Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Glory to Freedom: A Concert to Honor Our Veterans in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Glory to Freedom: A Concert to Honor Our Veterans in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Glory to Freedom: A Concert to Honor Our Veterans
Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Erin Freeman, DCINY debut conductor, Lee Nelson, guest conductor
Suzanne Karpov, soprano
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
February 19, 2017

 

On an unusually warm February day, with temperatures in the mid-60’s, and pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training to kick off the baseball season, I was reminded of the legendary Ernie Banks. “Mr. Cub” never lost his zest for the game. “Let’s play two,” was his motto. So why not have two concerts on the same day? Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) served up just such a doubleheader. The first (and the subject of this review) was entitled The Glory of Freedom: A Concert to Honor Our Veterans. It featured the talents of the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra and the Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Singers International. Chorus members were from Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Virginia, the United Kingdom, and individual singers from around the globe.

The Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, led by Dr. James Mick, took the stage to open the afternoon. Established in 1970, this group offers talented young players the opportunity to come together both to further their development and to enjoy the enriching experience of making music. I was immediately intrigued by their unusual seating scheme, a double-pyramid, with the upper pyramid inverted, with the brass players and double reeds on risers that are normally used for singing ensembles. I’m sure that Dr. Mick had a specific purpose in mind, but I can’t say that it enhanced or detracted from the overall sound.

Opening with Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, the young players had a slightly nervous start, with some “push-pull” tempo issues at the onset, but the attentive Dr. Mick got things back on track without any difficulty. I would like to see a more consistent approach, especially in the brass sections. When they were good, they were very good, but at other moments, the playing was tentative, with the expected results. Boldness, especially in this work, is always called for, regardless of the dynamic marking. To be fair, these issues are quite common for the developing players, and should not be considered a stinging criticism. All in all, these issues aside, the playing was commendable. It was bright and cleanly articulated, with good intonation throughout.

The all-around good start had me anticipating an upward arc of excellence, and I was not disappointed. The third movement of Gustav Mahler’s 1st Symphony (often referred to as the “Funeral March”) was played with a maturity beyond the ages of the players. Too often, Mahler’s sometimes ironic approach is rendered with exaggerated effects that can become almost cartoonish. There was none of that in this performance. It was far and away the highlight of their selections to this listener. Closing with Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Marquez (made popular by the early advocacy of Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela), the ensemble offered a vibrant reading of this work. The watchword was “fun.” I particularly admired the principled restraint and build-up, which I have missed in other performances of this piece. The audience loved it and rewarded the players with a nice ovation.

After intermission, DCINY debut conductor Erin Freeman took the podium to lead Francis Poulenc’s Gloria. As Ms. Freeman writes in her excellent program notes, Gloria is a twenty-five minute, six-movement work that is a musical depiction of the composer’s life story. Complete with tribute to Stravinsky, reminiscences of Les Six, and his religious feelings, Gloria is the culmination of Poulenc’s mastery.

Ms. Freeman was well-prepared and energetic in her conducting. She led the large forces with meticulous detail to the many challenges of this work. The chorus sang with excellent balance and clear diction, not always a given with such large forces. The star of the performance was soprano Suzanne Karpov, whose angelic voice filled the hall. The audience was so moved that they broke convention and applauded enthusiastically between each movement, offering a standing ovation at the end.

After a brief pause, guest conductor Lee Nelson took the stage to conduct Randall Thompson’s choral work, The Testament of Freedom. Written in 1943 to celebrate the bicentennial of Thomas Jefferson’s birth, The Testament of Freedom uses text from Jefferson’s writing. With its dramatic setting of Jefferson’s powerful prose, this work has become a staple of the male chorus repertoire. Regardless of contemporary assessments of Jefferson the man, the power of his words is undeniable, and the truths he stated in 1775 are every bit as powerful in 2017. Some cynics have dismissed this work as jingoistic and musically reactionary, pronouncements for which this listener has no patience. I am always pleased to hear this work, and today’s performance was especially fine. The all-male chorus, with forces so large as to spill out onto the sides of the stage, was first-rate, and Mr. Nelson proved to be an able leader. The audience gave the performers a long, enthusiastic standing ovation.

Congratulations to all. Stay tuned for part two of this doubleheader of music!

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Reflections of Peace in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Reflections of Peace in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Reflections of Peace
Flutopia Wind Ensemble, Jennifer Lapple, director
Catherine Sailer, guest conductor
Angela Mannino, soprano; Kirsten Allegri, mezzo-soprano; Jeremy Little, tenor; Steven Taylor, bass
James M. Meaders, DCINY Associate Artistic Director and conductor
Kim André Arnesen, visiting composer
Viola Dacus, mezzo-soprano; Aria Manning, youth soprano soloist
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra; Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
January 16, 2017

 

In a second concert this past weekend to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a concert entitled Reflections of Peace. It centered on two large works, the Missa In Angustiis of Haydn and the New York City premiere of Kim André Arnesen’s Requiem. The talented youth wind ensemble Flutopia was also featured.

The Flutopia Wind Ensemble took to the stage for the first half. Led by Jennifer Lapple, Flutopia is comprised of high school wind players from the Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia areas. This was their third appearance in a DCINY event and the second time this reviewer has had the pleasure of hearing them. The name suggests a “flute-centric” ensemble, but this was less the case on this occasion (the number of clarinets being only one fewer than the flutes). I was intrigued by the bottom-to -top tuning approach (tubas first, then rising until reaching the high woodwinds), which was to pay off handsomely.

Opening with the finale of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony, things got off to a slightly rough start, as the brass attacks were tentative, which led to some cracked notes. I cannot emphasize enough to young players to that “playing it safe” is anything but safe. Be bold and confident! Happily, these were isolated occurrences and the growing confidence took over in what was a solid performance. Following with an arrangement of Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse, the young players did the maximum that this arrangement allows. There is a certain sensuousness in the original piano version that is difficult to bring to a wind arrangement on a level appropriate for a young ensemble. Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque followed the Debussy, and proved to be the highlight of Flutopia’s offerings. Intonation and balance were perfect, in a way that I have seldom heard from such a young ensemble. Whitacre’s characteristic textures, with very close intervals, radiated with real beauty. Armenian Dances, based on folk songs from the works of Gomidas Vartabed (also commonly known as Komitas) was the final selection. In a very effective arrangement by Alfred Reed, Flutopia played with brio and polish. Their many supporters gave them a standing ovation, and it was especially delightful to see the beaming smiles on the faces of the young performers. Well done!

After intermission, Catherine Sailer took the podium to lead Haydn’s Missa In Angustiis (Mass in Time of Anxiety), also called the “Lord Nelson Mass”. There does not seem to be any definitive agreement about how the name of Horatio Nelson became attached to this work; a possible explanation, however, was that Nelson visited the house of Esterhazy in 1800 and heard a performance of the work. All this speculation about titles aside, this work, written in 1798, is Haydn at his greatest – the master at work.

Maestra Sailer led with confidence. It was readily apparent that she was prepared with a clear-cut plan of what she wanted and how to get it. Haydn’s large conception was well rendered, but the small details were not overlooked. It might sound trite, but this was a first-rate musician leading a first-rate performance.

The soloists all earned their stars as well. Their parts are not trifles to be dashed off; they are demanding and a challenge for any singer. Kudos to soprano Angela Mannino, mezzo-soprano Kirsten Allegri, tenor Jeremy Little, and bass Steven Taylor for their outstanding singing. Congratulations to the chorus and orchestra are in order as well.

After a brief pause, James M. Meaders took the podium to conduct the New York City premiere of the Requiem by Kim André Arnesen (b. 1980). Mr. Arnesen’s work is in eight movements – six from the traditional mass and the remaining two using texts from Emily Dickinson (Not in Vain), and a slightly modified We Remember Them from the Jewish Book of Prayer.

Mr. Arnesen writes in the program notes of his “fascination with Requiems…I discovered the Requiems by Fauré, Duruflé, Lloyd-Webber, Schnittke, and many others,” and his desire to compose his own Requiem. This admission is telling, for while I cannot point to a definitive example, I had the feeling that the composer was trying to emulate the best of his many famous predecessors. This is not saying that his work is completely derivative, as it is not, as Mr. Arnesen ‘s effective use of the full battery of percussion is a welcome addition to the form. He also has a strong melodic gift, which was especially apparent in the trumpet solos in Not in Vain, Lacrimosa, and Rex Tremendae movements.

The chorus gets high marks for the clarity of diction in the Dies Irae in some high-speed passages. Coupled with the pulsing percussion, it was the highlight of the work for this listener. Just after that, DCINY favorite, mezzo-soprano Viola Dacus, used her vocal gifts to express the poignancy of Dickinson’s text in the Not in Vain movement. She sang with a simple grace that was very moving to this listener. Young soloist Aria Manning has a lovely voice that shows the promise of bright future.

After the quiet ending of the We Remember movement, the audience rewarded the performers with a standing ovation. Mr. Arnesen came to the stage to accept well-deserved congratulations.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Music of Sir Karl Jenkins in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Music of Sir Karl Jenkins in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Music of Sir Karl Jenkins
Jonathan Griffith, DCINY Artist Director/Principal Conductor
Sir Karl Jenkins, DCINY Compose-in-Residence
Joanie Brittingham, soprano; Holly Sorensen, mezzo-soprano; James Nyoraku Schlefer, shakuhachi; Catrin Finch, harp; Mark Walters, baritone; Jorge Ávila, violin; David Childs, euphonium
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra
Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
January 15, 2017

 

On what has become an annual event, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a concert featuring the music of Karl Jenkins in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In a January 15, 2017 concert entitled simply “The Music of Sir Karl Jenkins” (as he is styled after his 2015 knighting), two works were offered, the Requiem, and the North American premiere (and only 2nd performance anywhere) of Cantata Memoria: For the Children. Both works also featured a film to go along with the music. Fans of Sir Karl had the opportunity to meet and greet him after the concert and to have the recent CD of Cantata Memoria signed.

The hall was abuzz long before the concert began, even more so than usual for a DCINY event. Friends and family in the audience shouted out to their stars and one could feel the electricity in the air. With singers from Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Washington, Australia, Finland Germany, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and “individual singers around the globe,” the stage was set for a memorable night.

The concert opened with the Requiem. Dedicated to the composer’s late father, the Requiem combines elements of the traditional mass with five Japanese haiku “death” poems. The shakuhachi, an ancient wind instrument, figured prominently in the haiku sections.

Before anything else, I want to express my feelings regarding the accompanying film for this work. Usually I would expect some strong correlation to the text/music, but this was not the case. Furthermore, in some sections, the same montage recycled several times (at least three in the Dies Irae) to the point where one felt exasperated. As the film adds nothing, I would strongly suggest removing it from any future performance. The music is strong enough and meaningful enough to stand on its own without any artificial support.

Now that I have dispensed with that quibble, it is time to commend all for a wonderful performance of a moving work. Highlights for this listener were the Dies Irae (film notwithstanding), and the Lux aeterna. Special mention to harpist Catrin Finch, James Nyoraku Schlefer for his fine playing of the shakuhachi, and the lovely voices of soprano Joanie Brittingham and mezzo-soprano Holly Sorensen. The large chorus was well-prepared, with some very strong bass singers especially rising to the occasion. The audience rewarded all with the standing ovation that one usually hears at the end of a concert. It was a testament to a very successful first half.

Before the second half began, in what is also becoming a tradition, conductor Jonathan Griffith joined Karl Jenkins on stage for an impromptu conversation about the Cantata Memoria. Mr. Jenkins talked about of the history of the October 21, 1966 tragedy in Aberfan, Wales, when the collapse of a coal spoil tip killed 116 children and 28 adults. Mr. Jenkins said the memory as a Welshman was like “knowing where you were when President Kennedy was assassinated” to an American (and Maestro Griffith mentioned the Twin Towers as a reference point for younger persons). It was made clear that this tragedy is deeply entrenched in the hearts and minds of Welsh people. On a more upbeat note, Maestro Griffith mentioned that DCINY has commissioned Mr. Jenkins to write a new work commemorating the 10th anniversary of DCINY for a performance in January 2018.

Going into detail about the Aberfan tragedy is well beyond the scope of this review, but I highly recommend the well-written and comprehensive article on Wikipedia. Click the following link to access – Wikipedia- Aberfan Tragedy

Quoting the composer- “The work is in two distinct sections but performed continuously. The first deals with the tragedy and the immediate aftermath, and the second moves from darkness to light, reliving memories and celebrating childhood, ending with the Lux aeterna.” He also states that it “is not a documentary, nor even a dramatization, but it does include ideas and facts that were relevant and by now part of the legacy.”

This reviewer had seen the broadcast of the World Premiere in Wales, and also has the recording recently released by Deutsche Grammophon, so I was especially interested to see how an actual live performance would compare. It exceeded all my expectations.

The accompanying film, in this case, lent additional meaning and deepened the effect of the music, especially in the actual footage of the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. While the music certainly does not require the film, the film itself does not in any way distract or lessen the meaning or power of the music itself.

The music may not be a dramatization (as per the composer), but there are musical “suggestions” of events, i.e. the rumbling in the opening movement Pitran, patran foreshadowing the collapse of the coal spoil tip.

The names of all the victims were recited in the third movement Cortège (in a chant-like manner on a B-flat throughout), with those same names appearing on the film until the screen was literally filled with names. It was a reminder that this tragedy was not just about the numbers lost, but the very real lives snuffed out, the majority of them just beginning. Combined with the footage of the funerals, with countless tiny coffins, it was heartbreaking (and even though I knew the content and what was coming, it still had me in tears). Cortège ended with the baritone soloist Mark Walters quoting the denunciation by a victim’s father, “Buried alive by the National Coal Board.”

Lament to the Valley which followed was hauntingly beautiful. I suspect it will have many a performance independent of the entire work. DCINY concertmaster Jorge Ávila was superb as he played the lyrical sections with emotion without ever making them maudlin, and he handled the virtuosic sections with an understated flair that was perfect. The Lament was the highlight of the Cantata for this listener.

The bird-like singing of soprano Joanie Brittingham in Did I hear a bird? was delightful – the highlight of her outstanding solo work. Baritone Mark Walters was a force as well, with his powerful voice projecting well into the auditorium.

Of the remaining sections, I would like to single out And-a half as a favorite, with the child-like “one-upmanship” the theme which only could make one laugh and smile.

The final movement, Lux aeterna, is “borrowed” from the Requiem. Ending with the soprano soloist singing the word “Light,” the circle from darkness to light was closed.

Maestro Griffith led the large forces with his customary steady hand, maintaining complete control in a way that always appears to be effortless, which it is certainly not! The chorus is to be congratulated on a very polished performance which suggested a high level of preparation. This review would not be complete without the mention of harpist Catrin Finch and euphonium virtuoso David Childs, both of whom were featured in the world premiere and lent their unmatched talents to this performance.

 Cantata Memoria is a work that takes the listener to the depths of despair and heartache, then lifts them back out with a message of hope and light. It was an incredibly moving experience.

Audience members sprung to their feet with a standing ovation that became a roar when Mr. Jenkins came to the stage. I am already looking forward to January 2018. Bravo to all!

 

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Go Sing it on the Mountain in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Go Sing it on the Mountain in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Go Sing it on the Mountain
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concert Singers International, Pennsbury High School Concert Choir
James D. Moyer, director; Pepper Choplin, composer/conductor
Julianna Massielo, soprano; Ethan Barr, baritone; James T. Moyer, baritone; David Enlow, organist; Emily Drennan, soprano
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, NY
November 28, 2016

‘Tis the season! With throngs of eager shoppers being coaxed into action by the myriad sales and specials that many stores are offering, it is a time of frantic activity that can try the hardiest of souls. As an antidote to this, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) offered a concert entitled Go Sing it on the Mountain, on November 28, 2016 at Alice Tully Hall. Consisting of two works, the much-loved Requiem from Gabriel Fauré, and the New York premiere of Go Sing it on the Mountain by DCINY favorite Pepper Choplin. With singers from North Carolina, Connecticut, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington, it was a concert to re-charge the weary soul.

James D. Moyer took the podium to conduct the Fauré Requiem. As I wrote in an earlier performance (June 7, 2015) about the Requiem: “Fauré began writing the Requiem in 1877, but did not complete it in its final orchestration until 1900. One of the best-loved works in this form, Fauré’s vision of death as a ‘happy deliverance…rather than a mournful passing,’ did not find favor with his employers at La Madeleine, one of the largest churches in Paris. One of the clerics there tartly remarked, “Monsieur Fauré, we do not need these novelties. The Madeleine’s repertoire is quite rich enough.” No doubt his omission of the fearful Dies Irae, the core of the Latin requiem mass, had something to do with this remark. One can say that Fauré won in the end, as this serene work continues to enchant listeners with its beauty.”

Tonight’s performance was a version for organ and chorus, with the excellent David Enlow at the Tully Hall organ, and the talented Pennsbury High School Choir from Pennsylvania. I was curious to see how these sixty-eight young singers were going to fare, due to what I (and many others) believe is a less than ideal hall acoustically (even after renovations to address this issue). It does appeared that the Tully Hall organ fared well, with what seemed increased heft in the lower register.

The three soloists (baritones Ethan Barr and James T. Moyer, and soprano Julianna Massielo) all delivered commendable performances, with kudos for Mr. Barr for keeping his focus when his solo became a “duet” with a toddler, whose screaming nearly drowned out everything. Kudos also to Mr. Moyer and Ms. Massielo, whose voices projected quite well. Mr. Enlow gave an outstanding performance.

While there were some minor issues with intonation and ensemble, the chorus was up to the challenge, and captured the essence of the work, saving the best for the last in the sublime In Paradisum. The audience was filled with supporters, and they gave their stars a loud and long ovation, that continued even as the stage was nearly empty. It was something that this sometimes jaded reviewer found touching. Well done, Pennsbury High School Choir and Mr. Moyer!

After intermission, the ebullient Pepper Choplin took the podium to conduct his work Go Sing it on the Mountain. Following the mountain theme, Go Sing it on the Mountain is a nine-movement work that uses folk tunes to tell the Christmas story (for the texts click here: Program Notes ). Some of the tunes use new texts devised by Mr. Choplin, while others use varying techniques (multi-layering of voices, combining melodies, etc.) to great effect. Each movement is preceded by a narrative written by the composer. Mr. Choplin is a man of deep faith, and his work is a natural expression of this. This reviewer has the utmost admiration for Mr. Choplin’s strength of mission, especially in a world today that often scorns or is outright hostile to such a stance.

One must also acknowledge the narrators, who were uncredited in the program notes, for their passionate readings. While these readings add luster, they could be set aside for non-secular sensitivities without any loss of the glory of the music.

Soprano soloist Emily Drennan, whom I had the pleasure of hearing in an earlier performance of Mr. Choplin’s song Circle of Love (A DCINY concert entitled Bluegrass57@7 on February 18, 2013), was delightful with her passionate delivery throughout. Her voice is ideal for these pieces, from the child-like innocence of A Child is Gonna Come, to the unbridled joy of Go Sing it on the Mountain, but she saved her best for Star Eternal, which soared to the heavens.

Highlights for this listener included the rousing opening movement Rise, O People and Bring Good News, the simple beauty of Call His Name Jesus, and the Appalachian-tinged Angel Band. Go Sing it on the Mountain is a welcome addition to the Christmas repertoire.

After the jubilant last words of the final movement Joyous Nowell to the World rang out with “The Lord has come!” the large audience rose to give Mr. Choplin a well-earned standing ovation. It was a fitting end to the evening.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Eternal Light in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Eternal Light in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Eternal Light
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra; Distinguished Singers International
Bradley Ellingboe, guest conductor
Jonathan Griffith, DCINY Artistic Director and Principal Conductor
Howard Goodall, DCINY Composer-in-Residence
Sarah Joy Miller, soprano; Scott Joiner, tenor; Steven Eddy, baritone
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
November 20, 2016

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a concert entitled Eternal Light on the evening of November 20, 2016 at Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall. It featured two works, Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna and the New York City premiere of Howard Goodall’s Eternal Light: A Requiem. With singers from Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas, Minnesota, California, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom, the theme could have been called The Show Must Go On, in what was a night of unexpected events.

Guest Conductor Bradley Ellingboe took the podium to conduct Lauidsen’s Lux Aeterna. In an earlier review (from a concert June 12, 2016 also entitled Eternal Light) I wrote, “Composed in 1997, Lux Aeterna is a five-movement work, taking the opening and closing of the Requiem Mass and three sections of the Te Deum for the texts. If “heaven” is really as many imagine, I would not be shocked if this music is being heard and played there.  This is simply some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard, and at the risk of being accused of intellectual laziness I will respond that its transcendence simply eludes words.” I have no occasion to change my opinion, and if anything, it has been further deepened. Mr. Ellingboe led a performance worthy of this fine piece, with the chorus and orchestra closely following his expert direction.

Near the end of the Agnus Dei-Lux Aeterna movement, there was a loud noise, of which one could not readily determine the cause. After the work ended, it appeared that one of the chorus members in the front row had possibly fainted and fallen from the riser. The singers and orchestra members filed off the stage, and the stage crew set about setting the stage for the second half, while the singer was being attended to by several people. Finally, an emergency medical team arrived, placed her on a stretcher and wheeled her from the stage. She appeared to be okay, and I am sure that I speak for all in attendance in wishing her a speedy recovery. The next group of singers and orchestra took the stage for the second half. The Show Must Go On.

Before the start of the second half proper, conductor Jonathan Griffith and composer Howard Goodall took the stage in an impromptu talk. Mr. Goodall spoke about Eternal Light, some of his recent completed projects, and described his compositional system, which considers all elements (shape, arc, landscape, etc.) to be equally important. He is a modest man, and somewhat reticent to boast about his many accomplishments, so Maestro Griffith informed the audience that Eternal Light was nearing its 500th performance, which averages about one performance a week since the premiere in 2008! Mr. Goodall informed the audience that he is currently working on three (!) new musicals simultaneously. Jonathan Griffith then took the podium to conduct the New York City premiere of Eternal Light: A Requiem.

Eternal Light: A Requiem is a ten-movement work using both the traditional Requiem mass and texts of the composer’s choosing. I recommend the reader to take the time to read Mr. Goodall’s excellent program notes (which also include the complete texts) by following this link: Eternal Light Program Notes . Clocking in at forty minutes, it is a journey of beauty, heartache, and in the end, hope.

I’m not going to comment on each movement, but rather mention a few points of interest. The fourth movement, Hymn: lead, kindly light, began in a state of hesitation, so much so that after about ten seconds Maestro Griffith stopped the work, paused for a moment, and recommenced the movement. This second time was strong and decisive, and while it is never a good thing to have to stop and re-start, it was a good decision from a seasoned and intelligent musician like Maestro Griffith. Too many times this listener has heard things go from bad to completely off the rails from either a reluctance to re-start, or from the hope that somehow things will right themselves (they usually don’t).

The sixth movement, the Dies Irae: In Flanders Fields, was the favorite of this listener. Mr. Goodall’s setting of the famous World War One poem of Canadian military doctor John McCrae was equal to the haunting text. Too many settings (and I have heard many) come across as saccharine and lightweight, which (in my opinion) destroys the meaning of McCrae’s words. Thank you, Mr. Goodall, for “getting it right”- it was one of the more moving things I have heard in some time.

The three soloists were top-notch, and each delivered strong, passionate performances. Soprano Sarah Joy Miller has a voice that abounds with heavenly beauty, tenor Scott Joiner wrung out the emotion in the heartbreaking third movement Litany: Belief, and baritone Steven Eddy projected with strength and confidence. The chorus (except for that one vexing moment) did good work, handling some of the rapid-fire settings of Latin with good diction and balance. This was one of those occasions when the sum of the parts exceeded the whole; it happens sometimes. The Show Must Go On.

At the end of the In Paradisum: Lux Aeterna, the audience responded with a standing ovation. Mr. Goodall came to the stage where he bashfully attempted to hide behind the vocal soloists, and had to be coaxed to the front, ending the night on a high note.

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Warren Lee in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Warren Lee in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Warren Lee
Warren Lee, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
November 17, 2016

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY), as a part of its Artist Series, presented pianist Warren Lee at Weill Hall on November 17, 2016. In a program with works by Bach (in arrangements by Busoni), Beethoven, Chopin, Tan Dun, and Mr. Lee himself, it was to prove a rewarding evening.

Mr. Lee ( www.warren-lee.com ) has an impressive resume as a contest winner, performer, composer, and teacher, and through his engagement in charitable outreach . He has been a Steinway Artist since 2009.

Opening with two Bach-Busoni works, the Choral Prelude, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645, and the Chaconne from Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004, Mr. Lee established his authority immediately. This was principled playing, with careful attention to voicing and articulation. Some might find his approach to be too rigid, but this listener would disagree. Mr. Lee presents what might be an excellent example to students on what constitutes an intelligent interpretive approach to this music. There were some moments of the left hand sounding heavy, something that I am wont to attribute to the Weill Hall house piano, as I have numerous other examples of this being the case from previous recitals with the same instrument. In any case, these small moments hardly detracted from what were superior performances of which Mr. Lee can feel proud.

Eight Memories in Watercolor by Tan Dun (b. 1957) followed the two Bach works. These early works, a sort of “East meets West” (with Debussyan influence throughout), were written when the composer was twenty-one. Mr. Lee played these charming miniatures with the same reverence as he did the Bach, which probably served the works better than they served him. It was a pleasant ending to the first half.

Opening the second half, Mr. Lee offered one of his own works, entitled Three Novelettes. Written in 2015, the three pieces (Reflection, Levity, and Blossom), are dedicated to Robert L. Blocker, Dean of Music at Yale University. Mr. Lee writes in his program notes that Reflection pays tribute to the many ways Mr. Blocker inspires those around him; Levity, his fun-loving and humorous side, and Blossom his infectious warmth. These pieces were an interesting bookend to the Tan Dun, as the style was quite similar (though I did detect some kinship with York Bowen’s Preludes as well in Levity!).

Beethoven’s monumental Sonata in E major, Op. 109 followed. This work presents many challenges, not the least of which is a distinguished performance history by some of the legends of the piano. Mr. Lee suffered no complexes, as he delivered a performance of intelligence and sensitivity that reminded one of Alfred Brendel. It was the highlight of the evening for this listener.

Closing with Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-sharp major, Op. 60, often called the “Fifth Ballade,” Mr. Lee played with a bright tone and a freshness of sound that sparkled without a hint of labored effort.

Mr. Lee is obviously very much at home with the works on this program. He has thought through his approach to the finest of details and executed those details with exact precision and no elements of display. One must not take this as saying that Mr. Lee is lacking in technical prowess, as he has more than enough digital facility to negotiate any challenge, but that he does not make his technique “front and center.” If anything, he gives the appearance that it is all so very easy, and to the viewing public more used to seeing demonstrative motions (often to the point of histrionics), he might not get his proper respect.

Mr. Lee opted for a most unusual choice as his encore, a truncated arrangement of the opening movement of the Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor. This was not exactly what most would consider “encore” material, but the audience found it to be thrilling and gave Mr. Lee a standing ovation.

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Songs of Inspiration and Hope in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Songs of Inspiration and Hope in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Songs of Inspiration and Hope
Spivey Hall Children’s Choir; Martha Shaw, director
Stuyvesant High School Chorus; Holly Hall, director
Distinguished Concerts Singers International; Lori Loftus, DCINY debut conductor
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
June 26, 2016

 

On June 26, 2016 Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a concert entitled Songs of Inspiration and Hope. Featuring the Spivey Hall Children’s Choir from Georgia, the Stuyvesant High School Chorus from New York, and the Distinguished Concerts Singers International (singers from North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia, Pennsylvania, California, and Maryland), it was an afternoon filled with the heartfelt joy of youthful singers from elementary school age through high school.

A concert featuring exclusively children (or young people, if you prefer) presents a difficult set of choices to the reviewer. It would be inappropriate, or even downright hostile, to judge using the standards applied to professional or adult ensembles. It would also be inappropriate to grant a wholesale “free pass” based solely on the ages of the performers and to ignore issues of balance and intonation. This reviewer decided that he would give the just consideration that developing voices deserve, assess whether the selections chosen were appropriate for them, and evaluate the ensemble, intonation, and to a lesser extent the diction.

The hall was filled with family and friends of the performers ready to cheer on their young stars. The sacrifices of time and money made to give these talented youngsters the opportunities to travel and perform are often overlooked. They might not be the ones on stage, but they help to make it possible, and that deserves recognition.

Due to the quantity of selections offered (twenty), I am not going to comment on each work as I usually do in a review, but will offer some general observations and highlights. For detailed information about the program, program notes, and biographies of Ms. Shaw, Ms. Hall, and Ms. Loftus, click the following link: Concert Program and Notes.

What was at once apparent to this reviewer was the nurturing and completely involved approach the three directors, Martha Shaw, Holly Hall, and Lori Loftus, all took with their young singers. One could see the encouraging gestures, the coaching during and between selections, and the complete joy from these three masterful directors. This is the right approach, and it paid off in what were very good performances for these very young and developing singers.

Opening the afternoon was the Spivey Hall Children’s Choir, led by Martha Shaw. They offered eight selections. Their ensemble was good, and intonation was steady, but there needed to be more projection of sound. The vastness of the hall demands a more robust approach; otherwise, the sound is lost before it reaches the middle of the hall. This is especially true of high treble voices. To be fair, much more experienced groups have had similar issues. Special recognition goes to oboe soloist Natalie Beckenbaugh, saxophonist Randall Reese, bassist Daniel Stein, and drummer Chris Gella, for their roles. The highlight of their selections for this listener was the Hoagy Carmichael classic Georgia On My Mind, with the clever J’entends le Moulin by Donald Patriquin as a close second.

After intermission, the Stuyvesant High School Chorus, led by Holly Hall, took the stage. They offered five selections. They sang with the confidence that comes from being extensively prepared. Accordingly, their offerings were all highly polished. The highlight for this listener was Beethoven’s festive Chor del Engel, from his oratorio Christus am Oelberge (The Mount of Olives), Op. 85. The ensemble, diction, and balance were outstanding, in what would have been exceptional even for an older, more experienced group. They continued their good work throughout, in selections that showed their depth and maturity beyond their years. Excellent work!

Ending the afternoon was the Distinguished Concerts Singers International, led by Lori Loftus, in her DCINY debut as conductor. They offered seven selections. Good balance, mostly steady intonation, and diction were present throughout. The contrapuntal singing in Heinrich Schutz’s Cantate Domino was quite impressive for such young singers.

For The Storm is Passing Over, three (unnamed) soloists (two young ladies and one gentleman) came to the front of the stage, and each had an opportunity to “let loose” with some very impassioned singing. This was the highlight of their set, and the audience loved every second of it! Ending with America The Beautiful, complete with each member of the ensemble waving an American flag, brought another standing ovation from the audience. It was a fitting end to an afternoon that showed the promise of the future of music is alive and well in these young hands and hearts.

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Show Me LOVE: Bringing Beauty & Love to a Hurting World in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Show Me LOVE: Bringing Beauty & Love to a Hurting World in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Show Me LOVE: Bringing Beauty & Love to a Hurting World
The Lincoln Gospel Choir, T.H.I.S. Movement Players; Darcy Reese, director
Tonia Hughes, Darnell Davis & The Remnant, special guests
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, NY
June 17, 2016

 

Today’s world is fraught with what seems to be an endless cycle of violence, intolerance and polarization. What is to be done? A group of incredible passionate and talented youngsters believe there is an answer – Show Love. These two simple words were the unifying theme for what proved to be one of the most impassioned performances this reviewer has heard and seen. On June 17, 2016, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented Show Me LOVE: Bringing Beauty & Love to a Hurting World at Alice Tully Hall, featuring the Lincoln Gospel Players from Thief River Falls, Minnesota, with the T.H.I.S. Movement Players, all led by Darcy Reese. Special guests Tonia Hughes, Darnell Davis & The Remnant, were also on hand to lend their considerable talents to the mix.

DCINY live-streamed this event and made it possible to hear (or re-hear) it by visiting their Facebook page ( DCINY Facebook page).

This was not a conventional concert by any definition. It could be called a Gospel oratorio, but I believe the best way to describe this performance might be to call it an experience. This listener decided almost immediately that any “typical critic” remarks would be meaningless, so it was time to sit back, go on the journey, and experience the power and the energy that abounded. It was an easy decision to make.

The nearly two hour Show Me Love consisted of three parts (without break). The first, The Crisis, presented the reality of today’s world. There was a montage of audio clips from actual events in recent times, highlighting the violence and the tragedy. The second, The Remedy, spoke of what needs to be done to address the crisis. The third, The Cure, told of the actions being taken.  Each section was filled with songs appropriate to the message. There was also “slam poetry” in the first section, with small sermons in the second and third sections.

These youngsters came to rock the house, and rock it they did. The energy never flagged, and the movements and choreography were astounding. It was obvious that there was complete commitment and belief in their mission; there was none of the pasted on smiles and robotic group movements that one so often sees. Their faith was the “secret sauce” that put them over the top. Their director, Darcy Reese, has the energy of twenty people. She invested every ounce of her being as she swayed, jumped, clapped, and cajoled the singers with her infectious energy, which the singers radiated right back. T.H.I.S.  (The Hero Inside Shines) Movement Players provided able support, the quiet heroes of the night. The audience was filled with people dancing, waving their hands in celebration, and clapping along. Many appeared to be completely overcome with emotion, in what is really the true Gospel experience.

Darnell Davis was a double threat, both as a soloist and singer with the amazing vocal group, The Remnant, and as a preacher of two mini-sermons. The second sermon, which I will call “The ONE person,” brought the house down. One simply must view it, because trying to describe it here would not do it justice. Watch, and you will agree! Tonia Hughes has a voice that soars in the heavens, in what had to further inspire both the young singers and the audience.

Special recognition to Narrators/Soloists/Readers Elise Kalsnes, Hannah Brickson, Richard Sather, Samantha Buckley, Matt Johnson, Ethan Halvorson, Claire Naslund, Cooper Sorvig, Lauryn Thune, Bethany Fanfulik, McKayla Erickson, McKenna Blaine, Brandi Hannon, Richmond McDonald, Lindsey Van Elsberg, and Sam Buckley. You were all stars!

It all ended in a fever pitch, with all audience members on their feet, and they continued to roar their delight even as the members of the chorus exited the stage, row by row. The afterglow of all this energy is still with me days later.

The message is clear: don’t give up. There is hope yet. Show love.

 


Vocal Artists Management presents the 7th Annual Artist Showcase in Review

Vocal Artists Management presents the 7th Annual Artist Showcase in Review

  Vocal Artists Management presents the 7th Annual Artist Showcase
James Greening-Valenzuela, manager
Stacey Stofferahn, Alison Davy, Cynthia Leigh, Deborah Lifton, sopranos; Eunjoo Lee-Huls, Thea Lobo, mezzo-sopranos;  Eric Malson, accompanist
Marc E. Scorca Recital Hall, Opera America National Opera Center, New York, NY
June 16, 2016

 

Vocal Artists Management (www.vocalartistsmgmt.com) presented the 7th Annual Artist Showcase at the National Opera Center America on June 16, 2016. Featuring six singers from their roster (four sopranos and two mezzo-sopranos), they offered one of the most eclectic programs this listener can recall hearing. There was “something for everyone,” including thirteen works from Baroque, Romantic, Viennese school (omitting the triskaidekaphobic Arnold Schoenberg, of course), and contemporary periods. It was to prove to be both an enjoyable and edifying evening.

To start with few words about the venue, the recital hall has the intimate feel of a salon, with seating on this occasion for sixty-four people.  The design has clearly taken acoustics into consideration as well.  I would also like to take the time to commend the organizers for providing synopses of the works, which gave the listener a reference point to understand the underlying meanings, a very valuable thing that is overlooked almost all the time.

Soprano Stacey Stofferahn led off with Ain’t it a Pretty Night from Susannah by Carlisle Floyd and I Want Magic from A Street Car Named Desire by André Previn.  The dreamy coquettishness of Susannah and Blanche was portrayed by Ms. Stofferahn with charm and a voice to match. It was an impressive start.

Mezzo-soprano Eunjoo Lee-Huls followed with George Handel’s Hence, Iris Hence Away from the opera Semele, and Von ewiger liebe, Op 43, No.1 by Johannes Brahms. She navigated the vocal gymnastics of the Handel with confidence, and her excellent German diction in the Brahms made quite an impression on this listener.

Soprano Alison Davy was up next. Her two selections, Hugo Wolf’s Bedeckt mich mit blumen and Grace by Michael Tilson Thomas, showed her stylistic versatility to great advantage, from the poignant despair of the Wolf, to MTT’s comical celebration (in what was essentially an expression of admiration for Leonard Bernstein).

Soprano Cynthia Leigh followed with two highly polished performances – Marietta’s Lied from the opera Die Tote Stadt by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and The Maid and the Nightingale (from Goyescas) by Enrique Granados. Ms. Leigh has the assured technique of a seasoned performer.

Mezzo-soprano Thea Lobo was up next. She offered a playful rendition of The Owl and the Pussycat by Igor Stravinsky. Her Tief gebückt, the 4th movement of the Cantata BWV 199 by J. S. Bach, was exquisite.

Soprano Deborah Lifton was the final performer for the evening. She offered three works.  Try Me, Good King, from Anne Boleyn by Libby Larsen, was an impressive display of power, and her negotiation of the extreme upper register was flawless.    Joaquin Rodrigo’s  ¿Con qué la lavaré?, from Cuatros Madrigales Amatorios, was heartbreaking.  Richard Strauss’ Muttertändelei, Op. 43, No. 2 was a pleasing finish, with Ms. Lifton capturing the essence of the mother who can’t stop bragging about her child. It was a delightful performance.

Eric Malson was the unsung (no pun intended) hero of the evening. To accompany six different singers with such different repertoires is no mean feat, yet Mr. Malson did so with consummate skill.

At the end all the performers joined together on the stage for a group bow to the enthusiastic audience. Congratulations to all.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Eternal Light in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Eternal Light in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Eternal Light
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra; Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Jonathan Griffith, DCINY Artistic Director/Principal Conductor
Cristian Grases, composer/conductor
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
June 12, 2016

 

On June 12, 2016, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a concert entitled Eternal Light, featuring two works, Lux Aeterna by Morten Laurdisen (b. 1943), and the World Premiere of  Cristian Grases’ (b. 1973) Nocturnos y Adivinanzas (Nocturnes and Riddles).  Featuring singers from Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, Australia, Canada, and “individual singers from around the globe,” it was a richly rewarding experience for those intrepid souls who braved the crowds enjoying the Puerto Rican day parade to make it to Carnegie Hall.

Jonathan Griffith took the podium to conduct Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna. Composed in 1997, Lux Aeterna is a five-movement work, taking the opening and closing of the Requiem Mass and three sections of the Te Deum for the texts. If “heaven” is really as many imagine, I would not be shocked if this music is being heard and played there.  This is simply some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard, and at the risk of being accused of intellectual laziness I will respond that its transcendence simply eludes words. I will mention in particular the final Agnus Dei – Lux Aeterna, where voices and instruments converge in a musical apotheosis like no other, as if the gates of heaven were opening and beckoning one to enter.  The chorus was well-balanced, with clear diction and projected clearly. Maestro Griffith led with his usual skill, with careful attention to details and subtleties.  It was a celestial journey of twenty-seven minutes. As Maestro Griffith lowered his baton, the sound slowly died away to complete silence. After about five seconds of this silence, the audience “returned to earth” and gave the performers a well-deserved standing ovation.

After intermission, Cristian Grases took the podium to conduct the World Premiere of his Nocturnos y Adivinanzas (Nocturnes and Riddles). This six-movement work is set to four riddles and two lullabies, all in different  Latin American dances, such as the Puerto Rican Bomba, the Cuban Habanera, DanzónCha Cha Cha, and the Brazilian Samba Reggae.  Dr. Grases gives a detailed explanation in his excellent program notes, which the reader can access by clicking here – Program Notes (this will also include the texts with translations).

The chorus consisted entirely of young singers (most appeared to be pre-teens and teens), which lent a certain charm and innocence that was completely consistent with the texts and the musical styles. One could not help being won over by these youngsters singing with such enthusiasm, not to mention fine diction and projection.

If Lux Aeterna is the music of Heaven, then Nocturnos y Adivinanzas is the music of Earth. This is not to suggest that it is crude or of less import, but rather to highlight it’s obvious projection of the joy of life and of life in this world. It’s a thirty-five minute trip of some of the most festive and infectiously happy music one could have the pleasure to experience. It’s a virtual tour of the sounds of Latin America, delivered with consummate skill and reverence. Dr. Grases was a charismatic leader as he led the large forces in an engaging performance.  Highlights for this listener were the charming La Luna (the Moon), and the ebullient Las Estrellas (The Stars).  Nocturnos y Adivinanzas is a winner! The audience agreed and responded with a roaring ovation that lasted for several minutes. Congratulations to all!