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 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 On The Winds of Song in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents On The Winds of Song in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents On the Winds of Song: An Evening with Mira Costa High School (CA)
Mira Costa High School Wind Ensemble and Symphony Band; Joel Carlson, director
Mira Costa High School Philharmonic and Chamber Orchestras and Symphony Orchestra; Peter Park, director
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
May 29, 2016


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) continued their presentation of the second of two concerts for the Memorial Day weekend on May 29, 2016 at Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall. This concert, entitled On The Winds of Song, featured four ensembles (two bands and two orchestras) from Mira Costa High School in California. I was looking forward to this performance, both from the standpoint of hearing how the West Coast youngsters were going to compare to the excellent Midwest ensembles heard recently and because the program featured some of my favorite works and composers. Being a California native, I will admit I was silently rooting for them, but no free passes were to be issued, lest anyone imagine otherwise.

This reviewer has had the pleasure of hearing many talented young ensembles this year. They have generally followed a similar pattern – some nervousness at the onset (most often intonation and balance issues) that fades as the players settle in. Confidence grows and the playing level follows accordingly, with a strong finish. I can (and do) offer advice on how to deal with these issues. Tonight was different – there was not even a trace of hint of any nervousness whatsoever in any of the four ensembles. My usual litany of suggestions was unneeded, and this was unexpected! These ensembles all came to play, and play did they ever! This suggested to me a level of preparation that I would expect from a college or professional ensemble. For that, one must credit the excellent directors Joel Carlson (bands) and Peter Park (orchestras) – neither one needs my help!

The Wind Ensemble, led by Joel Carlson, took the stage to open the concert. Armenian Dances (Part 1), a rhapsody using four folk songs from the “Father of Armenian Music” Gomidas Vartabed (also known as Komitas) and arranged by Alfred Reed, was a terrific start. Balance, intonation, and articulation were all razor-sharp! The second movement of David Maslanka’s five-movement work Song Book for Flute and Wind Ensemble, with flute soloist Tanner Yamada, followed. The composer writes of this movement subtitled Solvitur Ambulando (It is solved by walking), “there is a centuries-old tradition that good ideas come from walking. It is a practice I have used in my creative work for some years.” It’s no secret that I am a fan of Maslanka’s work, and this is no exception. It is idiomatically written for the flute. Mr. Yamada plays with a maturity beyond his years, with a strong technique coupled with a rich, full-bodied tone. There were no instances of loss of intonation in the extreme high register, no breathiness in sustained notes, and no amorphous articulation in rapid passages. The audience rewarded Mr. Yamada with a standing ovation. When Jesus Wept, as adapted by William Schuman followed. Kudos go to the trumpets for skillful playing of Schuman’s decidedly unidiomatic passages. Eric Whitacre’s Equus was a crowd-pleasing close.

The Symphony Band was up next, and Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide, one of the staples of the band repertoire, was their opener. This work is full of whimsy and subtle sarcasm, which the young players captured in fine style. Old Churches by Michael Colgrass led the listener to imagine himself in an old monastery, and John Phillip Sousa’s Manhattan Beach March was a clever follow-up. Mira Costa High School is in Manhattan Beach, CA, so the latter paid tribute to New York’s Manhattan Beach while drawing its connection to New York. It was played with careful attention to subtle detail that is so often missing when Sousa’s marches are (bombastically) played. The modern classic Havendance, which put composer David Holsinger on the map, ended their selections. It’s one of the most fun works in the band repertoire, but it is demanding and difficult to pull off in performance. I’ve heard a few too many less-than-stellar attempts, but there was nothing to worry about here. Simply put, the Symphony Band “nailed it!” What a great closer it was!

Next up was the Philharmonic and Chamber Orchestras, led by Peter Park. The aptly named Jubilant Overture by Joshua Reznicow opened. Brimming with energy and joy, it is an embodiment of Americana and the fiddling tradition. The large forces blended together effectively, and the articulation and bow-work was some of the best I’ve seen or heard at this age level. Vassily Kalinnikov’s 1891 Serenade for Strings was up next, and the lyric, sometimes melancholy themes were played without being maudlin, a common drawback with less well-prepared and less talented groups. It was the highlight of their selections.

I must express my one true reservation with the evening, and that was the Danza Final from Alberto Ginastera’s Estancia. This all-strings arrangement simply is lacking the machismo that is so important to the spirit. It’s not the fault of the players, but there was not a drop of machismo to be found. Play the full version please! You have the forces and the talents. It would rock the house!

The Symphony Orchestra took the stage for the final segment. Carl Maria Von Weber’s Jubel Overture got things off to a fine start. The World Premiere of Serenade for Strings by Lee Holdridge, which was written especially for the Mira Costa High School Symphony Orchestra, followed the Weber. Dedicated by the composer “to so many friends lost over recent years,” it suggests a nostalgic look at fond memories, with a tinge of sadness, but not despair. The work was played in tribute to Mr. Park’s late father-in-law, Dr. James Cavallaro. Mr. Park was visibly moved by the audience reaction to this work.

After the emotionally charged Serenade, it was time to get to the fun, and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, featuring alum Brian Zukotynski, fit the bill perfectly. I would have preferred an open-lid piano to the lidless one used, as the sound of the piano goes straight up instead of out, making the pianist’s job of projecting that much more difficult. One must admit that Mr. Zukotynski did a fine job in making himself heard without resorting to pounding.

Clarinet soloist Cameron DeLuca won me over. I’ve heard a lot of players give that famous opening the characteristic “wail”, but this was something special!

Mr. Zukotynski has undoubted talent and an affinity for this work. His interpretation was not “cookie cutter”, but also was not eccentric or affected, like some players feel they must do to “put their mark” on the piece. All the dazzle is “baked in the cake,” and Mr. Zukotynski clearly grasped that concept. With the orchestra’s first-rate support, it was the highlight of the evening, and the ovation was well deserved for both soloist and orchestra.

After the Rhapsody, a charming arrangement of Tico-Tico no Fubá (Sparrow in the cornmeal), made popular by Carmen Miranda, served as a built-in encore that closed the night in a joyful way. The audience loved it and the ovation was loud and long. Congratulations, Mira Costa High School Bands and Orchestras!


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Triumph of Hope in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Triumph of Hope in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Triumph of Hope
Reno Philharmonic Youth Symphony Orchestra; Jason Alteri, director
West Monroe High School Rebel Choir; Greg A. Oden, director; Kristen Anderson Oden, accompanist
Military Wives Choir; Paul Mealor, composer/conductor; Rob Young, director; Kathy Kenny, accompanist
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
May 27, 2016


To kick off the Memorial Day Weekend, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) scheduled two concerts to commemorate the occasion. The first, on May 27, 2016, was called The Triumph of Hope and featured the Reno Philharmonic Youth Symphony Orchestra, the West Monroe High School Rebel Choir, and the Military Wives Choir from the United Kingdom.

Taking the stage to begin the concert was the Reno Philharmonic Youth Symphony Orchestra from Reno, Nevada, “The Biggest Little City in the World.” Led by Jason Alteri, the orchestra offered three works, the New York premiere of Solis by Amanda Harberg, a movement of Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26, and the 1919 suite version of Igor Stravinsky’s L’Oiseau de Feu (The Firebird).

Solis opened their set. In the words of the composer, “The title Solis refers to the sun-like brilliance communicated in the work’s climax.” Things got off to a rocky start, particularly some nerve-induced intonation problems in the trumpet solo that opens the piece, but this issue abated as the jitters wore away and the players settled in. Solis is an interesting and effective work that I do hope to hear again. Ms. Harberg was in attendance and appeared to be pleased, so one should take that as a cue.

Violinist Natasha von Bartheld hurried off the stage, only to return in a bright red dress for her featured role as soloist in the Bruch. An abridged arrangement of the Finale’s Allegro Energico was offered. Ms. von Bartheld played with flair and confidence, tackling the technical challenges with apparent ease; this talented young lady has great potential for the future. The razzmatazz is there, but I’d like to hear her project her sound more, which might be helped with a higher-quality instrument. In any case, she can be very proud or her fine work. The orchestral support was excellent, and erased some of the reservations I had had earlier.

Ending with the Stravinsky, all traces of nerves were gone once and for all. I could almost not believe the difference – this was playing brimming with confidence and energy. If I had not known any better, I would have thought I was hearing, at the very least, a college-level ensemble. The audience rewarded the ensemble with a loud ovation. Congratulations, Reno Philharmonic Youth Symphony Orchestra, for a job well done!

The West Monroe High School Rebel Choir from Louisiana, led by Greg A. Oden, took the stage next. There were no notes or texts about their selections included in the printed program, which to this reviewer is an inexplicable and inexcusable omission. It is hardly common knowledge that the text for their first work, Williametta Spencer’s At The Round Earth’s Imagined Corners, comes from John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 7! The hard working young performers deserved better, as this administrative gaffe has an effect on the audience’s understanding and enjoyment of the works. Thankfully, the product was better than the packaging, as this ensemble showed great depth and maturity in their performances. Highlights were Mark Hayes’ Grace, and Moses Hogan’s showstopper Elijah Rock. Special recognition goes to Bailey Young for her solo in Schubert’s Kyrie from the Messe in G, as well as to oboe soloist Paige Freeman and vocal soloists Rhett Finley, Olivia Myers, Kayln Clifton, Caroline Counts, Kelly Cole, Cara Ramos, Jace Cascio, Caleb Norman, and Scott David in Song for The Mira from Allister MacGillivray.

After a short pause, the Military Wives Choir took the stage. Composer/conductor Paul Mealor, himself a rising star in the choral world, told the audience about the history of the organization. Consisting of wives, mothers, sisters, active duty soldiers, and widows, the Military Wives Choir is a means for these women to join together as friends, as mentors, and as a mutual support system for what can be an uncertain and stressful life often overlooked by society in general. As Mr. Mealor stated, The Military Wives Choir now has twenty-six groups throughout the United Kingdom. It would be something beneficial for our own here in the United States.

These ladies are all heart, and it shows immediately. They are giving their all and loving every single moment. The audience was completely won over, and in spite of my best efforts to remain the hard-nosed, emotionless critic, I was won over as well, in about twenty or so seconds. They even made me enjoy U2’s With or Without You, a song I have never cared for at all! Their song set spanned from World War I’s Keep the Home Fires Burning to the World War II classics, The White Cliffs of Dover and We’ll Meet Again, pop and Broadway works, and the World Premiere of Paul Mealor’s This Song of Mine. Each selection held special meaning about war, service, and separation. For a complete list of songs, click here Program Notes.

After the last song, Stronger Together, the audience gave these wonderful women a richly earned and deserved standing ovation. Kudos to the soloists, Beth Joy, Alison Nuttall, Louise Forbes, Kirsty Ann Johnstone, Giselle Fitzsimmons, Joanna Grant, and Larraine Smith. An encore of Stronger Together, with the singers joined arm-in-arm and hand-in-hand, was a fitting close to a wonderful night.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Music of Christopher Tin in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Music of Christopher Tin in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Music of Christopher Tin
Jonathan Griffith, DCINY Artistic Director and Principal Conductor
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra; Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Sydney Guillaume, composer/conductor
Christopher Tin, composer-in-residence
David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, New York, NY
April 3, 2016


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) is well known for their large-scale concerts, which they consistently deliver with the utmost skill. Every last detail is meticulously planned and executed in a way that can be an example for any organization. Even so, they still offer several “blockbuster” concerts each year. By my reckoning, there have been two concerts yearly that consistently merit that designation, the annual Music of Karl Jenkins, and the holiday Messiah…Refreshed! It is time to change that number to three, and the honor is accorded to the concert dedicated to the music of Christopher Tin. For the third time, DCINY programmed the music of Mr. Tin in concert, with the Grammy Award winning Calling All Dawns as the featured work. As if that were not enough, a World Premiere of the overture from Flocks a Mile Wide   (a work that Mr. Tin is presently at work on), and works from the pen of choral composer Sydney Guillaume were also in the mix. In the spirit of Rassemblons-Nous, a movement from Calling All Dawns, singers from California, Indiana, Vermont, Washington, Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, and “individual singers from around the globe” answered the call, in what was to be a memorable afternoon of music.

For the first time, a DCINY concert was broadcast on the Internet via live stream. This is an exciting new step in reaching out to capture more listeners, and I am hoping it is the first in many more broadcasts. Those who were not in attendance (and those who were) can see and hear this concert through the courtesy of DCINY by visiting their page on Facebook – Watch the Concert.

The first half featured the music of Sydney Guillaume, who was on hand to conduct as well. He offered five works, all written in Haitian Creole, reflecting his proud heritage. Mr. Guillaume is a skilled composer, whose works are filled with spirituality and passion. This was especially evident in the first two selections, the powerful Lesklavaj (Slavery), with the plaintive chant of a tenor soloist amidst the steady strength of the chorus behind him, and the equally powerful Dominus Vobiscum (The Lord be with you).

Mr. Guillaume spoke to the audience about Por Toi, Mère, a work he wrote as a college student after learning of his mother’s cancer diagnosis. He spoke of her remission for a period of ten years, but also that the cancer has now returned, and how she was being treated with chemotherapy and was not well enough to attend this concert. He dedicated this performance to her. I hope she can see the recorded concert – she would be so proud of her son. It is a beautiful work, and it was a beautiful performance.

Kanaval (Carnival) and Tchaka (A stew) were energy packed celebrations, filled with clapping, dancing, and joy. Morgan Zwerlein, Haitian drummer, added even more flavor. It was a happy ending to the half.

After intermission, conductor Jonathan Griffith and Mr. Tim took the stage for an impromptu conversation. Mr. Tin spoke about his in-progress work, Flocks a Mile Wide. Mr. Tin’s works are known for having a unifying theme, and for this work it is about birds, specifically the extinction of bird species. Mr. Griffith informed the audience that a free download of this piece will be available. Click here to get your copy- Free Download. Mr. Tin hopefully is hard at work, as Maestro Griffith has already made mention of a 2018 premiere of Flocks a Mile Wide.

After this brief chat, a representative from Guinness Book came to the stage and presented Mr. Tin of a Guinness World Record title for the first video game music theme to win a Grammy award. This was not the end of the fun, as Maestro Griffith informed the audience that Mr. Tin’s 40th birthday is in May, but that the celebrations for 40th birthdays can be all year long, so with that in mind, he led the orchestra as the chorus and the audience serenaded Mr. Tin with a rousing “Happy Birthday”. Mr. Tin was given a giant-sized birthday card signed by hundred of admirers. Not a bad day at all!

Oh yes, there was still the second half as well. The World Premiere of Flocks a Mile Wide is filled with poignant lyricism. I have mentioned before that Mr. Tin is highly gifted as a melodist, so this comes as no surprise at all. I look forward to hearing the full work.

I have written about the specifics of Calling All Dawns in past reviews, so I leave it to the reader to reference that material by following this link- Calling All Dawns 2013. I know that work well, so I was in the rather infrequent position of “turning the meter off,” so to speak, and sit back and enjoy without having to make notes or other “critic” things. I was very pleased to see that the “’A’ team” was on board – the same core soloists, who can always be counted on to deliver impassioned performances. They are Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek (mezzo-soprano), Saum Eskandani (tenor), Nominjin (Mongolian singer), Taniya Panda (Indian classical vocalist), Nathalie (Fadista, who evidently is no longer using her last name Pires professionally), Roopa Mahadevan, Shobana Ram, Shiv Subramaniam (Indian classical vocalists), and Jerome Kavanagh (Maori chanter). They were all top-notch (with special kudos to Saum Eskandani, whose supercharged Rassemblons-Nous had the audience cheering for him even after the next movement had begun).

What I find compelling about Calling All Dawns is that each time I hear it, I discover something new, and this deepens my appreciation for this work. I would highly recommend the listener to read the texts of each movement, as it is easy to overlook how carefully chosen and apt they are – Program notes .

I will take the risk of sounding like a broken record when I state that Jonathan Griffith showed his mastery for the nth time. The orchestra was razor-sharp, and the chorus well prepared, with good diction, no mean feat given the many languages used. It was forty-five minutes of superior music making. Watch the video and you will agree!

The audience was caught up in the record book excitement and vied for inclusion into the Guinness Book by offering the loudest and longest standing ovation this reviewer has heard. I hope the Guinness representative took note!

For today’s social media savvy world, I offer this contribution- #TinFTW. Spread the word, tweeters!


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Between Heaven and Earth in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Between Heaven and Earth in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Between Heaven and Earth
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
James M. Meaders, DCINY Associate Artistic Director and Conductor, Tom Shelton, Guest Conductor, Richard Sparks, Guest Conductor
Jolaine Kerley, soprano; Timothy J. Anderson, narrator
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
March 7, 2016

The massed-choir events presented by Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) generally have a very high level of music making and popular success. Monday’s concert was quite a mixed-bag, gathered under the title mentioned above. The singers come from eight states and six foreign countries and are prepared by their individual local conductors before traveling to New York to combine with many other choirs.

The first one-third of the evening was devoted to seven selections for a huge youth choir, containing all age groups from small boys up to high schoolers. They were led efficiently by Tom Shelton, who also made some of the rather slick arrangements. The selections were not performed in the order listed on the program, and one was left out entirely. Perhaps I shouldn’t evaluate this performance with the same rigor I would apply to a professional choir. Surprisingly, the enormous group had trouble actually projecting, except when the vocal writing allowed the voices to soar to higher notes, where one could enjoy the characteristic gleam of such an age-group. The repertoire extended from modern sacred, to Baroque, folk-inspired (Stephen Hatfield’s moving Family Tree), even Italian madrigal. The exciting Ritmo by Dan Davison involved not only singing, but clapping, stomping, finger-snaps, chest thumps, and marching in place—a veritable encyclopedia of eurhythmics, accompanied by piano four-hands (the very capable Matthew Webb, assisted by his page turner).

Several instrumental solos were featured: trumpeters Anna Roman and Jesdelson Vasquez; and flutist Tamar Benami, as well as a fearless (uncredited) choir member for the concluding Go Down Moses. The performance certainly brought pleasure to the many parents and friends of the singers in the audience, and it is good to see young people (a) learning music at all, and (b) working together on something instead of the relentless isolating march of the cell phone.

After the infamous “brief pause” to shift huge choirs (only ten minutes this time), conductor Richard Sparks led a new chorus, narrator, and soprano, with a small ensemble of piano, organ, two oboes, two French horns, and a percussion assemblage, in the New York premiere of Toronto-based composer Allan Bevan’s Nou Goth Sonne Under Wode. The composer also played his own organ part. This work takes many of the sentiments in the traditional crucifixion scene Stabat Mater and ramps up the grief until a sort of transfiguration occurs to Mary, who then sings a concluding Alleluia. The choral writing relies too heavily on musical clichés of mourning, aiming for monumentality, but the whole was very sincere. The O Vos Omnes section was particularly successful. The part for narrator was a bit odd, sometimes too soft despite amplification. There were other moments when the chorus, narrator, and soloist were drowned out, despite the small instrumental ensemble size. The valiant soprano was the very good Jolaine Kerley, whose clarity and expression were top-notch. She wisely chose to just stop singing the climactic loud high D-flat (her last note) before it gave out entirely, just keeping her mouth open and letting the choral resonance fool you into thinking she was still singing it. Smart lady, this trick was sometimes employed by the likes of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.

After intermission, James Meaders, one of DCINY’s associate artistic directors, conducted yet another two-hundred-plus singers and large string orchestra in the Sunrise Mass by the young Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo. This was by far the most beautiful and intriguing work on the program. He set the traditional Latin texts of the Mass, but gave each section a title having to do with the (usually) natural world: The Spheres (Kyrie), Sunrise (Gloria), The City (Credo), Identity (Sanctus) & The Ground (Agnus Dei). His use of tone clusters and overlapping chords makes the musical language seem more modern than it really is, but very beautiful. In The Spheres, motives that are first heard “smudging” into each other are later presented cleanly as a melody by the choir. The work is also cyclic, that is, themes heard are reused elsewhere in the work, a time-honored technique and one that gives unity. There is perhaps a bit of over-reliance on stock “minimalist” gestures in the string parts. The final chord of the piece, on the word Pacem (peace) was stunning in its hushed quality, held for a very, very appropriate long time.

Perhaps music is what’s “between heaven and earth.”

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 Two Cultures, One Dream in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Two Cultures, One Dream in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Two Cultures, One Dream
Jonathan Griffith, DCINY Artistic Director and principal conductor; Jie Yi, Debut Conductor
Earnestine Rodgers Robinson, visiting composer; Heather Sorenson, arranger, orchestrator and accompanist
Ana Isabel Lazo, soprano; Ting Li, tenor; Tshombe Selby, tenor; Chai-Lun Yueh, baritone; Brian Wahlstrom, baritone and narrator; James T. Meeks and Michelle R. McKissack, narrators; Jiaju Shen, pipa
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra; Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
February 16, 2015


Two Cultures, One Dream was the title of the concert presented by Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) on February 16, 2015. While the “two cultures” were only implied as East and West, the “one dream” was explicit – freedom from oppression and the triumph of the people against their oppressors. With singers from Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Washington, Canada, China, New Zealand, Taiwan, and “individuals from around the globe,” the stage was set for that at which DCINY excels – the “big show.”

The first half of the program was the Yellow River Cantata (which was reworked in 1969 at the instigation of Madame Mao into the well-known Yellow River Piano Concerto, by a “committee” of five Chinese composers) by Xian Xinghai (1905-1945). Xian was one of the first Chinese composers to have adopted western influences, having studied composition with Vincent D’Indy and Paul Dukas in Paris, and no doubt with Soviet composers during his time in the Soviet Union in the 1940s. Given the honorific “The People’s Composer” by Mao Zedong, Xian’s legacy rests largely his with his more “populist” works, the Yellow River Cantata being his best-known work with western influences.



Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Two Cultures, One Dream


The “original” Yellow River Cantata was written in 1939, which, according to Xian’s daughter, took only six days to complete. Using the poetry of Guang Weiran as the text, there are four performed versions, with seven to nine movements. The version performed on this occasion is the most frequently played, with seven movements. The writing is tonal and bears the influences of Mr. Xian’s western studies, sometimes in a derivative way. The melodic material is largely folk-influenced and uncomplicated. The work is to exhort the Chinese people to resist and repel the Japanese invaders who were occupying China at the time (1939). The idea of a musical work to rally the people is not unique (Shostakovich’s Symphony No.7 “Leningrad” being one of the most obvious examples), but it is chiefly this context that makes Yellow River Cantata effective. Each movement begins with a male narrator exhorting the people to action, using the Yellow River as a symbol of Chinese identity.

Now, after all this background, it is time to talk about the actual performance. This was one of the most energetic performances of any work I have seen in many years! There were no half-measures at any time; it was full tilt from start to finish by all. It was especially interesting to see how involved the chorus was in performance. It was obvious they were giving it their all, with evident pride, as if to say “This is our music, and we are proud to share it with you.” Conductor Jie Yi was a force of nature, with boundless energy and enthusiasm that won the day. Mr. Jie has star potential and charisma that reminds one of Gustavo Dudamel and the young Leonard Bernstein. The soloists were outstanding as well. Baritone Chai-Lun Yueh was confident and projected with both strength and dignity, tenor Ting Li and baritone Brian Wahlstrom in duet were well matched as Jiaju Shen set the mood with accompaniment on the pipa, while soprano Ana Isabel Lazo captured the heartbreak in “Lament of the Yellow River” with perfection. Finally, Mr. Wahlstrom’s narration was excellent, in both English and Chinese, as his voice filled the hall. The net result was, to this listener, a rare occasion where the quality of the performance exceeded the actual intrinsic value of the work itself.

After intermission, it was time for the world premiere of Exodus, a four-part oratorio depicting the story of the Israelites being held in captivity in Egypt, their ultimate escape, and their triumph in reaching the Promised Land. The story is so well known that I will not recount it here. The composer, Earnestine Rodgers Robinson, has written two other critically acclaimed oratorios, The Crucifixion and The Nativity. It is highly likely that Exodus will join these two works in similar esteem, as it is a piece of great power, worthy of the subject matter and never losing its hold on the listener in its nearly one-hour length. The vocal writing is highly effective and the first-rate orchestrations by Heather Sorenson serve to strengthen the work even more. I would like to make special mention of the setting of Psalm 23 in Part IV, which has been set by some “heavy hitters” in musical history. Ms. Robinson’s version can hold its own with any of them.

With the dynamic narrations from Pastor James T. Meeks and Michelle R. McKissack (a daughter of Ms. Robinson), the talented tenor Tshombe Selby, the return of Ms. Lazo with the hard-working Mr. Wohlstrom, and the passionate and well-prepared chorus, it was a winning performance. Led by the supremely able Jonathan Griffith, who has made an art form of leading forces of several hundred, and the fine Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, it was a great end to the evening. The audience obviously found this to be so, given the ovation and the cheers for Ms. Robinson when she came to the stage. Congratulations to all for a great concert.