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September 20, 2012

Handel Choir of Baltimore artistic director Melinda O'Neal to step down

Melinda O'Neal, whose nearly decade-long stewardship has helped turn the Handel Choir of Baltimore into a much stronger musical force in the community, will step down as artistic director and conductor after the 2012-2013 season.

"This is my ninth year with Handel Choir and it's time for me to stand aside, make room for the next generation," O'Neal said.

The organization "is in very good shape," she added, with a "fabulous board [and] leadership with real dedication and resourcefulness ... Singers are younger on average and evidencing increasing skills and lots of heart."

In a statement, Leslie Greenwald, president of the Handel Choir board of trustees said that O'Neal's "unique talents have established Handel Choir's reputation for outstanding and innovative concert experiences.

"Melinda has breathed new life into a longstanding Baltimore cultural institution, making even annual performances of 'Messiah' fresh and new. Because of the artistic strength of the Choir under Melinda's direction, we are confident we will attract exceptional talent for this position," Greenwald said.

A search committee has been formed. A new artistic director is expected to be appointed in time for the 2013-2014 season.

Founded in 1935, the Handel Choir is one of the city's oldest cultural organizations, devoted not just to music of its namesake but a wide range of choral repertoire.

Musical quality was decidedly uneven when O'Neal joined the group in 2004, but she moved quickly to improve standards and fashion a firmer identity for the choir.

That she achieved most notably by ...

bringing historically informed performance practices to programs; this included the addition of a period instrument orchestra for "Messiah" and other baroque pieces. The caliber of guest soloists also improved considerably.

O'Neal's Handel Choir tenure included successful, imaginative collaborations with area organizations, among them American Opera Theater, Harmonious Blacksmith, Baltimore Baroque Band, Peabody Early Music, Pro Musica Rara, the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra and the Baltimore Symphony.

"I am so grateful for Handel Choir and the music we’ve made together," O'Neal said. "We just clicked."

During what will now be her swan song season, O'Neal will lead the 50-member Handel Choir in the 78th annual performance of "Messiah" in December and Brahms' "German Requiem" (with UMBC's Camerata) in April.

Also on the schedule is a program in February featuring music of noted contemporary composers John Tavener and Arvo Part, and the local premiere of "Song of the Shulamite" by Donald McCullough, a piece commissioned by the choir.

O'Neal is a longtime professor of music at Dartmouth College, where she plans to continue teaching for a few more years after her retirement from the Handel Choir. She is also finishing up a book, "Experiencing Berlioz: A Listener's Companion."

Handel Choir has been "a great program to work in and build," O'Neal said. "And I've really loved living in Baltimore ... It's time to hand over the privilege of leading this group, have fewer responsibilities, get to my Berlioz writing project."

O'Neal characterized her time with the Handel Choir as "an amazing journey."

FILE PHOTO

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:32 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at baltimoresun.com/artsmash. This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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