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St. Louis Chamber Chorus visits 'New Sites, New Sounds' in its 61st season

Sarah Bryan Miller of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Last season, the St. Louis Chamber Chorus celebrated its Diamond Jubilee, with a host of new works and familiar venues. This year, the challenge was where to go for the 61st anniversary.

Artistic director Philip Barnes decided to celebrate one of the choir’s defining features: playing at unusual venues.

“Although we’ve been to 60 different buildings in 60 years, there surely would be six more that we could explore,” Barnes says.

He found them, a varied collection of venues that he says will be rewarding spaces not only to perform in but to listen to music in. Thus was born the pun in the season’s title, “New Sites, New Sounds.”

The new sounds, of course, come from the choir’s practice of commissioning new music. This season will see four new works, by Melissa Dunphy, Bob Chilcott, Eriks Esenvalds and Judith Bingham.

But Barnes was intent on looking back on what the choir has done in the past as well as looking forward. “We don’t want to lose sight of where we’ve come from.”

The individual concerts have themes: “Rebirth & Revival,” or “Reflection & Remembrance.”

“I enjoy putting together thought-provoking programs,” he says. “But ‘thought-provoking’ goes both ways. It’s not just for the audience but for the singers as well.”

For the Oct. 2 concert at Resurrection of Our Lord Roman Catholic Church, Barnes found a theme in the church’s name. It will feature a new commission by Dunphy, the choir’s composer-in-residence, “The Day of Resurrection,” with words by John of Damascus.

“I admire her writing,” Barnes says of Dunphy. “I think she has a very original mind. She’s an exuberant personality, but she’s very disciplined, and she writes exceedingly clearly.” He finds the piece to be approachable, something that any chorus capable of singing double choir works should be able to handle. “I think it’s going to have legs.”

The resurrection theme continues with music by 19th-century organist Charles Wood, Elizabethan composer Orlando Gibbons and the superb early 20th-century composer Alexander Gretchaninov, all of them very different, all of them inspired.

Barnes has also programmed what he calls “pieces that any chamber choir should be doing at some point.” Those are all revivals of music the Chamber Chorus has performed before, including Francis Poulenc’s Messe in G majeur. That’s an example of the concert’s theme of “rebirth,” Barnes observes: It was the composer’s first major liturgical piece, written soon after the death of a close friend, and inspired by his return to faith.

The choir is also singing Samuel Barber’s song cycle “Reincarnations,” a major work for chorus that’s recognized around the world as a prime example of great American choral writing. St. Louis composer Martha Shaffer’s “Five Hymns From the Sacred Harp” and “Darest Thou Now, O Soul,” from an unfinished choral symphony by Granville Bantock, complete the program.

What St. Louis Chamber Chorus: “Rebirth & Revival” • When 3 p.m. Oct. 2 • Where Resurrection of Our Lord Roman Catholic Church, 3900 Meramec Street • How much $35 • More info 636-458-4343;

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