Concert Preview: “Concertmaster and Friends begins season with Sursum Corda”

Concertmaster and Friends begins season with Sursum Corda |

Alabama Symphony Concertmaster Daniel Szasz’s eclectic circle of friends has ranged from the tango-playing bandoneonist Raul Jaurena to renowned composer George Crumb chastising his “bad dog.”Usually assembling in small groups, Szasz’s Concertmaster and Friends series has focused on chamber music, albeit much of it off the beaten track. But to open the 2012-13 Concertmaster and Friends series, he has invited an entire chorus.

Sursum Corda, the 16-voice chamber choir led by Lester Seigel, will join Szasz at Brock Recital Hall on Tuesday for an unusual program.

“Daniel said he would like to do a concert for choir and violin,” said Seigel last week. “I thought, what an odd combination.”

The choir has already performed Eric Whitacre’s “Five Hebrew Love Songs,” a work for violin, piano and chorus. Phillip Rhodes’ “Three Appalachian Settings,” for violin and chorus, was another obvious choice.

“Phillip Rhodes is coming to the concert,” Seigel said. “I have known his music for quite some time. He’s retired from Carleton College in Minnesota and he has never been to Birmingham before.”Music by Louis Spohr, and Ralph Vaughan Williams and Daniel Charney had to be altered a bit to fit the format, and three Gershwin pieces for violin and piano provide an instrumental diversion.

Repertoire flexibility has always been one of Sursum Corda’s strong suits. Its repertoire ranges from Christian and Jewish music to spirituals to folk music.

“Versatility is part of our mission statement, but in truth we’re just doing what we like to do,” said Seigel. “We’re pushing into different areas. If it looks like fun and it’s something we can do and grow by, we’re taking it on.”

Part of Szasz’ motivation was to involve more of the Birmingham community in the series.

“It’s a great thing to collaborate with local arts organizations,” he said. “Lester is doing a great job with the choir, so I thought this would be a good time to experiment. Not many people do this kind of program.”

In addition to regular concerts at Canterbury United Methodist Church, the choir recently performed in Tuscaloosa and is planning performances in Mobile and Indian Springs School. It will also appear with the Alabama Symphony in November when Justin Brown conducts Henry Purcell’s baroque classic, “Dido and Aeneus.”

Written by: Michael Huebner for (Alabama Media Group, The Birmingham News) on September 2, 2012