By Patrick Donachie
Maestro David Close’s relationship with the Oratorio Society of Queens stretches back nearly 50 years. Throughout the decades, he has worked to ensure that the society remains accessible to all listeners, including those who are not familiar with classical music.
“I don’t want to drive them away,” he said. “I want to show them why I’m excited about this music.”
Close joined the chorus in 1968 as an accompanist, and took on the job of conductor two years later. At the time, the chorus mostly performed in local houses of worship with only an organ backing them, but Close wanted to perform the works with a full orchestral accompaniment, incorporating the “full sound spectrum” that the composers originally envisioned.
“They represent the highest flowering of the choral art, so it gives people who like to sing an opportunity with a greater scope and a scale,” he said. “This allows them to be king for a day, if you will.”
Close also moved the chorus’ performances into more acoustically suitable venues, but the group never shed its communal roots. The members of the chorus come from neighborhoods throughout Queens, and include those who sing in their local temples or parishes, as well as those without any affiliation. Close said that nervous auditioners had nothing to fear.
“If you can carry a tune and have a reasonable voice, you’ll be fine,” he said. “You’ll be part of us.”
The Oratorio Society of Queens has garnered a reputation as being an extremely approachable presenter of choral works, a balancing act that Close worked to attain. Close will often speak to the audience during performances, telling humorous and enlightening stories about the inspiration behind the choral works.
“When performers bring their friends and relatives, they’re not necessarily bringing people who have a connection to that kind of music. We want them to have a good experience, to not have it be so forbidding,” he said. “It makes them comfortable, and the music speaks and grabs them or it doesn’t.”
Close is also the music director and conductor of the Great Neck Choral Society, as well as the music director and organist for Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Forest Hills. He credited the success of the Oratorio Society to its many performers through the years and to LeeAnn Close, his wife. He said she had helped bring the Oratorio Society’s IT capabilities “into the 21st century.”
“Here we are in the middle of Queens, and we’ve got some stuff happening. I’m proud to have done my part to make it happen,” he said. “And I haven’t done it by myself.”
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona