Glee Club director Louis Burkot to conduct final concert

by Evan Morgan | 5/4/18 2:30am

Director Louis Burkot has led the Glee Club in dozens of performances since he came to the College in 1981. At this Sunday’s show, the final concert before his retirement as director, the ensemble will send him off with a host of Glee Club standards.

Leading off the concert is Gabriel Fauré’s “Requiem in D minor,” which the Glee Club has performed four times under Burkot. He says this rendition will be different.

“We have tried to prepare the piece with all the things I felt were important during the other times and think about why they matter,” he said.

Under Burkot’s direction, the singers have approached the piece with a painstaking level of detail. That means honoring the precise original tempos, singing true pianissimos and paying careful attention to time their breaths correctly.

“The reason I think they could do it is the quality of sound and sentiments expressed are appropriate for young people,” he said. “It’s a requiem for people still on the earth rather than those who are dead.”

The second half of the performance is a diverse selection of eight pieces that Burkot calls “intricate and extremely charismatic.” A movement of Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil,” which the Glee Club performed two years ago, welcomes the audience back from intermission. Two Schubert pieces grace the second act, as does “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord,” a spiritual from celebrated American arranger Moses Hogan.

Burkot has been contemplating retirement for several years, he said. In good health and with a dedicated group of rising seniors set to lead the Glee Club next season, Burkot said now felt like the right time to leave.

“Once an entire generation of your life has passed, you see younger people with new and exciting ideas,” he said. His exit “is a way of keeping the group moving forward.”

Burkot’s departure will be the latest change at the head of a Hopkins Center ensemble. Anthony Princiotti, longtime conductor of the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra, left the College in 2015 after 23 years. Last year, Don Glasgo announced his retirement after 40 seasons leading the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble. And Hafiz Shabazz, who has led the World Music Percussion Ensemble since 1984, will also retire this year.

Burkot came to Dartmouth in 1981 with a master’s degree from the Yale School of Music, having completed conducting studies at the Aspen Music Festival and the Houston Grand Opera. He soon put down roots in the Upper Valley music community, most prominently as the artistic director of Lebanon’s Opera North for 31 of its 36 seasons.

“He’s reached through the community, from children’s choruses to professional ensembles,” said Marcia Cassidy, senior violin lecturer and colleague of Burkot. “He’s been so inclusive in his music.”

There’s no doubt that the Glee Club is losing a fine director. The former Boston Globe critic Richard Dyer has described his conducting as “first-rate, capable and stylish.” His ensembles have a remarkable sense of pitch, and he conducts with a visible energy.

“We used to make jokes that his feet don’t actually touch the ground,” Cassidy said.

In addition to programming interesting pieces — one of Burkot’s strengths, according to Cassidy — he helps his singers learn during rehearsals.

“He enjoys reading music organically,” said Noah Lee ’18, who has sung with the Glee Club throughout his four years at Dartmouth. “He is less concerned with strict rhythms and following the meter strictly.”

The ensemble has changed throughout Burkot’s nearly four decades at the helm. Membership, which was between 60 and 70 students in the 1980s, has decreased to around 40 today. Changes to the academic calendar have placed more demand on students, making it more difficult for members to devote large amounts of time to music. Nonetheless, Burkot says the quality of the Glee Club’s performers has only increased.

“These students could compete at any conservatory in the country,” he said.

Burkot has tried to avoid letting his retirement put pressure on the Glee Club’s members. But Lee said they feel especially motivated to put on an impressive show on Sunday.

“We wanted to fully appreciate him for all the work that he’s poured into us,” Lee said. “We’ve tried to make it the best we can sing just because we know how much it will mean to Louis and how much Glee Club has meant to him.”