Music News & Reviews

Sacramento Choral Society keeps up the classical beat

Music director Don Kendrick leads the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra.
Music director Don Kendrick leads the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra. SCSO

As Saturday’s season debut approaches, Donald Kendrick is in overdrive. He’s not just thinking about opening night but its significance of big things to come.

“This is the same program we’re taking on our European tour,” said Kendrick, director and conductor of the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra. “This is really huge for us.”

Kendrick’s enthusiasm bubbles like the effervescent notes of George Frideric Handel, whose “Dettingen Te Deum” plays a central role in both Saturday’s show at Sacramento’s Fremont Presbyterian Church and next summer’s tour to Paris and London. His attitude and confidence feel contagious.

Most of all, Kendrick wants patrons to know: Classical music is still alive in Sacramento.

“We know we’re the antidote to pop culture,” he said.

This fall, local classical audiences have been looking for alternatives to the Sacramento Philharmonic and Sacramento Opera. For the first time in the Sacramento Philharmonic’s 17-year history, that professional orchestra is on uncertain hiatus and so is its sister opera company. Perennially cash-strapped, the Philharmonic merged its operations in 2013 with the Sacramento Opera to form the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance. But at present the opera and orchestra have no concerts scheduled. According to its website, the arts alliance is working on presenting at least a partial schedule in 2015.

“We’re so sorry we don’t have the Opera or Philharmonic this fall,” Kendrick said. “We need them in this city.”

The SCSO shares many of its professional musicians with the Philharmonic. It’s the nation’s only community chorus (out of an estimated 12,000) to have a collective bargaining agreement in place with its own 65-member professional orchestra. The chorus’s 160 singers are volunteers.

“I know many members of our orchestra are feeling really sad,” Kendrick said. “It’s difficult on our players. Those lost concerts represent a huge amount of income. I worry about them.”

The instability of Sacramento’s symphonic scene is a long-standing issue, he noted.

“That’s why we stepped up 19 years ago (and formed the SCSO),” Kendrick said. “That was after the original Sacramento Symphony went bankrupt a second time.”

Founded in 1948, the Sacramento Symphony declared bankruptcy and closed down in 1996 after surviving a 1993 bankruptcy and reorganization. The musicians formed what they called the “Sacramento Philharmonic” in the gap between the two bankruptcies. With many of the same musicians but a slimmer schedule, the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra was officially founded in 1997 after the Symphony’s closure.

Despite the lack of fall concerts by the Philharmonic or Opera, there are local alternatives in addition to the SCSO show, such as:

▪ The San Francisco Symphony visits the Mondavi Center for Performing Arts on the UC Davis campus at 8 p.m Saturday, opening the Mondavi’s popular classical series of world class orchestras. Pianist Christian Zacharias serves as both conductor and soloist. He’ll play Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, leading the orchestra from the keyboard. In addition, the orchestra will perform Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” Haydn’s Symphony No. 93 and Morton Feldman’s “Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety,” an elegy to that contemporary composer’s Russian piano teacher.

“The symphony is almost at capacity, which is much as we expected,” said Rob Tocalino, the Mondavi’s marketing director. “The symphony is only coming here once this year (compared to twice in years past), so that’s created a little more demand.”

Other major orchestras and classical stars coming to UC Davis include: the Czech Philharmonic with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet on Nov. 8; the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande with conductor Charles Dutoit on Feb. 13; the London Symphony Orchestra with guest conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and pianist Yuja Wang on March 21; and, in its Mondavi debut, the Seoul Philharmonic on April 17.

“Our classical series has always been strong,” Tocalino noted. “Those concerts will all be at or close to capacity.”

Interspersed with those big orchestras are more intimate classical performances. Among those offered by the Mondavi this fall are the Alexander String Quartet (Nov. 2) and Academy of Ancient Music (Nov. 13). Sales for both concerts are “doing really well,” Tocalino said.

▪ With about 60 players under direction of Christian Baldini, Sacramento’s Camellia Symphony Orchestra performs Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 along with Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture and Mozart’s Sifonia Concertante at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Sacramento City College Performing Arts Center. Now in its 52nd season, this community orchestra also has concerts set for Feb. 7 and April 25.

▪ The Folsom Symphony opens its 11th season Saturday with “Majesty,” featuring three classical showstoppers: Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto No. 5 (with soloist Frank Wiens), Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” overture and Respighi’s “Pines of Rome.” The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Harris Center for the Arts, Three Stages at Folsom Lake College. Additional concert dates are Dec. 6 and 7 plus Feb. 14, March 28 and June 6 and 7.

▪ Chamber Music Society of Sacramento continues its 2014-15 “Along the Danube” season with 10 more performances including a non-holiday show Dec. 6 at Bet Haverim Synagogue in Davis and Dec. 7 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Sacramento.

Meanwhile, the SCSO has its own ambitious four-concert schedule. After Saturday’s opener, the chorus and orchestra will perform a holiday concert Dec. 13 plus concerts on March 14 and May 9.

For Saturday’s concert, organist Ryan Enright will perform Maurice Duruflé’s very tricky Prelude and Fugue on Fremont Presbyterian’s magnificent Reuter Opus 2239 pipe organ.

“We have an outstanding, world-class organist performing on a world-class organ,” Kendrick said. “Dr. Enright plays an almost impossible piece.”

Kendrick will use a small chamber orchestra with period instruments to accompany Handel’s “Dettingen Te Deum,” a celebration of Britain’s victory over France at the 1743 Battle of Dettingen in Germany.

“It’s a very difficult program,” Kendrick said. “Handel has so many notes; the runs just seem to go on and on. But like (Handel’s) ‘Messiah,’ it’s such uplifting music.

“There’s so much ebullience and excitement. It’s like champagne bubbles; they won’t stop once they start.”

Editor’s note: This story was changed on Oct. 24 to correct a quote by Donald Kendrick.

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

SACRAMENTO CHORAL SOCIETY AND ORCHESTRA

Where: Fremont Presbyterian Church, 5770 Carlson Drive, Sacramento

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Admission: $25-$35; students, $12.50-$17.50

Details: www.sacramentochoral.com; (916) 536-9065

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