St. George's Choral Society Summer Choral Festival
by Claire Marinello for Vocal Area Network
Posted May 15, 2017

Matthew LewisBeginning Tuesday, June 6, St. George's Choral Society will host a two-week choral intensive, with two rehearsals a week, culminating in a performance of Copland's In the Beginning and Thompson's The Peaceable Kingdom on Saturday, June 17 at 7:00 PM. I spoke with Director Matthew Lewis about the significance of this Festival and the Choral Society's bicentennial celebration.

Claire Marinello: How does the Summer Choral Festival work?

Matthew Lewis: Basically, it’s a way of attending a summer choir festival without leaving New York City. A sort of “staycation” for choral groupies. There are wonderful opportunities to leave New York to attend choir festivals, but this one allows people to continue their summer routine while participating in a two-week intensive workshop with a performance at the end.

For me, it started when we used to host “summer sings.” These were evenings when we would gather to read through a big choral piece, often with a guest conductor. The singers had so much fun, but often wished they could get to know the piece a bit better, allowing them to enjoy it more. So, we started this festival with that thought in mind. After four rehearsals, the singers know the piece better than they would with only one reading! Not to mention we have professional section leaders, which really helps. The result has been wonderful – an outstanding choral sound after only two weeks.

CM: This year’s program consists of Aaron Copland’s In the Beginning and Randall Thompson’s The Peaceable Kingdom. Why did you choose those two pieces?

ML: We are in our bicentennial year, so I thought it would be great to pay homage to two American composers. Furthermore, since people enjoy singing so much, a program of unaccompanied music seemed due. Randall Thompson came to mind immediately, as one of the most significant American composers of choral music. The Peaceable Kingdom is a wonderful work, not performed very often, that I am certain singers and audience will enjoy. And, of course, Aaron Copland is one of the great American composers. His In the Beginning is a masterpiece for unaccompanied chorus with alto solo. The two share some similarities, but are varied enough to offer a great program.

I should also add that the Church of the Incarnation is a great space for a cappella music. The acoustic is warm for chamber music without being too distant. It’s not a cathedral acoustic, but one that allows the audience to hear what is going on with a warm acoustic enhancement.

CM: Recruitment for the summer choral festival is underway. What qualifications do singers need? Are you looking for any voice part in particular?

ML: In general, some choral experience would be helpful. Since there are only four rehearsals, we tend to move at a pretty fast pace. People who can read music enjoy this. Others, who perhaps read less well, enjoy it too, it just requires a bit more concentration and focus. As always, we take time to make sure everyone is comfortable and knows their part. As for what voices we are looking for: we always welcome good singers of any voice part! Altos tend to be the most populated section, and tenors the least. Usually this works out well, since the balance usually requires more altos than tenors. Of course, sopranos and basses are always enthusiastically received!

CM: This season marks St. George’s Choral Society’s 200th anniversary, and your twelfth year with the group. How has the group changed over your tenure?

ML: I’ve seen this group develop into a very fine ensemble. During the year (fall and spring), we do best with large-scale symphonic-type pieces. We just had a performance of the Dvorak Stabat Mater which was incredible! The choir sounded amazing – rich and full, expressive, agile and powerful. Truly amazing.

CM: What are the Choral Society’s plans for the rest of the year?

ML: As we are in our bicentennial year and have a rich history with Dvorak. In the 1890s, he lived in the Stuyvesant Square community where this chorus resided. We will celebrate that this fall with a performance of his Requiem, which St. George's Choral Society premiered in the United States in 1892. This is really a wonderful opportunity – I would urge singers to consider joining our chorus for this performance with full orchestra.

CM: How about for their next century?

ML: Well, who knows? I believe in aiming high, so let’s see what happens. Great things have happened in the past 14 years, I can only imagine where things go from here!


Rehearsals for the Summer Choral Festival begin June 6, with the performance on Saturday, June 17. The participation fee is $225. Interested singers can apply here until June 2: www.stgeorgeschoralsociety.org/summer-choral-festival/.

Claire Marinello is a Vice President of St. George's Choral Society. She has researched the group's history and assisted in publicizing the 200th Anniversary events.