The Charleston-based Taylor Festival Choir, a professional ensemble directed by Dr. Robert Taylor, will perform French composer Maurice Duruflé’s serene, yet deceptively tricky Requiem this Sunday afternoon at Grace Episcopal Church. Joining the choir will be acclaimed mezzo-soprano Gigi Mitchell-Velasco and distinguished cellist Natalia Khoma. If ears could drool.
This revered work has been performed fairly often around town by several fine local choirs over the years, but now we’ve got a world-class resident choir to show us how it’s done. The Taylor Festival Choir was selected from among hundreds of applicants to appear and perform at the 2009 National Convention of the American Choral Directors Association in Oklahoma City last March. You can think of the annual ACDA convention as the Super Bowl for American choirs of all kinds; just getting invited to appear is a major coup. And competition to get there was especially fierce, as this convention marked the ACDA’s 50th anniversary.
It’s not a competition per se; there are no declared “winners.” The victory is simply in being there to strut your stuff in front of the nation’s most discriminating choral audiences. The only other choir to appear in the professional category was the world-famous Conspirare, a classically grounded group that’s doing much to alter the modern course of serious choral music with their often pop-based creations. And now a bunch of gifted musicians from our own backyard is similarly poised to steer the course of modern choral art.
This is just the latest in Taylor’s long list of honors. He took his College of Charleston Concert Choir to the ACDA convention in 2005, and the same ensemble appeared earlier this year at the similarly prestigious National Collegiate Choral Organization’s convention. That makes three instances of national-level recognition for his various choirs over the past four seasons; Taylor’s star as a major American choral guru is rising — and fast.
As founding Taylor Festival Choir member and Assistant Conductor Doug Burney revealed in a recent phone interview, “Rob’s vision, quite simply, is to run one of the finest choirs of its kind in the world.” Burney, a former student of Taylor’s, went on to describe Taylor as a “supremely gifted artist, as well as an incredibly tenacious person who never stops pursuing his lofty goals.”
“Wherever Rob has worked and taught,” Burney added, “his contagious spirit and relentless pursuit of excellence has gained him a far-flung and incredibly loyal ‘family’ of professional-quality singers.” Burney spoke for the rest of the choir when he recalled — his voice dripping wonder — the “supreme thrill of singing on choral music’s grandest stage” at ACDA.
The Taylor Festival Choir is a chamber choir, numbering from 24 to 28 voices. Taylor explained that “the choir draws from a master list of around 40 accomplished choral artists, quite a few of whom travel from afar to rehearse and perform with us.” But his core performers are young local vocalists, mostly from among Taylor’s pool of gifted protégés from his decade of directing CofC’s choral program.
Aside from Sunday’s Durufle concert, plans for the rest of the season include a special Celtic Christmas program and a St. Patrick’s Day concert. Farther out, Taylor and company are looking into entering the prestigious Cork International Choral Competition in Ireland in the spring of 2011 and touring the British Isles while they’re at it. With one dynamite national-label CD already under their belt, they hope to soon record an Irish-flavored holiday collection.
Taylor knows that he’s got something special going with the Festival Choir. “My fondest hope,” he says, “is that we will soon experience an explosion of international notoriety by generating new audiences beyond the classical world, but without selling out to pop culture.”
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