REVIEW: Mendelssohn’s Elijah

The Chamber Choir is the most distinguished choir at the University of Michigan, led by the incomparable Dr. Eugene Rogers from SMTD. They consist of mainly vocal performance majors but admit select students from other schools in the University. This concert is leading up to the Chamber Choir’s international tour to La Plata and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The choir began the concert with two pieces including Thomas Tallis’s motet, O Nata Lux (1575), and a unique reprise entitled O Nata Lux (after Tallis) from 2020 by composer Daniel Knaggs. This was an interesting representation of music from the past and present, reminding me of how we respect and modify tradition through art. Knaggs stated (in the program notes) that he wrote the reprised work as a response to the original motet. He used the 3-note motive from the original work, adding free and sporadic hums to reflect the text’s closing prayer. Both works were brilliantly conducted by Katherine Rohwer, a freshly named Doctorate of Musical Arts in Choral Conducting.

For the following hour and a half of the concert, the chorus performed Felix Mendelssohn’s epic oratorio, Elijah. (An oratorio is a composition with a dramatic narrative or text usually constructed for orchestra, choir, and soloists.)

The lengthy Elijah follows the Prophet Elijah from 1 Kings and 2 Kings of the Old Testament in the Bible, with all the text coming from the book itself. There were six soloists from the choir including Andrew Smith (Elijah), Juliet Schlefer (Widow/soprano), Tyrese Byrd (Obadiah/tenor), Amber Rogers (soprano), Katherine Rohwer (Queen Jezebel), and Ella Peters (Angel). The soloists were outstanding, performing with equally cultivated drama and vocal integrity. Smith performed the bulk of the piece (singing the titular role of Elijah), overpowering Hill Auditorium with his wonderfully silky baritone voice.

I am always extremely impressed with the versatility of the Chamber Choir singers. Dr. Rogers brings in a selection of styles to his choirs and has a clear vision for each new piece the chorus confronts. Last spring, the combined choirs at U-M performed a concert of spiritual-inspired compositions by the acclaimed composer Stacy V. Gibbs, and in the fall prior performed Wynton Marsalis’ All Rise with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The choirs take on many styles in a range of periods with cohesion and care along with high-level instruction and outreach of the events from Dr. Rogers.


Image thanks to the SMTD website.

REVIEW: Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra Handel’s Messiah

Handel’s Messiah is undoubtedly one of the most well-known choral repertoires, and the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra and UMS Choral Union’s performance of it was very lovely. As Handel’s Messiah is a Christmas tradition, there was a bed of red and white flowers circling the stage that was a nice visual addition. It was packed with a large choir accompanied by a small chamber orchestra, which also had a harpsichord and organ.

I enjoyed listening to the harpsichord because it added a playful quality to the music. The harpsichord is the predecessor to the piano but has a string-like quality, so the sound stood out amongst the rest of the instruments. When the organ played it took me aback because of how loud it was, but I loved the heavier atmosphere it layered onto the orchestra. The strings did a really good job recreating the baroque sound, which is much more airy and uses trills to emphasize notes whereas romantic music uses lots of vibrato.

When Hallelujah played, the audience all stood up to sing along, and the singers around me were very talented, perfectly blending in with the choir on stage. My favorite part, though, was the 48th Air which featured a trumpet solo that traded off with the choir soloist. I don’t think I’ve heard a trumpet solo that was unaccompanied before. The trumpet had a very clear bell-like sound that traveled well through the large hall. I was also a big fan of the ending of the Messiah; it immediately captured my attention with the organ’s entrance and had a wonderful buildup that demanded the audience’s attention.

I’m not religious and wanted to attend this event purely for the music. I do think it’s more targeted towards vocalists than instrumentalists, but it was still fun to see a different side of the strings that had that baroque quality since many baroque pieces played now have adapted a more romantic style. It was a super long concert: almost 3 hours long, so I don’t think I’d attend another playing of Handel’s Messiah. However, I’m really glad I had the opportunity to see it live once.

REVIEW: Beethoven’s Mass in C Major

The evening of November 16th at Hill Auditorium allowed for a beautiful night of music from the University of Michigan’s SMTD Choirs. University Choir, Orpheus Singers, and Chamber Choir dazzled audiences with Beethoven’s Mass in C major, Op 86. This performance was conducted by Eugene Rogers and featured many soloists from the chorus.

The majority of this was performed by the Chamber Choir, with additional support from Orpheus Singers and the University Choir joining during grandiose moments. The Chamber Choir is the most advanced choir at the University, featuring some of the best singers in Ann Arbor. [From] “The Chamber Choir performs 6-8 concerts annually in both Hill Auditorium and in special settings, such as the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA), and is often featured at high profile U-M special events. The Chamber Choir has been featured on GRAMMY-winning and GRAMMY-nominated albums; sung with the Detroit and Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestras; performed at conventions of the ACDA and NCCO; and has toured internationally. They perform standard, classical, and contemporary choral works and often perform commissioned works in world premieres.” They remain a high-profile collegiate choir with free concerts throughout the year! 

The orchestra that played this evening with the choir was lovely. A full choir performing with an orchestra is always a treat—the sound was unmatched. The combined choirs emit a mighty sound, with well over 100 singers from the music school present.  I appreciated the sound provided by the space in Hill Auditorium—it was properly fitting for the group. The blend was well-balanced from the balcony, and I received most of the Latin diction throughout. The work sounded regal in its orchestration, which was fitting for the period and intention.

I’d like to name each soloist from the mass to commend them for fantastic work: Tyler Middleton (MM 25), Amante Pando Girard (BM 24), Juliet Schleffer (MM 24), Amber Rogers (MM 25), Bryan Ijames (DMA Choral Conducting), Jabari Lewis (MM Vocal Performance 25), Genevieve Welsh (MM Choral Conducting 24), Pelagia Pamel (BM Voice 24). Each voice dazzled through the orchestra’s texture, presenting a nuanced sound to the traditional work. I admired their preparation and stamina throughout the performance!

I appreciate Dr. Roger’s thoughtful selections for the choirs, I always find them appropriate and culturally educational. This performance wraps up the 2023 season for the SMTD Choirs. They will be back in January performing at The School of Music, Theater, and Dance’s biggest event of the year, Collage. This will take place on January 20th at 8 pm, in the historic Hill Auditorium. This annual concert is a showcase of all the brilliant work throughout SMTD. It is a “collage” of the music student’s “collage” experience, if you will. It is a highly anticipated event throughout the community and often attracts over 3000 audience members. Get your tickets early!




Image thanks to The University of Michigan’s SMTD Livestream. 

PREVIEW: Our Victory and Pride

This Saturday, April 15, the University of Michigan’s Men’s Glee Club will be performing a concert titled Our Victory and Pride: Singing in the Key of Michigan Since 1859.  Continuing the celebration of the bicentennial, the Men’s Glee Club will sing songs that pay tribute to, not only our wonderful state, but also the brilliant composers of Michigan.  I even read that they will be premiering a new Michigan song, written by Professor Kristin Kuster.

The Men’s Glee Club Concert will take place at Hill Auditorium at 8pm.  Tickets are on sale now, between $5-$20 depending on seating.  For ticket information, visit: