Monday, June 24, 2013

"Epic Tales" await Saginaw Choral Society patrons -- with the help of two dogs

by janet i. martineau

To say the Saginaw Choral Society’s 2013-2014 season has gone to the dogs is actually a compliment.

Because, more precisely, they are artistic director Glen Thomas Rideout’s dogs -- one a lab/Great Dane mix and the other a Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, both needing lots of exercise.

When asked how he comes up with his innovative choral programming -- next season’s theme is  “Epic Tales” --- Rideout begins by talking to his choir and tossing ideas around.

“And then I walk my dogs for several days -- 5 to 7 miles a day.” 

During those walks, he continues, he ruminates about music performed in concerts past...listens to material performed by other choirs...pops in a little Beyonce or Britney 
Spears ... “and then I start talking to myself, sometimes my arms flailing like I am conducting.”

Must be an odd sight along his path in Ann Arbor, these huge dogs and this animated tall, skinny man.

And Rideout does admit that programming does not always happen in a timely manner. “I worry the people trying to get out a season brochure with a deadline because I am not always done with the process yet.” Such was the case for one of the four concerts on next season’s schedule -- Rideout’s third in Saginaw as he continues work on his doctorate at the University of Michigan.

“A Season of Epic Tales” as a theme should come as no surprise to patrons familiar with Rideout. He loves, in his concerts, to tell stories -- both musically in the choice of material and verbally as he weaves the evening together.

“I have always seen music as a story, a narrative. My voice teachers instilled in me to sing a song right -- to make people laugh, cry, go to places on the world they have not been, to feel joy.”

So thanks to those dog walks, the season will bring stories galore with “Fantasies of the Opera,” “Christmas Tales,” “Once Upon a Time” fairytales, and  from the world of American musicals “Sondheim Stories.”

Tami S. Snyder-Knutson
With “Fantasies of the Opera” (8pm Oct. 19) expect visits, via arias, duets, small and large ensembles, from larger-than-life characters created by  Mozart, Wagner,  Bizet and Puccini with a little of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” tossed in -- “and the creation of a larger narrative around them.”

Rideout promises a  rollercoaster ride with this one -- and the addition of a 30-member orchestra rather than the smaller ensembles usually seen at Saginaw Choral Society concerts.

And the guest stars? Two fairly recent Saginaw Valley State University grads -- lyric mezzo-soprano Tami S. Snyder-Knutson and soprano Rachelle Austin.

Snyder-Knutson, from Bay City, has performed in the Opera Grand Rapids production of “Samson et Delilah” and the Michigan Opera Theater of Detroit  productions of “Fidelio” and “Aida.”

While at SVSU she was a choral scholar at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Saginaw, under the direction of Kevin Simons, and won numerous vocal honors. In 2012 she was hired as an adjunct instructor of voice at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor

Austin, from  Richmond, is working on her master’s in vocal performance at the Chicago College for Performing Arts of Roosevelt University. She has participated in the Harold Haugh Light Opera Competition and won vocal awards while at SVSU.. 
Rachelle Austin

She has performed with the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra as a soloist in Mozart’s “Regina Coeli” and has been a featured soloist at the Baroque on Beaver Island music festival for four consecutive years. 

Austin’s  opera credits include Belinda in “Dido and Aeneas” at SVSU and participation in the summer opera program Canta in Italia in Lucca, Italy. 

The Sondheim (8pm May 17) was chosen for two reasons -- one being the vocal difficulty of Stephen Sondheim’s scores in such musicals as “Company,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” “Sunday in the Park With George,” “Into the Woods” and  “Sweeney Todd.”

“He is complex to sing, and I think the singers need the challenge.”

And the other, Rideout admits, is personal. Rideout recalls how he was raised on gospel music, rhythm and blues, and 1970s funk, given his African-American heritage.

It was in a high school choir he first heard a Sondheim song and was hooked. “I  thought, wow, this is like rap. Classy, clever words and rhythmic music that makes you want to start to dance.

“To me, Sondheim is so clever, so witty. No one else comes close.” 

So he decided to do an all-Sondheim program since his storylines are pretty wild stuff.

“Once Upon Time” (8pm March 1) is the program-in-progress that is rather vague in the season brochure. ”And also what I want to do with it is hard to explain in English. I want to include fantasy, the idea of other worlds, fairytales, mythical creatures, ancient literature texts, unicorn.”

Expect, maybe, Alice in Wonderland, Jack and the Beanstalk, Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” There is, he alleges, no shortage of material for such a concert theme “but it’s the toughest to figure out. I am still working on it.” 

More walks needed with the canines perhaps.

And “Christmas Tales” (3pm Dec. 14) will involve the world of the Nutcracker’s living toys,  the Reluctant Dragon’s wintry adventures and the magic of “The Night Before Christmas.”

Rideout wants to also do a little more with the visuals next season -- using lighting differently as well as moving his singers beyond the Temple Theatre stage.

 “With the Christmas concert  I want to have different choirs in different places. I want them carrying lights.”

Season tickets are on sale, priced from $150 to $33 in a variety of packages and seat locations. Call 753-1812 for more information or a brochure.

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