Recently, a certain pop group of a polyphonic persuasion has brought a vocally-based choral format to the forefront of popular music, but this week Philadelphia will be given an opportunity to see how powerful a collection of voices can actually be.
This Friday, March 26, The Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia will bring their award-winning vocal troupe to Temple Rodeph Shalom, for a free performance of the Handel masterwork “Exodus from Israel in Egypt; Part I.” One of the more unique concert experiences in Philadelphia so far this year, the CASP have assembled 90 of the cities’ best and most enthusiastic singers to tackle Handel’s religious musings in a venue that couldn’t be more fitting.
The Choral Arts’ choir is made up of both professional singers and a large number of volunteer musicians, most of which will be appearing along with members of the Rodeph Shalom congregation to perform “Exodus.” But don’t let the word “volunteer” throw you. Kim Shiley, the CASP’s Executive Director, is quick to point out that the fact some choir members have day jobs doesn’t detract from the quality of the performances.
“Every singer must go through an audition,” Shiley said. “Every member takes it very seriously, and is interested in putting on the best performance they can.”
Given the list of awards the choir has won throughout its 22-year history, (a list which includes the nationally recognized Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence), it would seem the choir enjoys living up to its interests.
As well as playing host to some of the best voices this side of the Delaware, the CASP also strives to perform as wide a variety of works as possible. Having covered vast musical ground during their 20-plus seasons, the musicians have conquered composers as varied as Gershwin and Mozart. Unfortunately, this breadth of material doesn’t exactly make constructing a season’s set list a minor task.
“It is always difficult to select the pieces we perform,” said Shiley, “but [artistic director] David Tang had chosen the perfect selection for this event.”
Being held at Temple Rodeph Shalom, the selection of Handel’s “Exodus” is almost too good to be true. For those who can’t tell by the title, “Exodus” is one of Handel’s many religious oratorios, this one dealing with the Biblical exodus from Egypt. The first part, to be performed following the Temple’s Shabbat service, chronicles the struggles of Moses and his people, from the first of the plagues until the first Passover.
Temple Rodeph Shalom is the perfect location for such an incredible piece of music. Founded more than 200 years ago, the congregation is the first Ashkenazic synagogue founded in America. The temple itself, located at 615 N. Broad St., is a beautiful 1,640 capacity place of worship. With the Temple’s compelling Byzantine-Moorish adornments and captivating stain-glass structures, suffice it to say that the performance has a hall worthy of it. And vice versa.
The thought of golden voices filling the space with a work of such mastery makes it worthy of attention. But for the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia, their work is about more than just music. The CASP prides itself on outreach and music education, as well as incredible performances.
“We are all very excited about the performance,” said Shiley, “but it also serves as the perfect extenuation of our outreaching towards the community.”
The Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia will be performing at Temple Rodeph Shalom, on Friday, March 26, 2004, at 7:30. Admission is free.
Robert James Algeo can be reached at email@example.com