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.
Two of composer Thomas LaVoy’s compositions will be featured at the concert. The Northwest Choral Society commissioned Dr. LaVoy to write Starlight, following the theme of “Celestial Songs,” and the piece will be premiered at the celestial concert. The text for the Starlight composition was penned in 1918 by English writer Sir John Collings Squire and published in the book Poems — First Series. The poet tells of gazing up at the night sky and wishing he could “learn and hold” the stars, thereby mastering the mysteries of the universe.
Starlight will be part of a larger anthology to be published by Dr. LaVoy later this year, along with works commissioned by other choirs in the United States, New Zealand and Scotland. NWCS has dedicated the song to “its members past and present,” with special thanks to collaborative pianist Lori Lyn Mackie and its former artistic director Alan Wellman.
The second song on the concert program composed by Dr. LaVoy is Orbits, one of three pieces published in Songs from the Questioner. The text for this song originates from a poem written by Richard LeGaillienne in the book English Poems (1892) and describes the path of “two stars once on their lonely way.”
Thomas LaVoy (b. 1990) is an award-winning composer of contemporary concert music, with particular emphasis on choral composition. Recent commissions have included substantial works for the BBC Singers, the Marquette Symphony Orchestra and the Laudamus Chamber Chorale and have been performed by choirs in the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Poland, New Zealand and Taiwan.
He began taking piano lessons at age four and completed his first composition at age six. At age seventeen, he became the youngest ever winner of the New York Virtuoso Singers International Composition Competition for his choral work White Stones. In November 2017, Dr. LaVoy received his PhD from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. He graduated summa cum laude from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey.
Dr. LaVoy is a founding member and singer in The Same Stream choir, a professional ensemble conducted by Dr. James Jordan in Philadelphia, which has sung and recorded many of his works.
Conforming to the “Celestial Songs” theme, the chorus will perform The Heavens Are Telling, the final movement of Part I of The Creation (Die Schöpfung) by Franz Joseph Haydn, with the libretto written by Gottfried van Swieten. Part I of the oratorio, written between 1797 and 1798, depicts and celebrates the creation of the world as described in the Psalm 19:1-3, praising God for creating the firmament in all of its glory.
Based on a poem written in 1934 by James Agee, Sure on this Shining Night has become one of composer Morten Lauridsen’s (b.1943) most recognized choral works, capturing all the beauty and wonder for those who stand in the glow of the stars. The poem was published in 1934 in a book titled Permit Me Voyage. Mr. Lauridsen is an American composer, a National Medal of Arts recipient, composer-in-residence of the Los Angeles Master Chorale (1994–2001) and a professor of composition at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music for more than 40 years.
NWCS member Julie Fisher from Schaumburg will sing the soprano solo in the song From the Sea, from composer Frank Ticheli’s (b. 1958) Constellation, a three part choral settings of Sara Teasdale’s poetry.
A celestial song on the concert program may have had an influence on American history. Vicente Chavarría (b. 1987), who currently is pursuing a doctorate degree in early music at the University of Southern California, has written an arrangement of an African American folksong entitled Follow the Drinking Gourd. According to legend, the song was encoded escape instructions and a “map” used by a conductor of the Underground Railroad, called Peg Leg Joe, to guide fugitive slaves to freedom. Taken at face value, the “drinking gourd” refers to the hollowed out gourd used by slaves (and other rural Americans) as a water dipper. But here it is used as a code name for the Big Dipper star formation. Two of the stars in the Big Dipper line up very closely with and point to Polaris. Polaris is a circumpolar star, and so it is always seen close to the direction of true north. Hence, according to a popular myth and the song, all slaves had to do was look for the “Drinking Gourd” and follow it to the North Star (Polaris) on a trail from Mobile, Alabama to Paducah, Kentucky and cross the Ohio River to the free states.
A Chicago native, soprano singer, arts educator and NWCS guest conductor at the April 8 concert, Carling FitzSimmons received degrees in English and music from Kenyon College. She teaches at the Merit School of Music and serves as artistic director of La Caccina, a professional women’s vocal ensemble that she founded in 2011. As a champion of new music, she has commissioned a dozen pieces for the ensemble during her seven seasons as artistic director, Ms. FitzSimmons has been a member of and the guest conductor for William Ferris Chorale.
Tickets for the “Celestial Songs” concert are $25 for adults and $20 for students and seniors and may be obtained online at www.nwchoralsociety.org, by calling 224 / 585-9127 or an hour prior to the concert at the Trinity Lutheran Church, 675 East Algonquin Road (near the southeast corner of Algonquin and Wolf Roads) in Des Plaines.
A complimentary preconcert lecture and discussion of the concert music will be hosted by NWCS member Kristie Webb-Williams 45 minutes prior to the concert.
NWCS’s golden anniversary commercial CD, And on Earth . . .Peace, includes several of the choral pieces performed at the December 2015 and 2014 holiday concerts, accompanied by the Chicago Gargoyle Brass, and will be for sale at the April 8 event.
The NWCS’ final concert performance of the 2017-18 season will be on June 2, 2018 at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Arlington Heights.
Lipke-Kentex-Hesse / Dionne Supply of Chicago is providing much appreciated sponsorship financial support for the Northwest Choral Society’s 2017-18 concert season.
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 17 years of age can obtain additional information about the Northwest Choral Society at www.nwchoralsociety.org.