Monday, March 4, 2013

Concert Review: The DePaul University Choirs

Saturday night, March 2nd, I attended the DePaul University choral program concert. For those of you not familiar with DePaul, it is a large university right in the heart of Chicago's near north side. The music program is strong, and the voice and opera program especially so. The choral program was run for years by Clayton Parr, but this year Steven Grives, a very fine conductor, has taken over the reins.

I attended their early fall concert- a very impressive program which held the Allegri Miserere (beautiful singing on the soprano solo by Kaitlin Foley), a very strong performance of the Bach Singet dem Herrn and other quite challenging works. The early fall program was well-sung and was a very impressive collaboration between the singers and Grives in their first concert together.

Last night was a program of Norwegian music (plus music by other Scandinavian composers) titled, Nordic Portraits: From  Grieg to Gjeillo. In the tail end of our Chicago winter and with snow on the ground here, this northern music really felt appropriate and natural. The singing was strong and resonant (a DePaul voice program standard) and beautifully sculpted by Grives' fine conducting.

DePaul currently has two mixed ensembles- the top ensemble University Singers, which is composed of upperclass music majors (mostly voice or opera majors) with some grad students, and the larger Concert Choir which is mostly freshman music majors.

In regard to the University Singers, I noticed a marked improvement from that early Fall concert to last night in the tenor section in regard to unification of section sound. The altos also seem to be hitting their stride and taking more ownership of lines in certain pieces where they can shine and not be overshadowed by the soprano section. All in all, there was a distinct improvement in many areas of choral singing from Fall to now- and of course, we all want to hear a group, even one as already very skilled such as the University Singers, grow and mature. I also liked Grives' plan for this concert in regard to placement of the singers. On his left were sopranos and tenors mixed, with altos and basses mixed on his right. Grives calls this a modified mixed seating chart. And on this program, with numerous duet octave lines between sop/tenor or alto/bass the use of this seating chart was brilliant. I have to admit, I am a seating chart junkie- yet I know the general public doesn't even notice the nuances that can go into this aspect of the choral world.

While the program title mentions Norwegians Grieg and living composer Gjeillo and held multiple pieces by them, I felt other pieces by other composers were also highlights of the program. Finnish master composer Einojuhani Rautavaaras' Suite de Lorca was riveting. The University Singers and Grives really dug into this piece and all its strange beauty. Soloist  Kaitlin Foley was spot on in the Ratuvaara. For those interested in the Suite de Lorca, here is a video of the fine University of Delaware choir singing the piece under the direction of Paul Head:

Other highlights of the evening included the Grieg Ave Maris Stella with its tricky modulations never tangling up the University Singers, a very fun, uptempo folk song Oi tai buvo, by Kacinskas, about harvest and fertility, and the manly men of the Concert Choir resonantly singing a Norse tale about King Olaf I, with a very effective solo by baritone Samuel Thompson. And speaking of the Concert Choir, I was very impressed by them. They sang as well as the top ensemble at many universities I visit across the country!

The evening was very successful and well-received by the audience. I am glad to see Grives take these already fine singers on the road to further choral excellence. He has already programmed a wide variety of fine choral music this season, thus proving his knowledge of the repertoire. I expect Grives will grow this program and continue to expose his singers to the best we have to choose from in the choral repertoire. Bravo to Steven Grives and the DePaul choral program. I will keep coming back to hear you!


Steve Grives is currently Visiting Associate Professor and Director of Choral Ensembles at DePaul University  in Chicago, IL. This academic year, Steve will conduct the University Singers and Concert Choir, prepare the chorus for "La Boheme" with the DePaul Opera Theater, and prepare the choirs for performances of Beethoven, Symphony No 9 with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra and the DePaul Symphony Orchestra.

Steve has held academic appointments at several institutions, and has practical experience in the areas of choral conducting, orchestral conducting, early music and opera. Prior to his position at DePaul, Steve served as the director of choral activities at South Dakota State University for nine years. Known for their committed and engaging performances, SDSU choirs performed with guest artists and conductors including Charles Bruffy, Joseph Flummerfelt, Cantus and the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra. From 2010-12, Steve was the Patricia Noethe Pierce Distinguished Artist in Residence at SDSU, leading university choral ensembles in major works across the region. Ensembles under Steve's direction have performed at state and regional choral conferences, and at major national and international venues.

Outside of his work at SDSU, Steve directed the Dakota Men's Ensemble and produced and conducted opera and oratorio performances in South Dakota independently and with the Heartland Opera Troupe. With Heartland Opera, Steve conducted the premiere of University of Michigan composer Kristin Kuster's chamber opera The Trickster and the Troll, and produced an annual "Messiah Sing" with professional soloists and orchestra. 

Steve earned a B.A. in Music from Bowdoin College where he studied conducting and early music with Robby Greenlee, double bass with George Rubino, and piano with Martin Perry. His M.M. is from the University of Maine, where, under Dennis Cox, Steve conducted the Collegiate Chorale and was the assistant conductor of the University Orchestra. At Maine, he studied voice with Ludlow Hallman and piano with Kathryn Foley. He received the D.M.A. in choral conducting and literature from the University of Colorado studying with Lawrence Kaptein and Joan Catoni Conlon. Steve conducted the Collegiate Chorale at CU, and assisted the choral faculty in preparing festival and choral/orchestral performances. Steve has participated in conducting masterclasses and summer programs and has sang in choirs under such distinguished conductors as Marin Alsop, Charles Bruffy, Simon Carrington, Dennis Keene, John Rutter, and Duaine Wolfe.
Steve is a member of several professional organizations including ACDA, Intercollegiate Men's Choruses Inc., and the National Collegiate Choral Organization. Steve currently serves on the Editorial Board of the Choral Journal as editor of the "Choral Reviews" column. He is in frequent demand as a guest conductor, guest lecturer, choral clinician, and adjudicator.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review. One correction: we performed Bach, "Jesu, meine Freude" this past Fall.