Thursday, February 25, 2010

Commissions anchor spring TCGMC concert

Minneapolis, Minnesota

As a child attending Sunday services of the new St. Timothy's Lutheran Church, held in the Nelson Grade School gymnasium in Columbia Heights, Minnesota, I once heard our pastor make a point in his sermon about the weakness of the human voice. "If all the people in the city of Chicago started talking at one time," he said, "they would generate barely enough energy to illuminate a light bulb."

In those days that preceded the Stonewall Rebellion by 10 years, the pastor had never heard a gay men's chorus, the collective voices of which now have power to change and illuminate the world.

For Glenn Olson, such voices have provided at least one life changing experience. As a baritone singer with the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus since its second season in 1982, he has attended seven quadrennial choral festivals sponsored by GALA Choruses. The 1996 GALA gathering in Tampa, Florida, he says, had a special buzz about it.

Word had it that the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus had commissioned a hot new work, NakedMan, to close the festival and honor the memory of the 254 singers it had lost to AIDS. For everyone, like Olson, who shared the moment, the outside air crackled with electricity as they emerged afterward from the packed hall.

With its soaring melodies, "NakedMan" sings the story of all people who have felt different, and celebrates their courage to face the unknown. The song suite, by Philip Littell and Robert Seeley, grew out of interviews with gay men, and is set in 15 movements adding up to 53 minutes of music. The movements cover the range of human experience: coming out of every kind, getting married, serving in the military, wrestling with God, and experiencing loss.

At the debut of "NakedMan" in 1996, Dr. Stan Hill had served as artistic director of the San Francisco chorus for seven years. He continued there for four more years before assuming the same post with the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus in August 2000.

With the two organizations, Hill has commissioned some of the most successful repertoire in the gay and lesbian choral literature. In addition to "NakedMan," he has shepherded to creation "Exile," "ExtrABBAganza," "Metamorphosis," "Through A Glass, Darkly," and "Misbehavin'!"

Hill also has led the TCGMC on a number of remarkable, groundbreaking journeys, including its 25th anniversary season in 2006. That season culminated in the Great Southern Sing-Out Tour through four states and five cities in six July days.

The chorus launched the Southern tour at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, becoming the first gay organization to perform on the historic stage of the Grand Ole Opry. From Tennessee, three buses of singers and supporters then traveled to performances in Birmingham and Mobile, Alabama, Jackson, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana. "Marry Us," one of the movements from "NakedMan," was featured at every stop.

Accompanied by the GLBT Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra, "NakedMan" will open the first half of TCGMC's spring concert, LifeSongs: The Music of Living, Mar. 26-27, at the Ted Mann Concert Hall, Minneapolis. In its publicity, the MPO states that, speaking for itself, its members "will be fully clothed."

The world premiere of "The Kushner Trilogy" will highlight the program's second act. Lyrics for the three sections – "It is Very Simple," "There is a Little House in Heaven," and "I Want More Life" – are drawn from texts by the playwright Tony Kushner.

The TCGMC performed the third section on four occasions during the Guthrie Theater's Kushner Celebration in 2009. Its text comes from "Angels in America, Part II: Perestroika," a monologue by Prior, a man wracked by advancing AIDS, who pleads before a cosmic tribunal for more life despite the pain of his disease. The music transforms the repeated phrase, "I want more life," from plea to confident claim for the gay man's place at humanity's table.

Jeffrey Bores, TCGMC's board chair, and his partner, Michael Hawkins, underwrote the trilogy's choral setting by Michael Shaieb, who also composed "Through A Glass, Darkly" for the chorus in 2008. Meet the Composer's MetLife Creative Connections Program provided additional funding to support post-performance conversations with the composer.

The spring chorus program also will include "The Promise of Living" from Aaron Copland's "The Tender Land," "The Impossible Dream" from "Man of La Mancha," "This is the Moment" from "Jekyll and Hyde," and "Here's Where I Stand" from the film "Camp."

More than 750 men have served in the TCGMC's singing ranks since its first concert at the Heritage Hall of the Minneapolis Public Library. The group has recorded 10 CDs and performed with the Minnesota Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, VocalEssence, Ballet of the Dolls, James Sewell Ballet, composer Ned Rorem, Harvey Fierstein, Ann Hampton Calloway, Michael Feinstein, and Holly Near.

The Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus will present its 2010 spring concert performances with the Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra at the Ted Mann Concert Hall, University of Minnesota West Bank Arts Quarter, Minneapolis, Fri. & Sat., Mar. 26 & 27, 8pm. For tickets call 612.623.2345. Photos by Paul Nixdorf.


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