Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Mortals & Angels: A Bluegrass Te Deum in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Mortals & Angels: A Bluegrass Te Deum in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Mortals & Angels: A Bluegrass Te Deum
Jonathan Griffith, DCINY Artistic Director and Principal conductor
Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Dailey & Vincent, special guests
Jay Disney and Linda Powell, narrators
Luigi Salerni, director
Carol Barnett, DCINY composer-in-residence; Marisha Chamberlain, librettist
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
January 25, 2016

 

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice? Not this week! “Shovel, shovel, shovel!” quipped Jamie Dailey of Dailey & Vincent, the world-renowned bluegrass group, to the delight of all those in attendance. In the aftermath of what some were calling “Snowmageddon” (or “Snowpocalypse”, if you prefer), Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a concert entitled Mortals and Angels: A Bluegrass Te Deum. The first half was selections from Dailey & Vincent, and the second half was the world premiere of the work for which the concert was named, Mortals and Angels; A Bluegrass Te Deum, a “follow-up” of sorts to composer Carol Barnett and librettist Marisha Chamberlain’s earlier collaboration The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass.

As I entered the hall, I noticed that hundreds of white handkerchiefs (with the name of the concert and date printed on them) draped over the seats. I pocketed this concert swag and was sure it was going to be of some use later.

I will admit that I had my doubts about this program beforehand. On a previous program, with the same composer and librettist, I was not entirely convinced that either musical style of the combination, bluegrass or classical, was well served, and I had some reservations about the libretto. Interested readers can follow to link to read more- Bluegrass 57@7 review. In fairness, it should be mentioned that my colleague David LaMarche did not have any such issues when he reviewed the same work in 2014 – Sounds of Americana review. Would I have the same opinion with this new work?

Dailey & Vincent took the stage to open the night. The nine members are Jamie Dailey (vocals/guitar), Darrin Vincent (bass/vocals), Aaron McCune (guitar/vocals), BJ Cherryholmes (fiddle), Bob Mummert (drums), Buddy Hyatt(piano), Jeff Parker( mandolin/vocals), Jessie Baker (banjo), and Shaun Robertson(guitar).”How many of you have heard bluegrass?” asked Jamie Dailey. “Well, you’re gonna hear some now!” he said as the group launched its six-song set. This listener is no bluegrass expert, but he is more than capable of recognizing expert playing and singing. The six selections alternated between fast and slow works, but all offered ample opportunities for these fine musicians to showcase both their individual talents in solo passages and very tight ensemble play.

Jamie Dailey bantered with the audience between numbers, introducing his band mates and telling stories about each. Darrin Vincent introduced Mr. Dailey. Just one fun fact – Shaun Robertson was appearing with the group for the first time, after being discovered on Instagram and being invited to audition for the group! We live in interesting times!

A cover of “Elizabeth”, the Statler Brothers’ hit (for which Dailey & Vincent received a Grammy nomination in 2011) was lovely, and “American Pride”, a patriotic song written by Jamie Dailey, brought the house down. A visibly moved Mr. Dailey humbly accepted the standing ovation. He has a voice that can soar with the best of them!

There was no intermission, but as Dailey & Vincent played on, the stage began to fill with singers dressed entirely in white, soon to be joined on the side of the stage by a much smaller number of very young singers dressed in all black. Conductor Jonathan Griffith took to stage dressed in blue jeans, flannel shirt with bandana, and hat, and took out his hankie and waved it to the audience, signaling the start of Mortals and Angels. Commissioned by the DCINY Premiere Project, Mortals and Angels is a thirteen-movement work that is close to an hour in length. Jay Disney was the spokesperson for the Mortals, who were represented by the children’s choir dressed in black, Dailey & Vincent, and the audience members on the parquet level. Linda Powell was the spokesperson for the Angels- the choir members dressed in all white and the audience members in the upper levels. Mr. Disney gave the “back story” for what was to happen; in short, the “Mortals” were on a fishing vacation and happened to encounter a group of Angels at the same spot (just go with it…). Mr. Disney and Ms. Powell were both “personality plus”, and their playful banter with each other and the audience as they “defended” their sides’ interests was good, clean fun, and added to the theatric quality of the work, though I’m not sure if it was really necessary. Perhaps I’ll leave it at that and let others argue for each side.

The “Mortals” sans Dailey & Vincent were overwhelmingly outnumbered by the “Angels”. I’m still wondering if it was intended for a child’s choir to be “battling” forces seven times their numbers (Mr. Disney made a remark about the 222 singers behind him, as he pointed to the “Angels”). These youngsters gave it all they had, but they were almost completely covered. This is perhaps something that should be considered in future performances.

The text of the work flows with a natural ease, without any agendas (hidden or unhidden), and the music is sincere and without any pretense. This is a winning combination, and with the unique talents of Dailey & Vincent, it was a winning performance. The audience got into the act with the waving of those white handkerchiefs. It was definitely not your typical concert experience, but it was full of raucous joy, something our world today is often lacking.

“We Don’t Stay Afraid for Long” was a favorite, both for the music, and the verse, especially the lines, “Oh, some of us believe in zombies/Some in fairies and elves/Some of believe in angels/And some of us just believe in ourselves.” There’s a lot of wisdom in those words.

So one might ask who won, the Mortals or the Angels? Let’s call it a draw, or better yet, let’s say everyone won, with special credit to Dailey & Vincent, who were the stars not just of this work, but of the entire concert.

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Bluegrass & Gray: Sounds of Americana in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Bluegrass & Gray: Sounds of Americana in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Bluegrass & Gray: Sounds of Americana
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International 
Jefferson Johnson, DCINY Debut Conductor;  Michael Adelson, Guest Conductor
Carol Barnett, Composer-in-Residence; John Purifoy, Composer-in-Residence
Special Guest: Dailey & Vincent
Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
June 8, 2014

 

I may have been the only New Yorker in a sea of warm and appreciative Southerners for the presentation by Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) of Bluegrass and Gray: Sounds of Americana, an unconventional program of choral and bluegrass music on the main stage of Carnegie Hall.  While it is not unusual for a wide variety of ensembles to appear at Stern Auditorium, this performance was an odd mixture of styles, genres, and levels of professionalism.

The concert consisted of three parts, of which the second, a tour de force by the bluegrass band Dailey and Vincent, was the joyous highlight. I am not an aficionado of bluegrass music, but the level of technique and musicality shown by these players rivals that of the most celebrated groups in any branch of entertainment.  It took a few tunes to adjust the balance of amplification, and when the band was playing at full volume, the lyrics of the songs were unintelligible.  The instrumental solos, however, were tight and clean, even at the most bracing speed.  At the core of the group is a quartet of very fine singers, anchored by a rock solid bass (Christian Davis) and a tenor who can both float and belt,
Jamie Dailey.  All of the players, without exception, were impressive, but I must single out Darrin Vincent and Jeff Parker for their ease of execution and spontaneity.

Framing the Dailey and Vincent set were two choral works featuring choirs from Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, New York, Tennessee, and Washington:  John Purifoy’s The Chronicles of Blue and Gray and Carol Barnett’s The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass.  A work with serious intentions, The Chronicles of Blue and Gray had moments of simple, unaffected beauty.  The text was assembled from writings of the Civil War era – popular songs, letters, speeches, and poetry, highlighting the anguish caused by the violent rift between North and South.  The speeches of Abraham Lincoln and the heartbreaking letters of soldiers about to die are difficult to improve upon by setting them to music.  Mr. Purifoy chose the smartest path- largely staying out of the way of his libretto.  His writing is idiomatic and generous, especially in the long, beautifully sung duet for Caitlin Hawkins and Travis Hazelwood.  In the end, though, I felt that the work could have used more invention and daring on the part of the composer.  Distant trumpets, lonely field drums, and open harmonies are overly familiar and specific aural images for war.  They lose their effectiveness, though, with repetition.

The finale of the program, The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass, smartly retained the services of Dailey and Vincent as both backup band and soloists.  Ms. Barnett provided a well-crafted, challenging composition for both chorus and guest artists.  She has a light touch with difficult music, and the combined choruses, for the most part, rose to the occasion.  The only miscalculation was the disparity between the highly amplified sound of the bluegrass ensemble and the more natural acoustic of the voices, which dampened the effect of even their most compelling passages.

Both choral works benefited from the clear and precise direction of the conductors Michael Adelson and Jefferson Johnson.  Mr. Adelson, in particular, was impressive in his control of detail and phrasing.   The very fine orchestra, credited simply as the Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, deserved to be listed in full for their excellent contributions to the program. The expertise of their playing, as of Dailey and Vincent, elevated the entire afternoon to a level worthy of Carnegie Hall.