Grand and varied: Eastman Rochester Chorus and ESSO Perform Handel, Brahms, and Vaughan Williams on December 6

Top and bottom photographs: William Weinert and Eastman Rochester Chorus rehearse Britten’s War Requiem in Kodak Hall in May, 2013.


By Jeremy Lopez

Eastman ALP Communications Intern


On Friday, December 6 at 7:30 p.m. in Kodak Hall, the Eastman-Rochester Chorus (ERC) and the Eastman School Symphony Orchestra (ESSO) will present a concert featuring Handel’s Te Deum, Brahms’ Nänie, and Vaughan Williams’ Toward the Unknown Region. The concert will be conducted by William Weinert and Caleb Hopkins, and will feature soloists Francesca Lionetta, Susannah Stewart, Kyrsten Chambers-Jones, Johann Kalvelage, Alex Nick, and Jonathan Rhodes.


The Eastman-Rochester Chorus has a history of performing a wide range of repertoire, from Bach and Haydn to premieres of works such as the late Dominick Argento’s Four Seascapes. Dr. William Weinert has directed the ensemble for over 25 years, and has shaped it into a powerful symphonic chorus, while retaining the group’s versatility and musical integrity.


In reflecting on the development of the ensemble and its wide repertoire, Dr. Weinert remarks, “We really try to strike a balance between relatively familiar things that people love to sing and newer works that are going to stretch them.” According to him, this give-and-take keeps the group fresh and excited in rehearsals and performances.


Weinert also places a large emphasis on making each member want to create this art. “With volunteer singers, they all really want to do their job. But along the way, we have to be sure that it isn’t all work.” For him, conducting an ensemble – no matter the size – should be as natural as talking to a friend.


Francesca Lionetta, a senior student and a soprano soloist in the Handel, is eager to have the opportunity to perform such a grand work with prestigious ensembles like ERC and ESSO. “I am most excited about our rehearsals with the orchestra and chorus. I find that working on pieces with large ensembles is exhilarating.” For her, there is so much to learn from experiences like this. She says, “It is always fun and challenging to sing with other singers and to sing with orchestra. It is not something we get to do very often as students, and I find that it really forces me to trust myself and my skills.”


This isn’t Francesca’s first experience performing as a soloist in a concert work; in December 2018, she was the soprano soloist in Fanny Mendelssohn’s Hiob Cantata with the Eastman Repertory Singers. “The Handel and Mendelssohn-Hensel are very different pieces in nature. The Hensel was a smaller chamber cantata for chamber orchestra, four soloists, and a small choral ensemble. The Handel is with full orchestra, chorus, and six soloists. [The Brahms and Vaughan Williams works on the program do not employ soloists.] Hensel’s compositional capabilities were limited due to the fact that neither her father nor her brother wanted her to be a composer…I imagine that without societal constraints Hensel’s work may have been grander, like Handel’s. Handel was in a completely different boat, which allows for this work to be of a much larger scale.” Francesca hopes to earn more experiences like these as she finishes up her degree at Eastman and continues onto her graduate studies.

The December 6 concert will take place in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, and will be open to the public. This season marks the 35th season of the Eastman-Rochester Chorus. For more information about the ensemble and its upcoming concerts, visit