Symphonic Choir kicks off season at Kimmel Center

By Nicole Cortese

The stage is set for Westminster Choir College’s (WCC) choirs to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the orchestra’s conductor and a rising star in the classical music world.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, a former WCC student, is all smiles as he fulfills his passion of conducting orchestras around the world.

From Sept. 26-28, students of the Westminster Symphonic Choir will perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and Goethe’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. In addition to these performances, the Westminster Choir will perform Nico Muhly’s Bright Mass with Canons.

Anne Sears, Westminster’s director of External Affairs, said the concert is an example of the unique opportunities available at Rider.

“Westminster is the only college in the world that offers students the opportunity to perform with major orchestras on a regular basis,” she said. “It gives students a chance to get involved and the opportunity to perform at the highest level with top musicians.”

The Symphonic Choir consists of juniors, seniors and graduate students who perform annually with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. The Westminster Choir is a select, auditioned ensemble.

Matthew Gutwald, a graduate student in piano performance and pedagogy, is no stranger to working with Nézet-Séguin.

“I’m very excited to work with Yannick again,” he said. “This is the choir’s fourth collaboration with him. He’s such a wonderful and inspirational musician.”

Nézet-Séguin is a former student of WCC. He studied choral conducting for two summers before continuing to study with world-renowned conductors such as Italian maestro Carlo Maria Giulini.

This is Nézet-Séguin’s second full season with the Philadelphia Orchestra. At age 38, he is one of the world’s youngest and most successful conductors. Sears described how much audiences admire his passion for conducting.

“People are so excited to have him there,” she said. “They’re screaming and shouting, and you really feel like you’re at a rock concert.”

Singing alongside the Philadelphia Orchestra also gives Westminster heightened exposure.

“Rider is increasing its public profile as a center for performing arts,” Sears said. “Having the choir from Rider perform with a big five orchestra gives us visibility.”

Regular visits to venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the Kimmel Center are considered some of the many highlights in students’ lives.

“Not every school gets opportunities like this,” Gutwald said. “Making music on stage with my classmates and friends is the greatest experience in the world.”

On WCC’s Facebook page, alumni describe how performances like these were momentous points of their academic careers.

“Not many people understand the pride I feel when I talk about WCC and James Madison University,” Lynn G. Atkins, class of 2004, said. “The experiences I have had with these two unique schools have shaped me into the person I want to be, the musician I want to be.”

Over the past 78 years, the Symphonic Choir has performed with all of the big five orchestras except the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Cleveland Orchestra). In addition, it has worked with international orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra when they have visited the tri-state area.

Gutwald admires Nézet-Séguin for his passionate style of conducting. The audience will be able to witness this firsthand at the Kimmel Center.

“When he conducts, he puts his entire body and soul into it,” he said. “He combines his energy, the choir’s energy and the orchestra’s energy and then channels it back into the audience.”

Printed in the 9/18/13 edition.

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