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New man at vocal ensemble podium to highlight contemporary works


Peter Jacobi

The Herald Times


The young man breathes enthusiasm. He’ll make you believe that he now has the world’s best job, that he’s in the right place, that he has an opportunity to do special things.

“I am inspired here,” says Dominick DiOrio, “and I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.”

DiOrio is the newly hired member of the Jacobs School’s choral conducting faculty, and, as that, one of his major responsibilities will be to train and conduct the Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, which presents its first concert of the new season in Auer Hall Tuesday evening under his leadership.

So, it is very much a debut event, what with a newly constituted chorus and a new man on the podium, he succeeding the much admired Carmen Helena Tellez, who has shifted her talents and energies to Notre Dame.

Recognizing Tellez’s contributions, he says she “brought a sense of identity and advocacy to her role, which was critically important in establishing a sense of tradition for the ensemble. I hope to continue her efforts.”

But he expresses a vision of his own as he speaks of specific goals. “First,” he says, “I believe it is a fundamental responsibility to feature great vocal works by faculty composers from the Jacobs School.” In line with that, DiOrio has scheduled pieces by Don Freund and Sven-David Sandstrom during this season.

“Secondly, the ensemble must also advocate for new choral music by student composers and offer opportunities to have their pieces workshopped and rehearsed with a great chorus. So, we will continue the tradition of a Student Choral Composition Contest, where the winning student composer will have a work premiered by the CVE on our February concert.

“Lastly, the ensemble must encounter and engage with master works of contemporary repertoire from the last 50 years. To that end,” DiOrio says, “We are featuring Sofia Gubaidulina’s monumental ‘Sonnengesang’ (‘Canticle of the Sun’) in February. This is a cello concerto with chorus and percussion, and the work was written for and premiered by Rostropovich at Tanglewood in 1997. It’s one of the greatest pieces in recent history, and it must be heard by the Bloomington community.”

DiOrio points out he’s the first conductor of the Contemporary Vocal Ensemble who is also a practicing composer. One of his pieces, “A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass,” is included in Tuesday’s concert.

He describes the work — a cantata-concerto for chorus, soprano and marimba, based on poems of Amy Lowell — as “sweeping, bright and joyous, one of my best so far.”

The concert, which DiOrio has titled “Vox Battuta,” “deals fundamentally with the human processes of breath and pulse. What does it mean to sing or to beat? Most of the pieces we’ll perform feature a combination of voices and percussion instruments, with music also by Nico Muhly, Veijo Tormis, Chen Yi and faculty composer Sven-David Sandstrom.”

Also to be performed is John Cage’s “Five,” in honor of the composer’s centenary. “This piece,” adds DiOrio, “will be done by five talented soloists from the CVE, who will present the work while Cage’s own visual artwork is projected onto the screen. I think the program will be eclectic, thought-provoking and electrifying. I fully expect people to leave the concert on a musical high.”

As I said, the man is enthusiastic. He is so about the students in the Contemporary Vocal Ensemble.

“I couldn’t be happier with them. They are such dedicated, talented and intelligent musicians, ready and willing to grapple with the particular challenges of modern concert music. I am also proud of the very diverse make-up of the ensemble. We have composers, conductors, singers, organists, pianists and harpsichordists in our ranks. We also have 10 students with perfect pitch, which certainly makes our job of ‘learning the notes’ go much faster than usual.”

DiOrio comes to IU from the Lone Star College system in Texas, where he directed choral activities and, in three years, tripled enrollment in the Concert Choir and Chamber Singers. He earned two master’s and a doctorate from Yale, has been an active guest conductor of major choirs in this country and Europe, and prepared choruses for such baton heavyweights as Valery Gergiev, Nicholas McGegan and Helmuth Rilling. His own compositions are widely performed, and he’s premiered a number of works, his own and those of other contemporary composers.

“As a young composer and conductor,” he says, “I feel a special responsibility to advocate for the very best emerging composers working today. My programming each year here at the university will include some of the best ‘30-something’ new talents, whose music is deserving of repeated listenings. I am less concerned with promoting the music of Webern, Stravinsky and Schoenberg, in part because their music has now entered the standard repertoire.

"One hundred years old is hardly contemporary. My focus will be on the work of living composers, both established and up-and-coming.”

I don’t know whether, as composer, Dominick DiOrio should be considered “established” or “up-and-coming,” but we’ll be able to react on Tuesday to one of his musical creations. We can then also gain a good sense for what’s to be expected from him as conductor. His notices elsewhere have been highly favorable, suggesting that the Jacobs School’s new choral maestro, as such, is both already “established” and still “up-and-coming,” a potentially exciting combination of achievement and promise.

If you go

WHAT AND WHO: The IU Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, led by its new conductor, Dominick DiOrio, presents “Vox Battuta.”

WHEN: Tuesday evening at 8

WHERE: Auer Hall, second floor of the Simon Music Center, 200 S. Jordan Ave., on the IU Bloomington campus


Reach Peter by sending an email to [email protected] with “Jacobi” in the subject line.

dominick smiling and looking out