Melodia Women's Choir opens 15th season with "Autumn's Fire"
by Teri Duerr for Vocal Area Network
Posted November 15, 2017

Melodia: Autumn's FireMelodia Women's Choir of NYC's 15th-anniversary season gets underway with "Autumn Fire," a passionate and poetic program inspired by music of the German Romantic period with works from Joseph Rheinberger (1839-1901), Johann Kaspar Aiblinger (1769-1867), Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847).

“It's always a thrill to sleuth about and find great music that is hardly ever performed," said Melodia Artistic Director Cynthia Powell. "The Harfenmesse (Harp Mass), by Aiblinger is such a piece, and I doubt you will hear it sung anywhere but by Melodia Women's Choir."

Another of Autumn Fire's featured composers, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, was a gifted and prolific composer unduly unacknowledged in her own lifetime for no reason other than that of being born a woman in the 19th century. Overshadowed by her younger brother Felix, Fanny once said, “It must be a sign of talent that I do not give up, though I can get nobody to take an interest in my efforts.”

That may have been the case then, but certainly not so now. Mendelssohn Hensel would be gratified to know that since its founding in 2003, Melodia, cofounded by Executive Director Jenny Clarke and Powell, has sought to be part of a movement to "bring the music [for women's voices] out of obscurity and into the concert arena in New York,” said Clarke. This season, Melodia will take the stage for Mendelssohn Hensel's Three Songs of Heinrich Heine; and in fact, the choir has performed several of her works over its decade-and-a-half of spotlighting rare and often-overlooked works and performances by women in music.

Melodia states in its mission a “commitment to nurturing emerging women composers through commissions and performances,” and over 27 concerts, Melodia has performed everything from Meredith Monk to Hildegard von Bingen to Johannes Brahms to Gustav Holst. The choir makes a special effort to sing rarely heard and premiere works for women's voices, by women composers.

Through its women composer program, Melodia has commissioned and premiered eight original compositions from women composers, including Hilary Purrington, Errollyn Wallen, Christina Whitten Thomas and Nina Siniakova, and the ensemble just announced a ninth collaboration for this coming spring with award-winning Anglo-Armenian composer Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian.

"Every season is a challenge because Melodia commissions a new piece, something created just for us,” said Taisiya Pushkar, a collaborative pianist who has performed with the group since 2009. "I feel very much a part of the group," added Pushkar, saying, "After the first season [with Melodia], I was hooked."

The choir also makes it a point to collaborate with women instrumentalists for their performances. Favorites over the years include neo-soul meets classical meets electronic duo Flutronix, French horn quartet Ghenghis Barbie and the Vox Nova Girls’ Choir of the Special Music School at Kaufman Music Center. Melodia’s eclectic programs have included artists from backgrounds as diverse as minimal techno to Japanese taiko drumming.

In addition to Mendelssohn Hensel's Three Songs of Heinrich Heine and the harp mass Harfenmesse: Missa Advocata Nostra by Johann Kaspar Aiblinger, Autumn Fire includes Felix Mendelssohn’s Three Motets, op. 39 -- Veni Domine, Laudate pueri, Surrexit pastor Bonus -- and Lied mit Chor, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as well as Josef Rheinberger’s ethereal Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen, featuring harp soloist Rita Costanzi. Additional performers include Mika Nishimura (piano), Meaghan Burke (cello) and Mary Ann McSweeney (bass).

“The singers who have joined the journey these past fifteen seasons have been an absolute joy to sing with and have brought immense talent to Melodia,” said Clarke. “When an audience member tells me it’s the first time they’ve heard women’s choral music and how deeply it touched them, I know the circle is complete."

Autumn Fire performances are Saturday, November 18 at 7:30 PM at the Church of the Holy Apostles, 296 9th Avenue (Chelsea); and Sunday, November 19 at 3 PM at West End Collegiate Church, 77th Street at West End Avenue. A reception with light refreshments to follow each performance. Tickets ($20 advance / $25 door) are available at Brown Paper Tickets. For more info, visit www.melodiawomenschoir.org.

Teri Duerr is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, New York.