Concert emerges post-pandemic, will honor composers who shone in brief lives – Chicago Tribune
Some of the most beautiful music sung today was created by composers who unfortunately lived short lives. The Michael Teolis Singers will honor 15 of them, spanning five centuries, when they perform “Gone Too Soon,” May 7 at 7:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church of Oak Park, 324 N. Oak Park Ave.
“We had planned to do a concert in 2020 commemorating the end of World War II,” Teolis said. It included a piece for solo soprano.
“I had met Josefien Stoppelenburg, a Dutch soprano, who lives in the Chicago area. I asked her if she would agree to play the solo role,” says Teolis. “We were all set to leave in March 2020 when everything shut down.”
He kept postponing this gig but eventually decided to go in another direction. But Teolis still wanted Stoppelenburg to perform with the group, so he looked for a piece for choir, piano and soloist. He located a work by Franz Schubert entitled “Miriam’s Song of Triumph”.
Stoppelenburg said the piece would match his voice perfectly.
“It’s a very exciting piece and, to be honest, ‘I didn’t know that until he mentioned it,’ said Wilmette resident Stoppelenburg. “It’s a very powerful narrative piece, so I’m very excited to play it with this band.”
She reported that the work tells the story of the Israelites’ flight from Egypt through the eyes of Miriam. “It starts very happy,” said the soloist. “She said, ‘Come, let us celebrate and praise the Lord.’ And then it tells the whole story of the Israelites trying to escape and the Pharaoh and his army following them. This feeling of war, escape, relief and panic – all these intense feelings – and Schubert depicts them all as if by magic. You can almost see them.
“Miriam’s Song of Triumph” is about 20 minutes long.
“The piece ends with a very compelling fugue,” Stoppelenburg said.
The next step for Teolis was to find other pieces that would work with the Schubert.
It occurred to the conductor that Schubert had died when he was only 31 years old. “I started to think of other pieces and composers that would amuse the singers and the audience,” recalls Teolis. It was then that he invented the concept “Gone Too Soon”.
“I think it’s a very fascinating theme because there are so many composers for whom you think about what would have happened if they had lived longer. In which direction would they have gone? Stoppelenburg noted.
Teolis chose works by Mozart, Giovanni Pergolesi and George Gershwin, and diversified the program by adding black composers, including Scott Joplin.
“Then I came across this arrangement of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ by John Lennon,” Teolis said.
The songs will be sung in five languages: English, German, French, Latin and Italian.
Teolis admitted that he doesn’t know anyone who does the kind of programming he does.
The conductor recalled that he once created a program called “Grand Dames of American Music.”
“I did seventeen female composers in one gig,” he said.
Teolis praised the versatility of its singers, chosen by audition. None of them are paid and neither is Teolis.
The pianist is paid, as well as other musicians who are added. There will be a string ensemble and a percussionist for the next concert. Twenty-six singers will perform.
For 15 years, Teolis has devoted many hours to creating the two main concerts that the group gives each year and rehearsing with them for two hours each Sunday.
He explains that he does it because “it’s a passion. There’s so much music that’s not being heard that I think people will really appreciate.
Tickets for “Gone Too Soon” are $22; $17 for seniors and students, in advance; $25 and $20 at the door. For more information, visit MTSingers.org.
Myrna Petlicki is a freelance journalist for Pioneer Press.