Putting together a professional chorus has been the dream of many local choral conductors, but Ron Gillis alone has succeeded. His 30-voice San Diego Choral Artists opens its second season tonight with a concert at the University Christian Church in Hillcrest. During the group's inaugural season--four pairs of concerts in four different locations around the county--Gillis learned a few lessons.
"We came to appreciate the value of publicity and marketing," Gillis said. "It was easy to draw crowds for the December Christmas concerts, but at other times getting good audiences was much more difficult."
Keeping the choir in the black has required a wide variety of fund-raising activities, including singing at a Padres game in August. A quartet from the choir sang Gillis' own arrangement of the national anthem, which was a big hit with the baseball fans. With 60 choir groupies also attending the game, the ensemble earned $1,000 for the choir treasury that night.
Unfortunately, not all of Gillis' singers were prepared for the discipline of being part of a professional organization. In a church or community choir, singers are taught their music in rehearsal, but in a professional ensemble, every singer is expected to know his part before the first rehearsal.
"A couple of singers from last season declined to audition this year because they didn't want to work that hard," Gillis said.
Gillis works hard to present fresh repertory, music that the local college and church choirs have not already done to death. Tonight he will conduct the "Magnificat" by the inventive contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Part. Although Part's music, a hybrid of neo-medieval harmonies and minimalist textures, enjoyed unusual popularity in Western Europe and parts of North America in the 1980s, it has rarely been performed here.
Tonight's program also includes three Japanese choral songs by Ryohei Hirose, Lajos Bardos' "Ungheresca," three Argentine lullabies by Carlos Guastavino, and a reprise of San Diego State University resident composer David Ward-Steinman's "Season Fantastic," which Gillis and the choir premiered in June for the national convention of the American Harp Society, held at the University of San Diego.
Gillis will take his choir to Rancho Santa Fe's Church of the Nativity Dec. 4-6 for the annual Christmas concert, and the choir will return to USD's Founders Chapel Feb. 20-21 for a concert of English music that includes Herbert Howells' "Requiem." Concerts at La Mesa's First United Methodist Church on April 17-18 will complete the 1992-93 season.
Moscow days. San Diego Chamber Orchestra Music Director Donald Barra spent this week conducting the Moscow Philharmonic. Barra, who also is a member of the SDSU music faculty, led the noted Russian orchestra in a pair of compact discs for Koch International Classics, the company that has issued three recordings with Barra's San Diego ensemble.
Barra's first CD with the Moscow Philharmonic will feature Israeli pianist Israela Margalit as soloist in Anton Rubinstein's Fourth Piano Concerto. (Although the prolific Russian Romantic composer wrote 10 symphonies and five piano concertos, the concertos are rarely performed outside Russia.) The second recording will include contemporary composer Alfred Schnittke's Piano Concerto, also with Margalit, and Dmitri Shostakovich's Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings. The Russian CDs are scheduled for release in February and March.
Barra returns Sunday to prepare for the opening of the San Diego Chamber Orchestra's season Oct. 29, a program of overtures and opera arias with baritone Sherrill Milnes held at Rancho Santa Fe's Heritage Hills Country Club.
Teaching more than the notes. Most conservatories and music schools do a respectable job teaching students their musical craft, but the tutelage usually stops there. This academic year, members of the Arioso Wind Quintet will be teaching musical groups at SDSU how to research and market their music for performance in the community. SDSU music faculty member Marian Liebowitz, Arioso's clarinetist, said that the series of lectures and concerts would stress programming multicultural music for both public schools and adult audiences.
Arioso, which started as a resident ensemble at SDSU, has established an enviable record in community outreach and multicultural programming over the past six years. Wednesday at noon in the university's Smith Recital Hall, Arioso will perform its current program of Latin-American music for students and the public. On Oct. 19, Arioso will play its adaptation of Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" in animal costumes for the students of San Diego's Oak Park Elementary School, with SDSU music students observing.
"Music students will also be instructed in the business side of performing, such as obtaining publicity and getting bookings," Liebowitz said. Among the SDSU groups with which she will work are jazz combos, classical ensembles, and several world music groups, including the Balinese gamelan orchestra. This unusual program is underwritten by the John and Jane Adams Living Trust, which funds educational projects in the humanities and fine arts.
ROBERT McDUFFIE IN LA JOLLA
The talented 34-year-old American violinist Robert McDuffie will play Beethoven's evergreen Violin Concerto with the Prague Chamber Orchestra at 8 p.m. Oct. 1 at La Jolla's Sherwood Auditorium. 1 Like New York's Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Prague musicians play without a conductor. They have made more than 80 recordings in their young 38 years playing together. The orchestra's La Jolla program includes Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony and Bohuslav Martinu's Serenade No. 3. Tickets are available from the La Jolla Chamber Music Society (459-3728).