[the following article originally appeared on the Gannett local Cincinnati / NKy community websites on 10-22-2012]
Compared to most midsize cities across America, Cincinnati has a rich arts culture evidenced by a number of successful annual festivals and performing ensembles. If you’ve never sought choral music experiences, you may never have heard of the Cincinnati Camerata. But, the 2012-13 season marks their 20th anniversary of offering small-arts choral programs to the Greater Cincinnati community.
Founded in 1992 by director Christian Miller as the Chris Miller Chorale, the ensemble quickly established an enviable reputation as an innovative and independent choir. The group was eventually re-christened the Cincinnati Camerata to emphasize its links both to the musical life of Cincinnati and to the Renaissance camerati—small ensembles who greatly influenced the development of the Italian Renaissance musical style with performances in their patrons’ living rooms.
Miller’s spouse, Bethany Troendly, an accomplished musician in her own right, served as the group’s accompanist and assistant director since its inception. Miller stated, “Early on, Beth and I were most fulfilled by the enthusiasm of all the singers who gave their time and talent to the choir, along with our eclectic and challenging repertory that championed new choral music. We were on the cutting-edge with experimental and remarkably inventive and beautiful new works. Being the first group to perform those scores, to discuss musical architecture with living composers, and to be directly involved in the creative process was incredibly exciting for us.”
Well over one hundred singers have performed with Camerata since its founding, and new music has been a cause for the Camerata ever since. The group has sponsored an international composition contest every year and has performed premieres of the winning works along with presenting prize money to winning composers, even when funds were tight to do so. It’s just one of the things that distinguishes the Camerata’s mission from other ensembles in the area.
Long-time Camerata tenor Darrin Hunter said, “The Camerata fills a certain niche in the Cincinnati choral scene that is very important to a city’s cultural life: it gives a musical outlet to a pool of talented singers who usually have careers outside of professional music. Groups like Vocal Arts Ensemble (mostly degreed singers) and Musica Sacra (a mid-sized choir performing all sacred repertoire with orchestra) have different focuses, and of course, the May Festival is a huge choral institution. The Camerata has always allowed for more diversity than similar groups, both in membership and in the kinds of programming and experiences we bring to audiences and to our own singers.”
Miller added, “Not many choirs will dress up in period costume to present little minstrel reviews of the history of the Ohio River for the Tall Stacks festivals and then turn around and perform high sacred Marian repertoire each December in a huge church like Mother of God in Covington. In 1999, we toured Eastern Europe and brought American Spirituals to their services as a guest choir. And several years later, we experimented with the Camerata Consort, a select subset of the choir that presented Taverner’s Western Wind Mass as a separate Renaissance concert. And we did it all over the years on a shoestring with unpaid, volunteer singers who simply have talent and a passion to perform. That’s diversity.”
In particular, the annual Marian concert, a program of songs revering the Virgin Mary, has become a Camerata tradition in Cincinnati, with past attendees coming in groups from places with Marianist ties like the University of Dayton. Hunter stated, “The Marian concert is a great antidote to so much of the holiday music you hear piped incessantly through retail store speakers every year, starting before Thanksgiving. The church is gorgeous, and the environment we try to create is serene and respectful of the season. It’s a chance for us to make some beautiful sounds and give an audience an hour away from the hectic grind of Christmas.”
This year’s Marian concert will be held on Sunday December 2nd at Mother of God Church in Covington (119 West Sixth Street) at a new earlier time of 5 pm in the hopes of showcasing the stunning stained glass windows that surround the sanctuary. Hunter remarked, “many of the actual words we sing in this repertoire are inscribed on the church ceiling and in the windows, so it’s only fitting that the audience might see them in dazzling colored light as well!”
It will be the second Marian concert conducted by the Camerata’s new director, Brett Scott, an assistant professor of choral conducting at CCM. After the 2009-10 season, and being recognized as a finalist in the prestigious Post Corbett Awards, Miller and Troendly decided to retire and pursue other musical interests, leaving the group with choices regarding artistic direction and leadership. Scott was hired as a full-time director after a year of interim leadership and discussion among Camerata members who ultimately decided to maintain the tradition of the Marian concert and the composition contest as group hallmarks. To maintain high quality and tight focus on small-arts choral offerings for the Cincinnati musical scene, the Camerata’s seasons have been reduced to two concerts per year, the December Marian and a Spring composition contest premiere concert and fundraiser.
It’s always a struggle to maintain an independent arts organization, but with the traditions the Camerata has built over the last twenty years and a refocused and committed outlook, Cincinnati can expect more music to come from this ensemble. Scott said, “Working with university singers in an academic setting and working with community choirs is so different, but it has been a very rewarding experience to lead such a dedicated and talented group of singers as the Camerata. I look forward to continuing the group’s high-calibre performances and engagement in the community, and taking it into new and exciting territory, including an upcoming concert tour to Portugal in the summer of 2013.”