After a season-long audition and performance process, the Jacksonville Symphony Association announced Friday that Donald McCullough will be the new director of the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus, beginning in the 2012-13 season.
Considered one of America’s pre-eminent choral conductors, McCullough, 54, conducted the Master Chorale of Washington at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for more than a decade. A native of Jacksonville, McCullough now lives in Atlantic Beach. He was one of three finalists who directed the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus this season.
The final decision was made by Fabio Mechetti, the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra’s music director and principal conductor. Chorus members participated in the evaluation of the three choral conductors during the season. Also taking part in the selection process were Jacksonville Symphony Executive Director Stacy Ridenour and General Manager Richard Naylor.
“This has been a great year for the Chorus, which has grown remarkably through the experience of three very talented and gifted conductors from our Jacksonville community,” Mechetti said. “As we continue building and improving the many talents of the Chorus, we believe that Donald McCullough will be the best able to lead them to a new singing level.”
McCullough rehearsed and prepared the Chorus for its recent performances of Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy” and “Ninth Symphony” with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. (Watch a video of the complete rendition of Beethoven’s bracing Choral Fantasy below, but by the Korean Broadcasting System’s Symphony Orchestra.)
“I’m never more musically fulfilled than when working with a group of singers who demonstrate a serious commitment to taking music to a level that has the power to resonate in the hearts of their audiences,” McCullough. said. “The Jacksonville Symphony Chorus showed me that they are just that kind of chorus and I couldn’t be happier to have been chosen as their new director.”
During McCullough’s tenure with the Master Chorale of Washington, the ensemble became the chorus of choice for the National Symphony Orchestra and performed with such renowned conductors as Leonard Slatkin, Kurt Masur and Ivan Fischer. Previously, McCullough was the founder and music director of the Virginia Chorale and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra Chorus.
McCullough is also a composer whose works have been critically acclaimed throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Among his celebrated works: the Holocaust Cantata, based, as his website notes, on “songs found in the archives of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum that were written by the inmates of Nazi concentration camps, this cantata takes you on an emotional journey through one of the bleakest episodes in human history.” (Listen to a webcast of the cantata here.)
“Most of the material Mr. McCullough researched tells of the sufferings of the non-Jewish Polish slave laborers, dissidents and intellectuals, among the categories targeted by Hitler for destruction or decimation that the Holocaust museum continues to research,” Francis X. Clines wrote in the New York Times in 2000. “When he began, Mr. McCullough, a musician, not a linguist, could only search out promising tunes in the museum’s archives. He discovered more fully what he had when a member of the chorale, Laura Kafka, the daughter of a Polish slave laborer, translated some lyrics. The story of her mother, Irena, a camp survivor, is now included as a terse spoken prelude to ‘The Train,’ a farewell song that survived the Brzezinka camp. (”The dark hour’s on us, our fate is sealed, I must forget you.’)”
McCullough’s experience as a conductor, music director and clinician gives him valuable insights into the needs and abilities of all variety of choirs.
During the 2011-12 season, the Chorus was led by three alternating choral conductors, each in the running to be appointed as the Chorus’ next director. In addition to McCullough, the Chorus was led by Dr. Timothy Snyder from Jacksonville University and Dr. Cara Tasher from University of North Florida, preparing the chorus for a variety of performances with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. For the past ten years the chorus was led by Dr. Jon O. Carlson, who recently retired from the position.
With more than 25 years of making great music with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, the all-volunteer Jacksonville Symphony Chorus has sung for many landmark Symphony events. Performance highlights include Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony for the tenth anniversary of Jacoby Symphony Hall and Orff’s “Carmina Burana” for the Jacksonville Symphony’s first-ever commercial recording. The Chorus has also sung in each of the Jacksonville Symphony’s annual grand opera productions.
Auditions for the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus will be held in late summer (dates to be announced). Those interested in joining their voice with the Symphony Chorus may call the Jacksonville Symphony Administrative Office right away at 904/354.5479, ext. 221, and leave their information to be contacted when audition dates are set.
Next season, the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus will perform Handel’s “Messiah” and “Holiday Pops” in December, as well as Christopher Rouse’s festive “Karolju” in November. Select members will sing in the grand opera chorus in Verdi’s “Otello” in February 2013. The Symphony Chorus will also be featured in the “Choral Spectacular” concert featuring Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” in May 2013.
Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, the KBS Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Donald McCullough Composition: Crossing the Bar