Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Appalachian Winter: A Bluegrass Christmas in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Appalachian Winter: A Bluegrass Christmas in Review

Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Joseph M. Martin, composer/conductor
Dailey & Vincent, special guests
Sue Martin, soprano; Sarah Whittemore, alto; Brad Nix, piano
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
November 27, 2017

The holiday season is now in full swing. The crowds are out in force, being enticed by all sorts of deals, and for those who want to shop at home, “Cyber Monday” is the game. For a few hours, one could escape this madness and go back to a simpler time, to thoughts of family, love, and the true meaning of the holidays, courtesy of Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY). Transforming Carnegie Hall into the heart of Appalachia, DCINY presented a concert entitled Appalachian Winter: A Bluegrass Christmas on November 27, 2017. The concert featured the music of Joseph M. Martin, including the World Premiere of his Rhapsody in Bluegrass, with special guests Dailey & Vincent, and singers from California, Oregon, Texas, Missouri, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa, Florida, South Carolina, Indiana, Louisiana, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and “individual singers from around the globe. One could feel the energy in the hall as the singers filed onto the stage even before a single note was sung.

Concerts of this crossover type present a challenge for the reviewer, even for one accustomed to such DCINY events. It has always been this reviewer’s belief that it is best to surrender to such an experience and judge it on its own merits, as opposed to making any attempt to offer criticism on conventional classical criteria.

Joseph M. Martin (b. 1959), a DCINY favorite, took the stage to conduct his Appalachian Winter, A Cantata for Christmas. There are ten movements in the work, using traditional choral writing with spirituals, Shaker hymns, rustic Sacred Harp and Appalachian country tunes. Each movement can easily stand on its own independent of the others. Soprano Sue Martin and alto Sarah Whittemore were the featured vocal soloists, and Dailey & Vincent was the consort.

It is beyond the scope of this review to detail each movement, so I will mention what I considered to be the highlights. The Prelude is Copland-esque in its sound, with quotes from “Simple Gifts” woven in throughout, which showed Mr. Martin’s fine hand as both a composer and sonic dramatist at setting the ideal mood. Hope and Expectation was powerful, with a steadfast determination that was brought to life by the two-hundred-plus chorus. The Appalachian sounds of Mountain Carol were both inspired and poignant.

Both Ms. Martin and Ms. Whittemore were exceptional in their solo roles, not only exceptional as singers, but for their stylistic understanding. There were no operatic vibratos or similar effects that would have been so very wrong, but just a crystalline clarity, a humble sincerity, and a child-like innocence that simply enchanted. Jamie Dailey’s distinctive soaring tenor was an added treat, and the ensemble of Dailey & Vincent – to be discussed later – provided colorful Appalachian flair.

After the final movement showstopper Children, Go Tell It on the Mountain ended the audience reacted with a standing ovation. The feeling of energy mentioned at the beginning of this review did not abate even with intermission. It was as if a spring were being coiled for the second half as the buzz in the hall continued throughout the intermission.

Dailey& Vincent kicked off the second half with a short set. Founded by Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent, this Grand Ole Opry member, five-time Grammy-winning group ranks among the elite entertainers in bluegrass, gospel, and country music. This was not this listener’s first occasion to hear Dailey& Vincent, so I had some idea what to expect. At this concert, though, there was a little less of the banter –perhaps time was an issue. In any case, these musicians know their craft and bring their considerable talents to the table. I may not be a bluegrass aficionado, but I know good playing when I hear it, and this ensemble is built to play. The other members of Dailey& Vincent are Patrick McAvinue, fiddle, Cory Piatt, mandolin, Jeff Parker, mandolin and vocals, Aaron McCune, guitar and vocals, Jessie Baker, banjo and guitar, Shaun Richardson, guitar, Buddy Hyatt, keyboards, Bob Mummert, percussion, and Scott Bolen, audio engineer. I will single out the a cappella rendition of “Wonderful Grace of Jesus,” with the tight harmonies, and the ground shaking descents into the subterranean bass register, that brought the audience to their feet. After this final set number, Dailey & Vincent gave an encore as they played the chorus members onto the stage.

The stage was now set for the World Premiere of Mr. Martin’s Rhapsody in Bluegrass. Mr. Martin addressed the audience to talk a bit about how he was approached by DCINY to create this piece. He was humble, gracious, and his winning personality was most apparent in his self-effacing humor. His quip about his hometown being so small that the 7-11 was a “3-and-a-half” even made this oh-so-serious reviewer roar in laughter!

Scored for choir and bluegrass consort, the forty-five-minute, nine-movement Rhapsody in Bluegrass is stylistically similar to Appalachian Winter. Mr. Martin even refers to the Rhapsody as a seasonal cantata in his notes. Also similar is that each movement can stand alone without any loss of effect, although there is a certain continuity in each movement as to propel the story. Ms. Martin and Ms. Whittemore returned as featured vocal soloists, and once again their beautiful voices and intelligent grasp of style were every bit in evidence in their winning performances. Mr. Martin hit the nail squarely on the head when he said DCINY “picked the right man” for this work. Rhapsody in Bluegrass is a welcome and much-needed addition to the holiday music canon.

In the final movement, A Little Light Was Born, all the stops were pulled out in a big finish. Every member of Dailey & Vincent had an extended solo that built up the excitement to a fever pitch. The audience could no longer restrain themselves and leapt to their feet in a standing ovation while the last notes were sounded. It was a joyous reaction to a wonderful evening. Congratulations to DCINY, Mr. Martin, Dailey & Vincent, and all performers for this gift of music!

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Suite Sounds of Christmas in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Suite Sounds of Christmas in Review

Distinguished Concerts Orchestra; Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Jonathan Griffith, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor
Randol Bass, composer-in-residence, and narrator
Mark Hayes, composer/conductor
Laura Sutton Floyd, soprano; Jessica Best, mezzo-soprano; Scott Joiner, tenor; Mark Gilgallon, baritone/bass
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
November 19, 2017

 

The holiday season is upon us, even before Thanksgiving. We are already being bombarded with early sales and “Black Friday” teasers, as people gear up for the latest crazes and finding special gifts for all on their shopping lists. It’s all so noisy and overwhelming that one can easily feel oppressed by it all. Thankfully, there are moments that remind us what Christmas was meant to be, and peace and serenity fill one’s heart despite it all. Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) gifted all those in attendance with a reminder of what the holidays can be. In a program entitled The Suite Sounds of Christmas, DCINY featured the music of Randol Bass and a suite of carols from around the world arranged by Mark Hayes. Singing them were groups from Texas, New Jersey, Montana, Florida, Idaho, South Carolina, New York, California, Kansas, Nevada, Maryland, Connecticut, Indiana, Canada, and “individual singers from around the globe.” It proved to be an evening filled with holiday magic.

The first half was dedicated to the music of Randol Bass (b. 1953). Opening with the popular Gloria, a dynamic work that is always a crowd pleaser, conductor Jonathan Griffith got things off to a fine start. His ability to take forces of singers in the several hundreds from many different choirs and get them to sound so polished is something that I have come to expect as par for the course, yet it continues to elicit my admiration time and time again.

Mr. Bass joined Maestro Griffith for an impromptu chat on stage. Regaling the audience with stories of the headaches that a composer has to deal with from commissioning groups, Mr. Bass proved to be a seasoned raconteur. He paraphrased a proposal by the commissioning as follows: “Do you know the style of John Williams? To be honest, there is no way we can afford John Williams, so we want you to write something in his style. And we want a bombastic ending!” Mr. Bass showed mock offense at this less-than-elegant request, but with a smile said to the audience, “You can decide how well I did.” (Spoiler alert: He did brilliantly!)

Seasonal Sounds is a medley of four well-loved Christmas songs (in order Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and Jingle Bells) played without pause. It was delightful.

The Night Before Christmas, with Mr. Bass narrating the famous poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, followed. It should be an instant classic. One imagines that it could be used for an animated or live-action video which would enchant audiences of any age. Mr. Bass writes in his notes that “the piece is cinematically conceived, and each poetic image of the narration is imaginatively colored in such a way that audiences can clearly visualize the happenings from passage to passage.” Mr. Bass’s narration was filled with dramatic flair, and though it was perhaps a bit over-the-top, it enthralled his audience. Even this jaded listener found the work completely mesmerizing. John Williams could not have done it any better (wink, wink)!

A Feast of Carols, a medley of six carols, Gloucester Wassail, Il est né, le divin enfant, O come, O Come Emmanuel, The Holly and the Ivy, God Rest Ye, Merry Gentleman, and We Wish you a Merry Christmas (again played without interruption), ended the first half in triumph. Mr. Bass came back to the stage to accept the loud ovation from the audience.

After intermission, Mark Hayes (b. 1953) took to the stage to conduct his International Carol Suite, a five-section work with thirty carols from twenty countries around the world. Starting in Western Europe, then moving onto Eastern Europe, then the British Isles, to Central and South America, and finally ending in North America, it was a remarkable fifty-five-minute musical journey. The featured vocal soloists were Laura Sutton Floyd, soprano, Jessica Best, mezzo-soprano, Scott Joiner, tenor, and Mark Gilgallon, baritone/bass. Mr. Hayes is a skilled composer and arranger, and he used his talents as a conductor to present his fine work in a winning performance.

 

It is not possible to comment on all thirty carols (for a list of the thirty, click Program Notes), so I will limit myself to my favorites from each region. For Western Europe, Angels We Have Heard on High; For Eastern Europe, Carol of the Russian Children; For the British Isles, Deck the Halls; For Central and South America, Song of the Wise Men; For North America, The Huron Carol. Likewise, I will mention the highlights from each of the four excellent soloists. Ms. Floyd showed the agility of her lovely voice in Song of the Wise Men. Ms. Best’s Infant Holy, Infant Lowly (in Polish) was very moving in its innocence. Mr. Joiner’s Gesu Bambino was delivered with a crystalline clarity, and Mr. Gilgallon’s strong voice filled the hall in Song of the Russian Children (In Russian). It reminded one of the great Russian bassos.

After the last notes of Go Tell it on the Mountain sounded, the audience leapt to their feet in a loud ovation for Mr. Hayes, the soloists, chorus and orchestra. Congratulation to all performers!

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Future Vibrations in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Future Vibrations in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Future Vibrations
The Central Oregon Youth Orchestra, Amy Goeser Kolb, founder/executive director; Julia Bastuscheck, Eddy Robinson, directors
Vancouver Pops Orchestra, Tom Kuo, director
Distinguished Concerts Singers International, Francisco Núñez, guest conductor; Jon Holden Piano
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
June 14, 2015

On June 14, 2015 at Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a concert called Future Vibrations, featuring two youth orchestras and a choir consisting solely of treble voices from Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio. I am always very interested in hearing young people display their musical talents, so I was looking forward to this afternoon’s concert.

Opening the concert was The Central Oregon Youth Orchestra. Before mentioning anything else, I want credit the members of the orchestra wrote the program notes for the works they played. Full of youthful enthusiasm, they coupled some personal thoughts with history and background, making these notes a delight to read. Congratulations to Nathan Hughes, Reagan Lithgow, Gabrielle Sarao, Isaac Spackman, and Alyssa Clark for a job well done!

Conductor Julia Bastuscheck took the podium and led a spirited, if not altogether tight performance of An American in Paris. Maybe it was nervousness, but the intonation was at times lacking, and there was a feeling of the ensemble struggling to be in synch. After a shift of the violinists (in what was to occur after each work, seemingly to give different players the opportunity of occupying the coveted concertmaster chair) conductor Eddy Robinson took the podium for the next three works, the Bacchanale from Saint-Saëns’ opera Samson et Deliah, the New York premiere of DCINY favorite Christopher Tin’s Iza Ngomso, an orchestra-only arrangement of a movement from A Drop That Contained the Sea, and a short version of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. The Bacchanale was the highlight of Mr. Robinson’s work with the orchestra- it was played impressively with a well-defined sense of the nature of the piece itself. Iza Ngomso and 1812 were given solid readings.

Ms. Bastuscheck returned to conduct the last work, the Pines of the Appian Way, from Respighi’s Pines of Rome. The slow build-up was done well, with special mention going to the oboe soloist, whose playing was simply outstanding, easily up to the standard of many professional players. What would have made this good performance great would have been more vigor in the triumphant last section (I want to hear that gong loud and clear- I saw it struck, but never heard it). After the last chord, their many supporters in the audience gave them a loud standing ovation. After the intermission, a large number of the members of the orchestra were seated all around me. I witnessed countless proud parents and friends coming to hug their star with beaming smiles in congratulations. These young players were having the time of their lives, and it was touching to see all of this unfold. This is a group filled with many talented individuals, as was evidenced by the high level of playing from the soloists, but there is still room for elevating the level of the entire ensemble. More consistency in intonation, both within sections and the entire ensemble, a little more boldness from the strings, and a little less of the same from the brass will make all the difference.

After a short break, the Vancouver Pops Orchestra took the stage. Led by Tom Kuo, they offered four medleys from the hit movies My Neighbor Totoro, How to Train Your Dragon, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and Aladdin. Mr. Kuo was a dynamic leader, and the orchestra responded well to his direction in four polished performances. There were fleeting issues with intonation, but these issues never became a distraction. The highlight of their selections was Star Trek, which was played enterprisingly (no pun intended…well, maybe a little pun intended!). The program notes stated the Pops was dedicating the performance to the late Leonard Nimoy, and I suspect that Mr. Spock would have found the presentation to be “most logical.” After the last notes of the delightful Aladdin, the large audience gave them a well-earned standing ovation for their outstanding playing.

After intermission, the multi-talented composer and conductor Francisco Núñez led the 119-member strong Distinguished Concerts International Singers, which consisted of only treble range voices. They offered selections from Mozart (Papageno-Papagena duet from The Magic Flute), Jim Papoulis (Sih’r Khalaq – Creative Magic), and three of Mr. Núñez’s own works, Misa Pequeña para Niños (A Children’s Mass), Pinwheels, and La Sopa de Isabel (Elizabeth’s Soup). A few folks songs were thrown in for good measure, Dobrú Noc (Good Night) and Love Lies Under the Old Oak Tree). It was unfortunate that an excellent violin soloist was uncredited, as were a cellist, percussionist, and guitarist in their appearances.

The highlights of the half were Mr. Núñez’s three works. Mr. Núñez has a definite gift for bring the very best out of his young singers. His energy radiates to the young musicians, and they radiate it right back with joy. His compositions show his expertise in writing for young voices in a way that not only lies within their developing capabilities, but also gives them a sound beyond their years. This is most apparent in his Misa Pequeña para Niños, which was performed with a surprising level of sophistication. Pinwheels was poignant both in the message and the music. La Sopa de Isabel brought the house down as the young singers spun around multiple times, while Mr. Núñez turned to the audience to get them to join in by clapping along, which of course they did with gusto! Mr. Núñez swayed back and forth with dance-like movements, and soon after, the chorus members paired up, joined hands, and began dancing with each other. The audience laughed in complete delight, and when it was all over, they leapt to their feet in a raucous standing ovation. It was a delightful end to a delightful afternoon. Congratulations to all!


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 Total Vocal in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Total Vocal in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Total Vocal, a celebration of contemporary a cappella music featuring arrangements from Pitch Perfect, The Sing-Off, and the American pop lexicon
Deke Sharon, conductor/arranger
Kelley Jakle, Shelley Regner, Sean Altman, guest soloists; Chesney Snow, vocal percussion
Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
March 29, 2015

Two of the most desired syllables in the entertainment world are “sold out.” Follow those by the five syllables of “standing ovation” and you get a clear idea of the exciting program that was delivered in “pitch perfect” fashion on Sunday afternoon, by a large assembly of contemporary a cappella choirs from across the country, Canada, and Australia, under the superb and enthusiastic direction of conductor/arranger Deke Sharon.

He explained how only twenty to twenty-five years ago, a cappella choirs were few, mainly centering on eastern seaboard colleges. Today, there are over 3000 in the U.S. alone. Television shows like Glee and The Sing-Off competition, for which Mr. Sharon is music director, have fueled their popularity. The Sing-Off is now expanding to its fourth continent, Africa. Mr. Sharon also did all the music for the 2012 sleeper hit movie Pitch Perfect, about the a cappella competition world; the sequel, Pitch Perfect 2, is slated for release on May 15, 2015. The movie and the competition show provided the overarching theme for the day’s offerings, everything from Gershwin to Sondheim to Louis Prima and the Beatles.

Two hundred singers at high school level occupied the first half of the program, and they really showed how fine their training is, first with their own individual conductors in their hometowns; then coming to New York to combine with other groups and Maestro Sharon.

A cappella is an Italian musical indication (literally “in the chapel”). Since instruments were forbidden in the Sistine Chapel (many centuries ago, as well as today), the unaccompanied vocal singing style took that name. The human voice is the only instrument that is not man-made; it is already “in” everyone’s bodies. Every single sound that was made on Sunday came from the breath, lips, mouths, and throats of these musicians, including the new designation “vocal percussion,” also known as “beat box,” and all the complex arrangements were performed completely from memory.

From the first number, “I Got the Music In Me,” there was no doubt that was a true statement. Everything was precise, polished, beautiful, joyful, yet never sounding anything but spontaneous. Other highlights of the first half included Gill and Wade’s “Heartbreaker,” with Shelley Regner as soloist; she was in the Pitch Perfect movie, and will be in the sequel. An all-female version of Leonard Cohen’s moving “Hallelujah” by the group Bare Rhythm from Calabasas, California, earned a rousing standing ovation, one of many. Another was given to the massed choirs’ Benny Goodman homage: Louis Prima’s “Sing Sing Sing,” with the vibrant vocal percussion of Chesney Snow.

There were dozens and dozens of worthy solos all drawn from the choir members, as well as their own beat boxing; all their movements while feeling the music were natural and contributed to the great joy that pervaded the entire afternoon.

The second half saw the (slightly) older groups, from college age to adult. The Plain White T’s “Rhythm of Love” was given star treatment by a traditional barbershop group from Australia, The Blenders, as was John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change” by a Canadian group called newchoir [no capital N]. Gershwin’s “Summertime” contained Sharon himself as the soloist, not only singing, but imitating the wah-wah sound of a trumpet with Harmon mute uncannily.

Kelly Jakle, another star of the Pitch Perfect movie, was outstanding in the inspirational anthem “True Colors,” which banished any comparison with Cyndi Lauper. To finish, the massed choir and all three soloists (including the excellent Sean Altman) sang “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with energy and fire. They may not have “found what they were looking for,” but they enabled us to find just what we were looking for. Bravo.

A brief, boisterous encore of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” reintroduced the younger singers, who entered Carnegie Hall from the back, standing, singing, and dancing in the aisles. The rafters definitely rang, as audience joined in with the 400 singers, and Sharon encouraged everyone to sing, no matter where or for whom.


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.

 

Messiah...Refreshed!

Messiah…Refreshed!

 

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

 

SoHarmoniums

SoHarmoniums

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.

SoHarmoniums

SoHarmoniums

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.