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01 July 2018

Talented, triple-threat conductor shares selections for summer concert

by Peter Jacobi (Herald Times)

Dominick DiOrio is a triple-threat musician. He sings. He conducts. He composes. Since arriving at Indiana University a few years ago to join the choral conducting faculty, he’s been a local presence most prominently as that: a conductor of choruses, a talent he exhibits brilliantly in the classroom, I’m told, and on stage, I know.

He is responsible for NOTUS, the IU Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, a remarkable outfit that contributes a series of annual concerts featuring content of fascination and choral singing of great beauty.

I have not heard him sing solo, but his tones have infused choral performances. I have heard several of his compositions and found them to be imaginative, personal, superbly crafted and always interesting.

It is his conducting talent that Dominick DiOrio will focus on this coming week, on Saturday evening in Auer Hall. He leads the Jacobs School of Music’s Summer Chorus and Summer Philharmonic in a program of music by Leonard Bernstein (“Chichester Psalms”), Benjamin Britten (Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings), Chen Yi (“Ge Xu (Antiphony) for Orchestra”) and Felix Mendelssohn (Psalm 42 — “As the hart panteth after fresh water, so panteth my soul after thee, O God”).

I asked Maestro DiOrio about the why of his selections.

“As you know,” he replied, “I spend the regular academic year conducting the very newest music, so I wanted to explore some other repertoire in my programming this summer. This is the Bernstein centenary year, so opening our program with ‘Chichester Psalms’ seemed appropriate. It is festive and full of energy. Taking the psalm theme, I then chose the Mendelssohn ‘42nd Psalm,’ which has some of the most lyrical and rapturous orchestral writing of the composer’s works, like a mini-‘Elijah’ in many ways.

“To balance the choral works,” DiOrio continued, “I chose Britten’s elegiac Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings and Chen Yi’s ‘Ge Xu.’ Both make evocative use of space, with the serenade ending with a horn call from afar and the Chen Yi work evoking Chinese mountain songs. Together, they create a very satisfying program.”

DiOrio elaborated: “The Bernstein and the Mendelssohn make different demands on the singers, with the necessity for both very strong and very lithe singing. The Mendelssohn also ends with a demanding fugue for the chorus, with extensive use of high tessitura and range. The singers have met these demands ably and with poise.”

Did the limited time to rehearse the program create problems, I asked. “Actually,” DiOrio responded, “the summer feels quite luxurious. The singers are so good and so musical that I’ve given them a few days off in the rehearsal process. They will easily give a very solid musical performance.”

He is using a chorus of 36 and an orchestra of shifting sizes up to 45. “It is a festive summer occasion,” he noted, adding, “This is beautiful music. We all need beauty in our lives, especially at this time. I have no greater hope for the listener than a wonder and a marvel at the beauty of music.”

If you go

To Saturday evening’s choral concert at 8 in Auer Hall: You’ll hear the Summer Chorus and Summer Philharmonic, conducted by Dominick DiOrio, in works of Bernstein, Britten, Chen Yi and Mendelssohn. Ticketed event: $12 for general admission; $6 for students.