Music of the Baroque – Holiday Brass & Choral Concerts

Music of the Baroque, Photo: Elliott Mandel
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Holiday Brass & Choral Concerts conducted by Andrew Megill brings in the holiday spirit in its 50th year.

These concerts, representing the most enduring tradition in MOB’s history, will be performed at four Chicagoland locations spanning the city and the suburbs, including two new locations in Evanston and Winnetka. Guest conductor Andrew Megill, the conductor of the Montreal Symphony Chorus and the Carmel Bach Festival Chorus, will make his MOB conducting debut in a program that traces the holiday story through mystical chant, jubilant Renaissance and Baroque works for brass, ethereal music for a cappella choir and celebratory works for the entire ensemble. Featured composers include Gabrieli, Lassus, Hassler, Byrd, Willcocks, Salazar, and much more.

Andrew Megill, courtesy of the artist

Performance Schedule and Tickets
• 8 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 16, at Grace Lutheran Church, 7300 Division St., River Forest, Ill.(graceriverforest.org)
• 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 17, at St. Michael Church, 1633 N Cleveland Ave., Chicago (st-mikes.org)
Tickets: $48-$95. Visit baroque.org or call 312.551.1414

• 2 p.m., Saturday, Dec.18, at Saints Faith, Hope, & Charity Church, 191 Linden St., Winnetka, Ill. (faithhope.org)
• 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19, at Alice Millar Chapel- Northwestern University, 1870 Sheridan Rd., Evanston, Ill. (northwestern.edu\millarchapel)
Tickets: $50-$100. Visit baroque.org or call 312.551.1414

COVID-19 Protocols:
At this time, masks and proof of vaccination will be required for all locations. For updates and more information, visit file baroque.org.

Conductor Nicholas Kraemer conducting, Photo credit: HMS Media

About Music of the Baroque

Under the direction of internationally acclaimed British conductor Dame Jane Glover, Music of the Baroque occupies a special place in the rich cultural life of Chicago. Long recognized as one of the region’s top classical groups, Music of the Baroque’s professional chorus and orchestra is one of the leading ensembles in the country devoted to the performance of eighteenth-century works.

Over the past five decades, Music of the Baroque has presented premiere performances of many early masterpieces, including Monteverdi’s operas and 1610 Vespers, Georg Philipp Telemann’s “Day of Judgment,” Mozart’s “Idomeneo,” and numerous Handel operas and oratorios. The ensemble has drawn particular praise throughout its history for its performances of the major choral and orchestral works of J. S. Bach and Handel, Mozart, and Haydn.

Opera News calls Music of the Baroque “one of Chicago’s musical glories” and the Chicago Sun-Times writes, “Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra may be the big guys on the local classical music scene, but in terms of sheer quality of performance…Music of the Baroque inhabits the same stratosphere.”

Music of the Baroque draws audiences from across the Chicago metropolitan area, performing regularly at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park in downtown Chicago and the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, as well as at intimate Chicago and suburban churches. Listeners across the country enjoy the work of Music of the Baroque through radio broadcasts and recordings on 98.7 WFMT Radio.

Music of the Baroque, Photo: Elliott Mandel

Through its “Strong Voices” program, Music of the Baroque conducts arts education to support and enhance music education programs at Chicago public high schools. Music of the Baroque is a 501(c)(3) non-profit. For more information about Music of Baroque visit baroque.org.

Chicago Splash Magazine had the opportunity of a Q & A with Executive Director Declan McGovern who generously answered our questions.

How did the performers keep up their skills and spirits during the long time without an audience?

The pandemic was a challenge for everyone in the arts, especially our musicians. They were all quite dedicated to keeping up their skills, maintaining a daily rigorous practice schedule. I know many also developed passion projects to satisfy their creative impulses. One of our chorus members, for example, started recording music written by female composers. Music of the Baroque was committed to getting our musicians back on stage as soon as possible, however. Beginning in January 2021, we live-streamed one concert per month. The early performances were limited to strings only, had no conductor, and used as small an ensemble as possible so that everyone could wear masks and socially distance. Once Music Director Dame Jane Glover and Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas Kraemer were permitted to travel to Chicago (both make their homes in London), we were slightly more ambitious. We invited internationally renowned pianist Inon Barnatan to join us in March for a Mozart piano concerto and gradually incorporated wind instruments. Our final concert in June featured two vocal soloists and our principal trumpet player, Barbara Butler. I can tell you that performing live in a completely empty hall is not the same! Our conductors and musicians very much missed the energy of the audience. I think perhaps the audience is as essential to a concert’s success as the performers themselves.  

In a Q & A with Chicago Splash Magazine MOB shared thoughts and experiences.

How did the performers keep up their skills and spirits during the long time without an audience?

The pandemic was a challenge for everyone in the arts, especially our musicians. They were all quite dedicated to keeping up their skills, maintaining a daily rigorous practice schedule. I know many also developed passion projects to satisfy their creative impulses. One of our chorus members, for example, started recording music written by female composers. Music of the Baroque was committed to getting our musicians back on stage as soon as possible, however. Beginning in January 2021, we live-streamed one concert per month. The early performances were limited to strings only, had no conductor, and used as small an ensemble as possible so that everyone could wear masks and socially distance. Once Music Director Dame Jane Glover and Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas Kraemer were permitted to travel to Chicago (both make their homes in London), we were slightly more ambitious. We invited internationally renowned pianist Inon Barnatan to join us in March for a Mozart piano concerto and gradually incorporated wind instruments. Our final concert in June featured two vocal soloists and our principal trumpet player, Barbara Butler. I can tell you that performing live in a completely empty hall is not the same! Our conductors and musicians very much missed the energy of the audience. I think perhaps the audience is as essential to a concert’s success as the performers themselves.  

Music of the Baroque, Photo: Elliott Mandel

What do you anticipate having a live audience will mean to the performers?

Our first live performance with an audience was at “Baroque in the Park,” an open-air concert in Millennium Park on September 10. We were a little nervous that people might not turn up because of concerns about Covid-19. It was quite the opposite—the crowd that evening was estimated at 6,500, one of the largest of the summer. You could feel the electricity in the air! It was the first time being in front of a live audience for many of the performers since the lockdown began in March 2020. A week later, we launched our regular season at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie and the Harris Theater for Music and Dance downtown. Both of these events were the first live performances not only for musicians but for our audience members, and it’s hard to put into words just how meaningful it was to come back together to listen to music in person. At each concert, the audience and performers spontaneously applauded one another for over two minutes. Most of our instrumentalists perform with the Lyric Opera or the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, so they’re now in full swing. Many of our singers will have performed with us in Handel’s Messiah on November 28 and 29. 

Are there any special moments in the music that the audience should be watching for?

Music of the Baroque is nearing the end of our 50th-anniversary celebration, and the Holiday Brass & Choral Concerts are perhaps our most enduring tradition. Our holiday concerts offer an escape from the commercial hustle and bustle of the holidays with music from the medieval era all the way to carefully chosen contemporary works. Guest conductor Andrew Megill has assembled a program that deliberately tells a story. I fully expect his musical choices will transport the audience to a different time and place. The Holiday Brass & Choral Concerts also have a very dedicated group of followers, and the return of this event will be highly emotional for everyone involved. There is something reassuring about the familiar when everything still feels a bit uncertain and strange. 

One memorable moment comes at the very end of the program when three of our singers come to the front of the audience with handbells to start the mesmerizing chant “Te Deum laudamus.” The “Te Deum” is immediately followed by the ethereal “Es ist ein Ros’” (which many know as “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”). The music slowly dissipates into the reverent stillness of the church sanctuary, and the concert is over. It is a magical conclusion that is impossible to describe accurately in words.  

Would you care to share any special moments that may have occurred while preparing for this show?

The Holiday Brass & Choral Concert is an extremely challenging program and requires a lot of rehearsal time. Guided by guest chorus director Andrew Megill, our singers spend hours going over the nuances of phrasing, how loud and soft to sing, making sure the words are audible, and so much more.  We also put a lot of thought into the use of space, having the singers and instrumentalists perform in different formations and in different parts of the church.  This adds to the creation of a suspended sound world that somehow reaches back through the centuries of time.

Any additional thoughts?

Due to the pandemic lockdown, we were forced to cancel our holiday performances in December 2020 during our actual 50th anniversary season. We did manage to create some videos recreating some favorite moments for Holiday Brass and Choral, mixing in various scenes from around Chicago.  However, nothing beats live performance, and these upcoming concerts allow us to celebrate being back in your local communities again, recognizing this vital part of our history as we reach the end of our golden jubilee. They will be significant for our principal trumpet Barbara Butler, who has been part of the event since its inception over 40 years ago and plays a huge role in performing and selecting the brass music on the program. Given what has been happening these past months, the Holiday Brass & Choral Concert’s message of hope and reverence will feel even more intense this year. The idea of escaping into a profoundly beautiful sound world is particularly appealing right now! I’m looking forward to welcoming back our holiday concertgoers and hope to see lots of new faces in the audience. 

Thank you so much.

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