Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Life and Remembrance in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Life and Remembrance in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Life and Remembrance
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra; Distinguished Concerts Singers International;
Mark Hayes, composer/conductor; Mark Gilgallon, baritone
Pepper Choplin, composer/conductor; Gabriella Barbato; Don Davidson, narrator
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, NY
May 25, 2015


On Memorial Day, May 25, 2015, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a concert entitled Life and Remembrance, featuring Mark Hayes’ Requiem and the New York premiere of Our Father: A Journey Through the Lord’s Prayer from composer Pepper Choplin. With singers from Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and “individual singers from around the globe,” the stage was set for what proved to be a poignant evening of music.

In honor of those who have served or are serving our nation, DCINY offered all U.S. Military Veterans and Active Servicemen and Women complimentary tickets for this concert, a gesture that this reviewer very much appreciated, and one that reflects honor on this fine organization.

Composer Mark Hayes took the podium to conduct his Requiem. This reviewer was present at the World Premiere of this work (May 27, 2013), so I was curious to hear if Mr. Hayes had made any changes to his work, and if a second hearing would have any effect on my already favorable opinion. For background information about the work and my impressions, interested readers can read the review Mark Hayes-composer/conductor in Review. As for the first question, there were no changes in the work. As to the second, I found my initial impressions to be largely unchanged (the beautiful Agnus Dei is still my favorite movement), however, I gained a deeper appreciation for this work, as there was no doubt that this performance of the Requiem was in all ways was superior to the one I had heard prior. There were many melodic and harmonic nuances captured that were missing in the earlier performance. The orchestra playing was warm and full-bodied in lyrical sections and crisp and decisive in the sinister Dies Irae, the chorus was well prepared, and the diction was much clearer (especially in the Dies Irae). Finally, Mr. Hayes himself showed increased confidence at the podium in what was an outstanding performance.

Baritone Mark Gilgallon wrung every last drop of emotion in his solo work in the Dies Irae. His voice captured the pathos and despair with his dynamic delivery. At the peak of the movement, his voice cut through the large forces behind him like thunder, but without any loss of clarity or straining in his voice. Finally, he retreated into a pleading tone, asking for eternal rest at the close.

As the end of the Lux Aeterna quieted to silence, one could hear the proverbial pin drop. Mr. Hayes held his baton until every bit of sound had faded away. The large audience was moved by this excellent work, letting the silence wash over the hall for a minute or so before breaking into loud applause. It was a justly deserved standing ovation for Mr. Hayes and the performers. A recently released recording of the Requiem, with the Beckenhorst Orchestra and Singers, and Mr. Gilgallon, is available for purchase at the composer’s website www.markhayes.com

During the intermission, in what has become a DCINY Memorial Day concert tradition, The Patriot Brass Ensemble entertained the audience with patriotic tunes from the balcony, beginning their set with a medley dedicated to each branch of the Armed Forces. The veterans, servicemen and women in attendance were asked to stand when their respective hymn was played. Some were young, some in uniform (including a music loving sailor in the city for Fleet Week), others older, but all stood proudly. Our nation is grateful for their service.

After intermission, Pepper Choplin took to the stage to conduct the New York premiere of his cantata Our Father: A Journey Through the Lord’s Prayer. As Mr. Choplin stated in his thoughtful program notes (click to read), he had spent countless hours setting the lines of the Lord’s Prayer and contemplating the power of its words. It is at once obvious that Mr. Choplin has poured his soul into this work, a music testament of the power of his faith, unashamedly so in this nine-movement blockbuster work. Overflowing with life, light, and praise, Our Father: A Journey Through the Lord’s Prayer truly is a journey through Matthew 6:9-13, probing the seemingly simple text for deeper meaning.

There is much to praise, but I will mention what I considered to be the highlights of the work – the big sound of the anthem-like Our Father in Heaven, the poignant and nostalgia-tinged Holy Be Thy Name, the driving energy of Let Your Kingdom Come where the sun breaks through the clouds of doubt, the beautiful, heartfelt Forgive Us, and the uneasy tension of sinister-like chant in Lead Us From Temptation.

Narrator Don Davidson read what might best be called brief homilies between each movement, and the audience was invited to recite the Lord’s Prayer before the final movement, which many did. While these were touches that enhanced the experience, they could be removed for performances of a more secular nature without any negative overall effect. Soprano Gabriella Barbato sang with child-like innocence and beauty in her featured solos.

The ebullient Thine is the Kingdom brought the work to a rousing close. The audience barely waited for the last notes before leaping up into a prolonged standing ovation for Mr. Choplin and all the performers. Congratulations to all.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Misatango: A Tango Mass from Argentina in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Misatango: A Tango Mass from Argentina in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Misatango: A Tango Mass from Argentina
Flutopia Wind Ensemble; Jennifer Lapple, Director
Tierra Adentro De Nuevo Mexico Dance Ensemble; Joaquin Encinias, Director/Vocalist
Pablo Christian Di Mario, Director; Martín Palmeri, Visiting Composer/Pianist; Kristy Swann, mezzo-soprano
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
January 18, 2015


On a cold, rainy afternoon in New York, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a concert entitled Misatango: A Tango Mass from Argentina. What better way to way to escape the weather than with the vibrant, lively sounds of far away Argentina, courtesy of performers from France, Brazil, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and of course, Argentina. Also featuring the Flutopia Wind Ensemble and the Tierra Adentro De Nuevo Mexico Dance Ensemble, the stage was set for a performance that proved to be a treat for the ears and eyes alike.

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Misatango

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Misatango

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. As one might guess from the name, the group is heavily weighted with flutists (with nineteen flutists among the forty-nine total players listed in the program). Opening with Beyond the Horizon, by Rossano Galante (a work that bears more than a passing resemblance to Frank Erickson’s Toccata for Band) the young players of Flutopia got off to a nervous start, with intonation issues and cracked notes in the brass section. One might chalk this up to jitters, but there was also a rather timid, “play-it-safe” approach that any experienced brass player will tell you is almost a guarantee for these problems to occur. Happily, the second piece, Zoltán Kodály’s Dances of Galanta was played with precision and charm. If anything (and this was a recurring theme throughout), one wanted a lot less restraint and more extroverted, ebullient playing. The ever-popular Eric Whitacre’s October was nicely played, and David Shaffer’s Costa del Sol was just pure fun. Ending with an energetically played Danse Bacchanale (from Camille Saint-Saëns’s Samson et Dalila), Flutopia brought their many supporters to their feet in a loud ovation. No matter what reservations I might have about a performance, it is always a delight to see the beaming smiles of the young performers from the stage.


A Tango Mass from Argentina

A Tango Mass from Argentina

There were many individual soloists who played with great skill and polish. I would like to make special mention of the excellent (un-credited) clarinet soloist, as her playing was a cut above her talented band mates. Ms. Lapple led with a clear baton technique and demonstrative gestures to her players. Even between pieces, she took the time to step off the podium and communicate with the group. This is a well considered, nurturing approach, which can only benefit the developing young musicians. As a final thought from an eternal band geek, I would very much like to see Flutopia “go for it”, to take risks and really let loose.

After intermission, the Tierra Adentro De Nuevo Mexico Dance Ensemble, a group of young men and ladies, gave a wonderful performance of the art of flamenco. I will leave any specific commentary about the dancing to those who know better. That said, I will channel my inner Bruno Tonioli (the extremely passionate and animated judge of Dancing With the Stars), grab my score paddle, and thrust it up while shouting “TEN!”

Misatango: A Tango Mass from Argentina

Misatango: A Tango Mass from Argentina

The last work of the evening, Misa A Buenos Aires (Misatango), is a pairing of the traditional mass with the sounds of the tango. I admit that I had my doubts about this concept, but was still intrigued about it all as I watched the three-hundred-plus singers take the stage. Misatango is a six-movement work scored for chorus, string orchestra, bandoneón, and mezzo-soprano soloist. Quoting the composer, Martín Palmeri, “…my objective in this composition was to maintain the harmonic language, rhythms, melodic designs, and all the characteristics of the tango within the orchestra score, thus allowing the chorus to have the full liberty to ‘just sing the mass.'” One can say with certainty that Mr. Palmeri succeeded brilliantly in his objective. Misatango captures the simmering tension of the tango without any kitsch in the vocal writing. Indeed, one can sense the influences of Mozart throughout with a distinctive Argentinean flavor. Of the six movements, the Credo was the most compelling to this listener, but each movement commands interest.

Special praise must go to Kristy Swann, whose voice was simply ethereal, a beacon of light that would pierce any darkness. Conductor Pablo Christian Di Mario led the chorus and orchestra with skill, keeping the huge vocal forces from covering the orchestra while allowing them equal prominence. The Distinguished Concerts Orchestra was particularly outstanding in one of the better performances I have heard from these players. The audience rewarded all the performers a loud and prolonged ovation, giving Mr. Palmeri the lion’s share of the applause.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Messiah . . . Refreshed! in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Messiah . . . Refreshed! in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Messiah . . . Refreshed!
Eugene Goossens’s and Thomas Beecham’s 1959 re-orchestration for full symphony orchestra.
Jonathan Griffith, conductor
Penelope Shumate, soprano; Holly Sorenson, mezzo-soprano; John McVeigh, tenor; Christopher Job, bass/baritone
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, NY
November 30, 2014

Okay purists, put down the lorgnettes and stop sniffing in disdain. Absolutely no Messiahs were harmed in the making of this Messiah. Quite the contrary, a mostly thrilling and detailed performance of this evergreen work, full of passion and commitment, took place on November 30th at Avery Fisher Hall. Messiah is the one work that overshadows absolutely everything else in Handel’s output.

Let’s get the bad jokes out of the way now: “Messiah Inflated,” “The Biggest Gainer,” “Enlarge Ye my Orchestra.” Feel better? Gigantism began creeping into the work even in Handel’s time, with the famous English choral societies often numbering in the hundreds. This was the age of absolute rulers—palaces and pomp. And no less a genius than Mozart thought fit to re-instrument it for his time and style. These practical men of music didn’t suffer from the stilting reverence of which we are often guilty. If we are going to perform this work in a hall that seats 3000, some adjustment may be permitted.

With just a few cuts introduced by Eugene Goossens, the performance clocked in at about 2 hours 40 minutes, the same as on my Christopher Hogwood ground-breaking “historically informed” recording from the 1980s. Conductor Jonathan Griffith led the massed forces with great energy and a compromise approach, including some stylish double dotting, but broader tempi to accommodate the increased instrumental sound. He also introduced some very “grand old British gentleman” ritards which were absolutely welcome. I don’t know if that was his innate musicality, or if they were specified by Goossens or Beecham. The only minor annoyance was the presence of the triangle and cymbal, neither of which added much to my enjoyment.

The “Pifa,” or Pastoral Symphony that is in Part I was absolutely magical in the pianissimo return of the theme, played by a smaller cohort with pinpoint style and hushed, awestruck beauty.

When the chorus entered for its first number “And the glory of the Lord,” the sound was absolutely thrilling. These choristers are a cosmopolitan bunch, from France, Brazil, Guatemala, Georgia, Kansas, Hong Kong, Wisconsin, New York, Australia, Tennessee, Missouri, and Germany, obviously so well prepared by their local conductors that they can travel to New York and put themselves together with Maestro Griffith and his orchestra, who brought great unity and color variety to their singing, which was never generic, and was most exciting in the full-voiced passages. Their clarity and rhythmic vitality was very good in the difficult chains of sixteenth notes.

The four soloists were also excellent, with visible involvement in their texts, crystal clear diction, and stamina. Tenor John McVeigh has a sweet lyrical voice that would sound well in front of a Baroque orchestra as well. His “Behold, and see if there be any sorrow” was a highlight of the tenor-heavy Part II.





Soprano Penelope Shumate was a real find for me, with a voice that has been described previously in New York Concert Review as “radiant,” and I can see why. The clear tones were true and expressive, one of the best “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion” that I have ever heard live. Her “I know that my redeemer liveth” was lovely.

The mezzo-soprano, Holly Sorenson, had perhaps the hardest job being heard over the increased orchestration, no fault of hers, but an accident of the lower tessitura. Her “He was despised” was lovely and appropriately grief-stricken, but I wanted to hear the middle section and da capo (shame on Goossens for this one).

Bass-baritone Christopher Job avoided the hollow, sepulchral tones that one sometimes hears from true basses. His voice ideally suited the punishing “The trumpet shall sound,” and was every bit the match for the clarino trumpet (excellently played). However, I would have wished for a darker color on “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,” which he did beautifully on “Behold, I tell you a mystery,” with “mystery” having its own special mysticism reflected in the voice.

Griffith found a nuance I had only heard once before (in a “historically informed” performance by Les Arts Florissants): the lightening of the voices in the chorus “His yoke is easy and his burden is light” on the final two words, perfectly realized tone painting. The Hallelujah chorus and the concluding “Worthy is the lamb that was slain” and fugal “Amen” benefited from two extra “ambush” antiphonal choirs placed in the left and right balconies of Avery Fisher Hall. The proximity of the sound to the audience only added to the grand intensity of these seminal moments.

Worthy indeed, was this Messiah.

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents With Grace: The Music of Gwyneth Walker in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents With Grace: The Music of Gwyneth Walker in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents With Grace: The Music of Gwyneth Walker
SoHarmoniums , Elizabeth McKinney Núñez, director
Nancy Menk, guest conductor
Gwyneth Walker, composer-in-residence
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, NY
November 29, 2014




On November 29, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a concert entitled With Grace: The Music of Gwyneth Walker. There was a festive mood in the air as the audience members happily saluted their favorites. I was seated next to a group of very enthusiastic alumnae from Saint Mary’s Women’s College in Indiana, each of whom had a sleigh bell to ring with delight when the members of that school’s choir took to the stage. “The Bells of Saint Mary’s, you know,” one of these ladies quipped to me. It was yet another reminder about the DCINY experience – joy abounding for performers and audience members. One might think that this listener, a veteran DCINY concert attendee, would be jaded about this, but it still delights me, and I suspect it always will.

The first half showcased the talents of New York’s own SoHarmoniums, and the second featured the music of the well-loved Gwyneth Walker, with chorus members from Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Canberra, Australia. It was a wonderful way to kick off the holiday season.

 With Grace: The Music of Gwyneth Walker

With Grace: The Music of Gwyneth Walker

SoHo based group SoHarmoniums took to the stage for the first half. Led by Elizabeth McKinney Núñez, this fifty- member women’s ensemble joined with the Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, and proved to be a well-prepared ensemble that delivered excellent performances. Opening with The Tree of Peace, adapted from the poem “O Brother Man” by John Greenleaf Whittier, the tone was set- this was not to be a “glee club” performance. It was full of import, well-controlled harmonies, and tight balance. This song was followed by a polished rendering of “O Lovely Peace” from George Frideric Handel’s Judas Maccabeus. The next work, Garland, featuring four poems of Emily Dickinson (Is Heaven a physician?, Crumbling is not an instant’s act, We cover thee, and The life we have is very great), was an orchestration by Jim Papoulis of an original composition by Mark Adamo. The essence of Dickinson’s poetry was captured in many ways – there is at times an otherworldly feel, at other times hectic and harried, and often just morose; I believe, however, that this large-scale idea is less well-suited to her poetry than the original scoring. The sparseness of the poetry cries out for a similar approach. The performance, though, was truly exceptional.


After this, we heard the song South Sámi People (Åarjel Saemieh), by Frode Fjellheim (b. 1959), whose work has gained interest largely based on his work “Vuelie”, which is the title song for Frozen, the Disney mega-blockbuster. This piece is based on the Sámi style of yoik, an ancient chanting tradition. It is thought that there are fewer than two hundred people who still speak South Sámi today. The music has a primitive, tribal feeling, with an infectious rhythmic quality. It was an effective and clever antidote to the Dickinson work. To end the half, the SoHarmoniums let loose in an unabashedly fun-filled Joy to the World/Joyful, Joyful, which can be simply described as a “Joy to the World” and “Ode to Joy” mash-up. It was a sure-fire crowd pleaser and a happy ending that won the hearts of the audience.


 With Grace: The Music of Gwyneth Walker

With Grace: The Music of Gwyneth Walker

After intermission, conductor Nancy Menk took to the podium to lead in a selection of works by American composer Gwyneth Walker (b. 1947). She reinforced my already favorable opinion of her work by her strongly focused approach. Ms. Menk runs a tight ship, and the results bear this out in fine performances.

Opening the half was I Thank You God, using text from E.E, Cummings. It was surprisingly weighty to me, perhaps based on my over-exposure to Cummings’s lighter works. At any rate, I was completely won over by the end. It was a great start to the half, and it gave this listener a healthy appreciation for Ms. Walker the composer.

Songs for Women’s Voices No. 1-6, from the 1992 choral cycle of the same name, followed. The texts for these songs comes from the poetry of May Swenson (1913-1989). Before each song, each poem was recited from the stage. The narrator was DCINY’s own Andrea Macy, who projected the various qualities of the poems, some sassy, some serene, others searching for meaning, with a strong dramatic sense, strong and confident, but never resorting to over-emoting or “hamming it up”. These are the works of a skilled composer, rich in melodic invention, without being trite or derivative. It is easy to understand Ms. Walker’s popularity when one hears a cycle like this. Highlights for this listener were the second song “Mornings Innocent” with its “natural”, pastoral qualities, the interweaving of voices in “The Name is Changeless [God]”, and the resigned feeling that remained unresolved on “In Autumn” [I Will Lie Down].

It was a good programming to follow with the light, happy feelings in This Train. Crossing the Bar was a simple, poignant, “heart-on-sleeve” piece that was magical. Ms. Walker came to the stage at the end of the piece to the cheers of the audience.



SoHarmomiums joined with the Distinguished Concerts Singers International in a spirited performance of How Can I Keep From Singing? to end the night with a bang. The audience loved it and jumped to their feet to salute the performers, and Ms. Walker, who returned to the stage once more to collect her richly deserved accolades from the appreciative audience. It was a fitting close to a most enjoyable evening.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents “I Believe… Remembering the Holocaust” in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents “I Believe… Remembering the Holocaust” in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents “I Believe… Remembering the Holocaust”
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Jonathan Griffith, conductor
Donald McCullough, conductor/composer, Zane Zalis, visiting composer
Sara Jean Ford, soprano/”Tova”; Rachel Arky, mezzo-soprano; Peter Kendall Clark, baritone, Alexander Gemignani, “Reinhardt”; Drew Gehling, “Aaron”
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, NY
November 9, 2014

As one who has been to many concerts given by Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY), I am very familiar with the “formula” employed; a joyful and/or uplifting theme presented on a large-scale, with world-class guest artists and exciting new compositions with singers of all ages from around the globe. The concert entitled “I Believe…Remembering the Holocaust” captured some of those ideals, but to call a performance in remembrance of what was arguably the most horrific example of cruelty in mankind’s history “joyous” would be inconceivable; it was, however, a thought-provoking and emotionally charged evening that would have been moving even to the hardest heart. A portion of the ticket sales went to benefit the Holocaust Resource Center of Temple Judea, in Manhasset, New York.

Singers from Connecticut, Washington DC, Florida, Virginia, California, Austria, Germany, Canada, and “individuals from around the globe” joined together with the Distinguished Concerts Orchestra in the United States premieres of two works- In the Shadow of the Holocaust and I Believe.

In the Shadow of the Holocaust is a thirteen-movement work featuring music from the archives of Holocaust survivor Aleksander Kulisiewicz (1918-1992), an amateur singer and songwriter, and compiler of songs from his five years of imprisonment. Donald McCullough selected and arranged music from this archive, but also decided to include articles and letters as well to be read before each section. Opening with a sorrow-filled lament played by a cello soloist, the tone was set for a work of sadness, strength, dignity in the face of unspeakable horror, and undying hope. Mr. McCullough proved himself to be not only a capable arranger, but also an effective and sensitive conductor. In my opinion, the selected readings gave the work the foundation of its power. The readers were all excellent, but I must single out Janet Snell in her reading of Letter to Mom. Her reading was so convincing that I am still emotionally devastated – it was absolutely one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever heard. The cello soloist was Caitlin Sullivan, who played with the skill of a first-rate performer and the understanding and emotional projection of a true artist throughout the work. Vocal soloists Sara Jean Ford, Rachel Arky, and Peter Kendall Clark were not to be overshadowed in their featured roles. After the end of the last movement, the silence hung in the air for what seemed an eternity. Mr. McCullough silently closed the score, set his baton down on the podium and turned to face the audience. It almost seemed that to applaud would have been inappropriate after this emotionally draining journey, but at last the silence was broken, and a justly deserved ovation was given to the performers.

I Believe, composed by Zane Zalis, was the second half. This twelve-movement work is well over an hour in length (the program listing it as sixty-five minutes) and has been called a “Holocaust Oratorio”. This designation is apt, but not in the conventional sense of the word. I consider I Believe to have much more in common with Broadway songs then the operatic styles of a conventional oratorio. Far from being a criticism, this quality is in my opinion the strength of this piece, the element that makes it “work.” It is accessible and has appeal to a wide range of listeners. I Believe follows the timeline of the genesis of the Holocaust through the aftermath. It would be beyond the scope of this review to detail each movement, but I highly recommend the reader to visit http://www.ibelieveproject.org/about-excerpts-chapter01.php to explore the story behind each movement.

Broadway singing sensation Sara Jean Ford was an ideal choice for the role of Tova. The child-like innocence of Tova was captured with the added dimension of a soaring, beautiful voice for songs that demanded a singer with her qualities. Alexander Gemignani, as the vile Reinhardt, was a revelation. He was so effective in his role that I found myself despising him with a vengeance each time he spoke, especially when he spewed out the hate-filled rants of Adolf Hitler. Drew Gehling, as Aaron, projected dignity and hope with a voice that reminded me very much of Josh Groban, a singer I enjoy hearing.

Conductor Jonathan Griffith led the large forces with a steady hand in yet another excellent performance I have come to expect as par for the course from this excellent musician. The complexities of the vocal polyphony went without a hitch from the well-prepared chorus members, including a very talented children’s chorus. Barely had the last note died away when the audience leapt up in an ovation. When Mr. Zalis took to the stage, the ovation went from a thunder to a roar. It was a well-earned reaction for an amazing performance of a power-packed work.



Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Celebration and Reflection, Part 2 in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Celebration and Reflection, Part 2 in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Celebration and Reflection, Part 2
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Bob Chilcott, conductor; Danielle Talamantes, soprano, Christian Reinert, tenor
René Clausen, conductor
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center; New York, NY
May 26, 2014


The Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presentation of the two-part concert series “Celebration and Reflection” continued with Part 2 on May 26, 2014 at Alice Tully Hall. Headlining this concert was the Requiem by Bob Chilcott, and the World Premiere of Festival Te Deum from René Clausen, with the added dimension of having both composers conducting their own works. The afterglow of Part 1 was still very much with me, and I was hopeful that the high standards would continue in Part 2. With chorus members from California, Georgia, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Virginia, Italy, Korea, The Netherlands, Spain, and “individuals from around the globe,” there to lend their collective talents, it had the makings of an enjoyable evening.

The first half consisted of the Requiem by Bob Chilcott (b. 1955). Requiem was commissioned for performance in concert with Beethoven’s Mass in C major, and Mr. Chilcott followed Beethoven’s example in using the same orchestration of double woodwinds, trumpet, timpani, and strings. The traditional Latin Mass text was used, but the Dies Irae and Libera me were omitted and in their place, Mr. Chilcott used text from the Book of Common Prayer, “Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts.” It was Mr. Chilcott’s stated goal to write a piece that “could be sung by singers of all abilities.” Drawing upon his own extensive experience as a singer and conductor, Mr. Chilcott has succeeded in the realization of his goal. Requiem is gentle and reflective, with accessible harmonic language and effective vocal writing that allows lesser-skilled singers to shine. There are moments of breathtaking beauty, most notably the Lux aeterna, but the entire work is uniformly excellent, in what this listener is now adding to his list of “finds.”

Mr. Chilcott proved himself to be an able conductor, who was completely immersed in the work. One could sense that he was performing the choral parts in tandem with the chorus. Soprano Danielle Talamantes and tenor Christian Reinert were revelations as well in their refined and emotionally powerful performances. The last measures of the Lux aeterna, featuring a soft ascending figure in the upper register, were sung by soprano Danielle Talamantes with a perfect diminuendo al niente, or to complete silence, and a child-like innocence that was exquisitely controlled and crystalline in its clarity. It was as if an angel were ascending into the heavens – a simple, but stunning effect. The audience immediately leapt to their feet to reward the composer with a justly earned ovation.

After a brief intermission, Grammy award-winning composer René Clausen (b. 1953), a DCINY favorite, took the podium. His work, On This Shining Night, using the poem of the same name by James Agee as text, opened the second half in a new arrangement for chorus and orchestra. Colorful and rich in melodic ideas, the scoring of the orchestra with the chorus enhanced the already expansive work, which was given an artistically satisfying performance.

Of his Festival Te Deum, Dr. Clausen writes, “The compositional style of the work can be rather easily classified as neo-Romantic, with straightforward rhythms, harmonic language that does not significantly move beyond traditional tension/resolution, and vocal and instrumental writing that is idiomatic, yet takes full advantage of instrumental and vocal capabilities.” These qualities are a hallmark of Dr. Clausen’s works and the reason why he is a great favorite of choral ensembles of all levels. As the title implies, this is a festive work full of vitality, optimism, and celebration. This listener, already an admirer of Dr. Clausen’s work, was impressed by both the piece and the first-rate performance. Festival Te Deum is yet another example of the gifts Dr. Clausen possesses as a composer, and is a work that is sure to enjoy extensive performances, as it will surely enter the standard repertoire.

As a final reminder of the occasion, An American Hymn by Cecil Effinger, with orchestration by René Clausen, closed the evening. This setting of America, The Beautiful was given a stirring reading, which ended the concert with a splash.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Celebration and Reflection, Part 1 in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Celebration and Reflection, Part 1 in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Celebration and Reflection, Part 1
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Aimee Beckmann-Collier, DCINY Debut conductor; Rachel E. Copeland, soprano; Rachel Arky, mezzo-soprano; Shawn Mlynek, tenor; Jeremy Galyon, bass
Bradley Ellingboe, guest conductor; Dann Coakwell, tenor
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center; New York, NY
May 25, 2014

Memorial Day is a time for reflection and to give our thanks to all the men and women who gave their lives so we can enjoy the liberty that their sacrifices made possible. Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a two- part concert series entitled “Celebration and Reflection” to commemorate those heroes.  Avery Fisher Hall was the venue for Part One, the first half of the program being Mozart’s “Coronation“ Mass, and second half, the World Premiere of Star Song, by Bradley Ellingboe.

The Patriot Brass ensemble returned again this year and entertained the audience members as they entered the hall with a pre-concert selection of marches, popular tunes, and Americana.  As the chorus members from Iowa and Kansas (and “individuals around the globe”) filled onto the stage, the mood was set for a festive evening.

Mozart’s Mass in C major is called “Coronation” because it is believed that this work was performed at a coronation in Prague. Some claim it was used for the coronation of Leopold II in 1791, while others state it was used for Franz II in 1792. In any case, written in 1779, the Coronation Mass remains fresh and vital 225 years later, another testament to Mozart’s genius.

Conductor Aimee-Beckmann-Collier took to the podium, and it was apparent from the start that the chorus, soloists, and orchestra were all well prepared.  Attacks were precise and crisp, and the chorus sang with clear diction and good ensemble balance. Maestra Beckmann-Collier was a superb leader in her no-nonsense approach – passionate, but never out of control. It was also notable that she “kept it all together” during the Credo, when a stampede of approximately forty late comers made for their seats in a manner better suited for the Running of the Bulls at Pamplona! One must also commend the soloists, soprano Rachel E. Copeland, mezzo-soprano Rachel Arky, tenor Shawn Mlynek, tenor, and bass Jeremy Galyon in their standout performances as individuals, and in duet and quartet settings. Each voice was clear and projected with power to overcome the large forces behind them, without one overshadowing the others.  This was truly a winning performance on all accounts.

Star Song is a work built on a fascinating idea. The idea that “everything vibrates” and the implications of that idea all the way to the atomic level captured Mr. Ellingboe’s imagination. He writes, “The stars -and the atoms we share – were my muse. This is the central premise of Star Song. It is a big concept, and something I have pondered for a long time and probably always will, until the atoms that comprise me are off being something else.” The twelve-movement work features poems from Juhan Liv, John Milton, Saint Hildegard, Rainer Maria Rilke, Siegfried Sassoon, Billy Collins, Walt Whitman, thoughts from Vincent Van Gogh, and texts from traditional Hebrew and Algonquin. On paper this is very impressive, but how would it all translate to actual performance? In some instances, it was realized with excellence, but I was less taken with some sections.  The music is eclectic, but the more whimsical selections (most notably the Questions About Angels from Billy Collins) projected glib, Broadway-tinged writing, which in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but a style that undercut the import of other sections. Mr. Ellingboe is a skilful composer with a wealth of ideas, so I was hoping for more. I do believe that he will continue to refine Star Song, and it will be interesting to hear a later performance.  The star of Star Song was tenor Dann Coakwell, who handled all the various styles with remarkable ability. It did not matter whether the style was a recitative, an arioso, or just slapstick, the end result was one of excellence. Mr. Ellingboe is also an engaging conductor as he led his composition with the enthusiasm he projects in abundance. Congratulations to the chorus members from New Mexico, Arizona, Illinois, and Virginia who gave their all as well in a committed performance. The large audience responded to Star Song with a heartfelt ovation.

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Cry of Jeremiah in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Cry of Jeremiah in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Cry of Jeremiah
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Robert A. Harris, composer/conductor
William C. Powell, DCINY Debut Conductor; Rosephanye Powell, composer/narrator
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center; New York, NY
May 10, 2014
Cry of Jeremiah

The Cry of Jeremiah


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a concert of works by prominent African-American composers and scholars Robert Harris and Rosephanye Powell in a program entitled “The Cry of Jeremiah,” at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on May 10, 2014. Mr. Powell was to conduct the New York premiere of his Gloria. The Cry of Jeremiah (also a New York premiere)was to feature the composer, Ms. Powell as the narrator, with her husband William Powell conducting. With approximately two hundred and fifty singers from Alabama, Illinois, Florida, North Carolina, South Dakota, the Bahamas, and “individuals from around the globe,” it was the tried-and true DCINY formula: Bring together talented musicians and let the magic unfold. This performance was no exception.

Opening the concert was the Gloria. It is a five-movement work scored for chorus, soprano soloist, and orchestra. The movements are Gloria in excelsis Deo, Laudamas Te, Domine Deus, Qui tollis, and Quoniam tu solus sanctus. As is stated in the notes, any of these movements could be performed independently. Often this modular approach leads to some unevenness, but the five movements mesh together well. Gloria is a work filled with brilliance and poignancy. Gloria in excelsis Deo is strongly reminiscent of the opening movement of John Rutter’s Gloria in both the brass and vocal writing. Soprano soloist Heather Hill was exceptional in her role in the Domine Deus and Quomium tu solus sanctus movements. Her upper register was crystalline in its clarity and beauty, with an exquisitely controlled vibrato that was perfect for this work. This listener found the Qui tollis to be particularly compelling both harmonically and stylistically. The bold final movement dies away to a quiet ending with the word Amen delivered almost in a whisper. Mr. Harris is a no-nonsense conductor, who led with understated restraint.It was a performance of which the chorus, orchestra, and soloist could be proud.

The Cry of Jeremiah tells the story of the prophet Jeremiah’s struggles as he is abused and imprisoned for his prophecies. This four-movement work is scored for narrator, chorus, organ, and orchestra, and freely uses the 20th chapter of the book of Jeremiah for the text. Those movements (and corresponding verses) are entitled Is Not His Word Like a Fire (Jeremiah 20:9), O Lord, You Have Deceived Me (Jeremiah 20:7-9), Cursed Be the Day (Jeremiah 20: 14-18),and Hallelujah! (Jeremiah 20:11-13).Each movement opens with the narrator speaking as Jeremiah before the chorus and orchestra enter.

As well as being an accomplished composer, Ms. Powell is an exceptional orator. She became Jeremiah as the words came forth with raw emotion. Those words were at turns despairing, raging, and finally, exultant. The power of her oratory was spellbinding, deepening the meaning of the music that followed. One wonders, with the narration so inextricably bound to the music, whether a less passionate narrator (or omitting the narration) might possibly nullify the power of the music, but such is the case with many similar compositions. In any case, this work most likely was written with a very specific audience in mind, and while it is an effective work for the concert stage, it is an emotionally supercharged work that would enjoy great success in performances at churches or houses of worship.

The music of The Cry of Jeremiah is eclectic. There is Baroque-influenced contrapuntal writing mingling with jazz harmonies and rhythms, and African-American spiritual/gospel vocal styles. Combined with the narration, this is a theatrical work that demands not just to be heard, but to be experienced in all its glory. Conductor William Powell led the Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and chorus with the quiet strength and confidence of one who is in full command. The chorus radiated the emotions of the spoken words with equally passionate ensemble singing. The audience was so taken by this work that they greeted the end of each movement with enthusiastic applause, in spite of the request in the program to hold all applause until the end of the final movement.

When soprano Brandy Woods came to the front of the stage in the Hallelujah! and unleashed a improvisatory solo while the chorus swayed and clapped in a frenzied joy, it brought the already excited audience to a fever pitch. When the last note was sounded the audience sprang up as one in a thunderous ovation, saving the greatest appreciation for Ms. Powell, who was the star of the evening. Ms. Powell joined Ms. Woods in a jubilant gospel-style improvisation as the chorus encored the last section of the Hallelujah. The audience clapped and swayed along to bring the evening to a triumphant close.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Drop of Dawn in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Drop of Dawn in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Drop of Dawn
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Jonathan Griffith, Music Director; Christopher Tin, composer-in-residence
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
April 13, 2014

In a concert entitled The Drop of Dawn, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented the music of Christopher Tin. The title makes reference to the two works on the program, Calling All Dawns, and the World Premiere of his latest work, The Drop That Contained the Sea. Featuring eight vocal soloists and chorus members from Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois, Washington, California, Wisconsin, Vermont, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Canada, England, and “individuals around the globe” (the program listed 543 singers!), it was what I have come to expect from DCINY – an extravaganza.

Christopher Tin (b. 1976) is a composer whose works cover diverse genres. Mr. Tin has written for orchestra, electronica, film and television, and video games. Calling All Dawns won two Grammy awards, for Best Crossover Classical Album and Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists (for Baba Yetu).

The concert opened with Calling All Dawns. This is the second time DCINY has programmed this work, the first time at Avery Fisher Hall on April 7, 2013. I had the privilege of reviewing that performance for New York Concert Review. For information about the background of Calling All Dawns and my impressions of that performance, interested readers can refer to that review by clicking here: Calling All Dawns in Review April 7, 2013. Since that occasion, I have had the opportunity to hear the recording of this work and study parts of the score, and have found my initial reaction to this crowd-pleaser to be mostly unchanged.

What was especially interesting about this performance was that the soloists often took multiple roles (in multiple languages), whereas the prior performance had featured a multitude of soloists in singular roles. This was no mean feat, considering that many of the languages were not ones that one would usually encounter in the concert hall. Tenor soloist Saum Eskandani was at times inaudible in the Baba Yetu and Rassemblons-Nous movements, which I would attribute to excessive exuberance from the orchestra (especially the percussion section) coupled with the failure to quickly correct a microphone level that was too low. When Mr. Eskandani could be heard clearly, he delivered emotionally charged performances. Fadista Nathalie Pires and Mongolian vocalist Nominjin invested every last ounce of passion in their songs, while Anonymous 4 singer Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek and Indian Classical vocalist Roopa Mahadevan showed everyone why Mr. Tin had selected them for the Calling All Dawns recording. Finally, Jerome Kavanagh delighted the audience when he came on stage in Maori tribal dress, chanting in Maori and dancing in the final movement.

Conductor Jonathan Griffith led the large forces with his customary skill, while the chorus was having the time of their lives swaying to the music as one. It was everything a performance should be – polished technically and delivered with uninhibited joy by individuals who truly love what they are doing.

At the start of the second half, Jonathan Griffith and Christopher Tin joined together for an impromptu conversation onstage about The Drop That Contained the Sea. Mr. Tin stated that he had been travelling around the world seeking the specific vocal sounds of different cultures to use for this work. The Drop That Contained the Sea is a ten-movement work. As with Calling All Dawns, each movement is in a different language, those languages being Proto-Indu-European, Turkish, Bulgarian, Xhosa, Mongolian, Portuguese, Sanskrit, Ancient Greek, Old Norse, and Lango. Even though one can say that the blueprint is similar, the end product is reflective of Mr. Tin’s deepening maturity as a composer. While retaining his marked ability for writing music with a wide appeal, he has also formed his own distinct voice without any obvious influences (including from his own Calling All Dawns). The Drop That Contained the Sea is a powerfully dramatic work, well-conceived and skillfully realized. For those persons unable to attend (or for those who want more), a recording of The Drop That Contained the Sea (due for release on May 8, 2014) is available for purchase at www.christophertin.com

The soloists had smaller roles than in Calling All Dawns, but all delivered strong performances. It was especially gratifying that Saum Eskandani’s voice was consistently heard here in its full resonance. Nathalie Pires, Roopa Mahadevan, and Nominjin returned and were joined by Mezzo-soprano Charity Dawson, who proved herself to be a powerhouse. This was a winning combination of talents, and one might hope they appear on the soon-to-be released recording.

The chorus handled the demands of the often complicated writing and the diverse languages with remarkable ability, and the Distinguished Concerts orchestra was very effective in handling the different colors and moods, from the serenity of Devipravaha (Goddess River) to the fierce Viking-like intensity of Haf Gengr Hríðum (The Storm-Driven Sea). Once again, one must praise Jonathan Griffith for leading an excellent first performance of a complex and emotionally charged work.

The final movement Waloyo Yamoni (We Overcome the Wind) ended with all the soloists, the on-stage choir joined by several hundred more singers in the balconies, and the full orchestra in an explosion of sound bringing this fine work to a exultant conclusion. Recalling what I had written in the April 7, 2013 review, “The audience reacted after the final notes with the loudest and longest standing ovation I have ever heard at any concert. Mr. Tin was called to the stage and the ovation became deafening.” The reaction tonight moved the bar up many decibels! It was a fitting end to a wonderful evening, and I eagerly await the next collaboration between Mr. Tin and DCINY.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY): Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International;Jonathan Griffith,  Music Director; Laura Strickling, soprano; Teresa Buchholz, mezzo-soprano; John McVeigh, tenor; Christopher Job, bass
Avery Fisher Hall; Lincoln Center, New York, NY
December 1, 2013
Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY)

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY); Photo credit: Nan Melville


Two years ago, I wrote a review for this publication (“MESSIAH…REFRESHED!” November 27, 2011) of a DCINY performance of Handel’s Messiah, which used a re-orchestration of the original score for full symphony orchestra. This massive orchestration (full woodwinds and brass, large percussion battery, and two harps) by Eugene Goossens was written upon a commission from the English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham. In that review I used my two favorite “Beecham stories” which, of course, I can’t use again. Interested readers can refer back to the November 27, 2011 review  by clicking here- Messiah Refreshed review 2011.

Hearing Maestro Griffith conduct this work for a second time, I can see how he is trying to balance his innate musicianship, which is of the highest level, with his desire to perform this work as stipulated in Goossens’s score and Beecham’s 1959 recording. It is an interesting problem that has many solutions. By omitting some movements, mostly in Part III, Goossens’s score transformed Handel’s three-part oratorio into a two-part work with a single intermission. He also omitted the “b” section, and therefore the da capo, of two quite long arias, “He was despised,” and “The trumpet shall sound.” Maestro Griffith omitted what Goossens omitted, but he did not take the ponderously slow tempi one hears on the 1959 Beecham recording. But what does one do with ornamentation? There is none in either the Goossens score or the Beecham recording. While this afternoon’s vocal soloists added many ornaments to their vocal lines, none appeared at cadences. For this listener one either follows the non-ornamented Goossens score to the letter or incorporates all we have learned about baroque music since 1959. It seems that Maestro Griffith has pondered this question long and hard, and his feelings are evolving. I admire that and look forward to the results of his ongoing thinking.

Over the years I have thought that the Distinguished Concerts Orchestra was made of freelance musicians brought together just for a specific concert. I have just learned that they are a permanent group, the in-house orchestra of DCINY, and a fine group they are. The fleet-of-foot-tempi chosen by Maestro Griffith might have taxed even a small baroque band, but this massive orchestra performed them with ease and clarity. Except for the booming timpani, the balances were perfect. The wind solos, especially the trumpet in “The trumpet shall sound,” were beautifully played.

The four vocal soloists were all first-rate, making it hard to pick out the high points, but here are a few: Soprano Laura Strickling’s thrilling coloratura in “Rejoice greatly” – the fast tempo allowed her to sing the inhumanly long vocal lines in one breath. Mezzo-soprano Teresa Buchholz’s delivered a most moving rendition of “He was despised” – her voice is beautiful in all parts of her register. I especially loved the plummy low notes. I do wish that Goossens had scored the entire aria. Tenor John McVeigh was a last minute substitution for the scheduled tenor, but one would not have thought so from his assured performance. He sang his opening recitative, “Comport ye,” with beautiful floating tone, and his “Thou shalt break them” had great dramatic fire. Bass Christopher Job was my favorite soloist, although he and Mr. McVeigh tended to rush a bit during their coloratura passages. His voice is thrilling from top to bottom, and his performance of “But who may abide” and “The trumpet shall sound” were, for this listener, the concert’s most memorable moments.

The personnel of The Distinguished Concerts Singers International changes for each performance. This afternoon there were 243 singers on the stage. During the “Hallelujah” and “Worthy is the lamb” they were joined by another 220 singers seated in the first and second tiers of the hall nearest the stage. That makes a total of 463 singers! And a mighty sound it was! Most were members of twelve choruses from the United States, Canada, Australia and China. Also singing were music teachers from the New York City public schools and, as the program stated, “individuals from around the globe.”  The chordal sections of the choruses were beautifully sung with a thrilling sound, but many of the polyphonic passages were a different matter, exposing problems of pitch and ensemble.

The excitement in the hall, even before the music began, was palpable. At the end of the “Hallelujah Chorus,” the audience members could hardly contain themselves. Most thrilling, however, was the explosion of applause and bravos which followed hard on the completion of the final “Amen.” And it was justified. The audience of Messiah lovers, friends, neighbors, and family members of the chorus did not have matters of baroque performance practice on their minds. They had just experienced a heartfelt performance of a beloved masterpiece under the direction of a fine conductor. What a fine way to celebrate the beginning of another holiday season!