Hometown: Bryan, Ohio.
Year joined the Chicago Symphony Chorus: 1991.
Education: Master of music, Northwestern University; bachelor of music, DePaul University.
What work this season are you are most looking forward to performing, and why?
I am very much looking forward to the Poulenc Gloria, as it is one of my favorite pieces. Whether it’s full orchestra, chamber music or solo repertoire, I adore Poulenc. I first sang Poulenc’s Christmas Motets as an undergrad, and I was smitten with the lushness, the delicious dissonance, the atmosphere that is Poulenc. I performed the Banalités on my graduate recital at Northwestern as well.
Was there a specific moment or experience during which you first connected with choral singing?
While my high school had quite a fine music program, and I participated in all of the vocal ensembles there, it wasn’t until I was accepted into the Ohio Honors Chorale that I really “connected” with choral singing. The Ohio Honors Chorale was an auditioned group of high school students from around the state. The group rehearsed for a week before embarking on a three-week tour of Europe, where we would perform and act as student goodwill ambassadors.
During the rehearsal week, we would spend most of the day in rehearsal preparing a broad range of choral repertoire, some of which was quite challenging for high schoolers. However, the directors were dedicated, and we students were as well. When we weren’t in “official” rehearsals, we were making up musical skits, talking about music we loved, basically “nerding out” all over the place. I thought it couldn’t get much better, and then we had the opportunity to sing in some amazingly beautiful and historic places in Europe, most memorably in the cathedral in Cologne and St. Mark’s in Venice — it was heaven.
What is your most memorable CSC performance or experience?
Oof, how much space do I have? Having been here for so long, there have been many memorable experiences — our highly acclaimed performances on our 1999 tour to Berlin with Maestro Barenboim, and most recently, the powerful and moving Beethoven 9 performances with Maestro Muti.
But perhaps one of the most unforgettable experiences was the performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 at Ravinia in 1992. An incredible roster of soloists to complement the incredible musicians of the CSO/CSC was assembled, one of whom was the up-and-coming Bryn Terfel. What a treat! If that weren’t enough, the second act opened just as twilight was falling at Ravinia. The ethereal sounds of the strings competed briefly with the calls of animals and insects, but as night fell, all of nature became still and seemed to submit to the beauty of the music. I don’t think a single train horn dared to interrupt the hushed and reverent atmosphere! Call me a hopeless romantic, but it was absolutely magical. I have yet to experience anything like it since.
Do you play another instrument or perform in non-classical vocal style or setting?
I grew up in rural northwestern Ohio, and while I was fortunate to begin classical piano studies at the age of 5, country music and bluegrass were much more popular forms of music in that area at the time. I began playing guitar at age 9, banjo at 11, and I sang with some wonderfully talented local musicians. We even performed at Wolf Trap [National Park for the Performing Arts] when I was 10 years old as the warm-up act for Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter” tour.
Some of my fondest memories are with the bluegrass quartet — sharing a meal in someone’s living room, watching as someone would recall an old melody from an old folk song, then as another member would pick it up, then another, and then I would be invited to chime in with a harmony. Before I knew it, we would have another fully formed, beautifully arranged song for the set list — a completely different way of making music than I experience now — already composed, ready to be read and interpreted — but wonderful and rewarding, as all music can be.
© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017