Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Suite Sounds of Christmas in Review
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra; Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Jonathan Griffith, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor
Randol Bass, composer-in-residence, and narrator
Mark Hayes, composer/conductor
Laura Sutton Floyd, soprano; Jessica Best, mezzo-soprano; Scott Joiner, tenor; Mark Gilgallon, baritone/bass
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
November 19, 2017
The holiday season is upon us, even before Thanksgiving. We are already being bombarded with early sales and “Black Friday” teasers, as people gear up for the latest crazes and finding special gifts for all on their shopping lists. It’s all so noisy and overwhelming that one can easily feel oppressed by it all. Thankfully, there are moments that remind us what Christmas was meant to be, and peace and serenity fill one’s heart despite it all. Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) gifted all those in attendance with a reminder of what the holidays can be. In a program entitled The Suite Sounds of Christmas, DCINY featured the music of Randol Bass and a suite of carols from around the world arranged by Mark Hayes. Singing them were groups from Texas, New Jersey, Montana, Florida, Idaho, South Carolina, New York, California, Kansas, Nevada, Maryland, Connecticut, Indiana, Canada, and “individual singers from around the globe.” It proved to be an evening filled with holiday magic.
The first half was dedicated to the music of Randol Bass (b. 1953). Opening with the popular Gloria, a dynamic work that is always a crowd pleaser, conductor Jonathan Griffith got things off to a fine start. His ability to take forces of singers in the several hundreds from many different choirs and get them to sound so polished is something that I have come to expect as par for the course, yet it continues to elicit my admiration time and time again.
Mr. Bass joined Maestro Griffith for an impromptu chat on stage. Regaling the audience with stories of the headaches that a composer has to deal with from commissioning groups, Mr. Bass proved to be a seasoned raconteur. He paraphrased a proposal by the commissioning as follows: “Do you know the style of John Williams? To be honest, there is no way we can afford John Williams, so we want you to write something in his style. And we want a bombastic ending!” Mr. Bass showed mock offense at this less-than-elegant request, but with a smile said to the audience, “You can decide how well I did.” (Spoiler alert: He did brilliantly!)
Seasonal Sounds is a medley of four well-loved Christmas songs (in order Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and Jingle Bells) played without pause. It was delightful.
The Night Before Christmas, with Mr. Bass narrating the famous poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, followed. It should be an instant classic. One imagines that it could be used for an animated or live-action video which would enchant audiences of any age. Mr. Bass writes in his notes that “the piece is cinematically conceived, and each poetic image of the narration is imaginatively colored in such a way that audiences can clearly visualize the happenings from passage to passage.” Mr. Bass’s narration was filled with dramatic flair, and though it was perhaps a bit over-the-top, it enthralled his audience. Even this jaded listener found the work completely mesmerizing. John Williams could not have done it any better (wink, wink)!
A Feast of Carols, a medley of six carols, Gloucester Wassail, Il est né, le divin enfant, O come, O Come Emmanuel, The Holly and the Ivy, God Rest Ye, Merry Gentleman, and We Wish you a Merry Christmas (again played without interruption), ended the first half in triumph. Mr. Bass came back to the stage to accept the loud ovation from the audience.
After intermission, Mark Hayes (b. 1953) took to the stage to conduct his International Carol Suite, a five-section work with thirty carols from twenty countries around the world. Starting in Western Europe, then moving onto Eastern Europe, then the British Isles, to Central and South America, and finally ending in North America, it was a remarkable fifty-five-minute musical journey. The featured vocal soloists were Laura Sutton Floyd, soprano, Jessica Best, mezzo-soprano, Scott Joiner, tenor, and Mark Gilgallon, baritone/bass. Mr. Hayes is a skilled composer and arranger, and he used his talents as a conductor to present his fine work in a winning performance.
It is not possible to comment on all thirty carols (for a list of the thirty, click Program Notes), so I will limit myself to my favorites from each region. For Western Europe, Angels We Have Heard on High; For Eastern Europe, Carol of the Russian Children; For the British Isles, Deck the Halls; For Central and South America, Song of the Wise Men; For North America, The Huron Carol. Likewise, I will mention the highlights from each of the four excellent soloists. Ms. Floyd showed the agility of her lovely voice in Song of the Wise Men. Ms. Best’s Infant Holy, Infant Lowly (in Polish) was very moving in its innocence. Mr. Joiner’s Gesu Bambino was delivered with a crystalline clarity, and Mr. Gilgallon’s strong voice filled the hall in Song of the Russian Children (In Russian). It reminded one of the great Russian bassos.
After the last notes of Go Tell it on the Mountain sounded, the audience leapt to their feet in a loud ovation for Mr. Hayes, the soloists, chorus and orchestra. Congratulation to all performers!