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Master Chorale celebrates 25 years

This weekend, the bay area choir sings two pieces - one a premiere - after working with their eminent composers in rehearsal.

Published February 17, 2005

The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and a centerpiece of the occasion is the choir's premiere this weekend of Sing, Sing Unto God by Stephen Paulus.

Paulus, who lives in St. Paul, Minn., will be joined by another eminent American composer, Norman Dello Joio, whose To Saint Cecilia will also be sung. Both Paulus and Dello Joio, who spends winters in Florida, will attend rehearsals and performances.

"With the composers here, that adds a whole other wonderful element," said artistic director Richard Zielinski. "They both have this knack of picking wonderful text. And they prepare the singers so well with pauses, breath marks and starting phrases with words with good vowels. It all lends itself to beautiful choral singing, very lyrical and expressive performances."

Dello Joio, 92, won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for music with his Meditations on Ecclesiastes for string orchestra. Paulus, 55, has been composer in residence for the Atlanta and Minnesota symphony orchestras. The two have never met.

"I'm thrilled to be in the same hall and say hello to the guy," Paulus said. "I read his book on orchestration."

Sing, Sing Unto God, commissioned with the financial support of Master Chorale member Jay B. Starkey and his wife, Marsha, is for large chorus and brass and percussion. It sets adaptations of Psalms 46 and 47 by poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and John Davies.

"I spend probably too much time looking for the right text," Paulus said of his approach to choral composition. "I'm very fussy. Are the words settable, singable? In what part of the singers' ranges are they set? My settings tend to be sort of natural, as a person would speak the words."

In conceiving the new work, Paulus paid attention to what else would be on the program. "They said I could do a secular or sacred thing," he said. "I looked at what they were doing, and it all appeared to be sacred music, and two of the performances are in a church, so that influenced my decision to find a so-called sacred text as well."

Paulus has written a wide range of music, from an opera based on the movie The Postman Always Rings Twice to Erotic Spirits, which soprano Deborah Voigt premiered last September with the Augusta, Ga., Symphony Orchestra. The composer's most widely performed work is the anthem Pilgrims' Hymn, from his opera The Three Hermits.

The best music of Paulus is characterized by harmonic brilliance. Sing, Sing Unto God was "designed to take advantage of a large sound and hopefully a nice acoustical area," the composer said. "The idea is that there will be some blocks of sound that overlay and overlap. I'm also working with traditional harmonies, but there will be some surprises along the way."

The USF Chamber Singers, directed by Zielinski, will perform Pilgrims' Hymn plus another Paulus work, The Old Church, this weekend. They'll also sing Dello Joio's Song of the Open Road and A Prayer of the Middle Ages by Howard Hanson.

The Master Chorale, with 140 singers, performs with the Florida Orchestra in works such as Bach's B-Minor Mass and Walton's Belshazzar's Feast this season. This weekend's program is the choir's main opportunity to sing on its own.

The program also includes a popular sacred work in British composer John Rutter's Gloria. "It's a familiar piece, but frankly I hear the piece not done very well a lot of times, because especially the last movement is difficult," Zielinski said. "There are more intricacies in that piece than people think."

Another British work is C. Hubert Parry's I Was Glad, a favorite of Master Chorale founder Robert Summer. "This is the concert where we can really focus on the choir, for the 25th anniversary, and I wanted to put something there that was dear to Bob," Zielinski said.

Rounding out the program is the Magnificat of Halsey Stevens, an American composer.

PREVIEW: The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Lake Magdalene United Methodist Church, Tampa; 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg; and 3 p.m. Sunday at First Baptist Church, St. Petersburg. $15, $20. 813 258-9468;

[Last modified February 16, 2005, 08:32:04]

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