Pittsburgh Camerata members revel in 40th season

The Pittsburgh Camerata
The Pittsburgh Camerata
Photo by John Filippone
| Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The 40th anniversary season of Pittsburgh Camerata is a significant achievement for the organization but no less a happy milepost for its members.

Alto Gaily Luley began singing with the Camerata more than a quarter-century ago. She'd been into folk music, but Renaissance polyphony swept her away.

“It's so fun to sing,” she says. “You're not just singing a part of a chord, part of a big harmony color. You're singing a musical line, which is a melody — rewarding and beautiful and complete in itself. But when you put it with the other parts that also sound good together, it's thrilling.”

Pittsburgh Camerata opens its 40th season at Sept. 14 and 21 concerts in Squirrel Hill and East Liberty.

Camerata is a professional “a capella” choir, which mostly performs without instrumental accompaniment. While the group's repertoire is weighted toward the Renaissance and baroque era, it has had a secondary emphasis on 20th-century and contemporary music.

The season's first program, “Such Morning Songs,” is a tribute to Camerata founder Arthur Wenk, who led the group from 1974 to 1981.

“I looked at the pieces he did, pulled out how much he did from each sort of repertoire and then tried to be representative,” artistic director Rebecca Rollett says.

The concert will open with sets of secular and sacred music from the Renaissance, including works by composers Guillame Dufay and Tomas Luis de la Victoria.

Johann Sebastian Bach's famous baroque motet “Jesu meine freude” will open the second half, with the accompaniment on organ played by the director's husband, Anthony Rollett. He's a professor of material science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who studied organ at Cambridge University in England.

The concert will conclude with three of Paul Hindemith's five Songs on Old Texts and music by Maurice Ravel.

Rollet says being artistic director of the group since 1998 has been a fantastic experience.

“One of the things I'm deeply grateful for is that the board, after a year or so, decided to trust me and pretty much let me do what I like. They gave me the green light to do experimental things, such as concerts jointly with museums and literary concerts, with actors reading. It's been incredibly fun as well as musically gratifying,” she says.

The choir has changed a lot in the 25 years that Luley has been a member.

“When I joined, it was much more of an ad hoc group of people who got together to sing,” Luley says. “With Gayle Kirkwood (artistic director, 1986-98), it became much more serious, and the level of music and musicianship got better. Under Rebecca, it has gotten even better. We get better singers because we pay stipends now. We get people with trained voices looking for a way to help support their music career, and that has actually raised the level of concert performance even higher. We're less collegiate and more professional.”

But despite the changes in personnel, the singers are a closely knit group.

“The Camerata is more than a group that I sing with,” Luley says. “I met my husband in the Camerata. My friends are in the Camerata. I hesitate to say it's like a church to me, but it's very much like that.”

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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