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"A Celebration of Psalms" to be performed by Oratorio Society of New Jersey, Nov. 11 in Montclair

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The Oratorio Society of New Jersey performs at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Montclair Nov. 11. Credits: George DiFeo
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Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms will be performed by the Oratorio Society of New Jersey Nov. 11 in Montclair, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of his birth this concert season.
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Psalm settings in Hebrew, English and German, by Bernstein, Handel and Mendelssohn will be heard in concert as part of the “Music at Immaculate” Series

The Oratorio Society of New Jersey will open its 65th concert season with “A Celebration of Psalms,” to be presented Sat., Nov. 11, 8 pm at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, 30 North Fullerton Ave. in Montclair, as part of the “Music at Immaculate” concert series.  Tickets for the event are $20 if purchased in advance, and $25 at the door.

While western choral music is most frequently composed to texts from Christian traditions, the Fall 2017 program will feature music written to Psalms from the Old Testament Jewish bible, many of which are known as the “Songs of David.” The 150 Psalm texts express a wide variety of emotions, and have provided inspiration to many composers, from ancient to modern times.  The English word psalm is from the Greek word psalmos, which is a translation of the Hebrew word mizmor, meaning song.                                                                    

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This season OSNJ joins musicians and presenters worldwide in celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday, with a performance of his celebrated Chichester Psalms. The work was commissioned for the Chichester (England) Choral Festival in 1965, and had its premiere by the New York Philharmonic with then music director Bernstein conducting.  Bernstein set the work in Hebrew to music for boy soprano (representing the biblical young David), vocal quartet, choir and orchestra.  Part 1 uses Psalms 100 and 108, Part 2 uses 2 and 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd…) and Part 3 uses 131 (Why do the nations rage?) and 133.      

Psalm settings by Felix Mendelssohn and George Frederick Handel round out the Nov. 11 program.  Mendelssohn, born into a prominent German Jewish family, but raised in the Lutheran church, set many of the psalms to music, including Psalm 42 with its soulful texts. The exquisite opening chorus “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God” is followed by arias, recitatives, and choral movements that reflect Mendelssohn’s deep love of the musical traditions of Bach, Mozart and other older composers.  Psalm 42 was written during the honeymoon of Cecile and Felix Mendelssohn, and throughout his short life of 36 years he believed the composition to be his finest sacred music.

In contrast with the introspective music of Mendelssohn, is Handel’s joyous Oh Praise the Lord with One Consent on texts from Psalms 135, 117, and 148.  This work is one of the Chandos Anthems, composed in the years 1717-1719, and considered by scholars to be Handel’s most notable contribution to church music. Handel was the house composer at Cannons, a large house in Middlesex, England, the seat of the first duke of Chandos, a patron of Handel.

Following the Nov. 11 concert, OSNJ presents its annual “Messiah Sing.” Tues., Dec. 5 at 7:30 pm, St. James Episcopal Church in MontclairAudience members are invited to listen or sing along with choir members in Part I of Handel’s Messiah, and the “Hallelujah” Chorus from  Part II.

The Performers

OSNJ Music Director and Conductor Sandor Szabo has led OSNJ in numerous performances of major choral works, since his appointment in 2005 as the fourth music director of the OSNJ.  A truly international musician, he maintains a full schedule as conductor, organist, pianist, vocal coach and arranger, with appearances throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe.  Dr. Szabo was educated in Yugoslavia, receiving degrees in music from the University of Sovi Sad, and the University of Music Arts in Belgrade.  From 1983 until his immigration to Canada in 1988, he performed as a pianist, taught piano at universities in Yugoslavia, and served as assistant conductor and accompanist at the Serbian National Opera Theatre.  In Canada he was founder and conductor of the Guelph Sinfonietta and Coro Culturale di Italia in Ontario.  After his move to the U.S., he received master’s degrees in organ performance and sacred music by the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ; and a doctoral degree in piano performance at Boston University. 

In addition to directing OSNJ, Szabo currently serves as minister of music at the Reformed Church of Bronxville, NY; and the choir director/organist at B’Nai Abraham Temple, in Livingston, N.J.     

Jenny Ribeiro recently appeared as Susanna in Regina Opera’s acclaimed production of Le Nozze di Figaro. She has created opera and musical theater roles on both coasts and works with living composers continually. After graduating from Central Washington University, Ribeiro continued her vocal training with Marni Nixon, Diana Soviero and Olga Makarina. She has also been a young artist with The Remarkable Theatre Brigade, Dicapo Opera Theater, and Opera Manhattan. Frequently performed roles include Pamina (The Magic Flute), Susanna (The Marriage of Figaro), Nella (Gianni Schicchi), Musetta (La Boheme), Gretel (Hansel and Gretel), Serpina (La serva padrona) and Giulietta (The Tales of Hoffmann). She also performed the role of a Coryphee (Le Roi Malgre Lui) with the Bard Summerscape Festival and made her Carnegie Hall solo debut as Elvira (Song of Norway).

Equally at home on the concert stage, Ribeiro premiered two “15-Minutes-of-Fame” for Vox Novus and has performed with such groups as West Fourth New Music Collective, Composers Play Composers and the NY Virtuoso Singers.

Mezzo-soprano Jessica Lauren Copland is an expressive performer known for her versatility in operatic, sacred, and musical theatre genres. Highlights of her work include Sorceress (Dido and Aeneas), Sandman (Hansel and Gretel), Edith/Katisha/Cousin Hebe (Gilbert and Sullivan, The Ballet!), the alto soloist in Handel’s Messiah, and as Mrs. Mary Chaste in the off-Broadway musical Devil of Delancey Street. Copland also enjoys working with various vocal and chamber music ensembles throughout New York.

Errin Duane Brooks is quickly gaining notice as a gifted American tenor. A native of Detroit, Michigan, he appeared recently as Kevin Puts' Silent Night and understudied Don José in Bizet’s Carmen, both with Michigan Opera Theatre. Brooks has performed with other companies in the United States including South Shore Opera, Toledo Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Utah Festival Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

While spending the summer of 2016 with Utah Festival Opera, Brooks placed first in the Michael Ballam Concorso Lirico in Logan, Utah. This sent him to the National Semi-Finals in Alessandria, Italy, where he advanced to the National Finals, placed fourth, and won the Audience Favorite Award. Brooks has had success in several competitions including winning the Grand Prize in The Bel Canto Competition, second place in the Luminarts Cultural Foundation Competition, and Regional Finalist in the 2014-15 Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions.

Past tenor roles for Brooks include Bacchus in Ariadne of Naxos with Chicago Opera Theater, covering Harlequin in Victor Ullman’s Der Kaiser von Atlantis and Messenger in William Grant Still’s Troubled Island, a Chicago premiere. Brooks was an Emerging Artist with Chicago Opera Theater from 2013-15 after receiving his master of music degree from Bowling Green State University and his bachelor of music degree from Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan.

Kyle Oliver is a baritone from Plano, TX. An alumnus of the Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist Training program, he appeared with the Pittsburgh Opera in numerous productions including singing Zurga in The Pearl Fishers, Count Robinson in Il matrimonio segreto and Dandini in La cenerentola. Oliver’s other roles include Prince Yamadori in Madama Butterfly and the Father in Hänsel und Gretel. He has been a soloist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Erie Philharmonic Orchestra and many other orchestras across the nation. His awards include a Grand Prize at the Bel Canto Foundation Competition, the Jeanette Rohatyn “Great Promise” award with the Metropolitan Opera National Council, as well as a career grant from the Sullivan Foundation. He is also a proponent of contemporary opera and art song, collaborating recently with the Center for Contemporary Opera in New York and The Secret Opera. He can be heard on the album “New Voices” a compilation of art songs by contemporary American composers produced by Glen Roven Records and The Brooklyn Art Song Society. Oliver holds a master’s degree from The Juilliard School and a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University, both in opera performance.

                                                                                                                                                                         Founded in 1952, the Oratorio Society of New Jersey is an amateur ensemble dedicated to performing major works of the Western classical choral repertoire, from the Baroque era to the current century.  Based in Montclair, choir members reside throughout northern New Jersey.  OSNJ performs twice yearly at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Montclair, and presents an annual Community Messiah Sing in December.  Recordings of numerous performances of OSNJ can be heard on the website www.oratoriosocietynj.org, and are also available on CD.

Further information about the 2017-18 season, and about membership in the choir is available at www.oratoriosocietynj.org

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