Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Echoes of Deserts and Mountains in Review
Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Echoes of Deserts and Mountains
Highlands Youth Ensemble; Jane Deloach Morison, director
Odem High School Wind Ensemble; Steven Rash, director
Colorado Springs Youth Symphony; Gary Nicholson, director
Wajima Wadaiko Toranosuke; Tetsuta Imai; founder/director
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
June 11, 2016
Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) continued their mission of bringing talented young ensembles to Carnegie Hall to give these youngsters the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase their talents in one of the world’s premiere concert halls. This concert, entitled Echoes of Deserts and Mountains featured the Highlands Youth Ensemble choir from Tennessee, the Odem High School Wind Ensemble from Texas, the Colorado Spring Youth Symphony from Colorado, and Wajima Wadaiko Toranosuke from Japan (!).
The Highlands Youth Ensemble, led by Jane Deloach Morison, opened the night. They offered five short works, Jubilate Deo by Peter Anglea (b. 1988), O Vos Omnes, an adaption of Lamentations 1:12 (Vulgate) by Pablo Casals (1876-1973), Haec Dies from William Byrd (1540-1623), Psalm 8, as set by Dan Forrest (b. 1978), and Gloria by André Thomas (b. 1952).
The first thing one observed about the Highlands ensemble was that the ratio of women to men was quite high – the young women outnumbered their male counterparts by nearly three to one! Happily, there were very few issues with ensemble balance, and they blended well throughout. It would have been good if the ensemble had projected more sound – this is something common for small ensembles accustomed to singing at much smaller venues. This concern aside, this ensemble was well prepared and gave highly polished performances. Highlights for this listener were the energetic Jubilate Deo and the beautiful Psalm 8 (with violinist Natalie Lugo). After the Gloria (with kudos for soloists Sarah Shipp and Brenna Williams), the large audience gave the singers a standing ovation.
After a short pause, the Odem High School Wind Ensemble took the stage. Led by Steven Rash, they offered six works. John Philip Sousa’s The Fairest of the Fair was their opener. Written in 1908 for the Boston Food Fair, it has been claimed that Sousa composed this work from inspiration of the memory of a beautiful girl he had seen or met at an earlier fair – a nice, but factually unsubstantiated story that is still making the rounds (e.g., Wikipedia). It is one of the more melodic and less martial of Sousa’s marches. There were some instances of less than precise ensemble articulation in the more rapid passages, and the “off to the races” tempo of the final repeat of the trio was bizarre (there is no indication of this in the score); other than these issues, however, it was a solid start.
Next from the Odem ensemble came A Walk in the Morning Sun by Pierre La Plante (b. 1943). It is, according to the composer, “’a tip of the hat’ to Leroy Anderson’s unique style and contribution to American Music.” This is an apt description of this sunny work, which was played with an appropriate light touch. Gustav Holst’s Second Suite in F for Military Band, Op. 28, No.2 (omitting the third movement) followed. There was much to praise here, with still some room to improve. Just one general observation, and that is playing loudly is too often considered the answer to intonation issues in Holst and shouldn’t be. A Childhood Remembered by Rossano Galante (b. 1967) was played with assurance, which showed me the potential these youngsters have, and W. Francis McBeth’s 1977 Canto, Op 61 (led by Nathan Williams), was right in the wheelhouse of this ensemble. Ending with the aptly named Imaginarium by Randall D. Standridge (b. 1976), the ensemble let loose and the result was simply unbridled fun. Their many supporters (family and friends) gave them a standing ovation, something these young players will remember forever.
The Colorado Springs Youth Symphony, led by Gary Nicholson took the stage to begin the second half. They opened with a spirited and precise reading of Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide, a much-loved work (and much-performed – this is the third time in three successive concerts I have had the pleasure of hearing this piece). Hopefully the audience members were familiar with this work, as it was listed in the program as being the second work! I shudder at the thought that anyone though that the playful Candide was actually Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Festival Overture! About the Rimsky-Korsakov – it was excellently played, with special recognition to the fine soloists. The last work, John Williams’ The Cowboys, an overture constructed from music from his score for the 1972 John Wayne film The Cowboys, was the highlight of their performance. Incidentally, it was written especially for Maestro Williams’ first concert as principal conductor of the Boston Pops. The audience rewarded the Colorado group with an extended standing ovation.
After a short pause, Wajima Wadaiko Toranosuke, led by Tetsuya Imai took the stage. The members of this ensemble consist of youngsters from elementary school through high school age. As the various drums were positioned and the traditionally dressed players took their places, the audience awaited what we would call a demonstration of Taiko drumming. The term “Taiko” includes a broad range of Japanese percussion instruments. In Japanese, the term refers to any kind of drum, but outside Japan, it is used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums called wadaiko (“Japanese drums“), and to the form of ensemble taiko drumming, more specifically called kumi-daiko (“set of drums”).
The youngsters offered four selections, all of a ceremonial nature. I’m not going to bluff here and claim any special knowledge (that is best left to those who have studied and practiced the art), but it was obvious that this ensemble was top-notch. Movement and stick-work was exquisitely precise, the energy was electric, and the stamina of the players was jaw-dropping. The audience loved it!
To close the concert, Wajima Wadaiko Toransosuke joined with the Colorado Springs Youth Symphony for the New York Premiere of Fantasia for Taiko and Orchestra by Eric Ewazen (b. 1954). This work is a concerto grosso that combines the power of taiko with the tonality of an (western) orchestra. It had all the hallmarks of Mr. Ewazen’s imaginative and all-embracing style, and it was a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. The audience responded with a standing ovation, and Mr. Ewazen took a bow from his balcony seat. Congratulations to all.