In the spring of 1723, Johann Sebastian Bach uprooted his five children and wife of two years from the German state of Thuringia to Leipzig, where he became the Kantor of St. Thomas and music director of the city’s four main churches. The post proved a highly demanding one, as described by British conductor John Bawden, in which the legendary Baroque composer spent endless hours teaching, playing the organ, training and overseeing choir singers and musicians, all while writing his greatest choral masterworks.
Bach’s full schedule driven by his passion for the musical genre is one Meredith Elaine Baker understands well. The longtime Malverne resident has been performing and directing choirs in the classical choral music repertoire since a remarkably young age, participating in a cherub ensemble at 3 years old, hired as a church organist at 13 and leading a youth choir throughout high school. Now, in the role of its conductor since 1979, Baker is directing the Long Island Choral Society’s 90th Anniversary Concert featuring the 18th-century composer’s most popular spiritual hymn on Sunday at Manhasset’s Christ Episcopal Church.
“Who better to represent the marriage of instruments and voices than Johann Sebastian Bach with our performance of his ‘Magnificat’?” Baker says of the biblical canticle Bach set to music shortly after his arrival in the vibrant German metropolis. Before Long Island’s oldest continuously performing musical group “raises the roof rafters” at the church with the dramatic and jubilant composition, the ensemble will showcase shorter choral works by Beethoven and Handel, along with those by more contemporary composers Samuel Barber and David York.
In sync with the Long Island Choral Society’s enduring tenure, many of its 40 to 60 participants have been longstanding members, notes Baker. “We have singers just out of college and some in their early 80s. Many have been with us for over 30 years,” she says of the teachers, doctors, lawyers, professional musicians and other singers from across the Long Island.
Since its founding in 1929 by Dr. Maurice Garabrant, then organist at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, the choir has appeared at Carnegie Hall, West Point and Manhattan’s Federal Hall, as well as in the 1952 documentary film “This Is Cinerama,” attesting to its high regard among choral audiences. Promoting up-and-coming talent, Sunday’s program also spotlights two rising stars from the society’s Annual Young Artist Competition — soprano Isabel Merat, who won, and mezzo-soprano runner-up Allison Brook.
“It is important to encourage younger singers,” Baker says of the choral society’s 38-year tradition. “We want to remain relevant. We want to keep making great music together.”
WHAT Long Island Choral Society 90th Anniversary Concert
WHEN | WHERE 5 p.m. Sunday, Christ Episcopal Church, 1351 Northern Blvd., Manhasset
INFO $10-$20; 516-580-1777, lics.org