Direct from the conductor

Direct from the conductor

The University of Illinois School of Music this week announced the hiring of choral conductor Andrew Megill.

Megill leads several notable vocal ensembles, including the Montreal Symphony Orchestra Chorus, the Carmel Bach Festival Chorale and Fuma Sacra, a chamber choir specializing in early music.

He has been a guest conductor for the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and the Juilliard Opera Center, and prepared choirs for performances with top orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic.

At the UI, Megill will be the director of choral activities and professor of conducting. Megill, whose first day will be Aug. 15, talked with staff writer Christine Des Garennes after his hiring.

As director of choral activities, does that mean you will have oversight of the UI's various choral groups, e.g. the Chorale, Glee Club? Have you familiarized yourself yet with "Illinois" (the university board of trustees invites a guest to sing the state song before every meeting) or the Morrow Plots song (popularized by a men's vocal group on campus)?

Yes, I will oversee all the choral groups. ... I don't know either of the songs you mentioned — I've got some homework to do!

When I hear the words "choral music," I think "Hallelujah Chorus." For those of us who are not well-versed in choral music, what is one other song we should be familiar with and should see live when given the opportunity?

I love the "Hallelujah Chorus" and have conducted the work it comes from (Handel's Messiah) 50 times, including dozens of times in Carnegie Hall. Another choral setting of the same word is Randall Thompson's "Alleluia," which is a classic — maybe the classic — American choral piece. And anything by Bach makes me feel and think deeply, so I'd definitely suggest hearing something by him — live! — at some point in your life.

But one of the greatest things about choral music is that there's so much of it that's beautiful — singing is such an innate part of being human. I bet every person that's ever walked the planet has done it at some point, whether it's privately in the shower or with others listening. And because of its universality, there's something there for everyone, from gospel to close harmony a cappella singing to Brahms to works written yesterday.

Favorite or the best venue to hear choral music?

Hmmmm, there are a lot of great venues. I've been lucky enough to conduct in Carnegie Hall, which is justifiably famous for its beautiful acoustics. Other great halls I've been in include the Maison Symphonique in Montreal, some incredible churches. St Mark's in Venice, for example. I hear the Krannert Center is pretty wonderful, too, and can't wait to make music there.

I read in your bio you've worked with Ridley Scott. Can you tell us more about that experience?

My experience with Ridley Scott was pretty funny. I was hired to teach about 10 young actors — including Scott Wolf and Ryan Phillippe — to sing sea chanties for the movie "White Squall." Unfortunately, they didn't use any of the music we worked on together in the movie, but it was a really fun experience.

When someone says Illinois choral choirs or choral program, what comes to mind?

The University of Illinois has been one of the most historically important centers for the study of choral music. It offered one of the first doctorates in the field and has an incredibly starry list of alumni — many of the greatest leaders in choral music studied here, including Joseph Flummerfelt, Kenneth Jennings and Andre Thomas, all of whom are among the most important names in choral music today. I'm really honored to be carrying on this tradition and look forward to being part of the Illinois family.