Peter Dobrin, Inquirer Classical Music Critic
Last updated: Saturday, January 10, 2015, 1:08 AM
Posted: Friday, January 9, 2015, 2:54 PM
Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia has named its next artistic director and principal director: Paul Rardin, only the 13th leader in the choir’s 141-year history.
Rardin, 49, will keep the job as director of choral activities at Temple University he began in 2011, and starts his initial two-year Mendelssohn contract July 1.
Except for a 45-minute rehearsal as part of the interview process, Rardin has never before conducted the 130-voice Mendelssohn choir – his first outing won’t be until fall – but says that having grown up in the area (Germantown and East Mount Airy), “the name has been ringing in my ears for 35-plus years.
“I’ve always been struck by the apparent dichotomy of a group with Mendelssohn in the title signifying old music, and the niche that [retiring director] Alan Harler brought for new music and taking risks,” said Rardin, who graduated from Germantown Friends School before attending Williams College and the University of Michigan, where he received a master’s in composition and a doctorate in conducting. “And what excites me about the group is the notion of taking a large symphonic mixed chorus and doing those masterworks, but pairing them with new music.”
Rardin takes the reins as the local choral landscape is shifting, with new arrivals such as the Crossing chamber choir, and the impending demise of the highly regarded Philadelphia Singers.
Whether the void left by Philadelphia Singers means an opportunity for Mendelssohn Club to sing more often with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Rardin does not know. “But we want to be positioned to answer that call if and when it comes.”
Rardin says he has no major plans for changes to the ensemble, which was founded in 1874. “I have a love of African American music and world music. The world-music angle is one Alan has embraced, and Asian music has worked its way into the ensemble. What you may see is more standard repertoire than the group has done recently, just to establish that Mendelssohn side.”
Even if he hasn’t yet conducted the choir in public, Rardin has heard the Mendelssohn singers quite a bit and says it is the “warmth of the ensemble” that stands out.
“I love that there is a range of ages, and I think that lends itself to a warm sound,” he says. “It embraces the listener, and there is a great energy in the ensemble.”