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The Monmouth Civic Chorus
Dr. Ryan Brandau, Artistic Director
Close to Perfect, Close to Home

What the Critics Have Been Saying ...

Bach Mass in B Minor

open quoteOne of the most anticipated events in the season calendar is coming up on Saturday, April 30, as the Monmouth Civic Chorus presents the complete B-Minor Mass of J. S. Bach, part of its season dedicated to the composer. The season also celebrates Mark Shapiro’s 20th year with the chorus, a period that has seen the group establish a reputation as one of the finest in the area.close quote
-- Carlton Wilkinson, Asbury Park Press and Home News Tribune

open quoteThe orchestra Saturday was consistent in quality — not perfect, but confident and glowing. The players were all very strong, with remarkable tone…. The soloists, Katharine Dain, soprano, Teresa Buchholz, mezzosoprano, Matthew Pena, tenor and Sidney Outlaw, baritone, were well-matched, with polished tone and a robust understanding of the lines…. But the choir itself was the real star of the evening. The group was extremely well prepared, exhibiting a clear confidence, agility and endurance. Singing Bach is no joke. The lines are difficult and test the mettle of the best choirs. Singing three hours of Bach is an ambitious undertaking. Bach selected his strongest writing for this work, completed at the end of his life. As a result, his choral writing here contains some of his most powerful moments, and the choir rose to the occasion in each case: the second Kyrie Eleison, with its sharply drawn fugue subject; the dark, tender Crucifixus and the subsequent movement, a rousing exuberant resurrection. But those are just my favorites. The singing was excellent throughout.close quote
-- Carlton Wilkinson, Asbury Park Press and Home News Tribune

April, 2011

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Handel’s Messiah and selections from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio

open quoteThe ‘Messiah’ has become so much a part of our holiday merry making that its absence would constitute a threat to the public welfare.close quote
-- Carlton Wilkinson, Asbury Park Press and Home News Tribune

December 2010

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Bach: The Man and His Music

open quoteOne day in November we decided, on the spur of the moment, to take our three kids, their spouses, their five kids, plus great-grandpa, to hear the totally amazing Monmouth Civic Chorus in an all-Bach program. It’s time, we figured, to expose the grandkids to some classical music, and how better to begin than with Bach?close quote
-- Jimi Hilton, Currents

November 2010

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Handel’s Messiah

open quote… a tradition without which it just wouldn’t be Christmas in Red Bank — the  Monmouth Civic Chorus performing Handel’s Messiah in concert on Sunday. close quote
-- Red Bank Green

December, 2009

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Ragtime with Cabaret for Life

open quoteSetting the bar high is second nature to DePrisco and his CFL team. Since 1995, CFL has produced dozens of shows and donated more than $200,000 to two dozen local charities. Its production of Ragtime in October 2009 at the Axelrod, together with Monmouth Civic Chorus, brought more than 100 voices together, creating an unforgettable musical experience.close quote
-- Cabaret for Life e-newsletter

September, 2009

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Three Choral Diamonds
Szymanowski Stabat Mater, Connesson Sphaera, Mendelssohn Tu Es Petrus and other works

open quoteSunday’s Monmouth Civic Chorus performance of the Polish composer Karol Szymanowski’s Stala Matka (Stabat Mater) at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank was easily the best thing that happened during the area’s 2008-09 performance season.

Written in 1926, the work is a setting of the traditional Catholic prayer for Mary, mother of Jesus, arranged for choir and orchestra and sung here in the composer’s native language. Just mastering the Polish text would have been enough to steer another ensemble away from this masterpiece, let alond the difficult early-20th century musical language.

Not only did they pull it off, but they did so with a flowing strength, deep understanding and a fully professional rigor. Led by director Mark Shapiro, the MCC was fronted by a full orchestra for works on both halves of the program and the instrumentalists provided flawless, exciting accompaniment throughout.…

From the opening solo for soprano and orchestra, the performance was electrifying. While the Connesson was more demanding for the voices, the Szymanowski was far more compelling.

The meager number of listeners in the audience must have been a huge disappointment to the MCC members. But the work they invested in this piece paid off, and those of us who attended are deeply grateful.close quote
-- Carlton Wilkinson, Asbury Park Press and Home News Tribune

May, 2009

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Handel's Messiah

open quoteIf I were a ‘Messiah’ fan — which I am, despite all my grousing — and I had to choose one ‘Messiah’ to go to this year, this would be it.close quote
– Carlton Wilkinson, Asbury Park Press and Home News Tribune

December, 2008

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Golden Gate, world premiere of a new musical

open quote… under director Mark Shapiro, the Red Bank-based Monmouth Civic Chorus is a ‘small town’ organization with some big notions about homesteading new turf for the human instrument. Not to worry; the all-volunteer MCC is still the same group of talented friends and neighbors who brighten the holiday season with Handel’s Messiah each year. But they’re also the people who in 2007 presented the world premiere of Jorge Martin’s Stronger Than Darkness, a serious work adapted from the words of Cuban dissident writer Reinaldo Arenas. And they’ve shown a genuine knack at crafting gorgeous musical settings for the sublime syllables of Shakespeare, Whitman and other poetic champs.close quote
– Tom Chesek, Red Bank Green

open quotePresented here in a concert version, the music and the story will stand alone for us to judge. The spectacle of the traditional Broadway experience will be absent, but the music will be front and center, delivered by the refined classical artistry of the the MCC.close quote
-- Carlton Wilkinson, Asbury Park Press and Home News Tribune

May, 2008

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Mozart Mass in C Minor, Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music and Toward the Unknown Region

open quoteTime to shake those swallowtail tux jackets and evening gloves out of storage; unbag those stoles and tiaras and opera glasses – we’re kicking it classical this weekend. All right, dress codes aren’t what they used to be, at the symphony hall as at any other place. But it shouldn’t mean that our own homegrown performing arts entities aren’t worth getting dressed up for. If anything, we here in Monmouth County are guilty of having taken for granted the fact that our once-rural county boasts an exceptional chorale and a truly first-rate semi-professional orchestra – a couple of innovative, creative organizations, packed with passionate and talented people…. In its nearly 60-year existence the Monmouth Civic Chorus has certainly delivered everything that’s been expected of it, from Gilbert and Sullivan operettas to an annual presentation of Handel’s Messiah that has helped to define the Yuletide season for generations of Red Bank area families. But under the tenure of Mark Shapiro, the MCC – an all-volunteer assembly of retirees, homemakers, professionals, church choir members, musicians, friends and neighbors – has upped the artistic ante via such bold offerings as last year’s world premiere of Jorge Martin’s Stronger Than Darkness, as well as a series of programs that have investigated some intriguing intersections of music, prose and poetry. close quote
-- Tom Chesek, Red Bank Green

March, 2008

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open quoteThe Monmouth Civic Chorus performed a varied and well-executed concert of choral and keyboard music ….The piano and organ works obviously were crowd pleasers…. But the keyboard works were mere icing. The choral works were the cake….

Against all odds, the movement here that seemed the most difficult, the “Agnus Dei,” also was the most beautifully performed…. Chromatic lines wind upward in a working out of one of the main motives. These are very tough to sing, and every one was a gem…. The choir gave this as fine a performance as you could ask for…

With its reputation in Monmouth County firmly established, conductor Mark Shapiro and the Monmouth Civic Chorus could be sitting back on their laurels, chewing through standard choral literature and accepted classics and trotting out themed programs packed with ear candy for special holidays. It certainly has no practical reason to be going out on a limb with ambitious and underplayed repertoire.

None, that is, except to satisfy a musical drive, an explorer’s curiosity to satisfy a hunger to know what there is to know about the historical literature and maybe even to find something rare and wonderful that is new or has been forgotten on dusty music library shelves. And then to work hard to share that with the community, presenting it in the best possible light.

It sounds simple. But more groups should do it.close quote
-- Carlton Wilkinson, Asbury Park Press and Home News Tribune

Works by Franz Liszt, Nov 2007

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Let Freedom Sing

open quoteThe folks at Monmouth Civic Chorus are an ambitious bunch…. The group's mission fuses a tightly focused art music aesthetic with practical marketing concerns, adding large-scale works, world premieres and unknown manuscripts to a mix of pop favorites and catchy program themes… The choir's March 18 offering at Red Bank's Count Basie Theatre is likewise a smash-up of the clever and the courageous … Artistic director and conductor Mark Shapiro deserves applause for the planning and execution of such daring, imaginative programs.close quote
-- Carlton Wilkinson, Asbury Park Press and Home News Tribune

open quoteI believe as well as many of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Monmouth County members that attended the event of March 2007, that the Monmouth Civic Chorus performance of Stronger Than Darkness was magnificent and that such a prestigious award is a very deserving recognition of the qualifications, experience and talent of every single member of the Monmouth Civic Chorus…. my most sincere congratulations to you, Mark and to all the members of the Chorus for a job well done. close quote
-- Louis A Rodriguez, Executive Director, Latino Chamber of Commerce of Monmouth County, Inc.

For presenting the world premiere of Martín's Stronger than Darkness on this program, the Monmouth Civic Chorus was awarded the 2008 ASCAP / Chorus America Alice Parker Award. Given to only one chorus in North America each year, the award recognizes a chorus for programming significant recently composed music that expands the mission of the chorus and challenges the chorus's audience in a new way.

open quoteWith these awards, the members of ASCAP congratulate those choruses whose past season featured performances of music written by the composers of our time. These choruses not only preserve the great tradition of the ‘first art,’ choral music, but assure that it remains vibrant and relevant in the 21st century." close quote
-- ASCAP Vice President and Director of Concert Music Frances Richard

Jorge Martín: Stronger Than Darkness (world premiere)
Beethoven: Ode to Joy
Randall Thompson: The Testament of Freedom,
March 2007

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Four Trumpets and a Chorus

open quoteWith 100 active members and over 50 years of history, Monmouth Civic Chorus remains a treasure of local life.… During rehearsal for last spring’s MCC program “Sounds Like Shakespeare,” Shapiro challenged the poised chorus – shouting the phrases with an instinctive, almost primitive voice that rose practically to a roar. The ethereal, angelic voices of the chorus rang softly in unison; high, high above Shapiro’s occasionally fervent, visceral sounds – leaving behind a divine, resonant beauty…. For those among us who love singing, but who would never think of singing anywhere other than alone in the car or shower, Dr. Shapiro’s prescription may be the ideal way to release the music that resonates inside each and every one of us. If you’ve got a song in your heart, MCC wants to hear your voice.close quote
-- Michael P. Murray, Red Bank Red Hot

November 2006

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4 Pianos and a Wedding

open quoteThere was also the earthy punch, the sweep and sparkle of detail that every Stravinsky fan yearns for. Les Noces has a presence, a weirdly spiritual and dancing sense of humor that embraces all the tears and vain foibles of human bonding. Performed correctly, as it was Saturday, it’s like an injection of marvelous and coarse humanity straight into the vein.… Shapiro and his ensemble have set the bar quite high with this ambitious achievement. Let’s hope others follow their lead.close quote
-- Carlton Wilkinson, Asbury Park Press and Home News Tribune

Stravinsky Les Noces
Walton: Belshazzar's Feast,
April 2006

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Messiah plus Christmas Pops

open quoteThe Monmouth Civic Chorus is a well-established group that has given us many thrilling concerts in its 49-year history. The group’s director, Mark Shapiro, has broad experience in a wide range of styles, and his programs always are as inventive and surprising and they are polished. The “Messiah,” particularly the Hallelujah chorus, is permanently associated with Christmas, even though only parts of it are themed around the nativity of Christ. This program should be a great way to enjoy the Christmas bits without having to commit to a full performance of the three-hour-plus oratorio.close quote
-- Carlton Wilkinson, Asbury Park Press and Home News Tribune

open quoteA yuletide tradition as long-standing as any you'll find, the annual Monmouth Civic Chorus presentation of Christmas selections from Handel's Messiah brings joyous sounds and a genuine feeling of community to the seasonal stage. close quote
-- Tom Chesek, Red Bank Red Hot

open quoteDr. Mark Shapiro conducts the MCC in the 2005 edition of what has become an unshakable Yuletide tradition for Monmouth County audiences.close quote
-- The Hub

December 2005

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Continental Spirit, classics of European sacred music

open quoteAs usual, the group plans an intriguing mix of the standard and the exotic, blended in imaginative programs. Part of the role of an ensemble such as the Monmouth Civic Chorus is to act as a local curator for the archives of great music, educating and informing its audience as well as entertaining. close quote
-- Carlton Wilkinson, Asbury Park Press

open quoteThe Monmouth Civic Chorus, under the direction of Dr. Mark Shapiro, presents Continental Spirit, a program of Sacred Classics from the quills of Brahms, Bruckner, Rachmaninoff and others. It all takes place beneath the famous white steeple of the First Presbyterian Church high atop Tower Hill - a setting that, whether on account of the assembled talents or the stately surroundings, can make one feel that much closer to heaven. close quote
-- Red Bank Welcome Tip Sheet, November 2005

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open quoteThe concert honors Karin Gargone as the Principal Accompanist for 20 years. She is certainly one of the premier accompanists in New Jersey.close quote
-- Classical New Jersey

Handel Organ Concerto #13
Purcell O Sing Unto the Lord
Bliss: Shield of Faith,
June, 2005

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open quoteA thrilling concert of beauty and grace.

Mezzo-soprano Barbara Dever was great as the soloist in the Rhapsody. Her style perfectly captured the dichotomy of both Brahms' music and Goethe's text, an unsatisfying struggle toward a heavenly answer, a call for divine intervention to heal the human pain.

A male choir [MCC's men] and the orchestra served primarily as a backdrop for the soloist in the Rhapsody, and they succeeded in adding the necessary contrast and support, creating a very moving experience.

Throughout the evening, the large choir and the orchestra were thrilling. ... The singing was meaty and passionate where it needed to be and overall technically secure. The fugue section at the end of the Gloria was particularly impressive.

The orchestra likewise seldom wavered in its support of the singers. Artistic director and conductor Mark Shapiro clearly understands this work and is undaunted by the scope of its vision, and he succeeded in communicating that vision to both ensembles.close quote
-- Carlton Wilkinson, Asbury Park Press

Brahms: Alto Rhapsody
Bruckner: Mass in F Minor,
April, 2005

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open quote ... a powerful and moving performance of a beautiful contemporary work.

... a wise choice of programming, well within the ability of this talented choir, and performed very effectively.

... the Otcenas was sung in Czech -- a feature that made it all the more exotic and delightful, somehow even more musical.

Tenor Douglas Clark, a regular with Monmouth Civic Chorus, was expert and graceful in the impassioned tenor solos.

This collection of music represents the kind of inspired programming that takes a lot of research, a lot of extra rehearsal, a lot of convincing board members and seducing subscribers. But it pays off in enjoyable performances and a richer culture for all of us.close quote
-- Carlton Wilkinson, Asbury Park Press

Sparkling Sonorities from Three Centuries of Czech Musical Tradition
Lukas Requiem, Janacek Otcenas, and Dvorak Te Deum; November, 2004

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open quote...The Group's concert at Red Bank's First Presbyterian Church explored repertoire not usually heard beyond more rarified urban venues, and the performances were inspired, at times even inspiring. ...

With this ensemble's alluring male/female blend and Shapiro's sensitive shading, the Monmouth Civic Chorus gave an absorbing account of Poulenc's richly melodious score. The voices struck the ideal supplicating tone, poised and fervent by turns. ...

... The accompaniment was by organ rather than the usual orchestra; yet longtime Monmouth organist Karin Gargone didn't leave one missing much, adding pungent coloration a well as gravity.close quote
-- Bradley Bambarger, The Star-Ledger

Mixed Company: a program for men's, women's, and mixed choruses
featuring music of Poulenc, Biebl, Barber, Holst and Mozart; June, 2004

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open quoteThe Monmouth Civic Chorus upheld its reputation as a crack area ensemble at Red Bank's First Presbyterian Church Saturday night in what amounted to two concerts in one, grandly displaying the group's twin loves of precious choral heirlooms and rare musical gems.

Eight sacred works, mostly from the popular repertoire, made up the second half of the program. Naturally, it was this half that drew the most sustained and enthusiastic applause from the packed house, with full-bodied performances ... But it was the discovery portion that made the evening really glow.close quote
-- Carlton Wilkinson, Asbury Park Press

Grace Notes, and
Charpentier: Filius Prodigus (The Prodigal Son),
November, 2003

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open quoteThis was the chorus's moment. The singers were well-prepared, comfortable and earnestly happy. Most notably, they sang with gorgeous blend. This seamless sound originated in the sopranos and altos, pervading the men's voices. Nothing could budge this unity of purpose. A civil war could have broken out in front of them, and they wouldn't have been shaken.close quote
-- Frederick Kaimann, Asbury Park Press

Mozart: Requiem, March, 2002

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open quoteThe Monmouth Civic Chorus successfully navigated an ocean of music... most triumphantly the storm-tossed A Sea Symphony... the chorus was the star that guided this journey...the chorus' talented, sensitive artistic director Mark Shapiro at the helm...close quote
-- Frederick Kaimann, Asbury Park Press

Ralph Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony, March, 2001

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open quoteThe Monmouth Civic Chorus has become a model of clarity and balance under music director Mark Shapiro...close quote
-- Peter Spencer, The Newark Star-Ledger

open quote...a haunting and deeply moving setting of great beauty, sung with faithful reverence by the fine choir.close quote
-- Albert H. Cohen, Asbury Park Press

Tom Cipullo: Voices of the Young, June, 1999 (world premiere)

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open quoteAnd finally, there was this wonderful chorus. Purity of tone, excellent clarity of line, subtle dynamic changes...a beautiful collaboration between a conductor and his singers.close quote
-- Albert H. Cohen, Asbury Park Press

Händel: Messiah, December, 1998

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open quoteShapiro's balances stayed true from beginning to end.... [His] insightful handling of texture and balance continued into the Brahms, [the choir's] creamy sound.close quote
-- Peter Spencer, Newark Star-Ledger
Ulysses Kay: Song of Jeremiah, and Brahms: Requiem, March, 1998

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open quoteThe Chorus was at its height of effectiveness under Mark Shapiro's energetic leadership...the music's underlying urgency was never absent.... The Monmouth Civic Chorus sang the entire work with confidence which rose to transcendent heights of committed music making.close quote
-- Paul Somers, Classical New Jersey

Peter Mennin: Symphony No. 3, The Cycle, March, 1997

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open quoteRED BANK - The Verdi Requiem is a work with many thunderous, theatrical moments: big orchestral explosions and loud choral segments. Yet to a great degree, its performance by the Monmouth Civic Chorus and Orchestra on Saturday succeeded so movingly because of its gentle and persuasive subtleties.

The Requiem was performed at the Count Basie Theatre before a sell-out crowd ...

The work of this fine chorus and Shapiro's magnificent conception brought the heavenly beauty of Verdi's music to life.

I will long remember the silken sounds of the "Lacrymosa" and the uplifting finale, "Libera me." It was a special evening, a special performance, completely deserving of the standing ovation it received.close quote
-- Albert H. Cohen, Asbury Park Press

Giuseppe Verdi: Requiem, March, 1996