Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, one of America’s oldest musical ensembles, is performing in its 140th consecutive season. It began in 1874 as an eight-voice male chorus founded by William Wallace Gilchrist, one of the most important musical figures in nineteenth century Philadelphia. The chorus rapidly expanded, and was able to provide more than three hundred singers for the 1916 American premiere of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. Since then, Mendelssohn Club has earned a prestigious reputation by giving the first performance outside the Soviet Union of Shostakovich’s Thirteenth Symphony and the Philadelphia premieres of Brahms’ German Requiem, Prokofiev’s Ivan the Terrible, Scriabin’s First Symphony, Bartók’s Cantata Profana, and the full orchestral version of Britten’s War Requiem, among many others.
Under the dynamic leadership of Artistic Director Alan Harler, the 140-voice Mendelssohn Club is known for its professional productions of choral/orchestral programs, as well as performances in guest engagements with prominent area orchestras. Harler’s programs combine new or rarely heard works with more traditional works in order to enhance the presentation of each and to provide the audience with a familiar context for the new experience. Dedicated to the ongoing vitality of the choral art, Mendelssohn Club and Alan Harler have made a significant commitment to the commissioning of new choral music, and have commissioned and premiered fifty-five new works since 1990. This commitment has earned Mendelssohn Club an ASCAP/Chorus America Award for Adventurous Programming. Mendelssohn Club has also been honored with an award from the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations for “bringing the community together in song” through Harler’s multicultural concert programming.
Mendelssohn Club also explores interdisciplinary concert presentations and, in May 2005, presented the Philadelphia premiere of Richard Einhorn’s 1994 cantata Voices of Light with the 1928 silent film masterpiece by Carl Dreyer The Passion of Joan of Arc. The November 2006 co-production of Carmina Burana with the Leah Stein Dance Company was the first dance collaboration in Mendelssohn Club’s recent history. This collaboration continued with the 2008 Urban ECHO: Circle Told, featuring an improvisational vocal score by Pauline Oliveros and choreography for the entire chorus by Stein, and battle hymns, with a score by David Lang and a choreography for the full chorus and nine professional dancers.