Shrewsbury Chorale heads for Carnegie Hall

Staff Writer

By linda denicola

Shrewsbury Chorale
heads for Carnegie Hall

Marie Ortiz Maestro Vincent LaSelva conducts the Shrewsbury Chorale during practice. LaSelva will be conducting the chorale in concert at Carnegie Hall Jan. 27. Marie Ortiz Maestro Vincent LaSelva conducts the Shrewsbury Chorale during practice. LaSelva will be conducting the chorale in concert at Carnegie Hall Jan. 27.

Monmouth County’s own Shrewsbury Chorale is going to Carnegie Hall.

The 70-member chorale will perform with New York Grand Opera soloists, chorus and orchestra under the baton of Maestro Vincent LaSelva, conductor of the Grand Opera Company.

On Wednesday evening, the chorale was rehearsing for the Jan. 27 performance. It was the second rehearsal conducted by the maestro at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House, Lincroft. The Chorale’s voices filled the high-ceilinged room with Giuseppe Verdi’s moving piece, Mass of Requiem.

According to Susan Gardiner, president of the chorale and a singer in the alto section for the past 12 years, the group was asked by Maestro LaSelva to augment the Carnegie Hall orchestra and singers because he had heard of the group through the chorale’s music director, Stephen Michael Smith. Smith studied conducting with the maestro at the Juilliard School in New York City.

The day of the concert marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Verdi, so it is fitting that his monumental Mass of Requiem will be performed, Gardiner said. Besides the chorale and the New York Grand Opera chorus, the Metropolitan Greek Chorale will sing, creating a chorus of 200 voices.

"We are very excited to be able to participate in such a huge event," Gardiner said. "We’ve been rehearsing through the fall. Some members have performed it before. It’s a classical, well-loved, dynamic piece, but it is a challenging piece."

That was obvious during the rehearsal. Smith warmed the group up with relaxation and voice exercises. Then Maestro LaSelva gave instructions on how the chorus would file onto the stage at Carnegie Hall, and how they would stand in straight rows.

Maestro LaSelva asked the group to sing the Requiem from beginning to end.

"Don’t be afraid, now sing," he told the soprano section. "Tenors, a little bit more."

"Look up, don’t look down at the music," he cautioned the group. "During the performance, remember, you have to be watching me. Don’t look at the orchestra."

Notwithstanding all the directions given by this master conductor, the fine voices of the chorale, which is beginning its 44th season, sounded melodic and powerfully emotional.

Although the performance is a highlight of the group’s 2001 season, it is not its first musical coup, and certainly will not be its last. A mixed chorus, it performs a varied repertoire of sacred and secular choral music.

The chorale has flourished under the distinguished leadership of excellent conductors including founder Alden Hammond and his successor, Laureate Conductor Paul O. Grammer.

One of Monmouth County’s premier musical organizations, the chorale welcomed Smith as director in September 1998.

The first season under Smith’s direction was distinguished by the United States premiere of newly reconstructed masterworks written by Giovanni Gabrieli and others for St. Mark’s Church, Venice, as well as a joint performance in Boston with the Boston Coro di Camera and the Schola Cantorum of the Harvard Divinity School.

The present membership includes several charter members as well as musicians, teachers and business people from throughout central New Jersey.

Funding for all of the chorale’s performances is made possible in part by the Monmouth County Arts Council through funding from the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State.

Tickets for the 8:30 p.m. Carnegie Hall performance can be obtained by calling CarnegieCharge at (212) 247-7800.