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Q&A with Professor Joshua Jacobson

Joshua Jacobson

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Northeastern University Choral Society recently celebrated Professor Joshua Jacobson‘s 40th anniversary as director with a reunion and concert. In honor of this milestone, we asked Professor Jacobson a few questions about the concert and his time at Northeastern.

How did you prepare for the Northeastern University Choral Society reunion concert?

We started planning this concert two years ago with a wonderful committee including representatives from the Music Department; the College of Arts, Media and Design; Northeastern Center for the Arts; and Alumni Relations. We realized that the Fenway Center, where we usually perform our concerts, wouldn’t be large enough for the crowd we were expecting. Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory is the most beautiful concert hall in Boston, both physically and acoustically, and one of the best in the country. And it’s right next door. So we looked for a date when it would be available and grabbed it.

I wanted to feature some of my favorite repertoire. And since we were inviting chorus alumni from the past 40 years, I chose pieces that I had programmed several times during these decades. We had one other constraint: the concert was a little earlier in the semester than usual, so I had to make sure it was a program that could be learned by my students in the 10 weeks that we had to prepare. It worked out fine. The students performed Daniel Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata and Norman Dello Joio’s “A Jubilant Song.” And our chamber chorus performed Eric Whitacre’s Five Hebrew Love Songs. These very talented kids picked up the repertoire so quickly that we were able to perform the entire program from memory. And the chorus alumni joined the students for Beethoven’s Fantasia for Chorus, Piano and Orchestra, Rutter’s “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” and Northeastern’s school songs, “All Hail” and “Alma Mater” in new orchestrations that I created for the concert.

How was this concert similar or different from other performances you’ve conducted?

It was similar in that I put every ounce of my concentration into the performance and I had the pleasure of working with my wonderful, dedicated, talented students. What was different was the large audience (650) and the expanded chorus (135 singers, including the alumni) and the touching testimonials that were inserted between the musical performances.

Enjoy a selection of concert photos by Mickey Goldin:

What was it like to connect with so many students, alumni, and supporters over the course of the weekend?

It was a thrill! How gratifying to hear from my students and former students what their participation in chorus meant to them: how it enhanced their college experience. What it taught them about the pursuit of excellence. What a shock to see grown men and women whom I had last seen when they were undergraduates. And I was so touched by the outpouring of love and appreciation from the audience, friends, family, students, and colleagues. In honor of this event, we’ve set up a fund for choral music at Northeastern, which has already raised about $10,000.

Can you share a few stand-out moments from your time directing Northeastern University Choral Society?

Well, obviously this event was a stand-out moment! I also remember our concert for Northeastern’s centennial in 1998. We performed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, together with a new work, A Song of Joys, that we had commissioned from composer Robert Starer. That concert featured the New England Conservatory orchestra, and I shared the conducting with NEC conductor Tamara Brooks.

I’ll tell you one other great moment. We had prepared excerpts from Mendelssohn’s great oratorio, Elijah for our winter 1993 concert (back when we had quarters instead of semesters). It was a major undertaking with chorus, orchestra and a guest soloist. But on March 13 we were blanketed with a huge snowstorm. The campus was shut down and we had to cancel the concert. It was a great disappointment, but I quickly changed my plans for the upcoming spring quarter. We would try again. And we could even add some portions of the oratorio that I had deleted from the winter concert. The spring quarter performance was a great success and to my great surprise we received a glowing review in The Boston Globe. When I spoke to the reviewer a few weeks later, he explained to me that we never would have been reviewed if our concert had taken place, as originally scheduled, in March. But when we performed it on May 23 there was not much else going on in Boston, so the Globe chose us. Talk about a silver lining!

Stay tuned for the next Northeastern University Choral Society concert on March 30, which will feature a performance of The Armed Man by contemporary composer Karl Jenkins.