Johns Creek Symphony Orchstra and Johns Creek Chorale perform Duruflé's "Requiem." (credit: ©Ben Weitz)

Review: Choral-orchestral music flourishes in Atlanta’s northern suburbs

Mark Gresham | 19 MAR 2019

A pair of choral-orchestral concerts this past Saturday bore witness to the increasing growth of truly viable classical music offerings in the northern suburbs, well outside of Atlanta’s I-285 Perimeter Highway. At 4pm, the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra and St. Philip Cathedral Schola performed a concert devoted to the music of Antonio Vivaldi at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Roswell. Then at 7:30pm, some 11 miles east in the city of Johns Creek, the Johns Creek Symphony Orchestra and Johns Creek Chorale offered up a program of all-French music. The driving distance between allowed just enough time to get from one to the other without missing a note.

Atlanta Baroque Orchestra & St. Philip Cathedral Schola

The program at St. David’s was a repeat of a Friday night performance at the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta’s tony Buckhead neighborhood. The Atlanta Baroque Orchestra, the first and longest-tenured “early music” orchestra in the Southeastern U.S., became artists-in-residence at the Cathedral in 2016, where the Cathedral Schola, directed by canon for Music Dale Adlemann, take primary responsibility for singing 4 o’clock choral services from September through May. But the repeat at St. David’s was hardly a “run out” concert to a suburb, because the ABO makes its home there in Roswell.

The relationship between the ABO and the Cathedral choirs has been extremely fruitful for both. The ABO musicians perform on period instruments with the premise of producing a more authentic presentation of the music, as 17th and 18th century composers themselves might have heard it. The Schola is also skilled in the choral techniques of the era.

For these all-Vivaldi concerts, ABO artistic director and concertmaster Julie Andrijeski,was unavailable, so violinist Evan Few took the concertmaster’s seat in her stead, from which he led the instrumental selections. Aldemann conducted the choral works involving the Schola.

Atlanta Baroque Orchestra and St. Philip Cathedral Schola perform "Beatus vir" by Vivaldi. (credit: Mark Gresham)

Atlanta Baroque Orchestra and St. Philip Cathedral Schola perform “Beatus vir” by Vivaldi. (credit: Mark Gresham)

The combined ensembles opened with Beatus vir (RV621), one of a handful of settings by the composer of Psalm 111 (112 in the Vulgate), followed by the Oboe Concerto in C Major (RV 447) with ABO oboist Geoffrey Burgess as soloist. They closed the first half with a Stabat Mater (RV 621), for contralto, strings and basso continuo.

The Stabat Mater served as a showpiece for the great musical discovery of he evening, countertenor Nathan Medley, singing the contralto solo part as well as having solos in both the Beatus Vir and the Gloria yet to come in the concert’s second half. Although many putative countertenors come across as thin and “hooty” in performance, Medley, who moved to the Atlanta area only six months ago, is the real deal, with a rounded, full-voiced sound that has carrying power. He and Andrijeski had worked together at Oberlin Conservatory, where Few also obtained academic creds.

Now that Medley is a resident of the city, once local music makers have opportunity to hear him, expect him to become very much in demand as a countertenor soloist in the region.

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Following intermission, the ABO performed the Overture to Arsilda, regina di Ponto (RV 700) in advance of the most familiar work on the program, the Gloria in D major (RV 589). It’s a piece that’s programmed frequently (perhaps too much) by community and church ensembles. Even if one was inclined to question a few tempos – really, the Domine Deus, Rex coelestis should have the more relaxed flow of a siciliana – it was nonetheless good to hear it performed well by the Schola and ABO.

Johns Creek Symphony Orchestra & Johns Creek Chorale

While Roswell is an affluent, old Georgia city, incorporated in 1854, the city of Johns Creek is a youngster. What had been mostly rural before the 1980s became the focus of development by a handful of Georgia Tech graduates who bought 1700 acres to develop a technology office park. Since then, the area has boomed, incorporating in 2006 as part of a “North Fulton revolution” of city incorporations in the part of the sprawling, elongated county that lies north of Atlanta. In 2017, USA Today ranked Johns Creek third in its list of “50 best cities to live in.”

The Johns Creek Symphony Orchestra, led by music director J. Wayne Baughman, opened their “An evening of French Music” program Saturday evening with Edouard Lalo’s lyrical Romance-Sérénade, featuring JCSO concertmaster Adelaide Federici as violin soloist, followed by the popular Pavane for a Dead Princess by Maurice Ravel.

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To close the first half, Jeremy Rush, principal organist for John’s Creek UMC, was featured soloist in Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Timpani and Strings, but the instrument Rush was playing was also a major focus of the performance. It was once the pipe organ of New York City’s Trinity Church on Wall Street, which was buried in dust and debris during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

After years of silence, the organ was acquired by Johns Creek UMC, which fully restored and reconsecrated the historic Aeolian-Skinner instrument for its spacious sanctuary. The sound of the instrument is fabulously warm overall, not harsh, and even in its expansiveness Rush and Baughman kept the organ and orchestra in good balance.

For the second half of the program, Johns Creek Chorale director Nathan Frank took the podium to conduct the combined chorus, organ and orchestra in the estimable Requiem of Maurice Duruflé. Since Rush was focused on playing the Poulenc Concerto, Nicole Marane served as organist for the Requiem. The vocally-assured Brent Davis sang the brief baritone solos, while in an unusual but not unprecedented move the “Pie Jasu” for solo mezzo-soprano was instead sung in unison from the balcony by the Chorale’s own Tapestry Women’s Ensemble – something Robert Shaw had also done with an Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performance of the Requiem back in the 1980s.

The entire concert was quite satisfying. The knowledge that Duruflé himself had played the Aeolian-Skinner when it was at Trinity Church, and had also been organist for the premiere of Poulenc’s Concerto added yet another nice historical dimension to the program. ■

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