’s cantatas, motets do not contain solo music, such as recitatives and arias. They are pieces for chorus only.
Moreover, said Roe, the instruments in the motets do not provide independent accompaniment, but rather reinforce the choral voices.
One of the vocalists in the Oct. 20 concert is soprano Deborah Sternberg, who has been singing with ChorSymphonica since 2012.
“What I enjoy most in my singing career in the D.C. area is the variety,” Sternberg said. “I might sing a large-scale symphony chorus performance in a large hall one week, be a featured soloist the next, and perform an intimate concert with a chamber group in a beautiful church the third. I love being involved in the premiere performance of exciting new works, and my directors bring their own interpretations to more-familiar pieces.
“As I work to prepare for a concert, each project allows me to delve into the varied texts and musical styles of the given composer,” she added.
What drew her to this Bach work?
“I choose my projects with an eye on several factors: colleagues/director, music, venue and audience,” Sternberg said. “The invitation to sing this Bach motet attracted me with all of the above. I enjoy singing this motet because of its stately lines, harmonic richness and contrasting settings.”
Sternberg said she also enjoys the professionalism of ChorSymphonica’s musicians, who bring their musical expertise to Richard’s interpretations. “I have always liked how clear Richard is with his direction and how he delves into the pieces with his audience before we unwrap the full performance,” she said.
This annual event is part of ChorSymphonicas programming in Wheaton, an artistically underserved part of Montgomery County, Roe said. This is the third year the Wheaton programming is taking place.
The Oct. 20 concert starts at 3 p.m., at Hughes United Methodist Church, 10700 Georgia Avenue. Admission is free, but a $20 donation is suggested.