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Pepper Spotlight: The Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia

Founded in 1874 by William Wallace Gilchrist, Mendelssohn Club has been a major force in choral music in Philadelphia and beyond. One of this country’s oldest choruses, Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia performs choral music to create a shared transcendent experience among its singers and audiences. Through the excellence of its adventurous performances, Mendelssohn Club advances the development of choral music as an art form. Notable historic performances include the 1916 U.S. premiere of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 with Leopold Stokowski and The Philadelphia Orchestra. Other historical premieres include the first performance outside the Soviet Union of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13, and the Philadelphia premieres of Brahms’s German Requiem, Prokofiev’s Ivan the Terrible, Scriabin’s Symphony No. 1, and Bartók’s Cantata Profana.

Mendelssohn Club began as an eight-voice male chorus, but soon increased in size and added women’s voices. The first subscription concert was held in December, 1879, and included piano and cello solos as well as choral works. Gilchrist was becoming increasingly well known as a composer, and concerts began to feature his works as well. In 1882 his setting of Psalm 46 won first prize at the Cincinnati May Festival, where the judges included Camille Saint-Saëns and Carl Reinecke.

Mendelssohn Club’s long association with the Philadelphia Orchestra began under Gilchrist’s tenure with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 under Scheel’s baton in 1903. For the next thirty years the Orchestra and the chorus appeared on each other’s subscription concert series. In 1908 Mendelssohn Club gave the Philadelphia premiere of the Brahms’s Requiem and in 1916 provided more than 300 singers for the American premiere of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 under the baton of Leopold Stokowski.

The core values of Mendelssohn Club are a belief in:

  • Taking artistic risks that stretch and challenge our singers and our audiences
  • Supporting the talent, passion, and dedication of its singers, and the powerful communal experience that comes from shared music making
  • Respecting the commitment and appreciation of the audience members
  • Ensuring Mendelssohn Club’s long-term stability as an important cultural resource in the region and as an influence in the world of choral music

Amanda Schkeeper serves as the Executive Director of Mendelssohn Club. Paul Rardin, Conductor, is the 13th Artistic Director of Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia. He is also Elaine Brown Chair of Choral Music at Temple University, where he conducts the Concert Choir, teaches graduate conducting, and oversees the seven-choir program at Temple’s Boyer College of Music and Dance. Rardin previously taught at the University of Michigan and Towson University, where his choirs appeared with the Kirov Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and Baltimore Choral Arts Society.

Notable conductors over the years have included:

  • Herbert J. Tily, 1914-1916
  • N. Lindsay Norden, 1916-1926
  • M. Sherwood Johnson, 1934-1936
  • Harl McDonald, 1936-1939
  • Harold W. Gilbert, 1939-1959
  • William Smith, 1959-1960
  • Henry C. Smith III, 1960-1965
  • Robert Page, 1965-1978
  • Tamara Brooks, 1978-1988
  • Alan Harler, 1988-2015
  • Paul Rardin, 2015-present

 

Performances from recent seasons have included the following literature:

Mendelsson Club 2014-2015 Season

Chorales from St. Matthew Passion, J.S. Bach; O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden; Aus tiefer Noth; Organ Sonata No. 3; Verleih uns Frieden, Felix Mendelssohn; American Tune, Paul Simon; Johanna Sebus, Carl Friedrich Zelter; O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, Johann Cruger; Slava!, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov; O Come, All Ye Faithful, John Francis Wade; Salvation Is Created, Pavel Chesnokov; Bogoroditse Devo, Sergei Rachmaninoff; A Wondrous Birth, Georgy Sviridov; Song of Good Cheer, arr. Mikola Leontovich; I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, John Baptiste Calkin; Joy to the World, Lowell Mason; Christmas Cantata, Daniel Pinkham; Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day, arr. Donald St. Pierre; O Magnum Mysterium, Morten Lauridsen; Fum! Fum! Fum!, arr. Shaw-Parker; Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Felix Mendelssohn; Praise the Lord with Drums and Cymbals, Sigfrid Karg-Elert; A Savior From on High, Stephen Paulus; The First Nowell, arr. David Willcocks; A Christmas Carol, Charles Ives; Christmas Lullaby, arr. Donald St. Pierre; Silent Night, Franz Xaver Gruber

Mendelsson Club 2015-2016 Season

The Fellowship of the Ring, Howard Shore; Mass in C Minor, W.A. Mozart; Agnus Dei, Kile Smith; Psalms 91, 78, 69, F. Mendelssohn; O Come All Ye Faithful, John Francis Wade; Ballads from The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass, Carol Barnett; In the Splendor of the Dawn, Traditional; Infant Holy, arr. Paul Manz; Wexford Carol, arr. David Mooney; Little Tree, Stephen Heitzeg; It Came upon the Midnight Clear, Richard Storrs Willis; Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day, John Gardner; Ding, Dong! Merrily on High, arr. Malcolm Williamson; Joy to the World, arr. Lowell Mason; Mary Had a Baby, arr. Malcolm Sargent; De Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy, arr. Malcolm Sargent; Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, F. Mendelssohn; Sistah Mary, arr. Rollo Dilworth; O Holy Night, Adolphe Adam, arr. Deis; Silent Night, Franz Gruber, arr. Puerling; Apple-Tree Wassail, arr. Stephen Hatfield; Christmas Medley, arr. Richard Gregory; Go Tell It on the Mountain, arr. Bruce Saylor; The First Nowell, arr Wilcocks; Jesu Carols, Stephen Paulus; Missa Brevis, Zoltán Kodály; Credo, Einojuhani Rautavaara; Exsultate Deo, omnis terra, Marek Jasínski; Diffusa est gratia, Vytautas Miškinis; Ave verum corpus, Imant Raminsh; O salutaris hostia, Ēriks Ešenvalds; Alleluia, Jennifer Higdon; Alleluia, Andrea Clearfield; Choral Dances from Gloriana, Benjamin Britten; Serenade to Music, Ralph Vaughan Williams; The Passing of the Year, Jonathan Dove; Alleluia, James Primosch; Alleluia, Robert Maggio

Mendelssohn Club 2016-2017 Season

God Is Gone Up, Gerald Finzi; Salve regina, Jackson; Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis, William Walton; Let All the World in Every Corner Sing, Leighton; Rejoice in the Lamb, Benjamin Britten; Antiphon from Five Mystical Songs, Ralph Vaughan Williams; Midnight Clear: A Christmas Reverie, Conrad Susan; Gabriel’s Message, Joshua Shank; Afro-American Fragments, William Averitt; No Mirrors in My Nana’s House, Ysaye Barnwell; Spiritual, Ysaye Barnwell; Wanting Memories, Ysaye Barnwell; Precious Lord, Thomas Dorsey, arr. Sevier; Will the Circle Be Unbroken?, Charles Gabriel, arr. Rardin; Bright Morning Stars,  arr. Kirchner; Way Over in Beulah Lan’, arr Gibbs; King David, Arthur Honegger; Carmina Burana, Carl Orff

For more information, please visit Mendelssohn Club on the web at http://www.mcchorus.org/wp/

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