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