Practice, practice, practice... Union choir gets to perform at Carnegie Hall

Publication Date

Tchaikovsky. The Beatles. Judy Garland. Jay-Z.

For more than a century, the names of musical legends have marched across the marquee of Carnegie Hall, the midtown Manhattan concert venue that is revered for its beauty, acoustics and history.

The Union College Choir will add its name to the marquee this spring.

Its members have been putting heart and soul into preparations for its March 20 performance in Zankel Hall, the first-ever Carnegie Hall concert for the College’s choir. It is set for 6 p.m.

It will be followed by a singing engagement at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., at 2 p.m. on March 22.

“We are not combining with any other choir, but simply presenting our students in these two amazing cities. Everyone is very enthusiastic,” said Shou-Ping Liu, director of performance and a lecturer in Choral and Orchestral Conducting in the Department of Music. “This is especially poignant, since none of us will ever forget the days when we stood 12 feet apart with double masks and still tried to make music together.”

“I am incredibly excited and humbled to be singing at Carnegie Hall,” said soprano Abigail Smith ’23, an Interdepartmental major in biology and English from Killingworth, Conn., and one of the 31 choir members who will be on tour.

“I have been a member almost since I first stepped foot on campus two and a half years ago. I auditioned for Professor Liu during my first week here. I never expected this fantastic opportunity to come our way since Carnegie Hall is such a prestigious venue and we're such a small choir. It's a testament to Professor Liu’s tireless dedication to our choir that this is happening.”

Maxwell Fineberg ’22 of Brookline, Mass., who sings bass, has also has been a choir member since his first year. He is looking forward to performing in both cities, and having friends and family come to the Carnegie Hall concert.

“The choir has been a place where I can participate in music with my peers. I have been singing since I was in 4th grade, and music is an incredibly important part of my life,” said Fineberg, a sociology major with minors in political science and psychology. “With the challenging repertoire that Professor Liu has us singing, it is always fun. And the chance to sing with your friends in prestigious venues is amazing.”

The choir’s spring concert tour actually began on a different note and took a major detour because of the pandemic.

The group originally was scheduled to sing in Berlin and Prague with a professional orchestra conducted by Raphael Alpermann, the keyboardist of the Berlin Philharmonic, with whom Liu studied for several years. Alpermann came to Union in February 2020 to work with the choir as part of his American concert tour.

“He was so impressed with our students, both in their musical commitment and work ethic, that he invited us to sing three Bach cantatas in his hometown of Berlin later that year,” Liu said.

Liu, whose conducting career has taken her to major international concert halls, has dedicated her doctoral research to the music composed by victims of the Holocaust. She teaches Music of the Holocaust as a Sophomore Research Seminar.

The choir was to perform Holocaust-related music during four concerts over 10 days in Germany and the Czech Republic, and complement their music with visits to Holocaust memorial sites in both countries.

But like most performing artists, Union’s student ensembles were hit hard by Covid-19. Both the scheduled fall 2020 tour and rescheduled fall 2021 event were canceled.

With the European engagement now on pause until 2023, Liu arranged the two East Coast city dates to create a significant live performance experience for the vocalists.

Tickets for the Carnegie Hall concert are on sale directly through the hall’s website. The cost is $20 per ticket.

At the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, tickets may be purchased at the door. Suggested donation is $20.

There will be alumni receptions at both venues.

“It’s amazing to see the love pouring out from our alumni choir members,” Liu said. “Many of them will come to both concerts and join the receptions afterward hosted by the Office of College Relations. It will truly be a great ‘ReUnion’ for all the choir members from many different decades.”

For Smith, that’s a big part of the appeal.

“On this tour, I am most looking forward to singing for alumni,” she said. “I am a strong believer in the power of the Union community, and that community doesn’t end when you graduate and leave campus. I hope to have the opportunity to chat with alumni, particularly those who participated in the choir during their Union years, and hear their stories.”

The Union College Choir

The Union College Choir with Abigail Smith '23 pictured third from right and Maxwell Fineberg second from left