Classical Music

Houston Chamber Choir Goes Prime Time In Season 29

There's a lot in store for Houston Chamber Choir's upcoming 29th season.
There's a lot in store for Houston Chamber Choir's upcoming 29th season. Photo by Jeff Grass Photography
One is the loneliest number. Seven is lucky. Thirteen is to be avoided. But 29? Despite its rather inconspicuous status, the precursor to 30 seems to hold the magic for Houston Chamber Choir, now moving into its season of the same count.

As inspiration for the season's theme "Prime Time," the number 29 interestingly tells the story of the organization's tenets. It is the first prime number that is the sum of three squares  (2 ,3 and 4 squared). Likewise, three of the choir's foci are highlighted this season: premieres, the celebration of great composers, and collaborations with other musical talents.

"There are three prime factors for 29 and for our season, and just as 29 is not derived for anything else..our season is not derivative either. It's not assembled out of ordinary repertoire or out of expected themes," said Robert Simpson, founder and artistic director of Houston Chamber Choir. "The season stands, as 29 does, as a progression. Twenty-nine is the apex of a series of prime numbers up to that point, and this is the apex of our search to bring Houston unique, enduring and enriching repertoire."

Two premieres set for this season stem from religious inspirations. Daniel Knaggs' "The Joyful Mysteries," is a choral symphony for choir, chamber orchestra and soloists that dives into the five joyful mysteries. The other is Mark Buller's and Leah Lax' "Mass in Exhile," a work for chorus and orchestra about a gripping, personal exploration of their strict religious past.

According to Simpson's description, Knaggs as a deeply spiritual person, whereas Buller and Lax grew up in faith traditions (a fundamental branch of Christianity and Hasidic Judaism, respectively) that they did not find well-suited to them as they grew older.

"[Buller and Lax] are using this as a platform on which to express all those who find themselves in transition," Simpson said. " There are huge numbers of exiles around the world. This piece expresses the humanity we all feel and the sense of camaraderie we have for those who are seeking a new home."
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The choir will perform music from the Renaissance to modern day in the coming season.
Photo by Jeff Grass Photography
Two familiar names made the choir's roster this year of celebrated composers, although they were born roughly four centuries apart: William Byrd and Dave Brubeck. Byrd is considered one of the greatest composers of the Renaissance and had a profound influence on composers both from his native England and across Europe.

On the flip side, Brubeck is known for his contributions to jazz and his explorations of new musical forms. He also composed classical and sacred music featuring his signature jazz rhythms and harmonies.

"The [Dave Brubeck tribute] is going to be a concert that will look at the compositions to be his greatest legacy. He loved performing, but he thought composition was really the most fundamental part of his career," Simpson said. "These are works that reflect his deep spirituality and his sense of social justice and social consciousness."

Rounding out the "29 trifecta," Houston Chamber Choir will invite Betsy Cook Weber as a guest conductor. The organization regularly hosts a guest conductor each year, and Simpson ecstatically mentioned that this is the first year the guest hails from Houston.

"Betsy is well known in Houston as having been a former director of the Houston Symphony Chorus, and she's been with the University of Houston's award winning choir for a number of years, and this will be the first chance for us to celebrate her and to have her conduct us," he added.

Simpson believes there is something in the upcoming season for everyone.

"It's really an exciting season that features the choir's breadth of expertise, from early music to music of our day," he said. "It's going to be another season that I hope every evening will give people another facet of the chamber choir's abilities and bring the music that they not only enjoy but find enriching and fulfilling."
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The Treble Choir of Houston makes its return again this year with Houston Chamber Choir.
Photo by Denise Godowns
The full concert lineup is as follows:

The Joyful Mysteries
Saturday, October 7, 7:30 p.m.
South Main Baptist Church, 4100 Main
The Houston Chamber Choir joins Kinetic and The Monarch Chamber Players for the world premiere of Daniel Knaggs' new major work, "The Joyful Mysteries," an exploration of the five mysteries of joy, which come to be even in the context of fear, sorrow, and suffering.

City of Stars – Hollywood Hits from Garland to Gaga
Saturday, October 28, 7:30 p.m.
Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park
The hill at Miller Outdoor Theatre will be alive with the sound of music as the Houston Chamber Choir presents an evening of Hollywood hits that have provided the soundtrack of American life.

Byrds of a Feather
Saturday, November 11, 7:30 p.m.
St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 4900 Jackwood

Marking the 400th anniversary of the great composer’s death, the Houston Chamber Choir sings works by William Byrd and his contemporaries Thomas Weelkes, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Morely and Thomas Tallis.

Feliz Navidad – Christmas at the Villa
Saturday, December 9, 2:30 and 5 p.m.
Sunday, December 10, 2:30 and 5 p.m.
Chapel at the Villa de Matel, 6510 Lawndale

The Houston Chamber Choir returns to the beauty of the Villa de Matel Chapel to present its annual Christmas concerts, capturing the universal message of peace and goodwill to all the world.

24th Annual Hear the Future Invitational Choral Festival
Sunday January 28, 2024; 4 p.m.
South Main Baptist Church, 4100 Main

Always a highlight of the year, the festival brings together area school choirs to sing and learn together.

Mass in Exile
Saturday, March 9, 2024; 7:30 p.m.
South Main Baptist Church, 4100 Main
In Mass in Exile, the composer and librettist embark on a gripping, personal exploration of their strict religious pasts. Together, they glimpse the possibility of a different kind of faith within an ailing world.

California Gold
Saturday, April 27, 2024; 7:30 p.m.
South Main Baptist Church, 4100 Main

Betsy Cook Weber is staking a claim that even proud Texans will discover that California composers have produced a wealth of wonderful choral music.

Brubeck! A Celebration
Saturday, June 1, 2024; 7:30 p.m.
Stude Concert Hall at Rice University, 6100 Main
In 2006, the Houston Chamber Choir invited jazz great Dave Brubeck to perform in Houston after a 20-year absence. Now, 18 years later, his sons Chris and Dan (Dave Brubeck Quartet) and noted Houston musicians Paul English and Horace Alexander Young join the Choir, along with a chamber orchestra, in a concert celebrating Dave Brubeck’s contributions to jazz and his explorations of new musical forms.

Houston Chamber Choir's 2023-24 season "Prime Time" includes six ticketed and two free performances at various locations throughout Houston. For information or subscriptions, call 713-224-5566 or visit $57 - $222.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd