A sweeping choral masterpiece, Rachmaninoff’s The Bells features 138 Houston Symphony Chorus singers joining the orchestra for the Russian composer’s own favorite composition on May 9, 11, and 12. While the evening concludes with this powerhouse choral symphony, it begins more intimately—with 40 unaccompanied singers in a pre-concert prelude.
Betsy Cook Weber, director of the Houston Symphony Chorus, discusses the Houston Symphony Chamber Chorus’s performance of Aaron Copland’s “In the Beginning.” a choral work that she calls a “honey of a piece.” Get tickets and more information here.
Houston Symphony: What can attendees expect to experience during this pre-concert chamber chorus performance?
Betsy Cook Weber: In the Beginning is a very interesting, rarely performed piece by one of America’s most important composers, Aaron Copland. Set to the opening verses of the book of Genesis in the Bible, the text and music describes the seven days of the creation of the world. Copland’s music is very evocative of the text: it is filled with mystery and wonder, and it also contains numerous examples of text-painting. As one of many examples, when the text mentions fish and whales, the music floats up and down, and when birds fly, the music goes higher. To listen to those beautiful words set to Copland’s music is, I think, a powerful experience.
HS: How does it relate to the rest of the evening’s program, which also includes Ives, Gershwin, Prokofiev, and Rachmaninoff?
BCW: Copland, Ives, and Gershwin were not only contemporaries, but they also lived in fairly close proximity in the U.S. Northeast. All five composers were active during the first half of the 20th century, however—so even though the Russian composers were separated from the American ones by geography, their output shares the common musical language of their generation.
HS: What’s most exciting about being able to perform In the Beginning in May?
BCW: We are excited for our audiences to hear the Chamber Ensemble perform this beautiful and difficult work! If patrons like what they hear, they can hear us again in June at the world-famous Bachfest in Leipzig, Germany, where we sing not only the Copland, but also Bach’s Cantata BWV 116. Those performances are preceded by an independent concert in Nuremburg and two performances of Messiah in Poland. June is a momentous month for us!
Hear more! Get tickets for Rachmaninoff’s “The Bells” on May 9, 11 & 12, and drop in 45 minutes before the program begins to hear Copland’s “In the Beginning.”
Houston Symphony Chamber Chorus soloists in order of appearance are Grace Roman, Enrique Barrera III, Elizabeth Chrisman Shurtz, and Anna Diemer. The members performing this piece are Enrique Barrera III, Randy Boatright, Criselda Bocanegra, Jonathan Bordelon, Sara Brannon, Patricia Bumpus, Troy Burnett, Tsung-Yen Chang, Nicole Colby, Paul Dabney, Anna Diemer, Randy Eckman, Raul Enriquez, Brianna Fernandez, Julia FitzGerald, Michael Gilbert, Julia Hall, Jen Hart, Austin Hart, George Howe, Jillian Hughes, Chris Kersten, Julie Kutac, Brian Lassinger, Ben May, Melissa Medina, Saleel Menon, Jeb Mueller, Robert Nash, Theresa Olin, Janwin Overstreet-Goode, Sydney Peltier, Douglas Rodenberger, Grace Roman, Elizabeth Chrisman Shurtz, Marin Trautman, and Lee Williams.