DCINY presents Messiah…Refreshed!

DCINY presents Messiah…Refreshed!

Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Jonathan Griffith, Conductor
Penelope Shumate, Soprano
Claudia Chapa, Mezzo-Soprano
John McVeigh, Tenor
Christopher Job, Bariton
Sunday, November 27, 2016, 2 PM
Carnegie Hall, Stern Auditorium

 

Well, the holiday season is officially here, with the sixth annual presentation of Messiah in the “inflated” version commissioned by Sir Thomas Beecham from Eugene Goossens for the Handel death-bicentennial in 1959. I shall try not to be too Scrooge-like about it, that wouldn’t really be in the spirit of things! I first heard (and reviewed) this version two years ago with pleasure, and the interpretation is remarkably consistent across that time. Only the mezzo-soprano was different (and of course the massed choirs). The whole endeavor, powered by Jonathan Griffith’s committed conducting, gives enjoyment to the performers and to their audience, so after all it must be counted a success, even if one has quibbles with specifics.

Is there any other single work that so identifies its composer, almost to the exclusion of Handel’s numerous other worthy genres: opera, cantata, organ music, anthems, even the other oratorios?

The grand old tradition of Handel-tampering, of course, began with Handel himself and continued through Mozart, Hiller, and many others. Gigantism began as early as 1784 in British performances of the then hallowed Handel with a 513-performer rendition. The European Magazine wrote: “The immense volume and torrent of sound was almost too much for the head or the sense to bear—we were elevated into a species of delirium.” Sir Joshua Reynolds wrote: “I was so delighted that I thought myself in the heavenly regions. The Harmony so unbroken that is was like the fall of Waters from one source, imperceptibly blended. The Spectacle too was sublime, So universal a silence, So great a number of people.” In an 1857 British performance, there were 2000 vocal and 500 instrumental forces. In 1859: 2765 singers, 450 instruments. In 1883: 4000 singers, 500 instruments. Objections to these outsize forces were also found as early as the beginning of the nineteenth century, but they were outweighed by Victorian reverence for Handel combined with the explosive growth of choral societies. G.B. Shaw, in the early twentieth century, also pleaded for something closer to what Handel might have known: “People think that four thousand singers must be four thousand times as impressive as one. This is a mistake: they are not even louder.”

I will confess that when I counted upwards of 400 names in the choral listing in the program booklet, I was a bit nervous. However, Griffith seems to have selected about half of them for Part 1 duty, then they retire to the balconies on either side of the audience, and after intermission the other half performs Parts 2 & 3. Choir 1 did not have clean runs; but Choir 2 did, and Griffith was quite merciless in pursuing brisk tempi that almost prevented anything but a choral smudge. Their block chord work however, was mostly exciting, and he even managed to elicit a few softer sounds from these large forces. All 400-plus joined together for the “Hallelujah” chorus and the concluding “Worthy is the lamb that was slain” for a truly thrilling sound that had actually been missing most of the afternoon in the “mere” 200-voice choirs. Even some audience members couldn’t resist the temptation to add their voices to the mix during “Hallelujah.”

Handel began work in 1741 in London on Messiah for a series of concerts for Irish charities, at the invitation of William Cavendish; the series would include many other works as well. Handel started on 22 August, Part 1 was complete by 28 August, Part 2 by 6 September, and Part 3 on 12 September. A few more days were added, polishing up the results, twenty-four days in all. Of course none of this could have happened without Handel’s well-known recourse to self-borrowing, or even appropriation from other composers, for which he was taken to task more than once in his lifetime. (Although William Boyce reportedly said: “He takes other men’s pebbles and polishes them into diamonds.”) Handel also reworked many numbers from it considerably over the years. Handel himself associated the performance of Messiah with Easter, but modern practice also favors Christmas—the text, dubbed a “Scripture collection” by its creator Charles Jennens, outlines all the festivals of the Christian church-year.

The premiere was in Dublin, 13 April 1742 (at noon), at the New Musick Hall in Fishamble Street, seat of the Charitable Musical Society. The audience capacity was between 600 and 700. Handel had to provide his own organ (portable, called a “bureau” organ) since there was none in the hall. Several of his own organ concerti were also on the bill with Messiah in what must have been a long afternoon of music. The chorus consisted of thirty-two: sixteen men and sixteen boys. The solos were considered so taxing that there was more than one soloist for each voice type.

Today’s soloists were uniformly excellent, with soprano Penelope Shumate and her sparkling coloratura perfection in “Rejoice greatly” and a very affecting “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” though at times her English had an “Italian” accent with many schwas at the end of words (they add clarity, but can be overdone). Claudia Chapa, mezzo-soprano, sang with absolute heart, so much so that I wished “He was despised” was not cut, but would go on forever (I really wanted to hear how she would express “He gave his back to the smiters.”). All afternoon her phrases were of admirable length, she seems to have unlimited air supply. Tenor John McVeigh reprised the sweet lyric quality that I remember so well from two years ago, tending to shade a bit sharp (nerves?) near the beginning, and once in a while chopping up phrases or single words instead of sustaining a legato. His “Behold and see if there is any sorrow” was beautiful. His most endearing trait was the attention he paid to his other colleagues when they were singing their solos, he even turned to face the chorus with an air of painful surprise as they hurled their accusatory “He trusted in God that he would deliver him,” before returning to face forward. Bass Christopher Job again had the perfect sound for the punishing “The trumpet shall sound,” but there were some weird additional musical lines in the orchestra during “The people that walked in darkness” that threatened to “like sheep,” lead the music astray. All the soloists risked being overbalanced by the heavier orchestra, but only at times (too much cymbal!)

May I suggest that Maestro Griffith go ahead and make his own version of this version, so to speak, removing some of the dated bombast and perhaps clarifying a few textures here and there? I do admire his devotion to this “relic” however. By the way, since this is not only about the massed choirs, but a substantial re-orchestration, the fact that the excellent orchestra is not listed person-by-person in the program is a grave injustice. The concertmaster is excellent, and the clarino trumpet was superb. The hushed return of the A section of the “Pifa” (Pastoral Symphony) was gorgeous, as it was two years ago.

The work affords the chance for these dedicated multi-state and international choruses, whose individual conductors were acknowledged at the end, the thrill of a holiday trip to New York and the unparalleled experience of singing on the main stage of Carnegie Hall. Bravo to all, and happy holidays!

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Eternal Light in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Eternal Light in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Eternal Light
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra; Distinguished Singers International
Bradley Ellingboe, guest conductor
Jonathan Griffith, DCINY Artistic Director and Principal Conductor
Howard Goodall, DCINY Composer-in-Residence
Sarah Joy Miller, soprano; Scott Joiner, tenor; Steven Eddy, baritone
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
November 20, 2016

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a concert entitled Eternal Light on the evening of November 20, 2016 at Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall. It featured two works, Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna and the New York City premiere of Howard Goodall’s Eternal Light: A Requiem. With singers from Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas, Minnesota, California, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom, the theme could have been called The Show Must Go On, in what was a night of unexpected events.

Guest Conductor Bradley Ellingboe took the podium to conduct Lauidsen’s Lux Aeterna. In an earlier review (from a concert June 12, 2016 also entitled Eternal Light) I wrote, “Composed in 1997, Lux Aeterna is a five-movement work, taking the opening and closing of the Requiem Mass and three sections of the Te Deum for the texts. If “heaven” is really as many imagine, I would not be shocked if this music is being heard and played there.  This is simply some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard, and at the risk of being accused of intellectual laziness I will respond that its transcendence simply eludes words.” I have no occasion to change my opinion, and if anything, it has been further deepened. Mr. Ellingboe led a performance worthy of this fine piece, with the chorus and orchestra closely following his expert direction.

Near the end of the Agnus Dei-Lux Aeterna movement, there was a loud noise, of which one could not readily determine the cause. After the work ended, it appeared that one of the chorus members in the front row had possibly fainted and fallen from the riser. The singers and orchestra members filed off the stage, and the stage crew set about setting the stage for the second half, while the singer was being attended to by several people. Finally, an emergency medical team arrived, placed her on a stretcher and wheeled her from the stage. She appeared to be okay, and I am sure that I speak for all in attendance in wishing her a speedy recovery. The next group of singers and orchestra took the stage for the second half. The Show Must Go On.

Before the start of the second half proper, conductor Jonathan Griffith and composer Howard Goodall took the stage in an impromptu talk. Mr. Goodall spoke about Eternal Light, some of his recent completed projects, and described his compositional system, which considers all elements (shape, arc, landscape, etc.) to be equally important. He is a modest man, and somewhat reticent to boast about his many accomplishments, so Maestro Griffith informed the audience that Eternal Light was nearing its 500th performance, which averages about one performance a week since the premiere in 2008! Mr. Goodall informed the audience that he is currently working on three (!) new musicals simultaneously. Jonathan Griffith then took the podium to conduct the New York City premiere of Eternal Light: A Requiem.

Eternal Light: A Requiem is a ten-movement work using both the traditional Requiem mass and texts of the composer’s choosing. I recommend the reader to take the time to read Mr. Goodall’s excellent program notes (which also include the complete texts) by following this link: Eternal Light Program Notes . Clocking in at forty minutes, it is a journey of beauty, heartache, and in the end, hope.

I’m not going to comment on each movement, but rather mention a few points of interest. The fourth movement, Hymn: lead, kindly light, began in a state of hesitation, so much so that after about ten seconds Maestro Griffith stopped the work, paused for a moment, and recommenced the movement. This second time was strong and decisive, and while it is never a good thing to have to stop and re-start, it was a good decision from a seasoned and intelligent musician like Maestro Griffith. Too many times this listener has heard things go from bad to completely off the rails from either a reluctance to re-start, or from the hope that somehow things will right themselves (they usually don’t).

The sixth movement, the Dies Irae: In Flanders Fields, was the favorite of this listener. Mr. Goodall’s setting of the famous World War One poem of Canadian military doctor John McCrae was equal to the haunting text. Too many settings (and I have heard many) come across as saccharine and lightweight, which (in my opinion) destroys the meaning of McCrae’s words. Thank you, Mr. Goodall, for “getting it right”- it was one of the more moving things I have heard in some time.

The three soloists were top-notch, and each delivered strong, passionate performances. Soprano Sarah Joy Miller has a voice that abounds with heavenly beauty, tenor Scott Joiner wrung out the emotion in the heartbreaking third movement Litany: Belief, and baritone Steven Eddy projected with strength and confidence. The chorus (except for that one vexing moment) did good work, handling some of the rapid-fire settings of Latin with good diction and balance. This was one of those occasions when the sum of the parts exceeded the whole; it happens sometimes. The Show Must Go On.

At the end of the In Paradisum: Lux Aeterna, the audience responded with a standing ovation. Mr. Goodall came to the stage where he bashfully attempted to hide behind the vocal soloists, and had to be coaxed to the front, ending the night on a high note.

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Eternal Light in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Eternal Light in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Eternal Light
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra; Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Jonathan Griffith, DCINY Artistic Director/Principal Conductor
Cristian Grases, composer/conductor
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
June 12, 2016

 

On June 12, 2016, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a concert entitled Eternal Light, featuring two works, Lux Aeterna by Morten Laurdisen (b. 1943), and the World Premiere of  Cristian Grases’ (b. 1973) Nocturnos y Adivinanzas (Nocturnes and Riddles).  Featuring singers from Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, Australia, Canada, and “individual singers from around the globe,” it was a richly rewarding experience for those intrepid souls who braved the crowds enjoying the Puerto Rican day parade to make it to Carnegie Hall.

Jonathan Griffith took the podium to conduct Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna. Composed in 1997, Lux Aeterna is a five-movement work, taking the opening and closing of the Requiem Mass and three sections of the Te Deum for the texts. If “heaven” is really as many imagine, I would not be shocked if this music is being heard and played there.  This is simply some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard, and at the risk of being accused of intellectual laziness I will respond that its transcendence simply eludes words. I will mention in particular the final Agnus Dei – Lux Aeterna, where voices and instruments converge in a musical apotheosis like no other, as if the gates of heaven were opening and beckoning one to enter.  The chorus was well-balanced, with clear diction and projected clearly. Maestro Griffith led with his usual skill, with careful attention to details and subtleties.  It was a celestial journey of twenty-seven minutes. As Maestro Griffith lowered his baton, the sound slowly died away to complete silence. After about five seconds of this silence, the audience “returned to earth” and gave the performers a well-deserved standing ovation.

After intermission, Cristian Grases took the podium to conduct the World Premiere of his Nocturnos y Adivinanzas (Nocturnes and Riddles). This six-movement work is set to four riddles and two lullabies, all in different  Latin American dances, such as the Puerto Rican Bomba, the Cuban Habanera, DanzónCha Cha Cha, and the Brazilian Samba Reggae.  Dr. Grases gives a detailed explanation in his excellent program notes, which the reader can access by clicking here – Program Notes (this will also include the texts with translations).

The chorus consisted entirely of young singers (most appeared to be pre-teens and teens), which lent a certain charm and innocence that was completely consistent with the texts and the musical styles. One could not help being won over by these youngsters singing with such enthusiasm, not to mention fine diction and projection.

If Lux Aeterna is the music of Heaven, then Nocturnos y Adivinanzas is the music of Earth. This is not to suggest that it is crude or of less import, but rather to highlight it’s obvious projection of the joy of life and of life in this world. It’s a thirty-five minute trip of some of the most festive and infectiously happy music one could have the pleasure to experience. It’s a virtual tour of the sounds of Latin America, delivered with consummate skill and reverence. Dr. Grases was a charismatic leader as he led the large forces in an engaging performance.  Highlights for this listener were the charming La Luna (the Moon), and the ebullient Las Estrellas (The Stars).  Nocturnos y Adivinanzas is a winner! The audience agreed and responded with a roaring ovation that lasted for several minutes. Congratulations to all!

 


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Verdi Requiem in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Verdi Requiem in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Verdi Requiem

Jonathan Griffith, conductor

Distinguished Concerts Orchestra; Distinguished Concerts Singers International

Penelope Shumate, soprano; Claudia Chapa, mezzo-soprano; John Pickle, tenor; Christopher Job, bass

Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY

May 24, 2015

 

The Verdi Requiem is one of sacred music’s guilty pleasures, always thrilling even though you know it’s so operatic. So much so, in fact, that it was banned from performance within the Catholic church setting until the early 1960s. Or was it the fact that it was composed by a self-proclaimed atheist? The piece was written in memory of Alessandro Manzoni, a hero of the “Risorgimento,” the mid-nineteenth century movement for Italian unification. Verdi joins Mozart and Berlioz in his relish of the terrifying aspects of death rather than offering comfort to those left behind, as we find in Brahms, Fauré, and Duruflé.

DCINY presented a superior rendition on Sunday night. Due credit must go to the conductor, Jonathan Griffith (who is also co-founder and artistic director of DCINY), who assembles these gigantic choral/orchestral pieces with choirs coming to New York from all over the US and, in this case, Denmark and England. Clearly, his vision for the piece, and his ability to convey it, are crystal clear, because he gets audible results from his assembled forces.

The choir was so large that numerous female members of the soprano and alto sections had to be located in the front balconies, creating an antiphonal effect that was not unwelcome, though it did lead to minor imprecision of ensemble that did not detract from the overall impression.

The chorus thundered when the score requested, but even more critically, they whispered in terrified awe and sang beautiful plush soft chords, with many shades and colors. Verdi has structured the work as a sort of opposition between chorus and four soloists, as was noted in the excellent program notes. He spends a lot more time on the terrifying aspects of death and its aftermath Dies Irae, which always comes back just when the more comforting portions seem to be gaining a foothold.

The four soloists were all up to the operatic demands of their parts, but special mention must be made of Claudia Chapa, a Mexican mezzo-soprano, who has the true Verdi heft and color in her powerful voice. Tenor John Pickle also sang with thrilling squillo in a true Italian style that was entirely appropriate. The bass, Christopher Job, possesses a sound that is brighter and more forward-placed than I am used to for Verdi, but created a haunting and wonderful effect with his three descending Mors. Soprano Penelope Shumate created some lovely pianissimo floaty high notes, and these were her best quality, which is no small achievement. However, in other heftier spots, she risked being overwhelmed by the orchestra; and she didn’t have the requisite raw chest tones for the concluding Libera me Domine, the one that’s down an octave in the soprano’s “vulnerable” range. She and Chapa did have some gorgeous moments when they were each singing softly an octave apart.

From the first hushed descending minor triad of the orchestra, it was clear that the freelance group that calls itself the Distinguished Concerts Orchestra was in full command of the colors this score requires. I wish they were credited in the program, so I could single out some of the solo players, including the concertmaster, and numerous wind players. Also, what Verdi Requiem would be complete without the monstrous and scary “Thwack!” of the tympani in the Dies Irae? Here, it was entirely fulfilled, with what must be one of the tympanist’s most enjoyable places in the repertoire.

Verdi’s Requiem does not have the In Paradisum section that some other Requiems do, but the audience was certainly “In Paradise” and leapt to its feet for a deserved ovation.

 

 

 


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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Act-2_Exodus_2

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

 

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

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

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

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

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Music of Karl Jenkins in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Music of Karl Jenkins in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Music of Karl Jenkins
Karl Jenkins, composer/conductor
Jonathan Griffith, DCINY Artistic Director/Principal conductor
Lucy Knight, soprano; Mark Watson, baritone
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra; Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
January 19, 2015

In what has become an annual tradition, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a concert in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day featuring the music of Karl Jenkins. This edition was truly global in scope, with singers from Germany, South Africa, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, Russia, Ireland, Italy, California, and Massachusetts (including a children’s chorus). With a first half consisting of the United States premieres of Llareggub and The Healer, a second half featuring The Peacemakers, and a post-concert opportunity to greet Mr. Jenkins and have him autograph his latest CD release, it had all the makings of a special evening.

Before the concert proper, Mr. Jenkins joined DCINY conductor Jonathan Griffith on stage for an impromptu conversation about the works on the first half. There was much laughter as Mr. Griffith attempted to pronounce poet Dylan Thomas’s (invented) “Welsh” word Llareggub. Mr. Jenkins smiled as he gave what would be a “proper” Welsh pronunciation (k(ch)la-REG-gub), and then told the audience that when spelled backwards it has a very different meaning in English, a wordplay betraying Thomas’s sense of humor. I leave it for the reader to figure it out! Mr. Jenkins also expressed his admiration and thanks for the many texts written especially for him by his wife, Carol Barratt, a formidable talent in her own right. After a few closing words about Mr. Jenkins’s esteem for Terry Waite (who was captured by terrorists in January 1987 while working to secure the release of hostages, and held captive for nearly five years), who provided friendship and texts to the composer, Mr. Jenkins then took to the podium to conduct Llareggub.

Llareggub is a musical snapshot of life of the fictional village setting of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood. The three movements, Starless and Bible-Black, Eli Jenkins’ Prayer, and At the Sailor’s Arms, are played without break. Starless and Bible-Black is serene, with an atmospheric feeling that is strongly suggestive of a pitch-black night that slowly moves towards daybreak. The second movement, Eli Jenkins’ Prayer, features a quote from a hymn, “Burnt Oak”, written by Karl Jenkins’s father (not to be confused with Eli Jenkins, who was a creation of Dylan Thomas and bears no relation to the composer’s father). Concertmaster Jorge Ávila played his solo part with expressive feeling that was sentimental, but never maudlin. The finale, At the Sailor’s Arms, is a visit to the local pub, filled with chat, drinking, merriment, more drinking, brawling, and drinking until drunk. Complete with a honky-tonk piano, it was just like being there in the thick of it. One could easily imagine Dylan Thomas amongst the locals, matching them drink for drink. Mr. Jenkins led the Distinguished Concerts Orchestra with his customary understated manner, always letting the music and the musicians take center stage. Llagerggub was a delightful quarter-hour visit to the wonders and whimsy of Wales, a trip this listener very much enjoyed taking. I suspect the large audience shared my opinion, as they gave Mr. Jenkins a hearty ovation.

Karl Jenkins

Karl Jenkins

 

After this happy romp, it was time to move to the serious side with The Healer. Subtitled A Cantata for St. Luke, The Healer is a nine-movement work scored for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus, strings, oboe (doubling on cor anglais), and percussion. Taking a page from his earlier Stabat Mater, the composer uses the middle-eastern percussion instruments (the riq and darbuca) to accentuate the sounds of the ancient land. With text from the Book of Common Prayer, St. Luke (from the Authorised Version (Luke 15: 3-7) and Vulgate (Luke 2:29-32) version of the Holy Bible), William Blake, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Carol Barratt, Vivien Harrison, and Terry Waite, The Healer is another demonstration of Mr. Jenkins’s seemingly limitless ability to capture the essence of such evocative material with the simplest of means. A perusal of the score highlights this – it is deceptively simple, but the net effect is one of great import. This is the mark of a composer who has the courage to stick to his guns in a musical world that often scoffs at such an approach as pandering to the hoi polloi.

Highlights for this listener were in abundance, however I will limit myself to those I found the most compelling. Soprano Lucy Knight captured the essence of “The eyes of a child” with true innocence. Baritone Mark Watson projected strength throughout, and his “The Shepherd” was particularly fine. The large chorus was well prepared, from the chant-like Prologue to the Epilogue (Nunc dimittis). Special mention goes to oboe/cor anglais soloist Ryan Walsh for his excellent playing. The Healer can well join the growing list of works by Mr. Jenkins that should enjoy widespread performances.

After Intermission, it was time for the two-part, seventeen movement The Peacemakers. Scored for orchestra, chorus, soprano soloist, bass and ethnic flutes, ethnic percussion, Uilleann pipes, soprano saxophone, and electric bass, The Peacemakers resembles his earlier works The Armed Man in its blueprint and Stabat Mater in multicultural influences. Quoting Mr. Jenkins, “One line from Rumi sums up the ethos of the piece: ‘All religions, all singing one song: Peace be with you.'” This is an ideal that our world sadly is sorely lacking, as the composer himself lamented in his program notes. The texts for The Peacemakers comes from a variety of sources, some expected (Scripture from the Bible and Qur’an, Gandhi, the Dali Lama, Nelson Mandela, etc.), some unexpected (Albert Schweitzer, Percy Shelley, Anne Frank), and of course, Carol Barratt and Terry Waite.

Unlike The Armed Man, with the duality of war and peace, The Peacemakers is singularly focused on peace. The music draws one in and holds one in its thrall, rather than grabbing and pulling one as The Armed Man does. This is not to say that there are not any martial moments in The Peacemakers, but when they appear, it is a joyful call in the name of peace rather than any warlike saber rattling. As much as I would enjoy commenting on each of the seventeen movements, I am going to single out two movements that were my favorites, the hauntingly beautiful The Dove, with Lucy Knight’s exquisite heart-melting voice, and the amazing He had a dream- Elegy for Martin Luther King Jr. with the soprano saxophone’s bluesy riffs winding in and out of the melody, complete with a quote from Robert Schumann’s Träumerei. It could easily stand alone in performance , and would be a welcome addition to any musical tributes for Dr. King. Kudos to all the soloists (Jorge Ávila, Violin, Jesse Han, Bass Flute, Premik Russell Tubbs, Bonsuri and Ethnic Flutes, from NYJAZZ: Rob Derke, Soprano Saxophone; Carlo de Rosa, Electric Bass; and Andy Blanco, Ethnic Percussion, Joseph Mulvantrey, Uilleann Pipes), the Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, and the Distinguished Concerts Singers International.

Maestro Jonathan Griffith led yet another winning performance, as I have come to expect from this fine musician. It is no surprise that Mr. Griffith was awarded the 2014 American Prize in Conducting- professional orchestra division. The ovation was long, loud, and well earned. Mr. Jenkins took to the stage and modestly bowed while saluting the performers. It was a wonderful ending to a exceptional evening of music. I am already looking forward to January 18, 2016.


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 “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.