SGCS Summer Choral Festival: A treat for both singers and audience
by Laura Daly for Vocal Area Network
Posted May 21, 2024

Matthew LewisThe Saint George's Choral Society's Summer Choral Festival has been a tradition for the last ten years. Dr. Matthew Lewis, the group's artistic director, spoke about this year's program.

Laura Daly: What is the history behind your starting a summer Choral festival?

Matthew Lewis: It started about ten years ago, inspired by "summer sings" (which choristers love). A summer sing is a casual and fun reading of a choral piece led by a conductor. I have always enjoyed leading these but sometimes wished we had just a little more time to look over difficult passages and even rehearse a bit, so singers would enjoy the experience and maybe find it more satisfying. Another thing which came to mind are summer choral festivals which are destinations (people must travel to them) which last a week or so. I had friends who lamented that they could not get time off from work or other things to attend these programs. So, the SGCS Summer Choral Festival was created. A two-week intensive "choral staycation" that people can enjoy without leaving the city. We do everything in four rehearsals, over a two-week period, and conclude with a dress rehearsal and free concert. Singers are given scores and are supported by professional section leaders. It's a lot of fun!

LD: Can you tell us about this year's program?

ML: This summer we are doing a piece that I believe is a singer's favorite: Rossini's Petite Messe solennelle. Anyone who has sung it before usually can't wait to do it again. It is such a guilty pleasure! Of course, the piece is neither petite nor solemn -- it's a very developed work with a wide range of emotion, but overall, it's a perfect summer piece featuring the composer's sense of humor. There are brilliant solo and ensemble pieces between the choral movements, which give choristers a bit of a break. The piece was originally scored for piano and harmonium. A piano is relatively easy to find, but a harmonium is another story. A harmonium is the thing we sometimes see in antique stores: a pump organ intended for use in a home. They were very popular in the 19th century, especially when a pipe organ was not available. But the sound is quite different from that of a pipe organ -- it's reedier and the tone is more variable (since the organ was pumped by the player). In fact, it sounds like an accordion and operates on the same principle. I've done the piece with piano and pipe organ and decided at some point to try using accordion. I had the good fortune to meet William Schimmel, who is truly a master of the accordion. In fact, he's recorded all the Rossini overtures! The combination of William Schimmel with James Bassi at the piano is fantastic! James is one of the finest pianists I know, and a superb chamber musician. It's going to be so fun!

LD: What is the rehearsal experience like?

ML: I think it will be impossible for singers to be bored. Rehearsals move quickly since we don't have much time. But we get a lot done! In general, people are good sight readers and have some choral experience, but we still take time to make sure everything gets covered and that we end up with a satisfying musical result. Participants always have a wonderful time and love that challenge. I cannot wait to get started in June!

LD: And we cannot wait to hear it! Thank you, Matthew.

For more information about the Summer Festival, please visit Summer Choral Festival -- St. George's Choral Society. First time singers with St. George's Choral Society will receive a discount on the participation fee. Please visit New Member Application to register and get your discount.

Rehearsal schedule:
St. Mary's Byzantine Catholic Church, 246 East 15th Street, New York, NY
Tuesday, June 4, 7:00-9:00 PM
Thursday, June 6, 7:00-9:00 PM
Tuesday, June 11, 7:00-9:00 PM
Thursday, June 13, 7:00-9:00 PM

Saturday, June 15 at 7 PM, free admission
Rossini's Petite Messe solennelle (piano and accordion accompaniment)
The Church of St. Luke in the Fields, 487 Hudson Street, New York, NY

Laura Daly is manager of marketing and artist relations for the St. George's Choral Society.