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Before conductor Dominick Diorio began preparing the Mendelssohn Chorus of Philadelphia for the start of the landmark 150th season, he paused in front of the 119 singers assembled on stage for a rehearsal at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Rittenhouse Square, for a few somber words.
“I want to take a moment to acknowledge the horrendous things that are happening in Israel and Gaza,” Diorio told the singers, adding that a colleague of his at Indiana University Jacob’s School of Music had been trapped in Tel Aviv during the recent attack by Hamas.
“Our program has relevance beyond our original intention,” he said.
The season’s opening concert, “We Reply to Violence,” will feature music written in opposition to war and violence. Several months ago, with the war in Ukraine on his mind, Diorio had programmed Joseph Haydn’s “Mass in Time of War” and Joel Thompson’s “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.”
He also included his own piece, “We Reply,” based on Jewish prayers for peace found in the Torah. He could not have anticipated a war would erupt in Israel and Gaza just days before the performance.
Dominick Diorio, conductor and artistic director of the Mendelssohn Chorus of Philadelphia, rehearses for the opening of its 150th season at the Church of Holy Trinity, in Rittenhouse Square.. (Peter Crimmins/WHYY)
Started in 1874, the Mendelssohn Chorus is one of the oldest performing ensembles in the city, behind the private singing group the Orpheus Club (1872) and the Penn Glee Club (1862). It once presented the Philadelphia Orchestra when that ensemble was still in its infancy.
“The Mendelssohn chorus has enjoyed a close performing relationship with The Philadelphia Orchestra, beginning with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in 1904,” said the Philadelphia Orchestra in a statement.
The Mendelssohn Chorus helped the orchestra present the 1927 world premiere of Rachmaninoff’s “Three Russian Songs,” and the American premieres of Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand” (1916) and Schoenberg’s “Gurrelieder” (1932).
The chorus sings with the orchestra every holiday season for the Glorious Sounds of Christmas concerts, “a tradition that is deeply cherished by both ensembles,” said the orchestra.