Meet the 2 finalists for Northwest Choral Society artistic director at 'Mission: Audition' concert June 2

  • Northwest Choral Society performs its "Celestial Songs" concert in April under the direction of guest conductor Carling FitzSimmons at Trinity Lutheran Church in Des Plaines.

    Northwest Choral Society performs its "Celestial Songs" concert in April under the direction of guest conductor Carling FitzSimmons at Trinity Lutheran Church in Des Plaines. Courtesy of Northwest Choral Society

Updated 5/4/2018 5:17 PM

Selecting a new dynamic, knowledgeable and personable leader is a major undertaking for any organization.

However, that is the enviable challenge facing the board of directors and the 45 members of the Northwest Choral Society as they consider the finalists vying to become the next artist director of the chorus.


The June 2 concert, titled "Mission: Audition," will be an opportunity to both celebrate the rich tradition of its contemporary American music repertoire and meet the two finalist candidates who have been chosen from a wide field of applicants interested in being the next artistic director of Northwest Choral Society.

Its final concert of the 2017-18 season will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 2, at Southminster Presbyterian Church, 916 Central Road in Arlington Heights. Concert tickets are $25, $20 for students and seniors and may be obtained online at, by calling (224) 585-9127 or an hour prior to the concert. Ample parking is available in the church lot.

Each of the two artistic director finalists, Kevin Kelly of Elgin and Guillermo Muñoz Küster of Chicago, have selected the concert music to be performed during one half of the program. They have rehearsed with and prepared the chorus on alternative Tuesday evenings for the last two and a half months, and will be present at the concert to conduct their respective part of the program.

Kelly's selection of music will "Look on the bright side," a popular expression people say when life is not necessarily going their way. This program will put a smile on situations that might require a stiff upper lip, through music from Broadway, American and Scottish folk song, contemporary pop and songs from the "Great American Songbook."

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Selections include "Everything's Coming Up Roses," a signature tune for Ethel Merman in "Gypsy," "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," adapted from the 1975 film "Monty Python and the Life of Brian," and "Java Jive," recorded in 1940 by The King Sisters, the Ink Spots and Manhattan Transfer in 1975. "Shenandoah" is a traditional American folk song originating from the 1800s as a river boatman's shanty, or work song.

"I chose it (for the concert) for its beauty, and its sense of love, loss and longing," Kelly said. It is said that composer Paul Simon typically took a long time to write lyrics, but "Bridge Over Troubled Water" came to him "all of a sudden. It was one of the most shocking moments of my songwriting career," according to Simon.

Kevin Kelly is the artistic director of the Allegro Community Chorus, a program of the Palatine Park District; conductor for the Lake County Núcleo of Sistema Ravinia, an outreach program of the Ravinia Festival; and, since 1993, he has conducted the East Central Illinois Youth Orchestra in Champaign, helping to build an 11-player middle school string ensemble into a full symphony orchestra of high school and middle school students from communities throughout the area. He previously founded the Prairie Ensemble in Champaign-Urbana, a professional chamber orchestra, and he was honored three times by the Illinois Council of Orchestras for his work with the ensemble. He also has directed the Sangamon Valley Youth Orchestras in Springfield and the Illini Statesmen Barbershop Chorus in Champaign-Urbana. He has sung with the Chicago Symphony Chorus, the Grant Park Symphony Chorus, The City Musick, Basically Bach, His Majesties Clerkes (now Bella Voce), the choir at Winnetka's Christ Church and the Schola Cantorum of St. Peter's. Kelly received bachelor's degrees in English (essay writing) and music history and criticism from Northwestern University, and master's degrees in orchestral and choral conducting from the University of Illinois.

Muñoz Küster has titled his part of the program "Made in America." It will explore some of the rich tapestry of music that makes up the American choral landscape from composers who have given us some of the most memorable songs of the past and present. Selections include pieces from Stephen Foster, the great song writer of the 19th century ("Nelly Bly"), to the legendary Leonard Bernstein, whose 100th anniversary is celebrated this year ("Make Our Garden Grow" from "Candide"), to James Taylor's exquisitely soothing melodies ("That Lonesome Road") to gospel tradition "Until I Found the Lord" and "Shall We Gather at the River." "I hope that these selections provide us with an opportunity to appreciate the rich and diverse traditions of our musical landscape and energizes us in the discovery of the music that will become part of it," Muñoz Küster said.


Guillermo Muñoz Küster is director of adult choirs at Glenview Community Church in Glenview and executive assistant to the vice president of artistic planning for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Active in the Chicago area, he has performed with professional ensembles, including Music of the Baroque and the Grant Park Symphony Chorus. Previously, he served as assistant conductor of the Apollo Chorus of Chicago, where he also was the chorus' first-ever conducting apprentice. During his time with the Apollo Chorus, he regularly conducted the ensemble on television appearances as well as concert performances. He founded and directed the Millar Kammerorchester, a 40-member chamber orchestra based in Evanston and recently completed a conducting fellowship for Chorus America's Choral Orchestra Academy.

A native of Santiago, Chile, Muñoz Küster earned a master of music degree in conducting (choral and orchestral) and classical guitar from the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University. He earned his bachelor of music (voice and classical guitar) degree magna cum laude from Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania.

Rehearsals for the 2018-19 season will begin Sept. 4, with the new session's first concert to be scheduled for December. Details of the 2018-19 season programs and venues will be released as soon as possible this summer.

Lipke-Kentex-Hesse/Dionne Supply of Chicago is providing much appreciated sponsorship financial support for the Northwest Choral Society's 2017-18 concert season.

Founded in 1965, the Northwest Choral Society is a nonprofit organization that promotes and encourages the appreciation, understanding and performance of a wide variety of outstanding choral literature. Its adult membership resides in the greater Chicago area.

The Northwest Choral Society invites experienced singers to audition to join the organization. Basses, tenors, altos and sopranos with previous choral experience and 17 years of age can obtain additional information about the Northwest Choral Society at

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