Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Sancta Civitas & Dona Nobis Pacem: The Music of Vaughan Williams in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Sancta Civitas & Dona Nobis Pacem: The Music of Vaughan Williams in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Sancta Civitas & Dona Nobis Pacem: The Music of Vaughan Williams
Nina Nash-Robertson, Guest Conductor; Latoya Lain, soprano; Eric Tucker, bass-baritone
Craig Jessop, Guest Conductor; Kerry Wilkerson, baritone
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
June 11, 2017

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a marvelous afternoon concert devoted entirely to the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, with two infrequently heard works, one of which was a Carnegie Hall premiere. The first piece was the cantata Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant Us Peace). Those words come from the Agnus Dei section of the Mass. However, Vaughan Williams makes use of three poems written just after the Civil War by Walt Whitman, and a portion of a mid-nineteenth century British political speech to intensify his fervent appeal for an end to senseless human conflict. Vaughan Williams enlisted in World War I (at age forty-two, mind you) and drove ambulances in France, Belgium, and Greece. He saw plenty of carnage, and was forever affected by it. The Dona Nobis Pacem was premiered in 1936, when Europe was only a few years from yet another conflagration.

Nina Nash-Robertson led the excellent Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and the composite choir (she got to bring her “home choir” from Michigan in addition to the others) in a performance that was brisk and always bracingly transparent even when the choral and instrumental writing gets complicated. The choir was thrilling in the forte sections, and very good at the softer ones too. The soprano soloist, Latoya Lain, had a gorgeous voice, with deep sincerity of expression and a wonderful variety of colors—she reminded me of a combination of what is best about Leontyne Price and Jessye Norman. The baritone soloist, Eric Tucker, was more successful in the second of his major solos: The Angel of Death, where his stentorian quality fit the mood. I didn’t feel that he found the tender sadness of Reconciliation, in which Whitman realizes, as he looks at his dead enemy’s body in the coffin, that he is “a man as divine as myself,” tenderly kissing the brow of the departed. The Dirge for Two Veterans was heart-rending, wherein a mother looks down, in the form of moonlight, on a funeral procession for her husband and son, killed on the same day. When the moon appears, the shimmer of string sound was magical.

Men don’t ever seem to learn the lessons of warfare in any lasting way, but Vaughan Williams believed that artists had to be messengers of hope.

After intermission, Jonathan Griffith, the co-founder of DCINY and its principal conductor, presented the DCINY Educator Laureate award to conductor Craig Jessop, who led the next work, Sancta Civitas (The Holy City), a Carnegie Hall premiere. In his remarks, Mr. Jessop said how much he learned from Robert Shaw, one of his choral mentors. Indeed, he had a “Shaw-like” quality to his own conducting that made this apocalyptic vision from Revelations even more intense. To name but one of his many accomplishments- Mr. Jessop led the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from 1999 to 2008, earning many Grammys in the process.

The main choir was on stage (Mr. Jessop also had his “home choir” from Logan, UT, as one of the composite), a divided balcony choir was on either side in the front of the hall, and the “distant” choir (and trumpet), Vaughan Williams’ specification, was all the way at the back of the hall, though it could have used some more acoustic “distance” of the sort provided by the great British cathedrals. The spacial distribution worked like a charm. The concertmaster, Jorge Ávila, was radiant in his personification of the human soul ascending in the And I Saw a New Heaven section, which sounded a lot like a less-ornamented “cousin” of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Mr. Ávila had also been perfect in the Reconciliation movement of Dona Nobis Pacem. The English horn and trumpet solos also were sensitively done. Baritone soloist Kerry Wilkerson rendered all his interjections beautifully, with clear diction and mellow “British” tone.

“Babylon the great is fallen” cried the chorus, and my mind went to the many cities in Iraq (and elsewhere) that have shared the same fate. Another Dona Nobis Pacem moment.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) and The Tyler Clementi Foundation present Portraits of Healing: Tyler’s Suite and the Music of Ola Gjeilo in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) and The Tyler Clementi Foundation present Portraits of Healing: Tyler’s Suite and the Music of Ola Gjeilo in Review

 Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) and The Tyler Clementi Foundation present Portraits of Healing: Tyler’s Suite and the Music of Ola Gjeilo
James M. Meaders, DCINY Associate Artistic Director and conductor
Ola Gjeilo, DCINY Composer-in-Residence, piano
Tim Seelig, Conductor Laureate
Stephen Schwartz, DCINY Composer-in-Residence
Michael McCorry Rose, Special Guest Artist
Andrew Caldwell, tenor; Steve Huffness, bass; Nancy Nail, mezzo-soprano; Keilan Christopher, tenor; Jorge Ávila, violin; Carl Pantle, piano
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International
David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, New York, NY
June 4, 2017

 

Talk about a concert with a mission! Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented the very moving New York premiere of Tyler’s Suite, a work commissioned by the Tyler Clementi Foundation in 2012 (the 2014 world premiere was in San Francisco) to honor the memory of the eighteen-year-old college freshman who committed suicide nearly seven years ago, due to intense, vile, cyber-bullying. We will get to that work , which comprised the second half of the concert, later.

The concert opened with four choruses by the Norwegian-born composer Ola Gjeilo, an eminence in the field, despite not yet having reached age 40. Even their texts seemed to relate to Tyler Clementi. For me, the standout was Dark Night of the Soul, from the poem by St. John of the Cross, the Counter-Reformation mystic whose sacred raptures border on the erotic. “One dark night,/fired with love’s urgent longings/–ah, the sheer grace!–/I went out unseen,/my house being now all stilled,” for example. Mr. Gjeilo is what I call a “maximal minimalist,” at times sounding like a descendent of Philip Glass, but with much greater access to emotion, and much more romantic. The Dark Night was preceded by The Ground, a reworking of a portion of Mr. Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass that had a beautiful three-note “Brahmsian” motive. Then came the phoenix legend reconsidered beautifully in Across the Vast, Eternal Sky. Finally, a counterpart to Dark was provided by the Luminous Night of the Soul, words mostly by Charles Silvestri, but with the inclusion of more St. John of the Cross. The composite choir was excellent, with absolutely stunning blends, surely the achievement of the conductor; the composer himself was the pianist, along with the strings of the Distinguished Concerts orchestra. Mr. Gjeilo’s sensitive rendition of the extended piano interlude in Luminous Night was breathtaking.

 

DCINY, Tyler’s Suite Dr. Timothy G. Seelig, Conductor Laureate
Stephen Schwartz, DCINY Composer-in-Residence
Carl Pantle, Piano

After intermission came the main event, Tyler’s Suite– a collaboration among nine of today’s most celebrated composers: John Bucchino, Ann Hampton Callaway, Craig Carnelia, John Corigliano, Stephen Flaherty, Nolan Gasser, Jake Heggie, Lance Horne, and Stephen Schwartz, with the libretto by Pamela Stewart, Mark Adamo, and Joe Clementi. Jane Clementi, Tyler’s mother, was introduced by composer Stephen Schwartz (of multi-Broadway show fame). I don’t understand how any mother (or parent, sibling, or friend) can ever truly “heal” from such an immense loss, however, she spoke with great composure and passion about the need for kindness and an end to bullying (online and offline), harassment, and humiliation. The family started the Tyler Clementi Foundation in the hope that their worst nightmare would not have to happen to anyone else. Tyler’s father even collaborated in part of the libretto.

The work is in nine sections, with a violin solo prominent (due to Tyler Clementi’s talent on that instrument), piano, SATB choir, and soloists. There was one lighter moment in The Unicycle Song, about Tyler’s ability to play the violin while riding, you guessed it, a unicycle. The points of view of mother, father, and brother were all represented in this collaborative work, whose composers aren’t identified by specific section, nor are librettists identified by whose words are which—they truly meld their identities in the service of this memorial.

As Jane Clementi said, she truly believes that perhaps only music has the power to reach inside and transform someone’s attitudes and soul. Overall, the work was at all times beautiful, but very difficult for me emotionally, but what is my discomfort compared to the family’s grief. Perhaps some of that was due to the raw, literal nature of the words. The children’s nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down” (in the movement called A Wish), though conceived years ago for this work, seemed strangely prescient given yesterday’s terrorism in London on that very bridge. It caused me to think about whether it is proper to take aesthetic enjoyment as a result of someone’s tragedy. However, if that were the case, we wouldn’t have Shostakovich’s Babi Yar symphony either. The soloists and choir were very, very good; and it was great to see the concertmaster of the Distinguished Concerts orchestra properly credited (he was the violin “embodiment” of Tyler Clementi).

This work should be required listening for every high school and college. Click here to watch the live video of the concert. Please be kind, people, and use social media for good purposes only.

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) Artist Series presents Ian Gindes in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) Artist Series presents Ian Gindes in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) Artist Series presents Ian Gindes
Ian Gindes, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
May 30, 2017

 

The Memorial Day weekend concluded with a solo piano recital by a Captain in the Army National Guard, Ian Gindes, who has a formidable piano study pedigree (including a D. Mus. Arts). His recital was a study in stark contrast, with his best work in the twentieth-century American repertoire that he has made his calling card.

He began with an account of Bach’s first Partita (B-Flat major, BWV 825), and he kept his right foot far away from the sustaining pedal, which in itself is admirable, but which in this case led to somewhat stiff, wooden readings of all but the final movement. His contrapuntal clarity was good, but he never rolled a single chord in the entire work, which was particularly detrimental in the Sarabande, making it sound heavy rather than sensual. In the Menuet II, he did not wait the correct amount of time before beginning the repeats, rushing instead and creating a sort of unease in this listener. Finally, in the concluding Gigue, joy entered his fingers, and that was the best movement.

A Chopin group followed, it suffered from a lack of elegance and/or poetry in the interpretive approach. The famous E-Flat major Nocturne (Op. 9, No. 2) had a punched melody way too loud for the accompaniment, some wayward rubati and some artificial-sounding lingering (still, I’d rather be irritated than bored). The A-Flat major Impromptu (Op. 29) lacked sensitivity and a tossed-off quality. In the Etude (Op. 10, No. 3) in E major, Mr. Gindes did present the iconic melody very beautifully. The next Etude (Op. 10, No. 4) in C-Sharp minor showed that he can move his fingers in the requisite fashion, but it was marred by heaviness.

Mr. Gindes followed this with a Liszt group. Two selections from the less-often played Années de pelerinage: Suisse were included. Here his thunderous approach suited the Chapelle de Guillaume Tell very well, invoking church-organs, battle horns, and echoes across mountain valleys. In Au bord d’une source however, his water did not play and sparkle, the tempo was too slow, though in Liszt’s “small-note” cadenzas he played beautifully; I wish he had brought that quality to the whole piece. Part of my definition of virtuosity is not only the ability to play difficult pieces, but to give the audience the sense “of course I can do that, AND I can do so much more.” In Liszt’s Paganini Etude La Campanella, Liszt set out to create a level of difficulty in purely pianistic terms that would equal what Paganini made one lone violinist do. Mr. Gindes seemed at the outer limit of what he is capable of doing, with nothing left to spare.

After intermission, it was as though a different person took the stage. I marveled at the utter perfection of his Copland groups, and the Gershwin/Wild song transcription/etudes. Mr. Gindes played one of my all-time favorite piano transcriptions by Copland, his Oscar-nominated score for the movie version of Our Town (1940). I could not believe how completely he was attuned to the content of the music, the beautiful piano tone, and the absolutely appropriate sentiment of every moment.

Probably only Earl Wild could make his own etudes based on Gershwin popular songs sound completely easy and effortless, but Mr. Gindes certainly gives him a run for his money, particularly in the sensuous rendering of Embraceable You.

Mr. Gindes finished with Copland’s own piano transcription of his ballet Rodeo (1942) composed for Agnes de Mille. Every buckaroo sprang to life, the wistfulness of the silent corral at night, the dancing flirtations of the Saturday night couples, and the final Hoe-Down. It was truly a celebration of America and Americana, in which Mr. Gindes did NOT seem at the limit of what he could do.

We need more contemporary American piano music on recitals, and Ian Gindes can fulfill that role beautifully.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents With Strength & Joy in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents With Strength & Joy in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents With Strength & Joy
William C. Powell, Guest Conductor
Meredith Lustig and Katherine Polit, sopranos; Jessica Grigg, mezzo-soprano
Pepper Choplin, Composer/Conductor
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, New York, NY
May 29, 2017

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York’s (DCINY) Memorial Day concert featured a musical amuse-bouche before the concert (and during intermission): “Amazing Grace,” and patriotic, folk, and march music played by the Patriot Brass Ensemble in an upper-right balcony. This gave the event the aura of “a small town in New England,” to be Ivesian about it.

We have composer Alfredo Casella to thank for the revival of Vivaldi’s Gloria, which took place only in 1939. It seems as though it has “always” been there, so iconic is its place in our concerts and sacred celebrations. I will confess to being apprehensive about the use of a large choir in the Vivaldi. There is no tradition of gigantism where Vivaldi is concerned (as there is, for instance, in Handel performance in England). However, I am delighted to report that the performance was absolutely transparent despite the huge choir. The excellent conductor William C. Powell must surely bear most of the responsibility for this: his motions were simple, yet always laser-precise, and he got what he wanted from the group. The second movement Et in terra pax was intensely expressive from the choir.

All three soloists were perfectly cast for their roles: Meredith Lustig and Katherine Polit, sopranos, in the duet Laudamus te, and Ms. Lustig as soloist in the Domine deus, where the dialog with the uncredited oboist was gorgeous. Mezzo-soprano Jessica Grigg sang the Domine deus, Agnus dei beautifully, with a wonderfully expressive (again uncredited) cello continuo; she appeared again in the Quoniam tu solus sanctus.

As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, as the orchestra is such a large part of the proceedings of most of these DCINY events, that it is a total shame for there not to be a listing of their names too.

After intermission, all active and/or retired service members in the audience were asked to stand and receive our grateful applause as each anthem of that branch of the armed services was played by the Patriot Brass—a fitting way to remind us of what the day is really about, barbecues notwithstanding. Service personnel had been admitted free of charge to this event.

I had issues with the major sacred work on the second half—Psalm 23: A Journey with the Shepherd, composed and conducted by Pepper Choplin—so much so that I had to call a friend of mine, a prominent organist/church choir director in Michigan who has attended some of Mr. Choplin’s workshops just to ascertain if I was really a sourpuss curmudgeon. He told me “Frank, there is a need and use for music of this type that you may not comprehend, since you’re not in the church-music field.” Okay, I had my “ouch” moment, then was left to consider how to address matters. Remember, Mr. Choplin is a best-selling composer of church music, and I am but a music critic, perfectly capable of being wrong.

Psalm 23 was extremely “easy-listening,” it had little contrapuntal interest, the harmonies were predictable and sweet, there was lots of text repetition, it was over-orchestrated (to the point of drowning out the mass choir at times), and Mr. Choplin surrounded the Psalm with a text “We are not alone” (two soloists drawn from the choir did good work here). I think Psalm 23 can do very well on its own. That being said, I was able to appreciate how fervently and sincerely the piece was played and sung. The choral sound was indeed thrilling in the louder climactic moments. So, I am left with my friend’s admonishment, and the enthusiastic applause of the audience who obviously loved it a great deal.

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Brahms’ Requiem in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Brahms’ Requiem in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Brahms’ Requiem
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Jonathan Griffith, DCINY Artistic Director and Principal Conductor
Claire Kuttler, soprano
Andrew McLaughlin, baritone
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
May 28, 2017

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) continued its Memorial Day weekend extravaganza with an all-Brahms program led by its artistic director and principal conductor, the estimable Jonathan Griffith. Although Ein deutsches Requiem can stand alone as a whole program, Maestro Griffith preceded it with a suitably moody account of the Tragic Overture, one that showcased the depth of the strings’ tone beautifully.

Then the massed international choir (288 by my estimate) took the stage for the main event, the consoling “humanist” (non-liturgical) Requiem Brahms composed, at least partly prompted by the death of his mother. Maestro Griffith gave a very spacious rendition of the lyrical movements, not leaving any shaping unexplored. Paradoxically, he drove the fugal sections (important portions of movements two, three, and six) quite briskly, causing a loss of some choral clarity and even a few coordination mishaps between choir and orchestra. Only the benevolent but tyrannical precision of a Robert Shaw, and more rehearsal time, could have solved that issue. Although control of pitch in the softer sections was tentative, the choral sound was thrilling at the louder dynamic levels.

So seductive is the “surface layer” of the Requiem that we can easily forget just how “constructed” the piece is: motivic unity among all movements, arch form, symmetry, and massive Bach-inspired fugues. Brahms really poured all his heart AND mind into this, his longest work by far. There is a certain “churning” of the composer’s mind that then opens into worlds of ineffable repose. The orchestral playing was great, with contrapuntal answering between parts heard in all its mellow clarity, and nice work from all the winds too (so often treacherous)—that I was able to hear this is a testament to the quality of this rendition.

The soloists were both very good, with Andrew McLaughlin delivering emphatic accounts of his, dramatically involved and with vivid diction. Probably one of the hardest things any soprano has to do is to sit still on stage for thirty-eight minutes through the first four movements and then rise and deliver one of the most difficult solos in the oratorio repertoire. Claire Kuttler has a voice larger than one is accustomed to hearing in this work, but it soared beautifully out into Carnegie Hall, though at times she appeared to be having breath difficulty. I did enjoy the fullness of her reading, at times even impetuous—it contrasted with the usual “ethereal” approach.

This Requiem is just the cure for our troubling time that seems to abound in bad news. Well done!

 

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Celebration and Reflection in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Celebration and Reflection in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Celebration and Reflection
The Hudson Festival Chorus and Orchestra (OH), Thomas Scott, director; Susan Wozniak, soprano; Daniel Doty and Christopher McGilton, baritones
Coro de Cámara de Campina Grande (Brazil), Loiret’s Singers (France), Tutti Choir BSB (Brazil), Vladimir Silva, director; Julie Cassia Cavalcante, soprano; Jeonai Batista, tenor; Regiane Yamaguchi, piano
Church Choir Oberbuchsiten, Projektchor Peter & Paul Aarau, Singkreis Wohlen Bern-Projektchor “SMW” Frick-Kantorei der Stadtkirch Aarau, (Switzerland), Dieter Wagner, director; Miriam Wagner, piano
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall. New York, NY
May 26, 2017

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) got Memorial Day weekend off to a fine start with a program showcasing widely disparate composers, conductors, nations, and styles, and all having sacred texts in common. All three conductors were uncommonly musical, even though their individual choral styles were, predictably, quite different from each other. They had the advantage of having their “native” choir(s) brought to New York, rather than having to conduct a massed choir assembled “on-the-spot” (though the results of those outings have also been uniformly splendid).

The evening began with the magic spell that is Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem, which was prompted by the deaths of both of his parents within a few years’ time. It was presented in a scaled-down version corresponding to Fauré’s earliest conception when he was assistant organist in a small loft at Paris’ Eglise de la Madeleine. A well-written justification was offered in the program notes by the excellent conductor Thomas More Scott, although, as we know, Fauré went on to two more revisions of the work, each time expanding it because he was not satisfied with the limitations of the first. This performance, with fifty-four singers and thirteen instrumentalists, allowed the many felicities of counterpoint to emerge with clarity. The overwhelming gentleness of Fauré’s view of the mass for the dead was created beautifully by the choir, with sensitive dynamics. All the soloists were good, especially since they were drawn from the ranks of the choir. For me, this rendition was more subtly effective than the heavily professionalized, sometimes inflated, versions one often hears.

The evening continued with a Brazilian composer’s (Danilo Guanais) setting of the Ordinary of the Catholic Mass, accompanied by piano and a light percussion duo. His philosophy of man as part of a community that believes and professes its collective faith was beautifully displayed in a work that abounded in textural variety from section to section, and accessible music with the occasional “Latin” flavor. There were so many lovely moments. I will only be able to cite the pastorale of Qui propter nos homines, the spooky moans and groans added to the Crucifixus, the twin solos in the Confiteor, and the tenor’s beautiful Benedictus. Both soloists were effective, with Jeonai Batista possessing an especially sweet lyric tenor. Conductor Vladimir Silva, obviously steeped in the style, led a dynamically vivid performance, with great energetic cut-offs.

After intermission, a consortium of Swiss choral groups sang a handful of too-seldom performed chorales and motets by Felix Mendelssohn, under the gorgeous choral conducting of Dieter Wagner (not to be confused with Richard Wagner’s grandson), both a cappella and with piano. Wagner’s motions brilliantly conveyed his meaning to the choir (the evening’s largest group) with the space and lyrical flow so appropriate to this music. All the selections showed Mendelssohn’s “debt” (if you can call it that) to Bach and the German Protestant tradition, perhaps inheritance would be a preferable word. In the final Hör mein Bitten (Hear My Prayer), a female vocal quartet from the choir was front and center for the lovely entreaty that was answered and complemented by the full choir.

What an inspiring evening!


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Viva La Musica de Argentina in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Viva La Musica de Argentina in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Viva La Musica de Argentina
Cuerda y Voz, Guest Artists: Dany Dorf, Drums & Voice; François Knab, Andean Flutes, Tiple Colombiano & Voice; Rodrigo Mosquera, Charango & Voice; Sergio Saraniche, Guitar & Voice; Vidal Rojas, Guitar & Voice
Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Jonathan Griffith, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor
Cuerda y Voz, Guest Artists; George Hemcher, Piano
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Saul Zaks, Guest Conductor
Martín Palmeri, DCINY Composer-in-Residence
Carla Filipcic Holm, Soprano; Daniel Binelli, Bandoneon; Martín Palmeri, Piano
David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, New York, NY
April 30, 2017

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) really did something to redress the grievous lack of Latin American music on our concert stages by bringing Argentine performers and composers to Lincoln Center on April 30, 2017. Many of us thrill to the Argentine tango as performed on Dancing with the Stars, and perhaps a few recognize the name Piazzolla. An intrepid singer might have explored the songs of Guastavino, and pianists may have struggled valiantly with Ginastera’s First Piano Sonata, but there is so much more going on in Argentina. The folk element is never very far from the surface, in fact sometimes it is the surface. Remember: the minuet and waltz were social dances before they were stylized into “classical” genres. Since the current Pope is Argentine, I think he would greatly have appreciated this evening, especially the sacred music. I enjoyed the concert so much (which was streamed live on DCINY’s Facebook page) that I ran home and watched it again.

 

The evening began with the vocal/instrumental quintet Cuerda y Voz (String and Voice) where all the members double on various instruments. They started with Atahualpa Yupanqui’s plaintive Camino del Indio (The Indian Road), which contained a tantalizing bit of the 1913 Peruvian melody on Andean flute that was appropriated by Paul Simon for his 1970 El Condor Pasa. Yupanqui is the most important Argentine folk musician of the twentieth century, his name means “He who comes from faraway lands to say something,” much like Cuerda y Voz. Then followed four numbers, all featuring the group’s great unanimity, expressive vocals, wonderful handling of the instruments, and even sly humor amid songs, many of which deal with the hardness of life. The tiple colombiano is a “small” guitar with three courses of four strings, very difficult to play, and I confess I had never heard one before. The charango is an even smaller stringed “guitar” with ten strings in five courses.

 

Cuerda y Voz stayed on stage, playing a discreet instrumental while the first massed choir took the stage for the Misa Criolla by Ariel Ramírez, in which they would take the role(s) traditionally allotted to soloists. This is a complete setting, in Spanish, of the Catholic Mass. Ramírez, who died in 2010, created this signature work in 1964, and it gave him financial independence, but many don’t realize that there are three hundred other works by him. The choir was accompanied by electric piano, a small percussion section, and Cuerda y Voz, the whole conducted by the excellent Jonathan Griffith, who wore a traditional poncho that matched those of Cuerda y Voz. Each movement has as its musical underpinning an Argentine folk-music genre. The Agnus Dei, particularly, was beautifully plaintive in its plea for peace; its music was in the estilo pampeano (from the pampas), a desolate area whose inhabitants are often lonely.

 

After intermission, a different set of singers took the stage, along with the DCINY orchestra, strings only, a concert grand piano (with the composer playing), a soprano, and a bandoneón soloist, all conducted by the superb Saul Zaks. For those who don’t recall, the bandoneón is the “accordion-like” Argentine instrument that imparts such bite, soul, and authenticity to that music. They were there to give us the world premiere of Tango Credo by Martín Palmeri, part of a projected complete Mass setting (he has previously created a Tango Gloria) in Latin utilizing tango rhythms and shapes. Daniel Binelli began the entire work with mysterious utterances from the bandoneón that sounded like he was assembling cosmic fragments that would later be revealed to be whole. He was excellent, and his virtual miming of death at the phrase “Passus et sepultus est” (He suffered and was buried) was gripping.

 

The soprano soloist, Carla Filipcic Holm, has a very big voice, and it was a pleasure to hear that it was totally in her control, capable of soft high notes and other subtleties. She invested the part with great feeling. The tango, for me, is such a physical dance, full of sudden alternations of seduction and rejection, that when it is stripped of dance movement I don’t know quite what to make of it. It seems a bit too sensual for sacred music, my limitation I’m sure; perhaps I just need a long stay in Argentina! Palmeri’s Credo took 38 minutes, whereas the entire Mass by Ramirez was 22 minutes. The Credo is the wordiest section of the Mass, and there was a lot of repetition of what had just been sung by the chorus or the soloist. Nevertheless, the movement built very well, the Crucifixus was the appropriately solemn low point, and thereafter the piece progressed to a triumphant affirmation of faith, which after all is the point of the Credo.

 

Interestingly, the Argentine composer Palmeri had a Danish grandfather, and the conductor, who is native Argentine, currently makes his home in Denmark. The choirs were extremely international, with groups from Argentina, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Denmark, as well as a few “domestic” groups. The triumph of globalization, when applied to something worthwhile!


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Green Valley High School Symphonic Wind Orchestra/ Hershey Symphony Festival Strings and Hershey Symphony Orchestra in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Green Valley High School Symphonic Wind Orchestra/ Hershey Symphony Festival Strings and Hershey Symphony Orchestra in Review

Green Valley High School Symphonic Wind Orchestra (NV), Diane Koutsulis, conductor
Hershey Symphony Festival Strings, Hershey Symphony Orchestra (PA), Sandra Dackow, conductor; Odin Rathnam, violin
Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, New York, NY
April 10, 2017

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a mixed program, with ensembles from a Henderson, Nevada high school, a group of middle-school string players From Hershey, Pennsylvania , and an adult all-volunteer symphony, also from Hershey. If some of the playing had its rough edges, all of it succeeded in the task of communicating emotion from players to audience. The program featured two excellent female conductors for a change, an all-too-rare occurrence.

The evening began with the Nevada group and Steven Bryant’s Ecstatic Fanfare, a little ragged in ensemble, but a festive beginning. This was followed by the second movement, Yellow, from Philip Sparke’s A Colour Symphony, which emphasized the upper ranges of the winds to create the impression of intense sunshine. I wonder if Sparke knew about Sir Arthur Bliss’ A Colour Symphony, dating from the 1920s. A rousing performance of James Clifton Williams, Jr.’s The Sinfonians (Symphonic March), commissioned by a musical fraternity, showed rhythmic verve. Green Valley saved the best for last however, a new work entitled there are no words [sic], a programmatic work about the horrific murder of nine worshippers in Charleston, SC, two years ago that did not trivialize tragedy. As its composer James M. Stephenson states, it is really not a portrayal of events, but a reflection of personal feelings about it. This work featured absolutely beautiful playing from the principal flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, and euphonium. The group achieved true transparency, a testament to their ability to listen to each other, and to the compositional quality of the piece. To honor the dead, there were nine clusters at the beginning and another nine, decreasing in volume, at the end; their names were read by a student prior to beginning the work.

After intermission, the Hershey Symphony Festival Strings, composed entirely of middle-schoolers, took the stage for three clever arrangements (two Mozart, one traditional English hornpipe) by their conductor Sandra Dackow, who is an expert creator of pedagogical materials for developing musicians. All the movements were quick; perhaps one slower one could have shown greater range. But the most impressive thing for me was the justness of their intonation (playing in tune). This is a quality that often suffers, not only in the young, but even in grown-up ensembles. Way to go, middle-schoolers; they are obviously getting great leadership from Ms. Dackow. And wasn’t she clever to sneak in a surreptitious morsel of Tchaikovsky for the double-basses right near the end of the hornpipe.

The Hershey Symphony, soon to be in its fiftieth year, is composed of musicians who voluntarily give of their time and talent for the purpose of creating a rich cultural experience for the people of their region. Ms. Dackow led them through three “chestnuts” of the repertoire. As a conductor, she has a delightful quality I call “inner expansion,” by which I mean a certain feeling for elasticity and arrival points, which she then transmits to her players. The only slight miscalculation, I felt, was the lack of inclusion of at least one contemporary work. Humperdinck’s famous Overture to his opera Hansel und Gretel spoke in its alternately prayerful and stentorian, Wagner-inspired ways. She was then joined by virtuoso violinist Odin Rathnam for Sarasate’s evergreen Ziguenerweise. He has not only the chops but the temperament to dispatch this work and not make it seem difficult at all; he even brought out the humor at certain points, which caused audience members to giggle appropriately. His tone was sweet and true throughout, particularly in the stratospherically high notes the piece reaches. The performance contained many gratifying rubato details that were carefully and thoughtfully worked out between soloist and conductor. One could definitely hear how certain manic “gypsy” passagework found its way into such a disparate piece as Ravel’s Tzigane! The evening finished with a grand account of the graduation day staple: Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1. Ms. Dackow’s inner expansion here gave extra glory to the “Land of Hope and Glory” melody so beloved to all.

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Total Vocal in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Total Vocal in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Total Vocal
Deke Sharon, guest conductor, arranger, and creative director
Kelley Jakle, guest soloist
Chesney Snow, guest artist
Cast members from Broadway’s In Transit, Writers from Broadway’s In Transit, Shemesh Quartet (Mexico), Forte (2016 ICHSA National Champion), special guests
Distinguished Concert Artists Singers International
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
April 9, 2017

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) hit another home run with its third (annual) presentation of a cappella glory, Total Vocal, led by the Mr. State-of-the-art himself: Deke Sharon. One might enter this event a curmudgeon, but one will certainly not leave that way. Mr. Sharon has the highest, most joyful energy imaginable, and his genuine enthusiasm in bringing people together creates a reciprocal love fest between him and his performers, then the performers and the audience. I hope that he is as happy and satisfied in life as his musical persona leads me to believe. He definitely deserves to be.

 

The mania for a cappella choral groups shows no signs of abating, thank goodness. We had the TV series Glee, then the Pitch Perfect movie, its sequel Pitch Perfect 2, and Pitch Perfect 3 has just wrapped, with a December 22, 2017 release date. NBC’s competition show The Sing-Off has also done very well. Mr. Sharon is the arranger for all of these. This concert was sold out.

 

At today’s concert there were well over four hundred singers from high schools all over the US (and international), as well as many solo additions and even some adults. Mr. Sharon volunteered at one point to hook up any audience member who desired to sing a cappella with a group in his/her area, no experience necessary; or even to help anyone start one of their own. He really believes in his gospel of harmonization, the “natural antidepressant.” The singers were deployed in roughly two halves, until the surprise end of the concert brought the full complement (the other half materializing from the audience side) to create a rousing sound in the glorious acoustic of Carnegie Hall.

 

Mr. Sharon was the arranger for Broadway’s first-ever a cappella musical In Transit, and the afternoon began with a stunning performance of Getting There by the cast of the show. By the way, they were on their way to perform their show just a few blocks away.

 

This was followed by Since U Been Gone (made popular by Kelly Clarkson) from Pitch Perfect and Under Pressure (Bowie and Mercury) from The Sing-Off, both excellent. Mr. Sharon related (in his always engaging patter) how important it is to awaken sensitivity to dynamic changes, which his choir then demonstrated in a sensitive rendition of the Ed Sheeran hit Thinking Out Loud. A featured group named Pitch Please from Northwood High School (NC) did a great job on the iconic Man in the Mirror. For such a happy occasion, I became profoundly sad thinking that Freddy Mercury, Michael Jackson, and David Bowie are all no longer alive, taken way too soon.

 

The girls sang the 1938 bluegrass novelty song Cups (When I’m Gone), sung around a campfire in Pitch Perfect 2. Then Chamber Bravura, another featured ensemble (CA) sparkled in the old Leslie Gore classic You Don’t Own Me, with its continuing relevance. The solos and beat-boxing were well done. The boys had their turn with Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl.

 

Then Kelley Jakle, one of the stars of the Pitch Perfect movies, took the stage for an amazing traversal of Tomorrow Never Dies, probably the best thing about that particular James Bond movie (as sung by Sheryl Crow). Ms. Jakle’s range is really wide, from deeper mezzo colors all the way up to “Shirley Bassey” highs. She was backed by the massed choir. The first half ended with a rousing Uptown Funk made popular by Bruno Mars.

 

For the second half, the choir changed personnel, and the joys of community continued to be celebrated with Earth, Wind & Fire’s Sing a Song, Put on a Happy Face (from Bye Bye Birdie), and the girls’ sensitive singing in Sting’s Fields of Gold. Forte, a featured group from Centerville High School (OH) performed their own original song Life’s So Lyrical. What great talent, they have now produced albums entirely of their own songs. You’re My Best Friend (also by Queen) was dedicated to Mr. Sharon’s mother, recently deceased.

 

After all this bounty, there was even more, with the advent of Shemesh (Hebrew word for sunshine), a Mexican a cappella group, that elicited the only outburst of unexpected profanity from Mr. Sharon, when referring to anti-Mexican attitudes and policies. The group performed a medley of songs so well-known that they risk being cliché, but in this quartet the vocal virtuosity was splendid. Then we went “north of the border” for the next featured group Soundcrowd, from Canada, which indeed delivered Signed, Sealed, Delivered stylishly.

 

The creators (as distinct from the cast) of In Transit, an a cappella group in their own right, then performed We Are Home from their show. I have yet to see this Broadway gem, which opened in December of last year, but just on the basis of the two songs done today, I’d go. Chesney Snow, possibly the world’s reigning beat-boxer (vocal percussion) was featured, and added an extended virtuosic solo right after.

 

The boys took a swagger-y turn with Jessie’s Girl. Then Mr. Sharon himself escorted us through his version of Gershwin’s Summertime, complete with his amazing imitation of a muted trumpet. The afternoon finished with the other half of the choir coming up through the audience to have just under 500 people singing Time of My Life (Dirty Dancing, also used in The Sing-Off). It was thunderous and exciting. Mr. Sharon finished with his traditional written-in encore The Lion Sleeps Tonight, with audience participation not only encouraged, but demanded. Ovation!

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents An Evening with Troy Colt Bands in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents An Evening with Troy Colt Bands in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents An Evening with Troy Colt Bands
The Troy High School Concert Band, Symphonic Band, Jazz Ensemble, Flute Choir, Saxophone Choir
Brian P. Nutting, Director; Jeff Krum, Assistant Director
Guests: Marcus Elliot, Jazz Artist-in-Residence; Amanda Sabelhaus, Piano; Albert Gonzales, “The Royal Piper,” Bagpipes; Members of the Eisenhower Dance Ensemble: Brooke Mainland, Rachel Pawson, Dan Wentowrth, Katie Wiley
Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, New York, NY
March 24, 2017

 

I must confess that the prospect of an entire evening of high school band music had me less than optimistic. However, I happily report that the enthusiasm, artistry, leadership, and overall excellence of these players from Troy, Michigan convinced me of the error of my prejudice. Clearly, the community and the school administration support music, a fact that was made explicit in engaging patter by their excellent conductor, Brian P. Nutting. This message is more vital than ever in the political climate in which we find ourselves.

 

The Troy Jazz Ensemble kicked off this full evening with a bang in an arrangement of Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind. If the percussion was a bit too loud, blame it on youthful enthusiasm. The arrangement of the 1930 standard Body and Soul was superb, with the added treat of Marcus Elliot’s authentically bluesy tenor saxophone solo. The two vocal soloists in Gershwin’s 1937 tune Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off (Lindsay Nichols and Kulin Oak) were absolutely delightful, singing with a wit beyond their years. Jeff Bunnell’s Ten Brothers was great as well; you could see that all the players were truly enjoying themselves.

 

The flute choir followed, with a clever medley of melodies from Viennese waltzes by Emil Waldteufel, given the punning name of Forest Devil Waltzes.

 

Then the Troy Concert Band took the stage with Sedona by Steven Reineke, a boilerplate piece, but one that showed the excellence of the winds to great advantage. Jay Dawson’s arrangement of Amazing Grace was offered as a solace to those affected by 9/11 (some of the band had sight-seen the memorial earlier), with added authenticity provided by former NYPD officer Albert Gonzales on the traditional bagpipes. Warren Barker’s New York 1927 and Randall Standridge’s Ruckus provided a stirring close to the group, with the latter sounding more like “raucous” (but intended that way). Sometimes the full bands made too much sound for the small confines of Alice Tully Hall.

 

These programs are always generous, one might uncharitably complain “too” generous, and they involve a lot of what I call “furniture moving” as the different formations set up. I wish DCINY could figure out a way to streamline this even more, though their attention to detail and logistics is impressive.

 

The saxophone choir played a fascinating work by one of their own students, senior Tyler Bouque. He created a sort of depiction of sights possible to see in New York City by traveling on the “blue” line as he calls it. In his 9/11 section (fourth of five) he achieved a sort of Coplandesque grandeur, which I mean as a very high compliment. I do hope he didn’t have to pay royalties to John Kander for the quote from New York, New York in the finale. Remarkable work, I hope he continues to love music and create it.

 

After intermission, the Troy Symphonic Band had their turn, with a good performance of Alfred Reed’s Symphony No. 3 (first movement), whose opening portentous tympani strokes seem to reference Brahms’ First Symphony, but without the rigor. Then an extraordinary student, Karthik Ganapathy, played the marimba by himself in a beautiful Prelude by Ney Rosauro. The piece quotes various stock flamenco materials (one that is heard in Albeniz’ Asturias). He drew every possible color from the instrument, with great flair and ease. Leonard Bernstein’s third dance episode from On the Town was given a brash, stylish, exciting reading; it was a pleasure to hear really “great” music. The evening concluded with a multi-media spectacular: four members of the Eisenhower Dance Ensemble performed to the band’s rendition of Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Marquez, with its Cuban/Mexican/Puerto Rican fusion. The sole male dancer was kept busy partnering the three women, and they were all excellent. The proud parents and friends in the audience leapt to their feet for a well-deserved ovation.