By Katie Lovett
---- — The Newburyport Choral Society has spent months preparing for this weekend’s annual winter concert.
Late last spring director Gerald Weale informed the 100-plus singers who make up the chorus of his selections for the concert program, set for this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Rehearsals began several months ago.
The chorus’ loyal audience, many of whom return each year for the holiday program, will not be disappointed, says singer Mary Ann Lachat. The program lives up to the Choral Society’s reputation for offering diverse, interesting pieces, complete with an orchestra and soloists. she said.
“It’s always a mix of holiday music and very often, music that perhaps reflects different parts of history or the world,” she said. “It’s really noted for its variety.”
Weale chose the dramatic piece, “Magnificat,” by 20th century British composer Jonothan Willcocks as the centerpiece for this year’s concert.
“We’ve done it once before, about nine years ago, and it went well,” Weale said yesterday. The large work consists of five contrasting movements that can overlap at times while rapidly changing its rhythm. Soprano Meredith Kelly will perform a solo.
The Choral Society will also perform a set of a cappella liturgical hymns by Russian composers Rachmaninoff and Chesnekov. Rachmaninoff, a “brilliant pianist” composed the pieces for the Russian church, and the hymns follow in that church’s canon law which prohibits the use of instruments during worship.
The hymns are “luxuriant harmonies,” Weale said, and “lend an incandescent quality to the timeless words of the liturgy.”
“They are so beautiful,” Lachat said.
The concert will also include a performance of the song “Rhythm of Life” from the musical Sweet Charity. It is the first time that the chorus has performed a tune from a Broadway musical in quite a while, Weale added. Show tunes are often geared towards soloists and don’t translate into works for a full chorus, he said.
During the first half of the concert, the chorus will perform a selection of favorite Christmas carols, accompanied by a brass orchestra. The audience is urged to sing along, as well. In what has become a highlight of the concert each year, a guest conductor will step in and lead the group for one carol.
Donors can sponsor a guest conductor to lead the group for one song for a donation of $1,000. The Choral Society also chooses a guest conductor each year through a standing donation gifted to the chorus by a longtime supporter who passed away.
This year, the Choral Society chose Chamber of Commerce president Ann Ormond, Lachat said.
“We try to pick somebody that has really made a contribution to the community,” she said.
Ormond will conduct on Saturday night during “Silent Night.” The chamber director, who has been a vocalist for more than 40 years, often performs at various community productions and programs. She’s also conducted for church choirs.
While there’s always “a little pre-show jitters” each time she prepares to sing or conduct, Ormond said she was looking forward to the evening — both as an audience member and a conductor.
“I hold my own,” she said. “It’ll be a ton of fun.”
During Sunday’s afternoon concert, two guest conductors will step in. Choral Society president, Beth Rogers is sponsoring founding member Betty Gillette in honor of her upcoming 100th birthday. Gillette, who continued to perform with the chorus regularly until recent years, will conduct for “Silent Night.” Gillette joined about 60 other singers and conductor Clifton Lunt in 1934 to help launch the Newburyport Choral Society.
The memory of another important figure in the Choral Society’s history, the late Roxie Kalashian, is also being honored on Sunday when her daughter, Janet, conducts during “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” in her mother’s memory.
Roxie Kalashian was “an enthusiastic member of the Choral Society since its founding and who served 10 terms as its elected president,” Lachat wrote in an email.
“Music was always an important part of Roxie’s life and she formed a musical trio with her older sisters known as ‘The Rhythm Sisters’ which performed locally. Roxie was a true civic leader and well known for her tireless contributions to Newburyport,” she added.
IF YOU GO
What: Newburyport Choral Society winter concert
When: Saturday, 8 p.m. and Sunday, 2:30 p.m.
Where: Belleville Congregational Church, 300 High St., Newburyport
How: $22 for adults and $20 for seniors and students. Tickets can be purchased at PakMail, Jabberwocky, and The Book Rack in Newburyport, Starbird Jewelers in Amesbury, or online at newburyportchoralsociety.org. All tickets at the door are $25.