For the first time since its inception in 1976, the annual Fairfield Artist of the Year Award will go to not one, but a group of artists from throughout the region who “have made a significant contribution in their chosen field while demonstrating excellence at the highest level.”
And the winner of the 2011 award is: the 100-plus Fairfield County Chorale, which is entering its 49th season.
The FCC will celebrate by doing what it does best, says chorale Executive Director John Parkinson.
The FCC will receive the award — presented by the Fairfield Arts Center — at a special concert Saturday, Oct. 15, at 8 p.m. at First Church Congregational, 148 Beach Road, Fairfield. Following the 40-minute concert, Fairfield First Selectman Michael C. Tetreau will present the award. Tickets, which are $40, will include an on-site post-concert reception.
In its 35-year history, the award has been presented to writers and visual and performing artists with local, state, national and international followings. Past honorees include visual artists Willem de Kooning, Gabor Peterdi and Jane Sutherland; musicians Brian Torff, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz of the Talking Heads; Connecticut Dance School founder Elizabeth Gaynor; and last year’s recipient, photographer/teacher Thomas Mezzanotte.
Kristin Rasich Fox, the center’s executive director, says the chorale is a particularly special group, providing concerts for the region — the Fairfield-based group regularly performs at the Norwalk Concert Hall — that “are powerful and moving.”
“It is our hope that this award will champion this … genre of music that is so terrific, and rekindle a love and interest in the power of choral music to be transportive,” she says. “The chorale exemplifies the commitment to cultural enrichment and enlightenment that makes them the perfect choice for this year’s honor.”
Parkinson says getting the award at this time is bittersweet, noting that the group’s legendary maestro, the Swiss-born Johannes Somary, died Feb. 1. Somary, the FCC artistic director since 1975, collapsed at his New York home on Dec. 27 after suffering a massive stroke. He was 75.
“He worked so hard for the chorale. It’s such a shame that he won’t be around to see us receive it,” Parkinson says.
The executive director points out, however, that the FCC couldn’t be more proud.
“Why are we so proud of this award? It recognizes and authenticates who we are and what we stand for,” Parkinson says.
“It inspires our determination and our commitment to our mission. First, the continual improvement of our musicianship, which results in symphonic choral performances of great beauty and enjoyment for our audiences.
“Second, our commitment to keep the choral tradition alive through working with area youth. Third, and most important, is the passion of our members and patrons, who volunteer to support us and without whom all this would not be possible.”
Saturday’s concert will be led by guest conductor Eugene Sirotkine, who is among the finalists as Somary’s successor.
A native of St. Petersburg, Russia, Sirotkine (who also is a pianist) debuted with the Latvian Philharmonic in St. Petersburg in 1989 and was an assistant conductor and
assistant chorus master
with the New York Metropolitan Opera from 1999 through 2008. He is director of the Hudson Valley Singers and the New York Metamorphoses Orchestra.
The chorale will be accompanied by Andrea Boudra Kotylo on the church’s new 2,103-pipe, 14-ton “tracker” pipe organ from the renowned company of Johannes Klais Orgelbau of Bonn, Germany.
Parkinson has announced the concert program as:
From Bach, “Sleepers, wake!,” “Commit thou all that grieves thee,” “Jesu, joy of man’s desiring” and “A mighty fortress.”
From Mendelssohn are “Blessed are the men who fear him,” “Cast thy burden upon the Lord,” “He, watching over Israel” and “He that shall endure to the end.” Beethoven’s rousing “Choral Fantasy” will conclude the concert.
Parkinson says that the FCC is “committed to its mission of championing the appreciation of choral music and its associated literature,” having performed more than 150 works throughout the world, appearing at such prestigious venues as Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.
All members are auditioned volunteers.