Gwyneth Walker

Chapel Hill Community Chorus Marks Its 25th Anniversary

by John W. Lambert, Classical Voice of North Carolina

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Read notes for Rejoice! -- Christmas Songs (2001) for SATB chorus and orchestra

The Christmas program offered this season by the Chapel Hill Community Chorus was more than just a concert – it was a celebration, too, of the ensemble's 25 years of ever-improving music making in Orange County. Curiously, the CHCC would appear to be Chapel Hill's senior non-UNC-affiliated classical music group, and that alone sets it apart, but there's more to the story, and the event's title – Rejoice! – hints at the special nature of the occasion. On the evening of December 16, Hill Hall was handsomely decorated and packed full (no small achievement...) for the first of two presentations (in itself a first, if memory serves) of music by Bach, Beethoven, and Gwyneth Walker (whose Rejoice! gave the program its name). Attendees were greeted with a lavish silver jubilee program booklet, printed on slick paper and with a full-color cover, that contained notes by Artistic Director and Conductor Sue T. Klausmeyer, complete texts and translations, personnel lists (for the singers and the orchestra), bios of the solo artists and chorus principals, a celebratory welcome, a comprehensive history of the CHCC, and tributes from various area dignitaries (including this CVNCer). The booklet was a class act, even before the concert began. And the lineup of music reflected the overall excellence the CHCC has achieved during its quarter-century of service to the performing arts and its community.

Before the concert began, CHCC President Neil Shipman rendered homage and honors to founding conductor Victor Recondo, whose vision and service (until 1987) set the chorus on a firm foundation that his successors – Jeffrey Johnson, Carl Stam, and Klausmeyer – have, in turn, built upon and enhanced. The CHCC currently fields over 110 singers, nicely balanced by section, and its performances reflect high standards of technical and artistic accomplishment. On this occasion, the guest artists had strong ties to the community, too, and the orchestra was peppered with splendid local instrumentalists, including long-time CHCC accompanist Marianne Kremer. Thus everything was in place for what turned out to be one of the group's best and most heart-warming performances ever.


The grand finale – and quite grand it was! – was Rejoice!" (2001), by Walker, an outstanding contemporary American composer (who also happens to be a woman). There's nothing far-out in the settings of three traditional Christmas carols that it contains; her sure way with choral music (and instruments, too) make this a winning piece that other area directors may wish to consider adding to the repertoires of their ensembles.

The response of the audience was warm and protracted, as well it should have been. The CHCC has done things right over the years, and it was in top form for this major event in its history. Long may it thrive! Happy anniversary!