Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents a cappella NEXT
Harmonia Chamber Singers, Robert Pacillo, director; Choeur de Chambre du Québec, Robert Ingari, director; Elore Festival Singers, Noel Edison, director
Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
March 13, 2015
For the superstitious, the idea of a concert on Friday the 13th might be considered to be an ill-advised undertaking to be avoided at all costs. While those with paraskevidekatriaphobia stayed home, the hall was filled with those intrepid souls who refuse to subscribe to such beliefs, and they were rewarded with a truly outstanding concert. On March 13, 2015, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presented a concert entitled a cappella NEXT, an evening dedicated to contemporary choral chamber music. Featuring the talents of three choruses, one from New York and two from Canada, it was a night filled with the sounds of some old classics and exciting new works.
I had the privilege of reviewing the 2014 a cappella NEXT concert ( a cappella NEXT 2014 review), so I was looking forward to this year’s edition. Without taking anything away from the talented ensembles that sang so well in 2014, the three ensembles this year not only met the high standards of their predecessors, but moved the bar up several levels.
The Harmonia Chamber singers opened the concert. Led by Robert Pacillo, this New York based ensemble got the night off to a fine start with a rock-solid performance of My Soul, There is a Country, an anthem by the composer best known for Jerusalem, Hubert Parry. Eulogy, by Rob Deemer, with text by Brian Turner, followed. Eulogy is a written account of a solider’s suicide in Iraq. With pitch bends and near bi-tonality at times, suggestive of the waves of heat on the battefield, the pause after the solider shoots himself, and the tight harmonies as the work ends in almost a whisper, Eulogy is hauntingly moving. Mr. Deemer was present in the audience and must have been pleased by the superb performance of his piece. The next work, She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron, was skillfully set by Jeffrey Trenchard, a member of the ensemble. Mr. Trenchard was visibly moved to tears when he stepped forward to acknowledge the audience after a lovely performance. Goin’ Home, using the Largo movement from Dvořák’s Symphony No.9 “From the New World” and a playful Nelly Bly by Stephen Foster brought the Harmonia Chamber Singers’ portion of the program to a close. An appreciative audience loudly cheered for this fine ensemble.
After a short break, Choeur de Chambre du Québec took the stage. As one would expect from an ensemble from Québec, their entire portion (dix chansons) of the program was sung in French. The details of their entire set, plus translations, can be viewed by clicking the following link: a cappella NEXT program 2015. Conductor Robert Ingari not only led his ensemble with careful attention to details of timbre, but proved to be an accomplished composer as well. His settings of the poetry of Paul Verlaine in Chanson d’automne and Soleils Couchants were compelling. Not to be overshadowed by their maître, ensemble members Guillaume Boulay and Jean-Charles Côté contributed fine works as well, all performed with flawless intonation, balance, and style. French, and French-Canadian composers (Debussy, Poulenc, Lionel Daunais, and Mark Sirett) rounded out their program. Choeur de Chambre du Québec sang these works with the native flair that a non-francophone would be hard pressed to emulate. After the last sounds of Sirett’s ravishing Ce beau printemps faded away, the audience reacted with a standing ovation for this first-rate ensemble. Bien joué, Choeur de Chambre du Québec!
After another short break, the Elora Fesitval Singers took the stage for the last set. Based in Elora, Canada, they are led by the able Noel Edison. Their opening piece, Immortality, by Timothy Corlis, was for this listener, the highlight of the evening. A crowd-pleaser from start to finish, it is a work with something for everyone- driving energy, brilliance, spine-tingling moments, sublime beauty, and a build-up to a climax that explodes before fading away. It was a great lead-off work, but I believe this placement was a tactical error- it should have been the last work on their program. Two well-known and popular works from Eric Whitacre followed- Sleep and Her Spirit Soars. The close harmonies that are so characteristic of Whitacre, were delivered precisely by the ensemble, making for a truly wonderful performance. Gloria Deo per immensa Saecula, by Healey Willan, closed the concert. This motet was the product of a challenge from a colleague about the lack of new five-part works (two other examples of similar challenges readily come to mind J.S. Bach’s Musical Offering and Thomas Tallis’s Spem in alium). It is a remarkable work and was given a remarkable performance- a real tour-de-force that might be better appreciated by choral specialists than by the average lay listener. In any case, my reservations about sequence are a matter of preference, and in no way detract anything from the fine performances. The audience gave the Elora Festival Singers a well-earned standing ovation.
Congratulations to all three ensembles. It was a lucky Friday the 13th indeed!