News and Reviews
"Melinda O'Neal ends Handel Choir tenure with Brahms' German Requiem"
"Melinda O'Neal, in her final concert as artistic director of the Handel Choir of Baltimore, conducted an impressive performance of the Requiem Sunday afternoon that communicated its bittersweet lyricism and the ingenious cohesion of its architectural shape."
"At the same time, the music-making in the soaring nave of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church emphatically reaffirmed how much O'Neal's nine-year tenure has meant to the development of the choir, one of Baltimore's oldest musical institutions (the current season is its 78th)."
"For all of the devotion and good intentions involved before O'Neal's hiring, the organization simply lacked the sort of technical discipline and musical sensitivity that can take a volunteer, community chorus to whole new level. It's definitely on a higher level now."
"O'Neal's thoughtful tempos maintained consistent momentum, but still allowed for some beautifully elastic phrasing along the way. .... the chorus sounded smoothly balanced and articulated with admirable clarity. ... The guest soloists, soprano Laura Choi Stuart and baritone Steven Combs, delivered their solos eloquently."
"A long, welcome silence followed the last chord of the Requiem, then plenty of applause. O'Neal deserved the lion's share on this memorable occasion."
on the appointment of Arian Khaefi as Handel Choir's new Aritistic Director & Conductor
"It was a difficult decision, in part because of the incredibly high bar set by Melinda O'Neal" Leslie Greenwald, President, Board of Trustees and head of Handel Choir's search committee.
"I'm not sure how the stars aligned to create this amazing opportunity, but I am absolutely humbled, honored and elated to be afforded the chance to work with an ensemble of this caliber" Dr. Arian Khaefi, director of choral activities at Towson University and Handel Choir's next artistic director and conductor. Read Handel Choir's press release (Arian Khaefi announced as Handel Choir of Baltimore's next Artistic Director and Conductor.)
on Melinda O'Neal's retirement as artistic director & conductor of Handel Choir
"[Her] nearly decade-long stewardship has helped turn the Handel Choir of Baltimore into a much stronger musical force ... [and her] tenure included successful, imaginative collaborations ..." Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun Clef Notes, September 20, 2012
O'Neal: "I am so grateful for Handel Choir and the music we've made together. We just clicked." Read Handel Choir's press release (Melinda O'Neal announces retirement at close of 2012-2013 season)
Semele: "an impressive achievement for the Handel Choir"
"The ensemble honored its namesake by digging into "Semele," one of the composer's most beautiful creations ... As I have said repeatedly, the Handel Choir has made terrific progress over the years with artistic director Melinda O'Neal. That progress was vividly driven home on this occasion. O'Neal kept things moving, in keeping with historical performance practice, but she let the music breathe."
"The ensemble produced a ripe, smoothly balanced sound, with much firmer efforts from the men than I recall previously. ... there was admirable discipline in the singing, as well as expressive fire. Contrapuntal passages were nimbly executed, even at a bracing clip."
"... soprano Clara Rottsolk, ... soared in the title role. She used her bright, clear tone with great finesse. ... Rottsolk and plush-voiced mezzo Kristen Dubenion-Smith, as Ino, blended gorgeously ... [and] [tenor] Aaron Sheehan's elegant embellishments in "Where'er you walk" were beautifully judged."
"The Handel Period Instrument Orchestra, supplemented by members of Peabody's Baltimore Baroque Band, proved to be a star of the performance in its own right. I especially admired how the fearless strings didn't just take fast passages with panache, but with wonderful color."
"All in all, this performance of Semele represents an impressive achievement for the Handel Choir"
"An elegant 'Messiah' from Handel Choir of Baltimore"
"As I have noted before, Melinda O'Neal has ... honed this ensemble over the past seven years or so. It's flexible and responsive, capable of producing a warm, cohesive sound ... O'Neal paced the score in rather courtly fashion ... The performance exuded an air of elegance and intimacy, a feeling aided by the subtle timbre of the fine period instrument orchestra. The orchestra's gentle phrasing of the "Pifa" was an especially telling moment."
"A memorable performance of Mozart's Requiem from Handel Choir of Baltimore"
"Since Melinda O'Neal took the artistic helm at the Handel Choir of Baltimore seven seasons ago, the ensemble has made consistent and substantial growth. The latest proof came Sunday afternoon with a concert that filled the elegant space of St. Ignatius Church �."
"O'Neal drew a smooth response from the choristers, whose voices blended warmly with the accompanying period instrument ensemble. � In the Requiem ... everything lined up persuasively. The conductor's overall sense of momentum helped to maintain tension and a strong sense of the music's deep-set drama � "
"The chorus produced hefty waves of well-focused tone, while always articulating cleanly. The solo quartet again made vibrant contributions, [a]nd the orchestra sealed the deal with the kind of playing that could win over period instrument skeptics -- good intonation, abundant color in tone and phrasing."
"In the end, the music sounded bracingly fresh and quite moving. Can't ask for much more than that."
on Chandos Singers' performance of Purcell's Dido & Aeneas in collaboration with American Opera Theater and Peabody Conservatory Opera
"The Chandos Singers of the Handel Choir of Baltimore fulfilled its role handsomely; the blend, articulation and phrasing were all quite polished. ... O�Neal shaped the score beautifully and drew nuanced playing from the period instrument ensemble. The remarkable eloquence of Purcell�s score could be savored at nearly every turn ...."
on Chandos Singers' collaboration with American Opera Theater in Handel's Jephtha
" this is a powerful, often provocative presentation of an extraordinary work. ... The chorus produced a smooth blend and shaped lines with care. ... Adding immeasurably to the performance was the sensitive work by the Ignoti Dei Orchestra of period instruments.... And presiding over the score with her usual fluency and grace was Handel Choir artistic director Melinda O'Neal."
on Handel Choir's Messiah
"Sensitive singing was ... an attraction at the performance of "Messiah" by the Handel Choir of Baltimore at the Church of the Redeemer, a venue with very clear acoustics and just enough reverberation. ..."
"I've said several times before that Melinda O'Neal has done wonders with the choir .... [T]he ensemble offers considerable polish and musical responsiveness; texts were sung with admirable articulation."
"O'Neal's introduction of a fine period instrument orchestra into the annual "Messiah" presentations (and other programs) continues to pay off. There was a combination of transparency and warmth in the orchestra's sound on this occasion, providing a dynamic foundation for the vocalists."
"Given the presence of that period band, you might expect O'Neal to take consistently zippy tempos, but the conductor was almost leisurely much of the time, as if determined to prove that historical authenticity in baroque performance need not mean breathlessness. Her spacious shaping of the music proved highly effective."
"Another plus was the stylish, well-matched solo vocal quartet smooth-toned soprano Katharine Dain; countertenor Ian Howell, whose remarkably ripe sound and powerfully communicative approach hit the spot; tenor Steven Brennfleck, who offered equal portions of elegant and dramatic phrasing; and bass Craig Phillips, who produced vibrant sparks."
on Handel Choir's performance with Baltimore Chamber Orchestra
"Two sacred pieces by Mendelssoh found the BCO and Handel Choir collaborating smoothly, eloquently."
Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun, October 20, 2009
on the Handel Choir's O Eternal Fire concert
"Melinda O'Neal has steadily and rapidly honed this formerly uneven ensemble into quite a potent chorus. The Handel and Bach program found the singers maintaining solid intonation, clarity of articulation and sensitivity to the shape of phrases. There was a telling sign early on of how much O'Neal has done for the group the firm, colorful way individual voices started off the contrapuntal flurry of the Alleluia in Handel's Coronation Anthem, "The King shall rejoice." That was the kind of detail that would not have been so beautifully realized in the preO'Neal days that I experienced. Two Bach cantatas received dynamic performances from the choristers, who were backed stylishly by a period instrument orchestra. It was a thoughtfully constructed, entertaining program delivered with an informed sense of historic style.
Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun Clef Notes, November 10, 2008
on the Handel Choir's collaboration with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra
"Handel Choir artistic director Melinda O'Neal took the podium for the Five Mystical Songs by Vaughan Williams. O'Neal was adept at bringing out the unmistakable inner glow that animates nearlly all of his music and that flows with particular power in this score. The chorus, which sounds more confident and cohesive every time I hear it, demonstrated admirable sensitivity."
Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun Clef Notes, October 20, 2008
on the top fifteen classical music concerts of the Baltimore/Washington 2006-2007 season
In Tim Smith's review of the 2006-2007 classical music season, the Handel Choir was one of fifteen "highest-highpoints." Smith stated, "the Handel Choir of Baltimore, Pro Musica Rara, Peabody Renaissance Ensemble and Baltimore Baroque Band collaborat[ed] on a vivid, vital performance of Handel�s Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, elegantly conducted by Melinda O'Neal."
Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun , June 19, 2007
on the Handel Choir of Baltimore's performance of Haydn's The Creation
"The turnout and the performance level reaffirmed the strides the ensemble has been making in recent years. Melinda O'Neal, the choir's artistic director, shaped Haydn's wonderfully descriptive music with an ear for drama and flow. Her choristers were attentive to subtleties of articulation, phrasing and balance. The orchestra of period instruments played with vibrant color. The guest soloists brought vocal refinement and eloquence of line to their assignments." -
Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun , May 1, 2007
on the Handel Choir of Baltimore's Courtly Splendor concert:
"an excellent orchestra for Ode to Queen Anne. Handel Choir director Melinda O'Neal conducted the performance with a natural rhythmic flow and attentiveness to dynamic shading. I don't remember hearing the choir sound so technically poised, so warm and balanced in tone. O'Neal's stewardship, which began only in 2004, has obviously been great for the organization, in its 72nd season."
Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun , March 27, 2007
on the Handel Choir of Baltimore's Mozart Birthday Celebration concert:
"The Handel Choir of Baltimore ... added its voice to the celebration of Mozart's 250th birthday with an interesting, vibrantly delivered program. The chorus delivered a disciplined, smooth-toned account of Mozart's Coronation Mass, with contributions from expressive guest soloists."
"In her second season as artistic director, Melinda O'Neal has been a boon to the ensemble, which had been on shakey musical ground. She essentially rebuilt the choir and that effort paid off nicely on this occasion."
Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun , March 7, 2006
on the Handel Choir of Baltimore's Mozart and Haydn concert:
" in a particularly inspired move, O'Neal decided to supplement the chorus with an orchestra of period instruments, providing a touch of historical coloring and perspective. O'Neal gave the music a firm, underlying pulse while deftly drawing out contrasts of mood and emphasis."
Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun , May 9, 2005
on the Handel Choir of Baltimore's Bach and Handel concert:
"Melinda O'Neal, in her debut as artistic director and conductor drew appealing intimacy and clarity from these forces This was historically informed, but never dry, music-making. O'Neal's sensitive, assured approach yielded its own rewards, and, above all, served notice that the Handel Choir is in very good hands."
Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun , December 21, 2004
Photos by Will Kirk