The West Village Chorale will have a new artistic director at the helm as it embarks on its 46th season this September, with the appointment of Colin Britt after a thorough nationwide search. Since it was founded by Gwen Gould in 1971, the West Village Chorale has had only one other long-term conductor, Michael Conley, who served as artistic director from 2000 to 2015. The group’s distinguished interim conductors were Andrew Megill, from 1998 to 2000, and Malcolm J. Merriweather, who just concluded a stunning 2015-2016 season before moving uptown to the podium of the Dessoff Choirs.
Fresh from receiving his doctorate in choral conducting from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, Britt has planned a three-concert program for the Chorale that includes Great Masters like Mendelssohn and Bach but also a healthy representation of 20th and 21st century composers. One of those contemporary composers will be Colin Britt himself. The Chorale’s March program will include his setting of three poems by Edgar Allan Poe.
The West Village Chorale grew accustomed to having a leader who composes and arranges music during Conley’s 15-year tenure, which included the 2010 premiere of his full-length Appalachian Requiem, the 2012 presentation of his suite of Emily Dickinson poetry for chorus and orchestra at the Washington Square Music Festival and numerous other original works.
In May 2017, members of the Chorale – including Britt and longtime pianist Elena Belli – will travel to San Francisco for the premiere of the orchestral version of Appalachian Requiem under Conley at Calvary Presbyterian Church on that city’s Union Square.
Conley left New York a year ago to become the prestigious West Coast church’s director of music ministries, after a glorious sendoff by a specially assembled 55-voice choir at Judson Memorial Church, where he’d been music director for nine years. Britt and Conley are both veterans of C4, the Choral Composer-Conductor Collective in New York, where the members all conduct, compose and sing. Britt has also conducted the Rutgers University Choir, the Hartford Chorale Chamber Singers, the Marquand Chamber Choir at Yale, and the Hartt Choir and Camerata.
Before his doctoral studies under Patrick Gardner at Rutgers, Britt received his master’s in conducting from Yale University School of Music in 2010 and a bachelor’s in music composition, summa cum laude, at the Hartt School in 2007. Originally from Lewiston, Maine, Britt has already had many commissions, premieres and published works as a composer. He promises to continue a long run of consecutive West Village Chorale concerts offering works by living composers as part of a tradition of eclectic and innovative programming.
Britt is also director of Amuse Singers, a selective New York chamber choir for treble voices founded in 2002; music director of North River Sing, a New Jersey community chorus dedicated to singing songs from the American Songbook; and director of the music ministry at Grace Church Van Vorst in Jersey City. This fall, he’ll also be teaching and leading the choir at SUNY New Paltz.
Pat Gardner, Britt’s adviser at Rutgers and conductor of the Riverside Choral Society in New York, also taught Megill when he got his doctorate before serving as the Chorale’s interim director for the last two years of the 20th century. Andy went on to become an associate professor at Westminster Choir College and conductor of the Masterwork Chorus in New Jersey. He’s now a full professor at the University of Illinois.
The other past conductors of the West Village Chorale have also been distinguished. After retiring from the Chorale in 1998 and moving to upstate Columbia County, Gwen Gould has led the Columbia Festival Orchestra, the Diamond Opera Theater, and two chamber music series. Malcolm J. Merriweather, in addition to leading Dessoff, is director of choirs at Brooklyn College, guest artist in residence at Union Theological Seminary, and music director of Voices of Haiti, a 60-member children’s choir in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, funded by the Andrea Bocelli Foundation. In a conductorial game of musical chairs, Merriweather will take over at Dessoff from Chris Shepard, who has assumed Megill’s former position at Masterwork.
For the 2016-2017 West Village Chorale season, Britt has planned a rich holiday concert in December, “Christmas in the Old and New Worlds”; a March program of works for double choir; and a May concert, “American Voices,” that includes spirituals, early Americana and music by Bernstein, Copland, Thompson and Barber, plus innovative pieces by living composers, including Betinis, Whitacre, Smallwood and DiOrio. There might even be a piece or two by Conley. He’ll also lead the Chorale’s annual Handel Messiah Sing on December 4, and help with the Chorale’s popular Greenwich Village Caroling Walk December 17. He made his debut in the Chorale’s Summer Sing series in June, leading Thompson’s Alleluia in a cameo appearance following Conley’s rendition of the Rutter Requiem.
This is the West Village Chorale’s seventh season at the landmark Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square, after nearly 40 years based at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields. Both venues have provided beautiful settings for beautiful music, a longstanding contribution to the vibrant worlds of the Village, New York, and the choral singing community. It’s a tradition the members trust will endure under the Chorale’s new director.
Auditions begin Tuesday, August 30, and the Chorale is offering an open rehearsal Tuesday, September 13 at 7 PM at Judson for people who want to learn more about it, get to know the conductor and the members and sample some of the (reputedly) best intermission snacks in the New York City choral sphere!
More information is available at westvillagechorale.org.
John Herzfeld is a long-time member of the West Village Chorale.