News Column

Making musical history

May 1, 2014

By Ann Reily, The Daily News of Newburyport, Mass.



May 01--The Newburyport Choral Society is marking two major milestones at its concerts this weekend: its 80th anniversary and the departure of longtime music director Gerald Weale.

Weale, 77, is retiring after 27 years at the helm of the chorus. He is the longest-serving director since founder Clifton Lunt, who also led the group for 27 years. A succession of seven short-term directors followed Lunt before Weale was hired in 1986.

"I'm very happy to have been active this long," said Weale, who retired from the Boston University School of Music seven years ago.

He has worked two jobs since then, as the choral society music director and as the organist and choirmaster of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hanover, N.H.

At the end of this month, Weale will move to Gettysburg, Pa., where his partner, the Rev. Herbert Sprouse, relocated to serve as rector at an Episcopal church. Weale is not sure what's next for him, but he's looking forward to living in his new home, "a really nice, antique house that saw the Gettysburg Battle" and is featured on the town's historical tours.

"I'm ready for the next thing, whatever it may be," he said. "It was clear that I needed to move. But my heart is still with the chorus and always will be."

Although he knew that it was going to be his last concert when he started planning the spring program last year, Weale wanted to keep the focus strictly on the choral society and its 80th anniversary. The group of approximately 120 singers will still be accompanied by a professional orchestra, but soloists are being used on only one of the four works.

"My basic plan was to honor and glorify the chorus," he said. "I wanted the spotlight to be on the chorus, not on soloists. I really wanted this to be about our singers who are there all of the time."

This weekend's performances at Belleville Congregational Church, on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, will open with Handel's "Zadok the Priest." Written for the coronation of George II in 1727, it has been sung at every British coronation since.

"It's a big, sweeping, thrilling kind of piece," Weale said. "It's ceremonial music."

The first half of the concert will also include "Frostiana," a group of seven pieces by American composer Randall Thompson. Each chorus was written with the poems of Robert Frost, including "The Road Not Taken," "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and "Choose Something Like a Star."

"They're very beautiful and very meaningful," Weale said. "It's a Yankee kind of sensibility about it. It's a little wry, and I happen to like the music a lot, and so does the chorus."

Weale also likes "Frostiana" because it has two pieces just for men and two just for women, with the remaining three for the full chorus.

The second half of the concert will open on a more somber note with "Dona Nobis Pacem" by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Translated as "Grant us peace" and drawing from poetry by Walt Whitman, the work is "a 40-minute cantata about war and how terrible it is," Weale said.

"At the end of it, there is a kind of rousing chorus about peace on Earth and goodwill toward men," Weale said. "In a sense, it's a message piece, but it's also a beautiful piece."

"Dona Nobis Pacem" features two professional soloists, including Stephen Salters and Robyn Lamp.

Salters has performed with the chorus a few times over the years, and Weale reached out to him to see if he would return for this particular concert.

"We gave him his first job, and now he's an internationally known baritone," Weale said. "While he was still a student (at Boston University), he sang the Brahms Requiem with us. He's a wonderful, wonderful singer and a great guy."

An Australian-American soprano, Lamp has been a regular at the chorus's last four or five performances, Weale said.

"She is really a favorite of mine and the chorus's and the audience's," he said.

Not wanting to end the concert on a quiet note, Weale selected Mack Wilberg's folk hymn "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing" as the "big finish."

"I didn't think that the 80th celebration should go kind of whimpering off," he said. "It definitely raises the roof."

If you go

What: Newburyport Choral Society's 80th Anniversary Concert

When: Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Where: Belleville Congregational Church, 300 High St., Newburyport

How much: $22 for adults, $20 for students and seniors if purchased in advance at www.newburyportchoralsociety.org or local ticket outlets; $25 at the door

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(c)2014 The Daily News of Newburyport (Newburyport, Mass.)

Visit The Daily News of Newburyport (Newburyport, Mass.) at www.newburyportnews.com

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Source: Daily News of Newburyport (MA)


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