The Houston Chamber Choir, one of the country’s leading choral music ensembles, recently announced a 2013–2014 season almost evenly divided between audience favorites and path-breaking new work. In addition to its traditional Christmas performance of Handel’s Messiah (in collaboration with the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra), the choir’s 18th season will include a newly-commissioned piece by McKnight Award–winning composer Jocelyn Hagan and present a concert of Central and South American music conducted by Venezuelan maestro María Guinand.
When asked to choose the concert he’s most excited about, Houston Chamber Choir founder and artistic director Robert Simpson demurs. “That’s like asking a parent which child he likes best,” Simpson says. “I take all the concerts very much to heart.”
That said, Simpson was eager to highlight the choir’s first concert of the season, which was inspired by the recent election of Pope Francis and will be held in the downtown Co-Cathedral. For the occasion, Simpson chose a series of works associated with the Roman Catholic papacy, including Palestrina’s Tu es Petrus and Pope Marcellus Mass; Francis Poulenc’s The Four Prayers of St. Francis of Assisi.
The choir has performed its inaugural concert at the Co-Cathedral for the past five years. “It’s a unique building in Houston,” Simpson says. “Its resonance and its size make it quite majestic, and I try to pick music that suits that.”
The final concert of the year is entitled “Love Songs of the ’60s,” and pairs Brahms’s popular Liebeslieder Waltzes of the 1860s with a selection of Beatles songs from the 1960s arranged for the choir by Yumko Matsuoka. “It’s a neat coincidence that Brahms wrote his waltzes in the 1860s and the Beatles performed in the 1960s,” Simpson says. “After spending the season performing so much great musical literature, we’ll be taking a little bit more of a sunnier approach for our last subscription concert.”
When we think of love songs, we often think of The Beatles. But Brahms, the chaste, life-long bachelor?
“Brahms knew how to write great love songs,” Simpson replies. “Even though he didn’t have much success in his own romantic life.”