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The Long Island Choral Society: Approaching Its 75th Anniversary
by Beth Bergman Fisher for Vocal Area Network
Posted February 28, 2003

Long Island Choral Society logoThough the 2002-2003 season is far from over, members and audiences of the Long Island Choral Society are already looking forward to next year. The 2003-2004 season will mark the Long Island Choral Society's 75th anniversary, making this mixed chorus the oldest continuously performing musical group on Long Island. This fine volunteer choir is comprised of approximately 60 singers, both amateur and professional, who come from more than forty communities in the metropolitan area. For many singers, who first learn most of what they know about music from high school and college choir directors, choral singing becomes a healthy habit that they hope to continue throughout their lives. The Long Island Choral Society provides its members with the chance to learn and perform old and new choral repertoire, to grow as musicians individually and as an ensemble, and to enjoy sharing exciting musical experiences with the community. Many members of the Long Island Choral Society have been with the group for over twenty years.

The philosophy of the Long Island Choral Society has been to perform the great choral masterworks of the past without neglecting newer contributions to the choral repertoire. This season the opening concert in November featured the five-movement Lux Aeterna and the motet-like Ave Maria of American composer Morten Lauridsen. Lauridsen, born and raised in the Northwest, chairs the composition department at USC and has been Composer-in-Residence of the Los Angeles Master Chorale since 1994. The Long Island Choral Society performed his O Magnum Mysterium and the song cycle Les Chanson des Roses last season. Lauridsen has forged an accessible style using rich organic melodies and has developed a unique harmonic system that is refreshing and effective.

On March 23, 2003 at 4:00 PM the Long Island Choral Society will present Arthur Honegger's King David at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, NY. The Swiss-born Honneger was one of the group of French composers known as Les Six. Throughout the early decades of the twentieth century they collectively took a position against many of the prevailing musical trends of Debussy and Wagner and used light popular, music-hall, and jazz idioms in their music. King David was a collaboration between Honegger and Swiss playwright Renee Morax, who was referred to the composer by Ernest Ansermet. The biblical oratorio, originally conceived as a musical drama in 1921, was later scored for concert performance.

The tenor for King David will be Long Island Choral Society Artist-in-Residence Gregory Mercer. Mr. Mercer has been hailed throughout the world for the sweetness and agility of his voice, his musicality and his acting ability. This sublimely flexible singer is equally at home on opera, concert and recital stages. He has appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, The New York City Opera, and with orchestras, choruses and music festivals nationwide. He appeared as tenor soloist in the “Rolling Requiem” performance of Mozart's Requiem at Tilles Center to commemorate the first anniversary of 9/11. He was recently named cantor, tenor soloist and assistant conductor at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.

The soprano soloist for King David will be Jeanette Baxter. Miss Baxter was one of the co-winners of the Long Island Choral Society's Twenty-First Young Artists' Competition. She was a talented basketball player at Longwood High School before discovering her coloratura soprano voice. She is now a scholarship student at The Juilliard School. Alice Marie Nelson will be the mezzo-soprano, and actor Bill Toscano will narrate.

The Spring Concert, featuring the Twenty-Second Annual Young Artists' Competition winner and runner-up, will be on Sunday, May 18, 2003 at 5:00 PM.

The Long Island Choral Society has a reputation for singing the finest works of choral music in performances of the highest caliber, with professional soloists and orchestras. Singers of note who have performed with the Long Island Choral Society in the past are John Charles Thomas, Robert Merrill, Gladys Swarthout, Ray deVoll, and more recently, Betsy Norden, Gary Glaze, Muriel Costa-Greenspon, and Patrick Carfizzi, who debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in Rigoletto on Christmas Eve, 1999.

The choir was founded in 1929 by Dr. Maurice Galabrant, the organist of Garden City's Cathedral of the Incarnation. Dr. Galabrant was succeeded by Norman Hollett in 1949 and Robert K. Kennedy in 1976. Meredith Elaine Baker became the group's fourth conductor in 1979 when the Long Island Choral Society became independent from the Cathedral. The Long Island Choral Society continues to perform three concerts each season in the landmark Cathedral's beautiful setting, including Part I of Handel's Messiah every December. A fourth concert, presented every spring at the Cathedral House, consists of a variety of short choral works and performances by the first runner-up and winner of the Long Island Choral Society's annual Young Artists' Competition. This year's competition is the organization's twenty-second.

During the past seventy-four years, the Long Island Choral Society has presented premiere performances of music by Honegger, Langlais, Britten, Bernstein and Stravinsky. The group also performed in the movie This is Cinerama (1952). In 1985 and 1986, the Long Island Choral Society sang with the U.S. Military Academy Band at West Point in their 1812 Overture Concert on Labor Day Weekend, the first nonmilitary group to do so. The Choral Society sang at Federal Hall in New York City during the celebration of the bicentennial of the U.S. constitution in 1987. For the 60th anniversary season in March 1989, the Long Island Choral Society performed Verdi's Requiem for a standing-room-only audience at the Cathedral. In 1998, they again performed Verdi's Requiem, but this time it was for their debut in Carnegie Hall with MidAmerica Productions. The Long Island Choral Society has now performed a total of four times at Carnegie Hall with MidAmerica, most recently in June 1999. In July 1990, the Long Island Choral Society traveled to Italy for its first foreign concert tour. In July 1992, an ensemble toured Holland, France and Germany, singing a total of six concerts in thirteen days.

The character, quality, and sound of any choral ensemble are, in large part, dependent on the musical expertise and leadership of its director. The 2003-2004 season will mark Meredith Elaine Baker's 25th year as conductor of the Long Island Choral Society. Miss Baker has served as Director of Music at Most Holy Trinity Chapel, United States Military Academy, West Point, NY since 1991. A church musician since the age of thirteen, she served as Assistant Organist to Charles Dodsley Walker at Church of the Heavenly Rest in the mid-70s during her early college years. She has studied organ with Oscar Magnussen, Bronson Regan, Norman Hollett, Joan Lippincott, Charles Dodsley Walker and McNeil Robinson. She received BM and MA degrees in organ performance from Queens College, CUNY, and holds a Professional Studies Certificate in Church Music from Manhattan School of Music. She is a Fellow of the American Guild of Organists and has served as Dean of the Nassau Chapter of the AGO. Her organ recital appearances in the metropolitan area have included venues on Long Island (Garden City, Malverne, Lynbrook, Syosset, Manhasset, Cold Spring Harbor and Massapequa), New York City (Cathedral of St. John the Divine, St. Thomas Church, Church of the Heavenly Rest, St. James the Just and St. Mary the Virgin), New Jersey (Harrington Park) and Connecticut (Southport, Bridgeport). Miss Baker was Assistant Conductor and Assistant to the Dean of the Berkshire Choral Institute (now Festival) for its first four seasons. Miss Baker is a member of the Adjunct and Artist Music Faculty of Nassau Community College, Garden City. She was a member of the Liturgical Music Commission of the Archdiocese of New York from 1993 through 2001. She is frequently invited to provide workshops on organ technique and service playing, as well as choral warm-ups and repertoire. Her Catholic Cadet Choir at West Point performed during the Prelude at the Central Park Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II, for numerous Masses celebrated by the late Archbishop Cardinal O'Connor, Archbishop Cardinal Egan, and for Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of the Military Ordinariate. As one member of the choir put it, “We have been extremely fortunate to have a conductor whose vast musical experience as a performer, conductor, and music educator has enriched our musical lives and inspired us to achieve high levels of musical performance that are fulfilling for the singers and exciting for our audiences.”

The eagerly-anticipated 75th anniversary season of the Long Island Choral Society will begin in November 2003 with Mozart's Requiem. For information about tickets or subscriptions, or to find out about becoming a member, please visit www.lics.org.

Beth Bergman Fisher sings with the Long Island Choral Society, writes program notes for the South Shore Symphony and serves on the Rockville Centre Guild for the Arts Board of Directors. This is her first article for Vocal Area Network.

Content Contact: Beth Bergman Fisher.
Revision Date: January 16, 2003.
Technical Contact: Steve Friedman.

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