Cheryl Frazes Hill officially makes her Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra debut as chorus director November 4-5, when the symphony performs Bach’s “Magnificat” under the soaring dome of the Basilica of St. Josaphat.
Unofficially, though, she’s worked with the chorus since early 2016, when the MSO invited the three most promising candidates for director to coach the 150-member, all-volunteer chorus for weeks at a time.
“We were lucky to have three people who were 100 percent qualified,” MSO President Mark Niehaus says. “But Cheryl had the most experience by far, and that showed in her work.”
Frazes Hill grew up in a musical family and sang with Margaret Hawkins, the founder of the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus, while in high school. She’s also been associate conductor of the Chicago Symphony Chorus since 1992 and director of Roosevelt University’s choruses since 2002.
“That’s kind of my M.O.,” she says: “keeping busy, increasing my scope and experiences. It energizes me.”
Now that she’s chorus director, she’ll oversee the singers during rehearsals, preparing them to sing orchestral works alongside the symphony. And she’ll work closely with MSO administrators, too. “Her job is to be not only the leader of the chorus,” Niehaus says, “but to be an advocate and cheerleader for the chorus during planning, to make sure that we’re making good choices for them artistically while also serving our audiences.”
For the “Magnificat” at St. Josaphat, Frazes Hill met with associate conductor Yaniv Dinur before rehearsals, ensuring that the singers’ voices would shine as brightly as the basilica’s gilded interior.
This season the symphony chorus sings music that spans hundreds of years – from Handel’s “Messiah” to modern masterworks such as Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms.”
And Frazes Hill is eager to tackle these works with the MSO. “When you do a piece with different conductors or under circumstances, it can be a completely different experience,” she says. “Those are experiences that imprint the piece in your memory.”
Curious about classical choral music, but don’t know where to start? Frazes Hill recommends these works for budding music buffs:
- Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
- Handel’s “Messiah”
- Bach’s Mass in B Minor
- Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms”
- Verdi’s Requiem
- Brahms’ Requiem
- Mozart’s Requiem
- Orff’s “Carmina Burana”