Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents True Concord Voices and Orchestra in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents True Concord Voices and Orchestra in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents True Concord Voices and Orchestra
True Concord Voices and Orchestra; Eric Holtan, music director and conductor
Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, New York, NY
September 11, 2015

 

September 11, 2001 is a day that will be forever etched in the minds of those who were witness to its horrors. On the 14th anniversary of 9/11, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a concert in remembrance, featuring the True Concord Voices and Orchestra. The program consisted of two works, Mozart’s Requiem, K. 626, and the New York Premiere of Prayers and Remembrances by American composer Stephen Paulus (1949-2014).

True Concord Voices and Orchestra hail from Tucson, Arizona. Founded in 2004, their original name was the Tucson Chamber Artists. On their name change in 2015, music director Eric Holtan explained that, “The original 14th century meaning of concord is ‘hearts together.’ Shakespeare later described the emotional impact of music as ‘true concord’- something we strive to achieve among composers, performers, and listeners.”

 

True Concord Voices and Orchestra -- Photo Credit: Nan Melville Photography/DCINY Production.

True Concord Voices and Orchestra — Photo Credit: Nan Melville Photography/DCINY Production.

Mr. Holtan took to the stage to lead the ensemble in Mozart’s Requiem. The story behind the creation of this masterpiece is so well known that the program had no notes at all, save for a “completed by Süssmayr” designation. I leave it for the reader to do his own investigations if he wishes to learn more. Mr. Holtan led a skillful, highly polished performance. It was at once obvious that these musicians brought considerable talents to this work, and had refined their interpretation from continued performances. The relatively small forces of this ensemble lent a sense of intimacy and immediacy, in contrast with the bombast of some performances by larger forces. It was a sound on a scale that I was unaccustomed to hearing, but one I found to be compelling in its nuance. Special mention must be made of the Tuba Mirum’s excellent trombone soloist, who played with amazing clarity and tone, and to the vocal soloists, soprano Megan Chartrand, mezzo-soprano Margaret Lias, tenor Charles Blandy, and bass Paul Max Tipton, for their excellent work. What was especially gratifying was that each soloist was a member of the chorus, and not a “special guest” recruited for the performance. When it was all over, the large audience shouted their approval in a way one does not expect for this work – a clear indication that the many friends and supporters of the True Concord Voices and Orchestra were in attendance to support them. It was a well-earned and justifiable reaction.

After intermission, Mr. Holtan returned to the stage. He shared with the audience the story behind the commissioning of Prayers and Remembrances, and how closely Stephen Paulus worked with the ensemble in the recording of this work in 2013. Tragically, Mr. Paulus suffered a massive stroke six weeks after the recording and never recovered (Mr. Paulus passed away on October 19, 2014). The loss to music was immeasurable, but we can be grateful for the hundreds of works Mr. Paulus created.

Prayers and Remembrances is a seven-movement work, each movement using carefully selected poems, both secular and non-secular, that all touched on the concept of grief, but also recovery and spirituality in living. Quoting Mr. Paulus, “My concern was to write a work that would not only honor the 9/11 tragedy and all those who perished, but also one that would address the memories, the grieving and the recovery for anyone dealing with a circumstance in which loved ones had perished.” The scoring is similar to that of the Mozart, with the addition of flute, oboe, horns, harp, and percussion (with the clear idea of being paired in performance with the Mozart). The music is tonal, with harmonic language that is familiar sounding, yet somehow distinct without resorting to cheap effects. The melodies are often poignant and moving, but never lapsing into mawkish sentimentality. The addition of the extra percussion added a layer of dramatic tension that deepened the already compelling musical effect.

Mr. Holtan led with total commitment, his gestures seemingly coaxing the utmost from his ensemble in a performance that held this listener’s complete attention for the work’s entire thirty-five plus minutes. I would love to talk extensively about all seven movements, but I will just mention the fifth movement, In Beauty It Walks, with text from Traditional Navaho Prayer, as my favorite. The simple but moving text is set with consummate skill, and the orchestral writing has a radiance that shines upon the vocal with powerful effect. It is a shame that Mr. Paulus was not with us this night, as I am sure he would have been pleased with the results. Prayers and Remembrances is an outstanding work, and it should be a centerpiece at any 9/11 memorial concert, or any concert for that matter. As with the Mozart, featured vocal soloists were also members of the chorus, a different set of four this time. Congratulations go to soprano Margot Rood, alto Emily Marvosh, tenor Patrick Muehleise, and bass David Farwig, for matching the high standards of their colleagues from the first half. The very quiet ending was something the audience was not expecting, but once the last sounds faded away, they reacted with an increasing amount of applause, as if each second made them realize what a unique work they had just heard.

For those who were not in attendance, but are interested in hearing Prayers and Remembrance, the recording that Mr. Holtan spoke about has been released. Called Far in the Heavens – Choral Music of Stephen Paulus, (Reference Recordings FR-716– click on the link for more information), it also features other works by Mr. Paulus that are equally worthy of attention.

Congratulations to the True Concord Voices and Orchestra for living up to the ideals of their name and for the wonderful performance.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents: Defying Gravity: The Music of Stephen Schwartz and Eric Whitacre in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents: Defying Gravity: The Music of Stephen Schwartz and Eric Whitacre in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents: Defying Gravity: The Music of Stephen Schwartz and Eric Whitacre
Distinguished Concerts Singers International; Eric Whitacre, composer /conductor; Stephen Schwartz, special guest artists; Ashley Brown, Sara Jean Ford, special guest performers; Tali Tadmor, piano
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center; New York, NY
March 30, 2014

 

A concert featuring the music of the legendary Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz paired with the music of the wildly popular and dynamic Eric Whitacre was destined to be a sure-fire winner.  Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) brought this concept to Avery Fisher Hall on March 30, 2014 in a concert entitled “Defying Gravity” (a reference to a song from Stephen Schwartz’s smash Broadway hit Wicked). Eric Whitacre was to conduct his own works and those of Stephen Schwartz, with Tali Tadmor at the piano. Special guests Ashley Brown and Sara Jean Ford were also to have featured roles. The full hall was buzzing with excitement as family members looked for their “star”, hoping to get onstage photographs.  These young (and not so young) performers were ready to be part of something special that each one would treasure forever. I have witnessed this excitement countless times, but it still delights me.  DCINY “defies gravity” each concert they give, lending wings to the musical dreams of countless persons from around the world.

The first half chorus consisted of High School ensembles from China, Georgia, New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania, Colorado, “and individuals from around the globe,” as the program notes state. Eric Whitacre bounded onto the stage to launch the afternoon by leading an energetic and engaging performance of Mr. Schwartz’s Defying Gravity. One could see joy in the faces of so many of these young performers, setting the tone for the rest of the concert.  Next up was Mr. Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque, one of his earlier works (used for the initial “performance” of Whitacre’s famous Virtual Choir: Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir- Lux Aurumque).  The chorus handled well the challenges of the close harmonies and the divisions of voices.  It was a bit top-heavy at times, not at all surprising considering the young women outnumbered the young men in a ratio of about three to one, but was the net effect was still beautiful. The next work, Mr. Whitacre’s the city and the sea, part of the DCINY Premiere Project, uses the texts of five poems by E.E. Cummings. Three selections, the jaunty No.1 i walked the boulevard, the nostalgia-tinged No. 3 maggie and milly and molly and may, and the furiously hectic No.5, little man in a hurry were given strong characterizations. Mr. Whitacre told the humorous story behind the next work, Seal Lullaby, with text from Rudyard Kipling, originally intended for a DreamWorks project that was abandoned in favor of Kung Fu Panda. Mr. Whitacre’s setting would have been DreamWorks gold if the project moved forward. The tune is simple, yet very moving, and the timbre of young voices was simply perfect in a touching performance. What If, from Mr. Whitacre’s upcoming musical (on which he has been working on for more than a decade) Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings, followed. My enjoyment of this work was affected by both the missing lyrics in the program and the accompanying pre-recorded track, which overwhelmed the chorus. If over two hundred singers were not able to overcome this track, then it was WAY too loud, and it should have been dialed back a notch or four.

After this, Mr. Whitacre introduced Stephen Schwartz, who took over at the piano for his own works.  The first song, Testimony, was inspired by the “It Gets Better” project, which was created by Dan Savage to give hope to bullied LGBT youth around the world. Testimony takes words from actual interviews of those who lived through the pain and the horrors of being bullied. Moving from despair to hope to acceptance to celebration, the message is clear: hang on, it will get better, and life is full of wonders waiting to be found.  It is a powerful message, and the music reflected this in an inspired performance that had many audience members in tears.  For the last two songs of the first half, Spark of Creation and Ain’t It Good, from Children of Eden, Broadway superstar Ashley Brown unleashed a passion-filled performance that closed the half with a bang, bringing the audience to its feet.

After intermission singers from Michigan, Connecticut, Canada, Italy, “and individuals from around the globe” took the stage. With the exception of a few very young performers, this chorus was composed of college-age and older singers. Mr. Whitacre returned to the stage and told the story behind his Sleep, which opened the second half. Originally written using Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Mr. Whitacre was denied permission by the Frost estate to use the text in any form, including performance, until 2038 (when the work would enter the public domain), and was threatened with legal action.  Luckily for Mr. Whitacre, his friend Charles Silvestri was able to provide him with a metrically identical poem, for which Mr. Whitacre was able to use the already written music. It was a given a winning performance.

Mr. Whitacre’s Animal Crackers, Vols. 1 and 2, followed, and had the audience howling with laughter. The composer used Ogden Nash’s hilarious animal poems (Volume 1- The Panther, The Cow, and The Firefly: Volume 2- The Canary, The Eel, and The Kangaroo) in ways that were every bit as witty as Nash himself. Mr. Whitacre read each poem before it was performed by the chorus. The “mooooooo” in a slow yodel during The Cow, the “ew!” building in intensity to a soft, staccato “yuck! for The Eel, the incessant repetition of “never varies” in The Canary, and the Tchaikovsky B-flat minor Piano Concerto/ O Christmas tree mashup in The Kangaroo, had this listener laughing every bit as loudly as the audience.  These five or six minutes were the highlight of the afternoon to this listener.  A Boy and Girl, with text from Octavio Paz followed this merriment, and the shift of gears was handled seamlessly in another satisfying performance. It is always amazing that these ensembles are able to put forth such polished readings with such short rehearsal time. Sara Jean Ford, Broadway star and no stranger to DCINY events, came to the stage to sing Fly to Paradise, which was the selection for the fourth performance of the Virtual Choir.  Her voice truly soared in a dynamic performance.  Once again, a pre-recorded electronic track was added to the mix, and once again it was too loud. Ms. Ford was able to triumph over the decibel levels by virtue of her strong voice and the use of a microphone. The chorus was more audible as well.  Even Mr. Whitacre made a joke about the volume, saying, “Choral music is LOUD!”

Stephen Schwartz returned to the stage and took the piano again to close the half and the concert with three of his works. The first, Keramos, is a setting of a portion of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem of the same name.  The chorus took the audience on a moving life journey through Mr. Schwartz’s musically adept setting. The second song, Forgiveness’ Embrace, was sung and played by Mr. Schwartz himself as if he were telling the story of his own life journey. The last selection, For Good (from Wicked) combined the vocal talents of Ashley Brown, Mr. Schwartz, and the chorus. Ms. Brown, as the professional that she is, deftly handled a microphone malfunction by grabbing another microphone without missing a beat. The energy was electrifying in a terrific performance that brought this highly enjoyable concert to a close. The audience responded with an extended ovation. Congratulations to all!

While all the performers are to be congratulated, it was Eric Whitacre who was the star of the day. Mr. Whitacre is a one-of-a-kind talent. His music has mass appeal to an audience that normally would shun “classical” music. He is young and energetic, an ideal ambassador for the “cause”, and is one of the most charismatic individuals I have seen or heard in any field. He is a “rock star” in a decidedly non-rock world!  One could go on and on, but I will limit myself to a comment I overheard in the hall- “I would listen to Eric Whitacre read the phone book.” Any further comments would be superfluous.

 

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Lust & La Femme Mystique: Carmina Burana and Music in Celebration of International Women’s Day in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Lust & La Femme Mystique: Carmina Burana and Music in Celebration of International Women’s Day in Review

Lust & La Femme Mystique: Carmina Burana and Music in Celebration of International Women’s Day
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Hilary Apfelstadt, conductor; Vance George, Conductor Laureate
Penelope Shumate, soprano; Dillon McCartney; tenor; Keith Harris, baritone
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center; New York, NY
March 10, 2014
 

International Women’s Day was celebrated by Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) with a concert in Avery Fisher Hall employing four hundred sixty-nine choral singers, sixty-three instrumentalists, and three vocal soloists. The first half was a pleasing selection of contemporary pieces for and about women sung by the combined forces of ten choirs from all over the world. And what fine choirs they were! Beautiful sounds, with excellent diction, and near perfect intonation. Clearly these women and their conductors were dedicated to this music, and the music was worthy of their labors. The first piece was Guy Forbesʼ gorgeous Ave Maria. Written for a cappella women’s chorus, this piece should become a classic. It is immediately accessible without being in any way predictable or saccharine. It was followed by another lovely song praising the Virgin Mary, Eleanor Daley’s I Sing of a Maiden, also an a cappella composition. Like all the music on the first half, it was tonal but contained interesting harmonic twists and turns. For the next two songs we were transported south of the border. The Brazilian composer Eduardo Lakschevitzʼs jaunty Travessura was followed by Cancion de los Tsáchilas which is a compilation of four folk songs, cleverly arranged by Michael Sample. The energetic performances of these two works were, unfortunately marred by the loud footsteps of a very large group of audience members who incomprehensibly were allowed to enter while the music was going on. A violin and a cello joined the singers and pianist for two pieces depicting women in moments of reflection, Joan Szymkoʼs Always Coming Home and Jocelyn Hagen’s In the Lavender Stillness of Dawn. Nancy Telferʼs The Blue Eye of God employed breath sounds and whispers. Joy by John Muehleisen brought the first half to a happy conclusion. The ten choir directors are to be applauded for their fine work in preparing their choirs, and kudos to conductor Hilary Apfelstadt for pulling it all together in what must have been a short rehearsal time.

 
DCINY Carmina  Burana

DCINY Carmina Burana

 

The second half was devoted to one of the biggest crowd-pleasers in the choral repertoire, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Once more the large chorus was the star. It was comprised of two hundred seventy-two singers from seven international choruses, none of whom sang on the first half. The biggest challenge in singing this music is learning the words, which are in Latin and an ancient form of German, and which often must be articulated in rapid fire manner. It takes hours of drill. It was obvious that these choruses and their directors had done their job well. They performed with commitment, confidence, tonal beauty and fine intonation. The large group was alternatively sensitive and powerful. The difficult men’s sextet “Si, Puer cum Puella,” written for solo voices, was wisely performed by all the men. This resolved the intonation and tessitura problems so often encountered in this piece. The women sang the lovely, tender middle section of “Floret silva nobilis” with delicacy and perfect ensemble. I was especially impressed by the splendid Brooklyn Youth Chorus. They sang as one, in perfect tune with beautiful sound. Undaunted by language difficulties, they performed by memory. How wonderful it is to hear the young people of our city demonstrate such musical accomplishment! Their conductor, Dianne Berkun, is surely one of our city’s treasures.

Unfortunately the soloists did not attain the high level set by the choruses. Baritone Keith Harris has a very beautiful voice, but often it wasn’t loud enough to cut through the orchestra. He also tended to sing flat in the soft passages. Soprano Penelope Shumate looked stunning in her strapless red gown as she sauntered provocatively across the stage. However, her high soprano voice was not ideally suited for “In Trutina.” This beautiful, simple, expressive song lies in the low register where her voice isn’t at its best. She was better suited for the high “Dulcissime,” where her tones rang out loud and clear. Before the concert began an announcement was made that the tenor soloist was sick but would nevertheless do his best. As New York City is full of singers, one would think that a healthy high tenor could have been found to serve as his replacement. Fortunately he has only one song, “Cignus ustus cantat” (“The roast swan”) He attempted to compensate for his vocal problems by hamming it up, pretending to conduct, and interacting with the chorus, When his singing voice gave out, he spoke his lines. He did manage to get out a few notes which showed what a lovely instrument is at his disposal on a better day. The forgiving audience applauded his effort.

The conductor, George Vance, held his huge forces together admirably, and the orchestra supported the singers with conviction and fine ensemble. This was a well-paced and exciting performance, which the large audience obviously loved. They leapt to their feet as soon as the lasts notes of the final “O Fortuna” had finished resounding.


Distinguished Concerts International New York

DISTINGUISHED CONCERTS INTERNATIONAL NEW YORK: DCINY
THE MUSIC OF KARL JENKINS
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall
January 16, 2012

A full house greeted the Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Jonathan Griffith, Artistic Director, on Martin Luther King Day. The opening work of the program was Jenkins’ “The Wooing of Etain” in its United States premiere. The piece is unusually scored for soloists that include soprano saxophone, electric bass and uilleann pipes. Despite the unconventional use of  instrumentation, the work is sweetly tonal, warm and embracing. It was performed with affection and commitment, although some of the individual playing was slightly off pitch. The soloists: Rob Derke, Carlo de Rosa and Joseph Mulvanerty, performed and improvised with technical brilliance.

Jenkins’ “Sarikiz”, a violin concerto given its Carnegie Hall premiere, won the audience over instantly with its Carl Orff-like primitive energy and minimalistic repetition. Apart from the occasional reference to Kazakh folk themes, Jenkins uses two Kazakh indigenous percussion instruments, the dabel (hand drum) and the kepshek (tambourine). Like Orff’s beloved “Carmina Burana”, for example, very little counterpoint is used, the simplest of chords were often employed, and the percussion–while effective–is sometimes used a bit too often (here, they also covered the violin soloist at times). The idiomatic, virtuosic violin scoring holds the audience’s attention in this appealing work–especially with the right soloist. Jorge Avila did an outstanding job with the violin part, and his charismatic stage presence helped keep a diverse audience riveted.

Carol Barratt’s Fantasy Preludes for piano was given a solid performance by Danny Evans and receiving its United States premiere, was composed with an original touch–even though there were many reminders of 20th century modern and impressionistic influences. Nine preludes in all, there was a good deal of counterpoint–which was a refreshing change–and interesting harmonic variety as well. Melodic writing was sometimes chromatic, sometimes more spacial–but almost always lyrical. I would have placed the violin concerto after this work, as the solo piano looked and sounded anti-climactic after witnessing the orchestra.

A diverse audience was to be expected, as it was Martin Luther King Day, and Jenkins’ world premiere, “The Peacemakers”, included quotations from many important leaders or texts.

Those that were quoted include Gandhi, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St. Francis of Assisi, Nelson Mandela, and Anne Frank (a touching, special addition to this list). Of course, there was also a Martin Luther King tribute. The excellent performers included soprano Antoni Mendezona, flutist Kara Deraad Santos, the return of saxophonist Rob Derke and electric bassist Carlo de Rosa, Benny Koonyevsky on ethnic percussion, and Joseph Mulvanerty on uilleann pipes.

Jenkins’ “The Peacemakers” is poignant, resonant, and meaningful. The music accompanies the corresponding texts with devotion. The instrumentation chosen always suited the origin or culture of the text; for example, the bansuri (Indian flute) with the Gandhi text, and the African percussion with the Mandela text worked perfectly. Martin Luther King’s tribute included an incredibly inventive mix of the Blues and Robert Schumann’s “Traumerei” (“Dreaming”).


Sing for the Cure

Sing for the Cure
A Concert for Healing & Hope
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra International
Distinguished Concerts Singers International

Carnegie Hall: Stern Auditorium, New York, NY
June 6, 2010

DCINY

DCINY – Heartsongs- “Photo by Stefan Cohen/DCINY Production.”

This unusual concert was less a musical than an emotional event. The first of its two parts (each of which could have filled an entire program), was called “Heartsongs” and celebrated the life and poetry of Mattie Stepanek, who died just before his 14th birthday of a rare neuromuscular disease; his words were set to music by Joseph Martin. Pamela Martin Tomlinson provided the text for the second part, called “Sing for the Cure”: ten poems, linked by a narration, based on stories told by breast cancer survivors and the families of those who died. The musical settings were by ten composers: Michael Cox, Alice Gomez, Rosephanye Powell, Robert Seeley, Jill Gallina, Patti Drennan, Stefania de Kennessey, David Friedman, W.T Greer III, and Joseph Martin.

Receiving its world premiere, “Heartsongs” was performed by six children’s choruses from Texas, Mississippi and Tennesee, conducted competently but a bit phlegmatically by Stephen Roddy; “Sing for the Cure” featured four adult choruses from Ohio, Florida, Georgia, and Texas, conducted with enormous verve, authority and involvement by Timothy Seelig. Getting all these choruses from so many places together must have been a formidable undertaking. With their parts thoroughly learned, they congregated two days before the performance in New York, where the children’s and adults’ choirs each rehearsed for eight hours.

The children, singing from memory, were accompanied by a small orchestra, the adults by a huge one; its percussion section, manned by four players, contained not only five timpani of different sizes, but seemed to include every percussion instrument known to mankind. The stage was full to bursting, producing an impressive visual effect that was further enhanced by the singers’ clothes: the children’s were black, but, for reasons unexplained, a few boys wore silver vests; the adults’ were multi-colored; all wore long pink scarves.

The music, with its simple, semi-popular tunes usually doubled by voices and instruments would have been more at home in a Hollywood studio than a New York concert hall. Martin’s “Heartsongs” included adaptations of spirituals and a conflation of “Simple Gifts” with the famous theme from Dvorák’s “New World” Symphony. The vocal writing was almost entirely in unison; the majority of the songs were slow. In the second part, the unison was partly replaced by thirds and sixths, and there was more variety of tempo and character. The most successful songs were those derived from waltzes, blues, gospel shouts and jazz, with the singers swaying lustily to the rhythms. Numerous impressive soloists stepped out from the chorus, singly and in groups.

The orchestra was a tower of strength, offering solid, sensitive, but unobtrusive support. In addition to the percussionists, special praise is due to concertmaster Jorge Avila, who played many demanding, stratospheric solos brilliantly, and to pianist Russ Rieger, who provided what sounded like an improvised background to the second part’s narration, subtly modulating from one song to the next.

But there was no doubt that the evening’s primary impact came from its literary and human components. Mattie Stepanek’s “Heartsongs” were introduced by his mother, who is herself suffering from the same disease and came on stage in a wheelchair, with a ventilator, accompanied by her service dog. Mattie reportedly started writing poems at the age of three and never stopped. Expressing hope, faith, and a deep appreciation of nature and beauty, they were described as “inspirational” and were clearly “inspired” by what he heard from the people around him, who must have been extraordinary themselves. In addition to being sung, the poems were read and narrated by two famous rock stars, Nile Rodgers and Billy Gilman.

Pamela Tomlinson’s words were narrated by Rene Syler, a cancer survivor. They described the reactions of cancer patients to the various stages of their illness, and also the responses of their families to the roller-coaster of hope, despair and loss. Perhaps most wrenching were several sections focusing on mothers and children. In one, an adult daughter recounted a recurrent dream of being visited by the mother she lost as a child; it must have broken the hearts of everyone present, not only those who have lost a mother.


Junior Chamber Music

Junior Chamber Music
Presented by Distinguished Concerts International -New York, DCINY
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
April 11, 2010

From the west side of the United States to the west side of Manhattan, an impressive bunch of students from southern California, all part of an organization called Junior Chamber Music –founded and directed by Susan Boettger—performed extremely well-prepared, well-chosen music at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall. The concert was presented by Distinguished Concerts International New York.

One of the most impressive performances on the program was Schumann’s Piano Quintet (the last two movements)—not just for its ensemble excellence and finesse in notoriously tricky passages and transitions, but for all its musical insights. Individually, the students are quite young and inexperienced with this music—violinists Lucas Stratmann and Hao Zhao are middle school-aged, Iona Batchelder is a 6th grade cellist, and violist Amanda Lin and pianist Jessie Wang are high school freshman— but collectively, they had a rare unity of interpretation and sounded more professional than they probably knew they were capable. In the Scherzo, the many up-and-down scales—which can often sound tedious in student performances, were exquisitely shaped, and the second theme was tender, showing a mature contrast in tone quality and expression.

The Mendelssohn piano trios received plenty of exposure on the program—G. Theory and the Vision and NYC trios performed movements admirably—with pianist Weston Mizumoto a standout for his excellent finger work in the D minor’s technically demanding first movement. Two other favorites of the repertoire, the Brahms Opus 8 and the Arensky were also excellent choices and given passionate performances by the Brahms and Angeles Trios. Despite small intonation lapses and some ordinary phrasing, Trio con Lancio’s playing in Martinu’s excellent Sonata for Flute, Violin and Piano was solidly together throughout.

Swing Shift, by Kenji Bunch, was another highlight of the program. I can see why the inventive 4th and 6th movements were selected for this group. Violinist Paya Sarraf, cellist Alec Hon and pianist Primitivo Cervantes reveled in the music’s Rock-Minimalistic beats, and the audience was swinging along with them. Excellent ensemble-playing and some intonation difficulties permeated the CalDuo performance of Duos for Flute and Clarinet by Robert Muczynski, and Jack McFadden-Talbot’s Concern, in its world premiere, was—considering an older, more experienced group at hand— overly simple in its use of rhythm and counterpoint. The mezzo Hannah McDermott is a wonderful talent with a lovely, expressive voice; she was teamed-up with flutist Taylor Weary and pianist Leslie Wu for a very fine performance of three songs from Deepest Desire by Jake Heggie.

The chemistry was palpable between violinist Judith Yu and cellist Allan Hon in the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio in A minor (Variation movement); their physical gestures, vibrato, and bow strokes were always matching. They exuded a lush, professionally robust string sound and a finely-tuned sense of pitch. Renee Yang did an excellent job with the technical demands of the piano part, although she needs some more variety in her phrasing and dynamics. The group’s overall performance was engaging and polished, with well-timed transitions of tempo. Junior Chamber Music and all the ensembles on this program should be very proud of what they are accomplishing.


Distinguished Concerts International New York – Love, Lust, and Light: A Valentine’s Day Concert

Distinguished Concerts International New York – Love, Lust, and Light: A Valentine’s Day Concert
Love, Lust, and Light: A Valentine’s Day Concert
Carnegie Hall: Stern Auditorium, New York, NY
February 14, 2010

After hearing this concert, I am happy to report that high quality choral singing in the United States is flourishing. In my review of DCINY’s January 18th concert at Avery Fisher Hall, I lauded them for bringing fine amateur choruses to New York. The sentiments expressed in that review are equally applicable to this afternoon’s concert.

This Valentine’s Day concert began with Morten Lauridsen’s gentle “Lux Aeterna” (“Eternal Light”) – definitely a non-Valentine’s Day piece, but connected to “Love and Lust” by alliteration. Nancy Menk, a prominent Indiana choral conductor, led five choirs and the Distinguished Concerts Orchestra International, a group of fine New York free-lance musicians who perform at DCINY choral concerts. The singers were drawn from three high school choirs, leavened by more mature voices from two of Ms. Menk’s own performing organizations. What a glorious sound! But there were some problems with diction – vowels were fine, but most consonants were indistinct. And many choral entrances were tentative. As to Ms. Menk’s conducting technique: it was hard to discern a clear pattern to the beat, and there was little connection between what was going on in the music and the beat’s size and intensity. Most gestures were just too large. Good amateur choral singers don’t need the music to be constantly “drawn out from them.”

After intermission, the “Love and Lust” theme was expressed in a work beloved of many choruses and audiences, Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.” We heard six choirs, a much larger orchestra and three soloists, all under the masterful direction of Vance George (DCINY Conductor Laureate). We also saw a quite different conducting technique – clear, economic, elegant. While setting fine tempi and skillfully shaping the overall performance, he just let the performers make the music they had so carefully rehearsed. No need to “draw it out from them.”

Dillon McCartney sang the stratospheric tenor part of the “Roasted Swan” with ease. Soprano Penelope Shumate, in a sexy red gown which conjured up the word “lust”, possessed a beautiful, flexible, dramatic voice. My favorite soloist was baritone Stephen Swanson, whose expressive sound was especially thrilling in the upper registers.


Distinguished Concerts International New York – “Music on Canvas, 57×7”

Distinguished Concerts International New York
“Music on Canvas, 57×7”
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
January 23, 2010

An enjoyable presentation of music and art—and even fashion—entitled: “Music on Canvas, 57×7” took place on January 23rd at… (Actually, the numbers in the title cleverly indicate the concert’s location, so take a guess.) (Yet…you’ve probably already seen the location listed in the above heading, so never mind.) Anyway, while we listened to music sung by the delightful Amy Buckley and Kirsten Allegri, we were afforded the luxury of seeing portraits by talented artist Stef-Albert Bothma. Bothma has a unique style to his paintings—several of them portraits of composers on the program—and they are brilliant in their use of color and chiaroscuro (light-dark contrasts). I recommend that you take a look at his website to peruse his work: www.stefalbertstudios.com. Slides of his paintings lingered tastefully on screen and appropriately back-dropped the music—never flashing at a quick pace to distract us from the performances. After the concert, the audience was treated to a viewing of his originals.

Allegri and Buckley frequently perform individually but also as the duo “Canzone”, and one could instantly recognize the chemistry between them. Mozart’s “Via Resti..” from “Figaro” had more than the requisite comedy and charm, and technically they have the goods as well: “Pur ti miro” from “Poppea” was sung with excellent intonation, a matching vibrato, and a unified eye for peaks of phrase. Kirsten Allegri went solo with both sincerity and elegance in Korngold’s lush and inspired “Lieder des Abschieds”. Her rendering of Bernstein’s “I Am Easily Assimilated” from “Candide” was carefree and sexy, with exceptionally funny accents. Buckley’s solo turn in Rachmaninoff songs displayed her stunningly accurate and beautiful high range.

Bothma’s improvisations on “Carmen” and on Gershwin melodies show promise, but editing might be welcome: they ramble on a bit, and some harmonies and key shifts were awkward. He tends to over-pedal at the piano–obscuring some melodic lines–but his solo octave-playing was impressively virtuoso-like. Bothma’s beautiful artwork wasn’t the only stunning visual aspect to this unique program; the ladies were splendidly and varyingly gowned in several different Alecia Zameska designs that seemed tailor-made for the music at hand. (I never comment on wardrobe, so trust me that this made an impression.) One example was Buckley’s eye-catching dress accompanied by a diamond necklace in a sparkling performance of “Glitter and Be Gay” from “Candide”. Her great comic timing didn’t hurt either.


Distinguished Concerts International New York – Concert For Peace

Distinguished Concerts International New York
Concert for Peace
Celebrating the Spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
January 18, 2010

This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day concert was presented by Distinguished Concerts International of New York (DCINY) and featured choirs from the United States and Canada, six vocal soloists, a large orchestra, all under the expert direction of DCINY’s artistic director and principal conductor, Jonathan Griffith. In bringing church, college and community musical organizations to New York to perform in major concert halls, DCINY is doing a valuable service. The performers participate in a musical experience which they could never have had at home, and their parents, relatives and friends, who appeared to make up a large part of this afternoon’s enthusiast audience, have a good reason to become tourists in New York City. Also benefiting are New York concert halls, who gain another source of rentals. And let’s not forget the tax dollars which these new tourists bring to the City of New York. It’s a win-win-win-win situation.

And if this “Concert for Peace” was a good example of the quality of a DCINY performance, New York concertgoers are also winners. From beginning to end the music making was of a very high quality, and both of the major works by the Welsh composer Karl Jenkins were performed with skill and fervor. Pride of place goes to the choristers, members of fourteen different choirs (four for Mr. Jenkins’ “Requiem.” and ten (!) for his “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace.”) They made a glorious sound, and sang with precision and fine intonation. The vocal soloists had a lesser role, but fulfilled it admirably. Maestro Griffith exhibited total control over this huge ensemble and presented well paced performances of these two long works.

Would that the music was worthy of the many performers’ talent and hard work. But, for this listener, both pieces were banal, derivative, and musically uninteresting. And what is there to say about the films which, as the program stated, “accompanied” each piece? Here are the images which went with the opening movement of “Requiem” – sunset, birds, bell tower, a cross, sunset, water, wind, sunset, tower, cross, sunset, birds…We weren’t hearing movie-music, nor were we seeing music-images. The connection between music and film was stronger during “The Armed Man,” but the images were still trite and obvious. However, at the close of this “Mass for Peace,” the audience appeared to be deeply moved. My musical reservations not withstanding, DCINY should consider this concert a resounding success.