By Rich Arenschieldt • Photo by Dalton DeHart
As the new artistic director of Bayou City Performing Arts (BCPA), which comprises the Gay Men’s Chorus of Houston, the Bayou City Women’s Chorus, and the combined choir known as the Bayou City Chorale, Linus Lerner inherits a 30-year tradition of LGBT music–making in Houston.
The new director is excited about the possibilities that the Bayou City has to offer. “Houston is a key city for me,” Lerner says. “There are numerous economic and cultural institutions here, and they are all healthy and vibrant. It is very exciting to be here now.
Regarding the upcoming 2009-10 BCPA season, Lerner was able to be intimately involved in its planning, even as a prospective applicant for the position. “When a person applies for a job such as this one, the interviewers will expect the applicant to create a season of programs, work with the chorus, get to know them, and be very familiar with the organization and its mission.” With an impeccable musical pedigree and 23 years of choral experience, Lerner should be able to accomplish all these tasks and extract amazing music from his singers.
The first concert of the season, on December 5 and 8, highlights the Bayou City Women’s Chorus and is titled Winterlight. According to Lerner, “This performance depicts the different moods and colors associated with the winter season. I’ve tried to create an ambience and atmosphere that represents both the coziness and joy associated with this time of year.”
The venue for this concert will be Houston’s spacious Unity Church of Christianity, and this, to some degree, has influenced Lerner’s programmatic choices. “Unity is a perfect venue for this type of program. Because of the resonance in this building, the space lends itself to a more specific type of repertoire—I think the women will sound wonderful here. We will present a wide variety of music, including a very interesting arrangement of ‘Santa Baby’ and a humorous piece entitled ‘Cold and Fugue Season.’ ”
Following Winterlight, the men take center stage at Jones Hall on Tuesday, December 15, whirling in to give us A Twisted Holiday. This is a more unusual musical holiday offering than audiences normally expect. “This concert is unique in that it focuses on music that we hear over the holidays and how much of that music we hear,” Lerner says. This concert pairs well-known carols with their lesser-known and more oddly inspired counterparts. A Twisted Holiday presents differing musical views: “Carol of the Bells” versus “Carol of the Malls” or “Winter Wonderland” bundled in the same musical brassiere as “Walking Around in Women’s Underwear.”
Spring repertory for BCPA includes an exhilarating evening of music on Tuesday, March 22, in Jones Hall titled We Can’t Stop the Beat, which features both the men’s and women’s choruses. “This is a very high energy concert,” Lerner says. “We will have some special guest performers join us for this show. We are currently trying to arrange some collaboration with groups from the local community, or we may bring in a group from as far away as Brazil to perform with us. In any event, we anticipate a very energetic performance that audiences will enjoy.”
Transitioning from a disco beat to a heartbeat, May 2010 brings us It’s All About Love, featuring the Bayou City Women’s Chorus at Unity Church, once again. “The music in this show is going to illustrate all of the facets of love and what it means to each of us,” Lerner says. “Love may be the one thing that is the answer to all the conflicts in the world.” Featured pieces will include “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” from The Lion King and “Love Changes Everything” from Aspects of Love.
Lesbian humorist Kate Clinton closes the season, hosting the June 19 Let’s Misbehave concert, which promises to be an evening full of wit—spoken and sung. Having entertained us for 28 years, Clinton’s jokes (in her words) have “supported us through wartime, peacetime , scoundrel time, and economic downtimes.”
Pieces for this concert will pique everyone’s interest, including “Every Sperm Is Sacred” from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, “Four Jews in a Room Bitching” from Falsettos, and “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” from Avenue Q.
Though the BCPA programs may be more contemporary in approach, Lerner always aims for musical excellence. “No matter what kind of music we do, whether it’s popular or classical in nature, I will always aim for great quality. Even when we sing a country hit like ‘Stand By Your Man,’ it has to be well performed. That is my focus for this year.”
Beyond the current season, Lerner plans to expand repertoire and also the locales where the groups perform. “I have several shows in the pipeline that may include some classical literature or even choruses from opera. The choruses have also received invitations to travel abroad. We have been asked to perform at a diversity celebration in São Paulo, Brazil, and may go to China in 2011. If that trip occurs, BCPA will be the first gay chorus to ever travel to China and perform as an openly GLBT group.”
Lerner also wants to collaborate with artists and groups here in Houston. “This chorus has a 30-year history in Houston, and we have done a lot of great work here. I want us to continue to embrace the surrounding community as musical and organizational partners. It’s important that we continue to refine our niche. As the GLBT community becomes more accepted within society, the perspective from which we view our mission changes. As we gain more rights in the world, how does that change what this group does? It’s all about maintaining a tremendous level of musical quality, embracing diversity within this very international city, and giving audiences a life-changing musical experience.”
Visit BCPA online at www.bayoucityperformingarts.org or call 713/521-7464.