Music Reviews

The Dumbarton Concert series presented Nordic Voices on February 11.  

 

 

Nordic Voices was an evening of polyphony, chant and innovative vocal techniques.  This eclectic concert opened and closed with compositions that had electronic sounds, overtones and musical intervals of dissonances with unusual consonant and syllable combinations.  They were projecting sounds like “eow” and “ah” at varying dynamics and pitches.  The first piece was Diphonie by Lasse Thoresen.  It placed emphasis on certain vowels in such a manner that it was hard to distinguish that they were Norwegian words.  The translation of this composition was lovely.  Here is an excerpt:

 

         This earthly life’s like a meadow,

         Where a snake hides among the grass

         and flowers;

         and if anything is pleasing to the eye

         it leaves the spirit more entangled.

 

The final piece was similar to the first aria in that the sounds were combining electronic sounds with unusual phonemes.  Anyone who likes innovation and new works would enjoy this piece.  There were multiple sounds like hooting, snoring, wind blowing and various bird calls, which ended with the lyrics “everything is gonna be alright.”   The final composition was written by Maja Ratkje and was supposed to be a deconstructed version of Ode to Joy, called Ode to the Moral Value of Art. 

 

The rest of the program was more traditional, with madrigals, and chant-like melodies.  I particularly enjoyed the songs from the Second Book of Madrigals by Gavin Bryars, as well as the songs by Giovanni Gabrieli and Luca Marenzio.   In particular, Gabrieli’s polyphonic composition was lovely, and had melismatic ornamentation that added to its beauty.

 

There was a song by Shara Nova about the depth of love between two lovers, as they desire to be enveloped by darkness and die beautifully together.  The Nordic Voices used percussion instruments with their singing, including four triangles, bells and a tuned glockenspiel. 

 

The voices in this group that particularly stood out for me were the two sopranos, Tone Braaten and Ingrid Hanken, and the bass Rolf Magne Schmidt Asser.  These three had very strong voices, yet were able to blend well with the ensemble.  However, in part of one song the baritone Frank Havroy sang triple fortissimo without a microphone and more than filled the sanctuary with his voice. 

 

You may find out more about the upcoming season concerts by going to www.dumbartonconcerts.org.  You may also follow them on instagram  @dumbartonconcerts. 

 

Here is a listing of the next few concerts:

 

March 18           8 pm                  Calidore String Quintet

                                                     In the Wake of Beethoven

 

April 8               8 pm                  Imani Winds Quintet

                                                     Tradition and Innovation

 

May 6                 8 pm                  Poulenc Trio

                                                     Spring Panache

 

 

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Vocal Arts DC

presents 

New York Festival of Song 


with Steven Blier & Michael Barrett, co-artistic directors & pianists 

and featuring Antonina Chehovska, soprano & Alexey Lavrov, baritone 


Sunday, January 22 in the Theatre of the Arts at UDC

 

Washington, DC – Vocal Arts DC welcomes back to DC the New York Festival of Song, headed by co-artistic directors and pianists Steven Blier and Michael Barrett. They present a program entitled Pyotr the Great: The songs of Tchaikovsky and his Circle. Blier and Barrett are joined by two outstanding emerging artists: Ukrainian soprano Antonina Chehovska, Grand Winner of the 2016 George London Foundation Competition and Russian baritone Alexey Lavrov, who riveted Vocal Arts DC audiences on his last appearance in DC. The unique format of lecture and demonstration that Messieurs Blier and Barrett employ breaks down the barriers between performer and audience in an engaging and informative presentation.

 

 

WHO:             Vocal Arts DC


 WHAT:           Concert of New York Festival of Song


WHERE:        Theatre of the Arts on the Van Ness campus of the

University of the District of Columbia,
4200 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC 20008


WHEN:            Sun JAN 22 at 3pm 


TICKETS:       Single Tickets:   $50 each, through the Washington Performing Arts 
                                                    Box Office

                                                    Charge by phone at 202-
785-9727or online at 
                                                                        
www.VocalArtsDC.org


                        Subscriptions:   Vocal Arts DC 2016-2017 26th Season mini-series 
                                                    subscriptions are still available (savings of 10% 
                                                    less per recital over the cost of single tickets). 

                                       Visit www.VocalArtsDC.org, or phone 202-669-1463

                           All recitals are held at the Theatre of the Arts, UDC. 

 INFORMATION:         

 www.VocalArtsDC.org

 

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

 

New York Festival of Song  Deemed “everything that a song recital can achieve, in terms of musical revelation, vocal excellence and audience engagement” by The Washington Post, NYFOS started in 1988 to present original ensemble song programs consisting almost exclusively of rarely-heard songs of all kinds, "from Debussy to doo-wop, lieder to latin jazz, Josquin to just-written." Each show is unified by a theme, constructed with a dramatic arc, and cast with superb vocalartists whose committed performances bring the songs to vivid life, with the directors as accompanists and animated narrators. In every NYFOS program, the songs and their interpreters bring poetry, passion, history and humor to the proceedings, transporting listeners to many regions of the globe, and into the personal, creative worlds of song composers and lyricists. New York Magazine gave NYFOS its award for Best Classical Programming.

 

Steven Blier (pianist) enjoys an eminent career as an accompanist and vocal coach. His recital partners have included Renée Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, Samuel Ramey, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Susan Graham, Jessye Norman, and José van Dam, in venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to La Scala. He is also on the faculty of The Juilliard School and has been active in encouraging young recitalists at summer programs, including the Wolf Trap Opera Company, Santa Fe Opera, and the San Francisco Opera Center. Many of his former students, including Stephanie Blythe, Joseph Kaiser, Sasha Cooke, Paul Appleby, Dina Kuznetsova, Corinne Winters, and Kate Lindsey, have gone on to be valued recital colleagues and sought-after stars on the opera and concert stage. Mr. Blier’s extensive discography includes the premiere recording of Leonard Bernstein’s Arias and Barcarolles (Koch International), which won a Grammy Award and the world premiere recording of Bastianello (John Musto) and Lucrezia (William Bolcom), a double bill of one-act comic operas set to librettos by Mark Campbell.

 

Michael Barrett (pianist), a former protégé of Leonard Bernstein, has distinguished himself as a conductor with major orchestras here and abroad in the symphonic, operatic, and dance repertoire. In Mr. Barrett and his wife Leslie Tomkins founded The Moab Music Festival in Utah, for which he serves as music director. From 1994–1997 he was the director of the Tisch Center for the Arts at the 92nd Street Y in New York. A champion of new music, Mr. Barrett has conducted and played premieres by numerous composers and his extensive discography features several discs with works by Blitzstein, Wilder, Bolcom, Rorem and Kernis. He serves as music advisor to the Leonard Bernstein Estate.

 

Antonina Chehovska (soprano) captured top prizes in several prestigious competitions: the Gerda Lissner International Competition, the George London Foundation, the Cooper-Bing Competition and the Czech and Slovak International Voice Competition plus she garnered the Schuyler Foundation Career Bridges Grant, Bel Canto Vocal Scholarship. She made her New York City recital debut at Opera America’s National Opera Center, and will appear in recital with pianist, Liza Stepanova at the Festival of the American Liszt Society in California.  In concert she has performed with several US orchestras and the Slovak State Philharmonic singing works such as Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Ravel's Shéhérazade, Mahler's Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection,” Mozart’s Requiem, Dvořak’s Stabat Mater, Handel’s Messiah, and Beethoven’s Symphony #9 with Kent Philharmonic Orchestra. 

 

Alexey Lavrov (baritone), a recent graduate of the Metropolitan Opera Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, returns to the Metropolitan Opera as Schaunard in La Bohème, Silvio in I Pagliacci and Malatesta in Don Pasquale. He is establishing a reputation on the international opera scene, having performed leading roles in Cincinnati, Moscow, Rheinsberg, Toulouse and in Japan, Chile and Peru. This season, he makes his role debut as the title role in Aleko at Opera Carolina. A native of the Komi Republic, Russia, Mr. Lavrov’s many awards include 1st Prize at the 2014 Gerda Lissner Foundation International VocalCompetition, the 2014 Hildegard Behrens Foundation Award, the 2014 Musique et Vin Festival Prize, winner of the 2010 Hariclea Darclée International Voice Competition, second prize from the Byulbyul International Vocal Competition, third prize at the 2014 Loren L. Zachary National Vocal Competition, fourth-prize winner of the Concurso Internacional de Canto competition in Buenos Aires’s Teatro Colón, and a diploma from the International Rachmaninov Competition.

 

 

ABOUT VOCAL ARTS DC

 

The mission of VADC is to nurture and promote the classical voice recital genre and to introduce new audiences to the richness and beauty of the classical art song literature.  VADC is the only organization anywhere in North America, and one of the few in the world, which presents a full concert season solely devoted to classical voice recitals.  As such, it has made Washington DC a magnet for the world’s greatest stars of the opera and concert stage. VADC presents a season of six to eight recitals, usually in the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, occasionally in other venues. These generally feature world-renowned singers, although VADC also attempts to introduce to its audience emerging artists whom it considers to be on the threshold of international stardom.

In addition to its main stage performances, VADC operates an in-school educational program for secondary school students in local schools. To foster the careers of young aspiring professional classical singers in the area, VADC holds an annual juried competition and, in addition to substantial prize money, provides significant performance opportunities to the winners. In recent years winners of the competition have performed at the Phillips Collection and as part of the Millennium Stage program of free concerts at the Kennedy Center. More at www.vocalartsdc.org

 

Vocal Arts DC is the grateful recipient of major grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation and The Reva and David Logan Foundation, and appreciates generous support from  the Howard and Sarah D. Solomon Foundation, The Dallas Morse Coors Foundation and The Nancy Peery Marriott Foundation.


Washington Chorus presents a new and daring work by Philip Glass

 

Sunday evening the Washington Chorus presented the daring new work by Philip Glass called Symphony Number 5 – Requiem, Bardo and Nirmanakaya.  Requiem means rest, and is a musical composition that is written for the dead.  Bardo is a mental state where we are at our most vulnerable or exposed.  The nirmanakaya is the earthly, physical body of a Buddha, which manifests in the world to teach the dharma and bring enlightenment.  His requiem includes all of the major religions of the world. 

 

The text of the composition includes texts from the Qur’an, the Zuni creation story, The Nihongi, The Kumulipo, the Bulu creation story, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Kabir, and the books of Genesis 1:1-8; First Corinthians 15:48-49 and 54; Matthew 25:35-36, 40; Job 3:2-6, 11-13, 20-25; Hosea 4:1-3; and The Song of Solomon (which is listed as Song of Songs in the program) 2:10-12, 4:16, and 5:1 from the Holy Bible.  Using these various world religious texts he tells a story about creation of the cosmos, creatures and mankind, as well as the struggle between good and evil, joy and suffering, which ends with the themes of judgment as well as paradise.  Philip Glass does not mean paradise in the strictly Christian sense, but a type of paradise where “the regions of hell become places of joy, with vast and fragrant lotus pools, beautiful with exquisite calls of wild ducks, geese and swans (in the Santideva).”  He wrote this composition to represent a bridge between the past, present and the future.  He synthesized a vocal text that travels from creation, through earthly life and paradise that closes with a future dedication.

 

The Washington Chorus is a well-disciplined chorus that sang with particularly lovely and well-articulated phrases in the softer sections of the composition.  The weaving between the vocal parts was well balanced.  In the Judgment and Apocalypse section both the chorus and orchestra performed at the triple forte level.  The level of loudness of the orchestra made discrimination of the articulated words more difficult to discern.  However, the variation between piano (soft) and forte (loud) served to provide an emotional texture to the text, and reinforce the drama unfolding throughout the composition.

 

Although Philip Glass presents a stylistic minimalist composition, the use of terra dynamics, crescendo and decrescendo employed, serve to create a fabric of texture that lends emotion and drama to the composition.

 

Maestro Wachner is a Grammy-nominated conductor and acclaimed composer who has led the Washington Chorus to win Chorus America’s 2016 Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence and ASCAP’s Alice Parker Award for Adventurous Programming in 2011.  He currently serves as director of music at Trinity Wall Street, where he has transformed the Baroque and Contemporary styles of music performed within New York City.  He is currently writing an opera, Rev 23.  The librettist is Cerise Jacobs.

 

The soloists were very professional and accomplished.  In the Love and Joy movement Mezzo Soprano Katherine Pracht’s voice was strong, lovely and colored by maturity in tone.  She had confidence and a fully rounded sound.  Baritone Stephen Salters had a well-supported vocal tone.  His stage presence demonstrated poise and confidence.  Tenor John McVeigh performed his solos with well-articulated phrasing and clear, bright tones.  Bass Baritone David Cushing has a powerful voice and presented his part with poise and commanding presence.  Of particular note was Soprano Heather Buck whose soaring vocal lines were clear and resonant with a beautiful sound.  Her lovely lyrical voice is a true joy to listen to. 

 

Upcoming concerts for the Washington Chorus include:

 

A Candlelight Christmas    Sunday, December 11 at 2 pm

                                             Saturday, December 17, 4 pm

                                             Tuesday, December 20, 7 pm

                                             Wednesday, December 21, 7 pm

                                             Thursday, December 22, 7 pm

 

                                             The Kennedy Center Concert Hall

 

                                             Monday December 19, 7:30 pm

                                             Music Center at Strathmore

 

With the high level of professionalism exhibited by their performances I would suggest purchasing tickets early to ensure a good seat.

 

 

The City Choir of Washington performs Brahms’s German Requiem

 

On November 6, The City Choir of Washington performed two compositions in memory of the late Maestro J. Reilly Lewis.  The first piece was written by Maestro Shafer for Maestro Lewis’s sixtieth birthday celebration.  It is called Ubi Caritas.  The second composition was A German Requiem by Johannes Brahms. 

 

Ubi Caritas was a lovely composition with an eloquent weaving of melody and harmony.  The lyrics speak about the love of God and how we should love one another.  The chorale was surprisingly balanced, considering that there were about twice the number of women singers as male singers, showing how Maestro Shafer has coached the chorus how to keep the dynamics of the music balanced.  It was a beautiful composition.

 

There was a chamber orchestra that accompanied the chorus and soloists.  The orchestra had reduced woodwinds, and the instrumentation was orchestrated for the smaller chamber orchestra.  They performed quite well with the smaller ensemble.

 

The Brahms’s Requiem was performed with beauty and finesse.  The dynamics were illustrative of the composer’s original intent as well as communicative of the emotions evoked by the text.  The chorus had colorful and balanced vocal blending.  The vibratos of the chorus were minimized providing a beautiful fabric of vocal texture that sounded beautiful.  The “Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras (For all flesh is as grass)” was emotionally powerful in the delivery because of the dynamic level and the metered tempo. 

 

The bass-baritone soloist James Shaffran had a very strong voice.  His phrasing in the third movement showed maturity in vocal technique.  His vocal quality showed wonderful range and variety.

 

Soprano Haley Hodges had a lovely vibrato that resonated throughout the high ceilings of the cathedral-like structure of the National Presbyterian Church.  Her lyric phrasing and dynamics were superb.

 

The City Choir of Washington’s next concert is December 18.  Ticket discounts will be offered from November 6 through November 20.  This concert, called “The Holly and the Ivy”, will include Marriott’s Ridge High School Madrigal Singers under the direction of Mr. Scott Au Coin.

 

 


Salute to Vienna is a delightful celebration of the Viennese tradition of toasting the New Year.

The afternoon of entertainment included ballet and ballroom dance and arias by Johann Strauss Jr. (Die Fledermaus), Franz Lehar (Giuditta and Land of Smiles) and Emmerich Kalman (Gypsy Princess).  The German lieder (art songs) were delightful and captivating.

The overture was from Die Fledermaus, the light-hearted operetta by Johann Strauss Jr. about a man who is to be delivered to jail on the New Year and tells how he escapes to enjoy a party before he turns himself in to the jailer.  This set the mood for the next aria by the soprano from the same operetta.  In that aria, the maid of the man who is to report to jail auditions for a part in the jailhouse choir.  She plays an aspiring actress to the people attending the party, and her employer does not embarrass her by giving away her true identity.  This opera is full of fun-filled action and laughter.

The costuming and the choreography of both the ballet and the ballroom dancing are simply gorgeous.  There was playfulness in the skit-like dance scenes.  The acting of the dancers and singers played into the atmosphere of light-hearted comedic relief, which was included with the orchestra musicians in the percussion section while playing a polka.

Natalia Ushakova, a student at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory in St. Petersburg and the University of Munich, had a powerful soprano voice.  She played the part of seductress very well in her arias. 

Brian Cheney is a charming tenor with a strong repertoire of accomplishments in opera, operetta and concert works.  He was a true delight to watch.

When Brian and Natalia sang their love duets, the audience was transported to another time of romance.  The acting and the strong singing of both musicians made their duets memorable.

Matthias Fletzberger the Maestro for the concert is from Vienna and attended the University of Music in Vienna for violin and piano at the age of five.  At 12 he won first prize in the Austrian Jugend Musizert Competition.  He studied with Hans Graf among other teachers.  He was the master of ceremony as well as the conductor.  He was very informative and entertaining when describing the background of the musical and dance offerings.  His conducting kept the orchestra cohesive in tempo and light-hearted in spirit.

 Salute to Vienna will present next New Year’s concert from December 30, 2016 to January 2, 2017.  The Strathmore Music Hall’s website will provide information of the date of the concert.


Opera Lafayette Les Fetes de l’Hymen at de l’Amour, ou Les Diex d’Egypte filled the concert hall Monday evening with dance, glittery costumes and wonderful Baroque singing



 

When the opera begins, the aristocratic French costumes on stage make you feel like you are in an 18th century hall watching a Baroque performance of Les Fetes de l’Hymen at de l’Amour, ou Les Diex d’Egypte. There were three groups of dancers who performed throughout the opera, adding to the story-telling of the plot. One group was dressed as aristocratic French, the other group was dressed in Asian Indian garb representing the Egyptian people and a third group were dressed in aqua-blue unitards. There was quite a lot of expressive dancing to portray the story of conflict between nations and love overcoming all obstacles. There was also a religious theme about the god of the afterlife Osiris whom the Egyptians worshiped.


The prologue begins with dance portraying the court of the gods, where Amour or cupid does not want to submit to Hymen (the god of marriage). Osiris (god of the afterlife) arrayed with a gold crown and long flowing robe enters surrounded by the “Virtues” or virtuous spirits enters the court. Both courts of Amour and Hymen make peace with each other and agree to protect Dauphin and Dauphine (the Prince and Princess).


The three dance groups were The New York Baroque Dance Company, Kalanidhi Dance and Sean Curran Company.  The dancers in French costume (The New York Baroque Dance) performed choreography by Catherine Turocy. Ms. Turocy has been awarded the title of Chevalier, in the order of Arts and Letters by the French Republic. The dance was very proper, much like Baroque-period dances. The dancers who represented the Amazons was performed by Kalanidhi Dance and was typical Asian Indian dance movements with gestures showing the drawing of arrows in battle. The choreographer of Kalanidhi is Anuradha Nehru, a specialist in Indian classical dance. The Sean Curran dancers performed his choreography. He was a leading dancer with Bill T. Jones and an original member of STOMP! His dancers represented followers of Canope.


This is an opera that uses a chamber orchestra, and is one of Rameau’s later works. The music is typical melismatic Baroque style music. The orchestra was wonderful in supporting the singers and Maestro Ryan Brown was acutely aware of both the instrumentalists and the singers, even though he was unable to easily view the singers being behind them. His ability to keep the musical style, tempo and essence cohesive demonstrates his excellent musicianship.

 

The opera was originally composed as entertainment for the celebrations of Dauphin’s marriage to Maria Josepha of Saxony. Les Fetes de l’Hymen at de l’Amour, ou Les Diex d’Egypte soon became a popular work and by March 1776 it had been performed 106 times.  Cahusac, who was the librettist, was especially pleased with the way that he incorporated the element of Egyptian mythology into the story.  In following the formula for French opera of including ballet in opera, Chausac took that love of dance even further using three different dance groups to portray the French, Egyptian people and Canope the god of the Nile. One interesting note is that the Egyptians are called Amazons, yet the Amazon River is in South America and not Africa, and Canope is the god of the Nile.  It seems that the different races are to represent the different gods.


During the second half of the opera, the followers of Canope dance in flowing movements as if to be sea weeds in water moving back and forth; in this case it seems to represent adulation of Canope, their leader. The choreography is by Sean Curran.

The singers were very capable of such a difficult score. Kelly Ballou who plays Amour has a lovely mixture of strength and beauty in her voice. Her portrayal of the character of Love was delightful. She exudes the innocence of love. Laetitia Spitzer Grimaldi who portrays Hymen posseses a wonderful voice. Orthesie, the queen of the Amazons receives counsel from Mirrine to declare war on Osiris, but the Egyptian god, Osiris (god of the after life), appears as a bringer of peace. Orthesie played by Claire Debono, is a powerful figure of feminine strength. Her lyric voice also demonstrates power to match her dramatic character. Her character decides to make peace with Osiris. Mirrine does not agree to make peace and attempts to war against Osiris anyway, but is stopped by Orthesie. Both of these female characters are powerful, and likewise have matching powerful voices to suit their respective roles. 

The drama of the battle was portrayed by The New York Baroque Dance Company and Kalanidhi Dance (the Amazons). The use of dance was very effective in telling the story and also entertaining . Tenor Jeffrey Thompson who plays Osiris has a commanding stage presence to match his rich and powerful voice. The most powerful voice on stage was the voice of Francois Lis. His rich, profoundly bass voice filled the hall and complemented his commanding stage presence. He played the role of Canope, god of the Nile.

The overall performance, including the orchestra, costumes and performance of the singers and dancers was a well orchestrated presentation of the story of the opera. Opera Lafayette is a very professional and high-quality arts organization.

Opera Lafayette will present a program in February called “ A Wink at the Past: Chamber Music of Handel and Bach.”


Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - Terrace Theater at Kennedy Center at 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, February 26, 2015 - Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall at 8 p.m.






 

 

Washington Master Chorale presents an interesting all-Bernstein program at National Presbyterian

 

Sunday afternoon’s performance by the Washington Master Chorale of Bernstein’s compositions was a wonderful mixture of selections from his career.  Selections from the Bernstein Mass, choruses from The Lark, Missa Brevis, Hashkiveinu and his beloved Chichester Psalms were presented with polished professionalism.  Also presented was “Simple Song” from his Mass and “Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide.

 

The choruses sang beautifully, with balanced and well-blended vocal color.  The adult choir of the Washington Master Chorale echoed an exquisite vocal fabric of rich tones and beautiful harmonies.  Also the Children’s Chorus of Washington were very polished, demonstrating the excellent training that Joan Gregoryk has investing in these young people.

 

The Sanctus from Bernstein’s Mass opened the program with the Children’s Chorus of Washington and a chamber chorus from the Washington Master Chorale.  The members of the chamber chorus were Stephanie Lange, soprano, Laura Choi Stuart, mezzo-soprano, Lena Seikaly, alto, and instrumentalists were Alexei Ulitin, piano, Paul Skevington, organ and Lee Hinkle, percussion.  Both choruses sounded wonderful with balanced lines of music and quality blending of choruses.  The trio of women singers sounded lovely and their voices blended well together.  The final chord sung by the mixed chorus rang throughout the church with beauty.

 

Next on the program were choruses from The Lark.  The text was written for a play to be premiered in 1956.  Some of this music was later used in Bernstein’s Mass.  The spoken text was based on the play by Jean Anouilh, adapted by Lillian Hellman and Nathaniel Lew and Louise De Cormier adapted the narration.  The narrator was Nina Totenberg, who played the part of Joan of Arc, which added clarity and drama to the music.  Robin Steitz, soprano, and Lena Seikaly, alto perform a duet with the ensemble who included Amy Broadbent, soprano, Rachel Carlson, soprano, Shauna Kreidler-Michels, mezzo-soprano, Andrew Hill, tenor, David Gradin, baritone, and Brian Isaac, bass.  The soloists and the ensemble singers sounded lovely.  The ability of the soloists to perform as soloists and then in other works to perform in the mixed chorus shows an awareness of how to shine as a soloist as well as how to blend into a chorus.   The pianissimo ending of the Benedictus section was so lovely it evoked a tender emotion.

 

The Missa Brevis was lovely.  The soloist was Lena Seikaly.  She has a beautiful, tight vibrato.  She is a native of Falls Church and holds a Bachelor of Music from the University of Maryland.  Ms. Seikaly won the D. C. chapter of the Eleanor Searle Whitney McCollum Vocal Award.  She possesses strong musicianship and vocal beauty.  The chorus provided the perfect musical background, presenting the Missa Brevis as a lovely composition which was musically pleasing.

 

The Hashkiveinu was a dramatic composition beginning with an ominous chord on the organ that was sustained throughout the beginning chorus.  Some of the text echoed words of the 23rd psalm, where it begins “Cause me, oh Lord to lie down in peace.”  Soloist James Rogers sang confidently and with a full dramatic color in his voice.  The Hashkiveinu ended with an evocative deep bass note from the bass section, which was very dramatic.

 

 Leonard Bernstein wrote the Chichester Psalms in 1965, a period when composers were promoting atonal twelve-tone music called serial music.  This was also during the period of debate in America about the Vietnam War.   Many composers believed that tonality was over, but Bernstein answered the debate by writing the Chichester Psalms, which began in dissonance and evolved into a tonal center in response to the debate on tonality. The text had two dueling themes.  In the text of Psalms 108 and 23 it speaks about making a joyful noise unto the Lord and being a people of God, as well as resting beside still waters and resting in God.  This is the theme of restfulness and peace.  The theme of Psalm 2 speaks about battles raging against the Lord’s anointed.  This conflict in text may simply be showing the two sides of God’s word, or it may have been written with dueling themes to represent the conflict and debate in America at that time about war.

 

The singing in the Chichester Psalms was beautifully blended with sweet harmonies.  The chorus and the soloist were very moving.  The clear tone of the boy soloist, Thomas Lynch, was bell-like, ringing his message throughout the church.   The quartet of soloists sounded lovely and at one point Robin Smith and Lena Seikaly sounded heavenly and the first soprano held a pianissimo note that was very high.  The art of being able to sing softly in the upper register is a talent most sopranos find difficult, but Ms. Smith sounded like an angle.

 

The Children’s Chorus of Washington performed “Simple Song” from Mass.  The musical discipline and excellent tonal quality of this chorus demonstrates the excellent training they receive under the baton of Joan Gregoryk, the founder and Artistic Director of the chorus. 

 

The program ended with both the Children’s Chorus of Washington and the Washington Master Chorale blending their voices together on “Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide.  The wonderful mixing of the vocal fabric was rich with color and musical texture. 

 

The Washington Master Chorale will present their winter concerts on the theme of peace and will be held at the National City Christian Church, Washington D. C. on the following dates:

 

Sunday, December 14, 2014, 7:30 p.m.

Monday, December 22, 2014, 7:30 p.m.

 

Their spring concerts will be held on the following dates in the following locations:

 

Sunday, March 8, 2015 at 4 p.m.

(pre-concert conversation at 3 p.m.)

The National Presbyterian Church, Washington, D.C.

 

Sunday, March 15, 2015 at 4 p.m.

The Church of the Epiphany, Washington, D. C.

 

The excellent quality of the chorus deserves any music lover’s attention.  They present musical beauty in their concerts.

 

Washington Concert Opera kicks off the season with I Capuleti e i Montecchi


I Capuleti e I Montecchi by Vincenzo Bellini is translated Romeo and Juliet.  Even though the opera is based on the same source that Shakespeare used for his play Romeo and Juliet, the story is different using only five principal singers and an all-male chorus.  


Kate Lindsey, a very delightful mezzo-soprano who graduated the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, performed the role of Romeo.  Her voice has a lovely, tight vibrato and her ability to control her tone and quality is excellent.  Her stage presence and ability to act was particularly dramatic in the ending aria where she gazes into heaven and holds her eyes open in her death scene, until the audience applauds.  In her final scene her pianissimo was lovely demonstrating her ability to have beautiful full sound with a softer volume.

Illness forced Olga Peretyatko to withdraw, substituting Nicole Cabell.  Nicole Cabell sang Medora in “Il Corsaro” for the Washington Concert in March.   Ms. Cabell made her San Francisco Opera debut as Giulietta in this opera two years ago.   Her lyric tones perfectly complemented her duets with Ms. Lindsey in most of their duets, but because Nicole has a more powerful voice she sometimes overpowered Ms. Lindsey.  Her acting and poise was very impressive.

Capellio (Juliet’s father) was played by Jeffrey Beruan.  He has a baritonal color in his voice rather than a basso profundo.  His vocal ability demonstrated a smooth and warm quality.

Liam Moran who played Lorenzo, has a commanding presence on stage.  His deep bass voice and his tall stature made his small role of Lorenzo which paralleled the role of Friar Lawrence in the Shakespeare play, seem much more important.

David Portillo, a veteran of the Wolf Trap Opera Young Artist program, played Tebaldo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi.  He has also performed locally with the Virginia Opera in the role of Ferrando in Cosi fan tutte.  His ability to combine the drama of his role including his passion against Romeo with his singing brought drama to the stage.  In his upper range his notes were forte, yet the quality of his high notes sounded strained.

In Act 2 there was a lovely musical phrase using imitation between the clarinet and Lindsey.  It opened with the clarinet playing a melody and then Lindsey would sing the same melody in a variation.  It was very lovely, demonstrating how a soft duet between a single instrument and a soloist can be very effective in conveying a message and an emotion. 



Carousel Latino program at the Source theater brings romance and drama to the Fourteenth Street corridor.

 

Carla Hubner and Justin Barclay are not just arts management professionals, but they really treat you like a member of the family.  When you attend a performance at the Source, you feel at home and everyone gets to know you easily and caters to your needs, moving tables, adjusting chairs and doing whatever it takes to make you feel right at home, so you can enjoy the intimate experience of live entertainment at Source.

 This weekend at the Source theater, live Latin music from Mexico, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Peru, Cuba and Brazil was featured in the “In Series.”  Carla Hubner’s vision of a dual program for this wonderful weekend was well thought out. 

Carla Hubner who founded the “In Series” is herself an accomplished pianist from Chile.  The series was founded as the concert series of the former Mount Vernon College.  It is the cultural force in the newly developed area of the Fourteenth Street corridor.

 Beginning the weekend was the Lady of Spain Program I.  This was a mixed program of popular Latin music and opera arias, which of course included Carmen by Bizet, one of the most famous vixens in an opera set in Seville, Spain.  Opening with popular songs from Tolchard Evans, Stanley Damerell, Robert Hargreaves and Henry Tilsey (America 1931) the tempo and temperament of the music was light. 

Nephi Sanchez is a delightful tenor who has a strong voice and played his character roles well.  He played a devilish Don Giovanni while singing “La Ci Darem La Mano.”   Having performed at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and the “In Series” Mr. Sanchez is an accomplished performer.  He sang a mambo from Mexico and a samba from Brazil with Patricia Portillo.  My favorite role he performed was his moving aria “Una Furtiva Lagrima” (A Secret Tear) in his role as Nemorino in Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love.”

Patricia Portillo received Best Supporting Actress in the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  She has performed for a decade locally and has performed as Carmen, Rosalinda (Die Fledermaus), Lady Angela (Patience), Edith (Pirates of Penzance) and many more roles.  She is also a chorister with the Washington National Opera since 2008.  She has a strong voice and solid acting skills in her performance of her roles.  Her arias “Pres des remparts” and “Quad je vous aimerai. . . L’Amor est un oiseau rebelle” were very seductive. 

In the second Latin Program II called Cancionero Latino (Great Latino Songbook) the programing was lighter.  Alex Alburqueque, a Peruvian baritone performed every role with polish, wonderful characterization of his roles and he has a very strong and colorful baritone vibrato.  He began his career soloing for Mozart’s Requiem Mass at Montgomery College and his studies are ongoing with the University of Maryland. 

 Alex Alburqueque’s polish and vocal resonance was delightful.  His songs included a waltz by Chabuca Granda, a bolero by Armando Manzanero and a bolero by the “Cole Porter of Puerto Rico”, Mr. Rafael Hernandez.   Hernandez’s song was a lament about lost love.  During his performance of Mujer (Woman) he was immersed in his character as a man longing for a Mexican woman.  He played his character convincingly while singing lovely tones and walking through the audience.  In the Source the setting is very intimate; one of the desirable characteristics of the venue for many audience members.

 Lorena Sabogal has performed numerous roles in this venue in productions of In Spite of Love, The Aging of Plum, Blood Wedding, El rufian Castrucho, Looking South and many more roles.  She is an accomplished actress; however, her voice was not strong and she had some pitch problems.  However, the audience appreciated her playful acting of her numerous roles.

 The music was piano accompaniment.  Jose Caceres  has performed with many orchestras including the Fairfax Symphony and the National Symphony Orchestra.  His fingering was adequate but there were a few slight tempo issues.  Mari Paz was the pianist for the second Latin program and her finger agility was quite delightful.  She would also turn around to introduce information about the program occasionally, adding depth to the musical experience.

 Overall, the evening was enjoyed by the audience and was found to be very entertaining.  Any cabert lover would enjoy a performance by the In Series. 

 They are producing a production of Verdi’s “La Traviata.”  This performance will be at the GALA Hispanic Theater.  It runs from June 14 through June 28.  This will feature a chamber orchestra and full cast of characters.d

 

 


The Choral Arts transported the audience to Argentina in the Concert Hall at the Kennedy Center.

 

The Choral Arts presented an interesting program of music from Latin composers at the Kennedy Center called “Tango! Soul and Heart.”  Carlos Gardel, Alfredo Le Pera, Virgilio Exposito, Homero Exposito, Francisco Canaro and Astor Piazzolla were featured.  The music was passionate and lively.

 

There was a composition by Alberto Ginastera, which opened with a fortissimo theme called the Lamentations of Jeremiah.  This was an a cappella setting of Biblical settings in three movements and the chorus performed these movements in a lovely and musically consistent way.  The chorus sang beautifully with feeling and polish in their annunciation and musical quality.  Composer Ginastera wrote this piece while at Tanglewood in 1946.

 

The chorus also performed a “Misa Tango” by Luis Bacalov.  Mr. Bacalov, who has written for film, composed this piece with a lively tempo.  This was an interesting performance of the Mass.  This Tango was actually a Mass in five movements from the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. 

 

During the performance of the Tango Mass, there were two vocal soloists who performed their parts with beauty and professionalism along with a bandoneon player.  Javier Arrey is a former Domingo-Cafritz opera singer and had a resonant and full baritone voice.  Anamer Castrello was a deep Mezzo-soprano who almost sounded contralto.  The bandoneon instrumentalist was Emanuel Trifilio and his accompaniment was lovely.

 

After intermission Maestro Tucker gave the podium to Sergio Alessandro Buslje, founder of the Pan American Symphony.  Mr. Buslje demonstrated his conducting skill with flare.  Javier Arrey sang arias by Carlos Gardel.  Anamer Castrello, the Mezzo-soprano sang two arias by Virgilio Exposito and Homero Exposito.  Her singing was strong and deliberate.  Octavio Brunetti performed “Adios Nonino” an instrumental composition by Astor Piazzolla with passion and flare.  Meanwhile the chorus provided lovely vocal texture as a background for the music.  There were also tango dancers who performed live to the music, adding a nice visual aesthetic.

 

This program was very different than the typical choral concert and I thought it was well done.  The program offered a look into the various forms of music in Latin America.  It contrasted the more classical form of choral music with a Latin twist.  The masses were very different than the European form in sound and texture.  The concert presented an opportunity for the audience to learn more about the musical traditions of Argentina from a varied viewpoint.


Fairfax Choral Society presents a program of music by composer Morten Johannes Lauridsen.


On Sunday evening I heard the most beautiful melodic music written by a modern living composer.  Morten Johannes Lauridsen was composer in-residence of the Los Angeles Master Chorale from 1994-2001 and has been a professor of composition at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music for more than forty years.  In 2006 he was named “American Choral Master” by the National Endowment for the Arts.  In 2007 President George Walker Bush presented the “National Medal of Arts” to him at a White House ceremony.  He has received over 200 Grammy Award nominations.  


The compositions performed were religious pieces.  “O Come, Let Us Sing Unto the Lord” written in 1970 was a chorus set to Psalm 95:1-4, 6,7.  This was a beautiful chorus with nice melody line.  His “O Magnum Mysterium” composed in 1994 had a very emotionally moving melody and was performed by both the youth chorus called the Master Singers and the Symphonic Chorus of adults.  There was an apagatora note out of the key representing the suffering of the Madonna.  The “Canticle - O Vos Omnes” written in 2005 and revised in 2007 was a memorial to his brother who passed away.  Performed by the Master Singers women’s section in the back of the hall, it made them sound mysterious and ethereal.  The “Dirait-on” from Les Chansons des Roses written in 1993 was beautifully written with a melodic theme and pretty harmonies.


There were several nocturnes performed.  Two were in Spainish, one was in English and one in French. His musical style in these nocturnes was consistently beautiful.  His technique of writing true to the text is wonderful and conveys the message well.  


The program concluded with his Lux Aeterna written in 2005 and revised in 2007.  The adult Symphonic Chorus and organ performed this work.  Performed in five movements, this composition begins with a introduction called a Mass for the Dead followed by a Te Deum Laudamus or praises to God.  The tiord movement is a hymn for the Feasts of Transfiguration.  The fourth movement “Veni, Sancte Spiritus” speaking about the healing of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and how grace and cleansing is needed for our healing.  The final movement was “Agnus Dei-Lux Aeterna” and speaks about the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.


I am pleased to hear a modern composer who is not writing in a dissonant style which is atonal and difficult to listen to.  Mr. Lauridsen is a wonderful composer and I would suggest checking out his many recordings, because his music is truly lovely.



The Washington Bach Consort presents the Saint John Passion.

 

The Bach Consort is conducted by J. Reilly Lewis a highly accomplished musician and conductor. He began his career in the National Cathedral Junior Boys Choir under Richard Dirksen and received his Bachelor of Music at Oberlin College and his Masters of Music and his Doctor of Musical Arts at Julliard. He was a Fulbright scholar in 1969 where he pursued studying keyboard music of Johan Sebastian Bach with Helmut Walcha in Germany. He founded the Washington Bach Consort in 1977 and in 1985 the consort was the only North American ensemble invited to perform in Leipzig for J. S. Bach’s 300th birthday celebration. Dr. Lewis has also performed at the Handel Festival in Halle, an all American music festival in Taipei, the Cologne New Music Festival, the Aspen Music Festival and the Mostly Mozart Festival. He was the associate conductor of the Handel Festival Orchestra for ten years, six years he was assistant staff pianist with the National Symphony Orchestra and since 1985 he has served as music director of the Cathedral Choral Society as well as being the organist and choirmaster at Clarendon United Methodist Church in Arlington since 1971. He is also a recipient of both the Chester J. Petranek Award and Paul Hume Awards and received a ‘WAMMY’ from the Washington Area Music Association as best conductor in 1957. He truly is a jewel in the cultural scene of Washington D. C.

 

The Saint John Passion begins with the word for Lord or “Herr” being sung three times which signifies the importance of the word and also depicts the trinity. The Bach Consort presented the 1724 version of the Saint John Passion. There were some very important theological points in the passion one where Jesus answers “I am” to the question inquiring who he is, where the Roman soldiers who came to get him all fall down when he answers “I am”, the same name God gives himself, thus representing his divinity. The words in Isaiah that speak about the Messiah being lifted up physically occurred on the cross.

 

The text was clearly articulated by the chorus and the soloists. The chorus and soloists were beautiful in their vocal quality. The mood of the music was majestic as well as melancholy because of the death of Christ. The instrumental accompaniment has a repeating bass line with the violins playing melody and the oboe and flute playing in unison. The chorus had beautifully blended voices.

The soloists were very professional in their presentations. Barbara Hollinshead who studied under Max van Egmond in the Netherlands displays a solid sound with simplistic beauty. Robert Petillo a member of the Army Chorus is known as a Baroque specialist and has a wonderful lyric quality in his voice. Steven Combs the baritone has a lovely full resonance in his voice. He has performed with many local groups including the Washington Ballet, The Master Chorale and National Symphony as well as Minnesota Opera, Metropolitan Opera and Boston Lyric Opera. Laura Choi Stuart possesses a gorgeous voice with a focused vibrato of beauty and vibrancy. She has performed with numerous opera companies including Opera Boston, Boston Lyric Opera, the In Series, and Opera North and has performed the roles of Musetta, Adina, Pamina, Gilda and Frasquita. The bass, Richard Giarusso who possesses a PhD in historical musicology from Harvard joined the musicology faculty in 2007 of the Peabody Conservatory. He has a powerful voice.

 

The entire performance was professional and beautiful.  Within the articulate text was a moving story.  This version of the Saint John Passion was incredibly masterful and emotional.

 

The Fairfax Symphony presents a well-orchestrated program spanning the Romantic and the Twentieth Century Periods of music.


Sir Edward Elgar’s Serenade in E Minor, began the program. Maestro Zimmerman conducted the orchestra with a delightful allegro tempo in the opening movement.  The strings played sweetly the legato notes in the larghetto movement.  The harmonies and the melodies of the strings were cohesive.  In the final movement the emotional setting was delightful with a light quality.  The gradual diminuendo was lovely.


Sir Elgar’s Serenade was composed in 1892 seven years prior to his groundbreaking success with his “Enigma” Variations.  His serenade is noted for its emotional constraint.  Instead of having large movements with numerous transitions and restatements of the themes in variations, he  chooses to write this composition in a concise and simple form.


The next offering in this multi-faceted program is written by Benjamin Britten.  His inspiration was taken from various texts which inspired him and written in different forms to convey the various moods presented in each movement of the "Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings."  It begins with a “Natural Horn’ performing a solo and concludes in the same manner.  The “Pastoral” section was inspired by text from Charles Cotton and speaks about the shadows growing long and how a mole hill appears like a mountain and the ant like an elephant, invoking images of “Alice in Wonderland” when she grows small and everything she sees is so much larger than her.  The “Nocturne” movement was inspired by Lord Alfred Tennyson and speaks about the bugle echoing symbolizing the end of daylight.  In this movement the strings sound gorgeous with dynamic phrasing that complement the lovely voice of tenor William Hite.  The “Elegy” inspired by William Blake’s text it speaks about a sick rose that is devoured by an invisible worm.  Next is the “Dirge” which is a dance where the dancer spins and spins to invoke a trance-like state.  In Britten’s music in the “Dirge” in old English it speaks about Christ receiving “thy saule” (thy soul).  In this very melancholy text, it even speaks about “Purgatory.”  The “Hymn” inspired by Ben Jonson it talks about a “Queen and huntress, chaste and fair” that is laid to rest, once again referring to sleep.  The final movement with text inspired by author John Keats speaks of darkness, forgetfulness, sleep and death ending with the text “Casket of my Soul.”  The beginning and concluding of the composition with a “Natural Horn” envelopes visions of “Blow ye the trumpet in Zion …” (Joel 2:1, the Bible), when the souls of the living and the dead are called up to judgment. There is certainly the Catholic reference to “Purgatory” in Britten’s “Dirge.”  His use of a dirge, a hymn and other compositional forms portrays various musical styles for various religious forms of worship.  Dirges are danced by Sufi Muslims, hymns are sung by Christians and an elegy is simply a mournful poem. 


Tenor William Hite a world class tenor who has performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Dresdner Philharmonie, American Symphony Orchestra, Washington Bach Consort, New York City Ballet and Mark Morris to name only a few of his colleges, demonstrates a special quality of stage presence that only he can bring to life on stage. His facial expressions mirrored the text he sang, while expertly executing magnificent phrasing and articulation techniques.  


Mr. Hite’s recent and upcoming engagements include the title role in La clemenza di Tito with Emmanuel Music, Boston; the Evangelist in the Saint Matthew Passion at Trinity Church, Wall Street and Britten’s War Requiem with the Hartt School Music.  He is a lecturer and coordinator of music at University of Massachusetts in Amherst. 


The most interesting composition of the afternoon was the Chamber Symphony in C Minor by Shostakovich.  I have to admit that initially when I saw that the program for the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra contained Shostakovich I was apprehensive; however, after checking the composition out on utube, I decided to be more open minded about my listening preferences. 


The Chamber Symphony in C Minor is a very complex and multi-layered composition.  It contains five movement which are each individually intricate.  Then there is a duple beat “motive” (a short musical or rhythmic entity that is concise and conveys a particular feeling or idea) that repeats throughout each of the five movements that is a symbolic protest against the political regime of the former Soviet Union empire.  That particular musical “motive” is a three beat rhythm that represents the three knocks on a “dissonant’s” door in the middle of the night when the KGB come in secret to carry the person away for good.  This “motive” was dissonant in tone to represent the fear and desperation of the victim.     


The five movements of the Shostakovich piece were each uniquely their own, and yet they all were woven together in a consistent way that made the movements appear as a part of one larger composition instead of five separate movements.  The opening largo movement began with a melancholy solo by the concert master David Salness, who played sweet legato notes.  Next the first violins entered echoing the melody in imitation.  The “allegro molto” movement was cheerful in mood and lively in tempo; yet even in this happier melody there is the interjection of the three note “motive” that persists.  Next there is an A and B section where the theme of despair is juxtaposed to a theme of beautiful melody.  The melody is very harmonic and lovely and the dissonance serves a purpose to make a statement of tension in the music.  Then there is a cello solo which repeats twice and is also restated quietly a third time.  The theme of the cello is performed so beautifully, it sounds like the cello is weeping in the minor key.  Then the violas, violins and other strings enter at different times playing their harmonies.  The largo sections (there are three)  are my favorite sections because the cello and then the strings joining in, weep in a gorgeous fabric of melody and harmony.  


The last composition performed was Britten’s Simple Symphony in C m Minor in four movements.  The first movement was boisterous using marcatto notes.  The strings in the orchestra played the musical phrases with concise bowing. The pizzicato section was delightful, employing both pizzicato as well as finger strumming of the strings.  The strings conveyed sentimental emotion using vibrato and legato technique.  This Simple Symphony concluded with a frolicking tune.  


Britten’s Simple Symphony is in the traditional four movement “sonata form” and brings a short and concise method to composition of a symphony written in the classical tradition.  The technical method used was from Britten’s prolific abstract period at South Lodge School.  He dedicated his Simple Symphony to his viola teacher Audrey Alston and later to Mrs. Lincolne Sutton.  


The Fairfax Symphony Orchestra supports an initiative for the promotion of arts for young children at the Woodburn School for Fine and Communicative Art (the link is www.fcps.edu/WoodburnES/docs/supplieslists/supplylist2013-2014.pdf).  They promote supporting this school at their concerts.

 

One of the best parts of the afternoon was the “after words” or post performance talk.  Maestro Zimmerman and the “Natural Horn” performer joined the audience in a close and personal conversation. The audience was allowed to ask Maestro questions, and make comments.   


The Fairfax Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming concerts include:


Saturday, March 22, 2014 - 8pm
Sunday, March 23, 2014 -2pm
Harris Theater

Christopher Zimmerman, Conductor
William Hite, Tenor

VARÈSE: Octandre
BRITTEN: Nocturne, Op. 60
SHOSTAKOVICH: Chamber Symphony in D Major
MOZART: Symphony No. 27 in G major



Saturday, April 26, 2014 - 8pm
Concert Hall

Christopher Zimmerman, Conductor

MAHLER: Symphony No. 5









Saturday, May 10, 2014 - 8pm
Concert Hall

Christopher Zimmerman, Conductor
Guillermo Figueroa, violin
Fairfax Choral Society

PIAZZOLLA: The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
ORFF: Carmina Burana


Folger Consort presents a musical program celebrating Shakespeare’s Tempest


Artistic Directors Robert Eisenstein and Christopher Kendall programmed incidental music and songs celebrating the Brave New World with Rosa Lamoreaux, William Sharp, Danny Villanueva and Tempesta di Mare.  The incidental music was composed by Matthew Locke and Robert Smith and the songs were written by John Banister, Philip Hart, Pelham Humfrey and James Primosch.  The program ended with a concerto by Antonio Vivaldi.


Pragmatically the music presented was from the various acts in the Shakespeare play The Tempest.  Beginning with The First Musick:  Introduction-Galliard-Gavotte, moving to The Second Musick:  Sarabrand-Lilk and then cycling to The First Act Tune:  Rustick Air, the beginning melodies were light and sweet instrumental sounds that set the mood for the songs to follow. The ensemble quality of La Tempesta di Mare, Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra was lovely as each instrumentalist played gorgeous phrasing while in complete unison of tempo with the ensemble orchestra.  


The next four songs were composed by John Banister in collaboration with Pelham Humphrey.  Banister was the son of municipal musicians of the parish of St. Giles-in-the-Fields.  His father taught him violin so well that Charles II sent him for further education in France and upon his return allowed Banister to lead his own orchestra.  Banister hosted concerts in his home where the audience would choose the music to be performed.  He continued this until shortly before his death.  In 1676 he wrote music to The Tempest.


The songs by John Banister were melodic and beautiful.  The songs were consistent with the beauty of the instrumental music leading up to the songs.  Rosa Lamoreaux the soprano had a distinctly focused vibrato that was beautiful.  She performed the arias for Ariel with clarity and splendor.  Performing regularly as a soloist for conductors such as Robert Shaw, J. Reilly Lewis, Sir David Willcocks and Norman Scribner as well as performing with orchestras such as the Atlanta, Dallas and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestras she has pleased audiences across America.  Her beautiful voice makes her a soprano in high demand.  She sang the roles of Ariel and Milcha in the compositions by John Banister from Act III of The Tempest.  Baritone William Sharp has a solid vocal quality of clean tones and beauty.  He has performed throughout the United States performing with the New York Philharmonic, New York Festival of Song, Bethlehem Bach Festival, Wolf Trap Opera Company and Boston Early Music Festival just to name a few.  His expressiveness in his comic roles had the audience responding with laughter.  In the song “Go thy way, Why should’st thou stay?” where Rosa Lamoreaux plays Ariel and William Sharp plays Ferdinand,  their voices blended well and their interaction between each other enhanced the performance.


Philip Hart an organist and composer wrote the song “Adieu to the Pleasures and Follies of Love” (songs of Ariel).  His song was performed by Rosa Lamoreaux with poise and clear vocal quality that rang throughout the National Cathedral with resonant beauty.   


The songs composed by Pelham Humphrey that were performed were “My Lord: Great Neptune, for my sake”, “See, see, the Heavens smile” and “Where the bee sucks.” Rosa Lamoreaux played Ariel and Amphitrite with confidence and her ornamentation at the end of the vocal phrase in “Where the bee sucks” was exquisite.  Her interaction with William Sharp was excellent role-playing.  


The “Song and Dances” from The Tempest composed by James Primosch had a completed different musical style than the Baroque styles of James Banister, Philip Hart or Pelham Humphrey. He had dissonant intervals in his songs, representing the tempest of the sea. Using deceptive cadences and pentatonic chords he used innovative techniques to portray an ethereal realm. Playing Stephano and Caliban Mr. Sharp demonstrated his ability to employ dramatic pause and excellent acting with an eloquent voice.  James Primosch used the musical technique of imitation between the soprano and the baritone to create beautiful duets.  


James Primosch was honored by the American Aacademy of Arts and Letters with a Goddard Lieberson Fellowship.  He studied at Cleveland State University, the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.  He studied under Mario Davidovsky, George Crumb and Richard Wermick. His works have been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Collage, The New York New Music Ensemble and the Twentieth Century Consort.


The wonderful evening ended with a beautiful, dance-like melody in the Concerto in F, RV 570 composed by Antonio Vivaldi and performed by La Tempesta di Mare.  The melody played by Gwyn Roberts blended and flowed well with the other recorders in her section as well as fluidly flowing in lovely phrasing with the harmony of the other sections of the orchestra.


Vocal Arts DC presented a delightful program of arias sung by Ana Maria Martinez in the Terrace Theater at the Kennedy Center


Vocal Arts DC presented “Between Arias and Songs” in the Terrace Theater at the Kennedy Center Wednesday evening featuring soprano Ana Maria Martinez.  This Grammy Award-winning soprano regularly appears at prestigious opera houses like the Metropolitan Opera, Paris Opera, Vienna State Opera and the Bavarian State Opera in Munich.  More recently she performed the title role in Madama Butterfly with the Washington National Opera.  Later this year she will return to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, Vienna and Munich.


She performed in recital with accompanist Craig Terry.  He performs as assistant conductor and music director for the Ryan Opera Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and has previously served as assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera.  He has performed with well-known greats like Stephanie Blythe, Christine Brewer, Nicole Cabell, Shasha Cooke, Eric Cutler, Giuseppe Filianoti, Denyce Graves, Joseph Kaiser, Kate Lindsey, Danielle de Niese, Susanna Phillips, Patricia Racette, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Hugh Russell, Garrett Sorenson and Amber Wagner.  He has collaborated with famous orchestras like the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra, Gewandhaus Orchester, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic and the Pro Arte String Quartet.  He was an excellent accompanist, and it was obvious that both of them were together in tempi, mood and color.   


Her program of arias included selections from composers Purcell, Handel, Mozart, Rodrigo, Pablo Casals and de Falla.  Her resonant voice filled the Terrace Theater with glorious sounds demonstrating her ability to marry her acting skills with her powerful vocal tones.  In “Non ti bastava, ingrato … Lascia omai le brune vele” by Handel she demonstrated her vocal prowess in executing precise marcatto notes diaphragmatically with exactness while playing the role of the lover in mourning.  Her trills ornamented the phrases beautifully.  In the aria “E pur cosi in un giorno … Piangero la sorte mia” by Handel, she emoted the feeling of sorrow as she bemoans her fate and the death of Caesar.  Her stage presence and her musicianship was showcased in the aria “Da tempeste il legno infranto from Handel’s opera Giulio Cesare in Egitto.  This aria is written in Baroque style with difficult melismatic runs of sixteenth notes and Ana Maria executed these difficult notes with precision and skill.  In her upper range the higher notes that are sometimes difficult for other sopranos she sang with a beautiful flute-like quality.  Her program had a wide range of styles of music and themes.  Her vocal range is very wide and her vocal color is quite variable.


Below is a description of the upcoming concerts that Vocal Arts DC will be performing:


The remaining five recitals in the 2013-2014 season are all scheduled for the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Young bass-baritone Brandon Cedel, winner of the 2012 George London Award and the 2013 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, appears on December 4 in concert with pianist Brian Zeger. Grammy Award-Winning soprano Ana María Martínez offers a recital on January 8. Italian Bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni, selected by Opera News in 2012 as one of the "Next Wave" of elite classical vocalists among the younger generation, makes his area debut on January 31 in collaboration with pianist Wolfram Rieger. Korean-American soprano Hei-Kyung Hong, a Metropolitan Opera favorite, will appear with pianist Vlad Iftinca on February 26. Countertenor Iestyn Davies, who has become an international sensation through both opera and concert performances as well as his growing catalogue of recordings, offers a program accompanied by lutenist Thomas Dunford on April 8 that mixes Tudor-era ballads with the Washington premiere of a newly commissioned work by young American composer Nico Muhly. Start time for all seven recitals is 7:30 pm.  (Vocal Arts DC website)

In this concert Ana Maria Martinez displayed superior musical skill with an evocative stage presence, delighting the heart of any true music lover.  Vocal Arts DC is presenting five more recitals that are also sure to please the discerning musical listener.  Their website is www.vocalartsdc.org.  


The Washington Bach Consort’s Ceremony and Celebration:  Christmas with the Consort celebrated Christmas with Britten and John La Montaine


The Washington Bach Consort is a true musical gem in the Washington D. C. area.  The qualifications of the musicians are quite impressive and the vocal, instrumental and programmatic aspects of the consort’s presentations is of the utmost quality.


The Bach Consort is conducted by J. Reilley Lewis a highly accomplished musician and conductor.  He began his career in the National Cathedral Junior Boys Choir under Richard Dirksen and received his Bachelor of Music at Oberlin College and his Masters of Music and his Doctor of Musical Arts at Julliard.  He was a Fulbright scholar in 1969 where he pursued studying keyboard music of Johan Sebastian Bach with Helmut Walcha in Germany.  He founded the Washington Bach Consort in 1977 and in 1985 the consort was the only North American ensemble invited to perform in Leipzig for J. S. Bach’s 300th birthday celebration.  Dr. Lewis has also performed at the Handel Festival in Halle, an all American music festival in Taipei, the Cologne New Music Festival, the Aspen Music Festival and the Mostly Mozart Festival.  He was the associate conductor of the Handel Festival Orchestra for ten years, six years he was assistant staff pianist with the National Symphony Orchestra and since 1985 he has served as music director of the Cathedral Choral Society as well as being the organist and choirmaster at Clarendon United Methodist Church in Arlington since 1971.  He is also a recipient of both the Chester J. Petranek Award and Paul Hume Awards and received a ‘WAMMY’ from the Washington Area Music Association as best conductor in 1957.  He truly is a jewel in the cultural scene of Washington D. C.


The Washington Bach Consort was accompanied by harpist Eric Sabatino and John Kilkenny percussionist.  Eric Sabatino earned a Bachelor of Music from The Manhattan School of Music and has played for the Empire State Opera, Amato Opera Company and the Island Lyric Opera of New York City.  John Kilkenny received a Bachelor of Music from Julliard School and his Masters of Music from Temple University and is Director of Percussion Studies at George Mason University.  He has performed with the National Symphony Orchestra, Washington National Opera, Washington Ballet, the Washington Concert Opera and with the Washington Chorus, Cathedral Choral Society and other choral ensembles.  The instrumental music was lovely and allowed the vocalists to shine.


Beginning with Benjamin Britten’s “A Hymn to the Virgin” written in 1930 by a then 16 year old Britten who composed a text with mixed Latin and English text paying tribute to the Virgin Mary, the Bach Consort made an elegant vocal statement.  The English verses were sung by the chorus in the loft, and the Latin text was sung by a quartet including Rebecca Kellerman Petretta, Chris Dudley, Gary Glick and Scott Anton.   Britten makes the contrast between Eve being a sinner and the Holy Mary being pure.  The quartet and the chorus singing from different locations was very beautiful.  In the hall of the National Presbyterian church the echo effect was lovely!  It also demonstrates the high quality of vocal musicianship of the consort, because when choruses sing from different locations, the sound has to travel differing distances and all singers must be very cognizant of being precise in tempo.


The Ceremony of Carols by Britten was beautifully sung.  Kristen Dubenion-Smith a medieval, renaissance and baroque music specialist, and a Peabody graduate performed a solo and shined with elegant echoing tones.  She co-founded the award winning medieval trio Eya, and is a cantor at the National Cathedral and has recordings on Bard and Gothic labels.  The other soloist Yeonjung Ellie Kim graduated from the Manhattan School of Music and has performed many opera roles including Pamina in Die Zauberflote, Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro, Lucy in Menotti’s The Telephone and Rita in Donizetti’s Rita.  Her voice was light, lyric and with a very clear and focused vibrato.  In section six of the Ceremony of Carols the rhythm was difficult, but the consort handled the tempos with precision and the text was perfectly articulated.  The duet of Katelyn G Aungst (a University of Maryland School of Music graduate) and soprano Yeonjung Ellie Kim was lovely.  Their voices blended very beautifully.  The soloists and the chorus were a well balanced mix of voices with clarity and focus in their tones.  In the tenth movement called Deo Gracias the harp had very beautiful chords and Eric Sabatino played them dramatically.  In the final movement of Opus 28, Ceremony of Carols the sopranos Katelyn Aungst and Yeonjung Kim sang beautifully.


In the Three Carols by Britten that followed, there was a mellow mixture of voice parts including baritone Scott Auby, tenor John Kilkenny and Janey Turner soprano and Stephen Combs.  Scott Auby holds a Bachelor in Music from Lawrence University and a J. D. from  Harvard Law.  Mr. Auby has also served as assistant conductor to the orchestra at Epcot Center in Walt Disney World.  The mixture of the tenor, baritone and soprano were smoothly blended.  The lyrics are not what you would expect from a Christmas carol with words like “If Time were the wicked sheriff, in a horse opera, I’d  pay for riding lessons and take his gun away -- O.  O lift …” in A Shepherd’s Carol.  The fact that the voices blended well is very important in these three carols since they are sung without accompaniment.


The second half of the program featured John La Montaine’s music The Nine Lessons of Christmas, Opus 44.  The harp and percussion opened with a prelude called The Garden of Eden which began quietly and had gorgeous arpeggios which set the mood for the entire set of movements. The quartet in movement seven was lovely.  Laura Stewart, soprano; Matthew Hill, tenor; Sarah Davis, mezzo and Janey Turner, soprano all sang with beautiful tones and precise articulation in the movement Ut Hoy! 


The voices of the chorus as a whole as well as the soloists were very lovely with focused vocal energy in lovely tight vibratos.  The sound of voices were pure and clear.  In the space of the National Presbyterian hall the effect was ethereal. 


The Washington Chorus performs a delightful Christmas program 


This delightful program included the Washington Chorus, the National Capital Brass and Percussion and the Robinson Singers from James R. Robinson secondary school presenting Christmas favorites. This concert included a wonderful candlelight procession into the hall by part of the chorus.  It was delightful to hear the choir members singing as they pass your seat singing Once in Royal David’s City.  You can hear the different voice parts as they walk into the hall.  I also found Maestro Wachner’s warming up the audience for the sing-along very delightful.  It put all of us in a relaxed mood.  The sing-along portion included the songs O Come, All Ye Faithful, Angels We Have Heard on High, Joy to the World and the Hallelujah Chorus.  The choirs descant in Joy to the World was gorgeous.


The concert had traditional carols and hymns as well as a tributes to Benjamin Britten that included his “Hymn to the Virgin” and “This Little Babe”.   The chorus performed “Sing We to this Merry Company” by John Rutter.  Also included was “Hodie Christus Natus Est” by Poulenc and a Venezuelan song called “Nino Lindo” and “Un Flambeau” which is also called “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella.”  The performance of “The Dream Isaiah Saw” was also very moving.  In the performance of “In the Bleak Midwinter” the soprano section was so well-blended that it almost sounded like one voice!   The execution of the tempo was so very precise, that the discipline that Maestro Wachner has instilled in the chorus is evident.  He also arranged the songs “Silent Night”, “Nino Lindo”, “Un Flanbeau” and “Joy to the World” in very interesting ways.


The chorus of voices performed their vocal parts with finesse using pianissimo and gentleness where appropriate and powerful full sound where fortissimo was required.  This grammy award-winning chorus is disciplined and refined in their vocal performance.


The Washington Chorus has a longstanding tradition of presenting students of local schools in their musical programs in what is called the “Side by Side” part of the program.  The Robsinon Singers from James W. Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax is the most disciplined young chorus I have heard.  Mike Horanski conducted this chorus, and presented a well balanced, cleanly articulated text in the songs they performed. 


The Robinson Singers then joined the Washington Chorus to sing the rest of the program. Benjamin Britten’s “Hymn to the Virgin” has two choirs and the Washington Chorus would sing one verse, and the Robinson Singers would sing the alternating line of music.  This hymn was sung beautifully.  Later on when both choirs sang simultaneously they blended together well.


The Washington Chorus is a preeminent chorus in the Washington D. C. area.  The quality of their performances is of the utmost to be found.  There will be one more Christmas concert at Strathmore Music Hall in Bethesda at 7:30 on Monday, December 23.


The rest of the Washington Chorus season is listed below:




THE ESSENTIAL VERDI
Sunday, March 2 at 5 PM
Kennedy Center Concert Hall




NEW MUSIC FOR A NEW AGE Award-winning series!
Presenting the works of Tarik O’Regan
 Thursday, May 8 at 7:30 PM
Church of the Epiphany




MADE IN AMERICA
Wednesday, June 11 at 7:30 PM
Kennedy Center Concert Hall   


The Folger Consort presents Christmas in New Spain


The Folger Consort presented music from the late sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries that celebrated the multi-ethnic influx of people to the New World in Latin America.  It celebrated the indigenous Aztec and Mayian Indians, Africans and people coming from Spain.  The music played by the instrumentalists and sung by the chorus was written by composers from Spain and Portugal and later Guatemala, Peru and Mexico.  These compositions included rhythms of Iberian folk music, Flemish polyphony as well as indigenous American musical influences and African lyrics and rhythms.


By the middle of the sixteenth century the music of Tomas Luis de Victoria and other Spainish masters was played in cathedrals of Mexico and Peru.  Composers such as Ximeno, Fernandes and Juan de Araujo wrote motets in the conservative European style as well as villancios using native American and African/Spainish dialects. During the early colonial period this mixture of native American, African and European traditions meshed together to make a new American musical genre.


By 1600 there were elaborate, European-style cities in Mexico and Peru, which were significant in Spain’s colonial empire, that performed Gregorian chant and polyphonic music including music by Morales, Guerrero and Victoria.  


Robert Eisenstein founding member of the consort and program director also directs the Five College Early Music Program in Massachusetts.  He teaches music history and plays the viola da gamba (viol), violin and medieval fiddle. He along with Christopher Kendal are the Folger Consort’s Artistic Directors.


The instrumentalists of the Folger Consort are all experts in performing early music on period instruments.  The collaboration of Robert Eisenstein and Christopher Kendal in programming music from the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods offers informative and interesting concerts.


The instruments played were the viol or also called the viola da gamba, which is the predecessor to the cello, the violin, a wooden recorders that sound like flutes, a period bassoon, bagpipes, percussion (using hooves of goats strung together, as well as bells) and the ancient trombone.  


Risa Browder who played the violin graduated from Oberlin Conservatory, the Royal College of Music in London, and Schola Cantorum in Basel, Switzerland.  She has toured Europe, Japan and the United States playing with orchestras, among them the Academy of Ancient Music, the English Concert, London Classical Players and Smithsonian Chamber Orchestra to name only a few.


Paula Fagerberg performed on the Spanish double harp.  She performs regularly at music festivals and at university concerts.  Some of the ensembles she performs with are Chatham Baroque, the Dallas Bach Society, the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra and the American Bach Soloists.  Internationally she has performed at the United States Embassy in Stockholm, Oxford University and has toured Peru and Bolivia.  She was recently featured on PBS in Harp Dreams as an expert on harps.  She was named a Spivey at Clayton State University and named The University System of Georgia Outstanding Scholar.


Anna Marsh plays regularly with Tempesta di Mare, Opera Atelier, Tafelmusik, Arion Baroque Orchestra, Atlanta Baroque, Seattle Baroque, Opera Layfayette, Clarion Music Society and the Washington Bach Consort.  She has taught at Amherst Early Music Festival, San Francicso Early Music Society Baroque Workshop and the Eastman School of Music to name only a few. 


Mary Springfels founder of the Newberry Consort has performed with New York pro Musica, the Waverly Consort, Consort Royal, Sequentia, New York City Opera, Philharmonia Baroque and many more classical ensembles.  She has recently performed Sonoma Bach Festival, the Arizona Bach Festival, the Dallas Bach Festival and Ars Lyrica of Houston.


Charles Weaver performed on the guitar and has performed with Early Music New York, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Musica Pacifica, Quicksilver and Mercury Baroque to name a few ensembles.  He also maintains a career as a choral singer and director working at St. Mary’s Student Schola program in Norwalk, Conneticut.


Tom Zajac played percussion and has played with Piffaro, Newberry Consort and Folger Consort to name a few ensembles. He has appeared in musical festivals from Hong Kong and Turkey to Bolivia, Europe and the United States. 


The vocal ensemble was Cathedra a chamber vocal ensemble of members of the Washington National Cathedral choir.  Michael McCarthy is the principal choir master.  The voices of the choir blended well together.  Each individual voice was clearly distinct and strong in well-focused pitch.  


The period instruments in the chamber ensemble balanced the six voice chamber ensemble.  The tempo and the balance of the vocal color against the instruments was excellent.  The music was beautifully performed.

The musicianship of each instrumentalist as well as the vocal musicians was extremely disciplined, which showed in the gorgeous sound of the ensemble.


The Folger Consort will perform this program through December 22, at their theater at 201 East Capital Street in Washington D. C


The City Choir rings in Christmas with traditional English and Spanish Dance carols, a cantata by Daniel Pinkham and many more selections


The instrumental accompaniment was an eight-piece brass ensemble with four trumpets, three trombones and a tuba, as well as an organ.  There were also three bell ringers in the procession into the cathedral.  The City Choir is a large chorus.  They were joined by the Hillbrook High School Concert Choir in the second half of the program.  The conductor is Robert Shafer, a professor at Shenandoah Conservatory and former conductor of The Washington Chorus.  


The program included traditional English and Spanish Dance carols, Daniel Pinkham’s Christmas cantata, The Lamb by Sir John Tavener (premiered by City Choir in the Spring), Personent Hodie, Resonet in Laudibus and many other Christmas songs.  The program also included a composition by Roderick Williams written in the dissonant twentieth century musical style.  The sing along portion included such songs as O Come All Ye Faithful, The First Nowell, Hark The Herald Angles Sing, Silent Night and the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah.


Maestro conducted the brass ensemble, the organist, choir and soloists with acute awareness of every line of music. The soloists in the City Choir were soprano Callie Schlegal, soprano Rachel Tester and tenor Robert Cornett.  This demonstrates the high level of singers within the City Choir itself.  They all had beautiful voices.  Also, since singing twentieth century style of music is more difficult than other styles of composition, the singing of soprano Callie Schlegal and tenor Robert Cornett was gorgeous and focused. 


Following the tradition of introducing high schools to perform on stage, Maestro Shafer introduced the Millbrook High School Concert Choir conducted by Brian Kelly.  The selections sung were The Lamb by Sir John Tavener, Torches by John Joubert, In the Bleak Mid-winter by Harold Darke and Hark the Harold Angels by Felix Mendelssohn.  Their concert dress was black evening gowns with a lovely blue ribbon and the men wore black suits with the same color blue ties.  Their vocal quality was very lovely.  They are a disciplined chorus with wonderful vocal color.


Future performances for the City Choir are:


A French Choral Spectacular

Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 4 p.m.

Saint Luke Catholic Church

McLean, Virginia  


Mozart:  Grand Mass in C Minor

Sunday, May 18, 2014 at 5 p.m.

National Presbyterian Church

Washington, D. C.  



The Cathedral Choral Society fills the air with glorious sounds of Christmas


The Cathedral Choral Society performed “The Joy of Christmas” conducted by J. Reilly Lewis.  They filled the Washington National Cathedral with glorious sounds of Christmas with traditional carols, selections from oratorios and polyphonic selections. The musical pieces were selections written in Spanish, Middle English, contemporary American English, Norwegian and Latin. 


The nice thing about the program was its diversity in languages and musical styles, as well as the wonderful prelude and postlude of the concert with the carillon.  It is not every day that an audience is able to hear the wonderful sound of a carillon.


After the carillon prelude and a medley of traditional carols played by the Washington Symphonic Brass, directed by Phil Snedecor, the Cathedral Choral Society processed in carrying the advent wreath.  As the choir processed they sang an early seventeenth century composition by Juan Perez Bocanegra called Hanacpachap cussicuinin.  It is believed to be the first printed piece of polyphonic music written in the New World and is sung in Quechua the dialect of the Incas.


Ecce Dominus veniet is a lovely polyphonic choral work with two choirs each doing a melody.  This a cappella motet uses the space of the cathedral to emphasize the distinct melodies of both choirs.  The interplay between the chorus and the Washington Symphonic Brass was beautifully performed.  The composer Hieronymus Praetorius, was an organist at Saint James in Hamburg and was considered the leading North German Lutheran composer of early seventeenth century music.  His style of writing was called “San Marco in Hamburg” and was inspired by Venetian polychoral musical style developed at Saint Mark’s Cathedral by Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli.  This particular musical style usually positions numerous choirs in different positions in a cathedral to produce a stereophonic effect.


Other selections included an East Coast premiere of The Blessing of Mary arranged by Benjamin Dobey based upon an Appalachian folk song, a traditional Norwegian melody called Den yndigste rose, traditional English carols, selections sang by Cantigas that are Spanish songs, a 2013 Third Millennium Commission written by Richard Einhorn (written in Middle Enlish) and an organ solo played by Todd Fickley.


Pragmatically the concert was very interesting.  It was not just a standard fare of Christmas carols, but was much more varied and inclusive of other countries and cultures.  It was an opportunity to learn more about Christmas songs from other cultures, while still having the audience participate in singing the well-known favorites of All Come All Ye Faithful, The First Nowell and Hark The Harold Angles Sing. 


Maestro J. Reilly Lewis began his musical career at the age of eight singing in the Junior Boy Choir at the Washington National Cathedral.  He received his Bachelor of Music from Oberlin College, and his Masters of Music and Doctorate of Music from Julliard.  He has presided over the Cathedral Choral Society as Music Director since 1985.  He also conducts the Washington Bach Consort.  He has performed at the Aspen Music Festival, the International Bach and Handel festivals, the Cologne New Music Festival and with the Smithsonian Chamber Players.  Maestro’s awareness of the nuances of vocal parts and their blending, along with his keen ear for the accompaniment of the brass made his conducting excellent.  He held the chorus, instrumentalists and soloists together in a consistent and gorgeous manner.


Many of the soloists were from the chorus.  This demonstrates the high quality of the members of the choir and allows for opportunity for the qualified choral members to grow in their vocal capability.  


Todd Fickley, the Associate Music Director and Chorus Master as well as the Assistant Conductor of the Cathedral Choral Society is also the keyboard artist of the Washington Bach Consort.  He is also organist for the Falls Church Anglican.  He began his organ studies at the Washington National Cathedral.  He has trained many young musicians using the Royal School of Church Music System.  His groups present outreach concerts at embassies, colleges and community centers in many languages. At the age of 23 he was made a fellow at the American Guild of Organists (AGO) and he holds an AGO Choirmaster Diploma. He has been featured on National Public Radio and Public Radio International. 


Below are some of the musical offerings the Cathedral Choral Society is performing in the future:


On February 22 at 5 p.m. the Cathedral Choral Society will perform Voices of Light with a film about the passion of Joan of Arc.  The Cathedral Choral Society brings together choirs in the Washington metropolitan area for a District of Columbia Youth Orchestra on February 26, 2014 at 7 p.m. On Sunday, March 23, 2014 they will perform Gabriel Faure’s Requiem mass.  On May 18 they will perform a classical showcase at 4 p.m.   June 22 they will be performing the Brahm's Requiem.  I would highly recommend seeing these performances, as I know they will be of the utmost quality in keeping with the excellent standards set for the Cathedral Choral Society.


One December Night with the National Christian Choir


One glorious candle light and holiday concert was performed twice on one night at Immanuel’s Church in Silver Spring and will also be performed twice again at Hempfield High School Performing Arts Center in Landisville, Pennsylvania.  This is an evening of wonderful music but it is the atmosphere of worship that makes the evening spiritually fulfilling in a way that some holiday concerts simply cannot accomplish.


The evening opened up with a prelude played by keyboardist and pianist, Lauryl Lewis and Michael Faircloth respectively.  Then the National Christian Choir’s “Second Edition” with soloist Joi Hilton performed “Evening in December” which was lovely.  Their voices were a well balanced mix and the blend was a colorful texture of harmony.  


Next there was a lovely overture and processional as the National Christian Choir (NCC) processed in while singing.  The choir performed selections from traditional carols arranged by Semsen and Schrader, Handel, a song by Steel arranged by Fettke and “Once Upon a Night” by J. Ferguson and R. Stone, arranged by B. Knight.  My personal favorite was Handel’s “For Unto Us a Child Is Born.”  The choir was a well-blended mixture of vocal parts with varying vocal tones.  The soloist in the carol “Once Upon a Holy Night” was Carol Burnette.  


The orchestra played in tempo and with clear awareness of Director Kathy Bowman’s direction.  She conducted both the orchestra and choir well, with keen perception of the instrumentalists and the singers parts.  


There was a section of the concert where audience participation was encouraged.  The traditional carol “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” was the song the audience sang with the choir.


Next there were more contemporary styles of holiday music including “Christmas Together” and “Something's Up Down in Bethlehem.”  The NCC’s performance of “Something's Up Down in Bethlehem” jazzed up the evening, making the concert an eclectic mixture of genres.  The soloist, Christina Colussi had a nice voice.


Next the National Christian Choir had their Children’s Choir perform some very nice selections of contemporary songs such as “The Very First Christmas Morn” by E Rush and R. Sterling, “A Holiday of Music” by T. Jennings and “Oh What a Wonderful Child” by G. Gilpin just to mention a few of the selections.  The children were adorable, and they incorporated hand movements and rang bells during their performance.  


After the performance of “Christmas in Heaven” by NCC’s “Second Edition”, there was music played by Michael Faircloth on piano and an offertory collected to pay for compact disks to go to the United States military overseas. I personally found the invitation irresistible.  My heart really goes out to our service men and women overseas who are away from their families during the holidays.


The concert was an interesting mixture of traditional, a little classical and a lot of contemporary music.  The variety of musical styles and blending of the voices of the choirs and mini-choir of the “Second Edition” along with the delightful performance of the children programmatically was pleasurable.  It was also nice for those of us who sing or simply love to sing to be able to participate in the holiday sing-along.


The National Christian Choir is a holiday favorite that should not be missed.  Their website is www.nationalchristianchoir.org.  Please check out their schedule of other concerts.


 

The Choral Arts Society and Brian Stokes Mitchell at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall

 

The Tony Award winning Broadway baritone, Brian Stokes Mitchell, performed a wide selection of Broadway hits from the Great American Songbook along with the Choral Arts Society of Washington, D. C.   This collaboration proved to be an excellent pairing of classically trained voices of the Choral Arts Society of Washington and the world acclaimed baritone of Broadway, Mr. Brian Stokes Mitchell.  This performance was on May 12 at the concert hall at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D. C.

The Choral Arts Society of Washington D. C. is a world-class choral society.  The Chorus started off with a Rodgers and Hammerstein song “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” from the musical State Fair.  This aria was followed by A Choral Portrait by Jerome Kern, and A Choral Celebration by Sondheim.  The Choral Celebration by Sondheim included Putting it Together”, “Not While I’m Around”, “ Losing My Mind”,” Send in the Clowns”, “The Little Things You Do Together” and “Being Alive”.

The Choral Arts Society performance of the choral section was illustriously elegant and well-blended.  There were solo performances in their choral section.  The chorale decided to use singers from the chorus.  Although there were some breath support issues which require an extremely powerful voice to be pitch-perfect and fill the hall with resonance, the overall solos were very well done. 

Brian Stokes Mitchell is an acclaimed actor in many musicals in Broadway.  He appeared in a concert version of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific at Carnegie Hall on June 9, 2005.  As a teenager he grew up in San Diego, California, where he began his acting training in school musicals.  He has performed in an all-black revival of George and Ira Gershwin’s Oh, Kay!, Jelly’s Last Jam, Jelly Roll and also performed in a revival of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate, King Hedley II, Man of La Mancha, as well as performing in the 2002 revival of Sweeney Todd, a part of the Kennedy Center’s Stephen Sondheim’s 70th birthday celebration.

Then Mr. Mitchell took the stage with his pianist Tedd Firth to perform “Some Enchanged Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine” from South Pacific.  Other songs included were Gershwin Tunes and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl.  When Brian Stokes Mitchell performed with the Choral Arts Society, the background of the chorale along with his thundering Baritone voice made for a magical mix of theatrical arias that filled the audience with delight.   They performed “The Wheels of a Dream” from Ragtime employing William David Brohn’s original orchestration.  The Choral Arts Society deeply enriched the performance of Mr. Mitchell. 

Then Mr. Mitchell played a solo piano piece himself when he performed John Bucchino’s song “Grateful”, as arranged by Rob Mathes.  He ended the concert by playing “The Impossible Dream,” which brought the audience to their feet in a collective standing ovation.

Overall this was a highly polished performance by the Choral Arts Society as well as Mr. Brian Stokes Mitchell.  Both Mr. Mitchell and the Choral Arts Society partnered well in their collaboration.  This is a collaboration that many will want to see again!

The Choral Arts season subscriptions are renewing now.   To find out more information about the upcoming season that Choral Arts is performing please visit their website at:

http://www.choralarts.org/Performances/2013002D2014.aspx

The Choral Arts is asking those patrons who are like-minded to contribute to their community.  Please visit the website:  http://domore24.org/ to learn more.

This was a spectacular event.  Hearing Brian Stokes Mitchell perform the songs of the great American Broadway Songbook, alongside The Choral Arts Society Chorus with conductor Scott Tucker was an amazingly stunning program, programmatically and vocally.  Three cheers for Broadway, Brian Stokes Mitchell and the Choral Arts Society!

 

The Fairfax Symphony Orchestra at the Center for the Arts

 

 

 

 

On Saturday night, May 11, the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra presented a beautifully contrasting program of two very different composers.  Maestro Zimmerman placed Verdi and Wagner on the same program to demonstrate to the audience the difference in composition styles of each composer, and to show how both possess beauty in their own right.  Both Verdi and Wagner are opera composers born on the same day and both wrote g operas during the same musical era.   Verdi's writing style is very precise, having a specific beginning, middle and ending of each section of music.  Giuseppe Verdi wrote melodic arias, overtures and preludes.  Verdi’s writing style is dramatic and evokes emotion using concise musical motives and phrasing.   Wagner's style begins the music with a theme (melody) and then he alternates this theme through musical imitation from one instrumental section to another, and then inserts another musical melody while the first theme is still playing to change the music.  Wagner uses this new musical melody to dominate the music and transforms the composition into an entirely new theme.

Verdi uses pianissimo sections of music to end the death scene of  Desdemona in the aria "Dio mi potevi, scagliar" from Otello that is sorrowful and heart-wrenching.   In the aria from Don Carlo, ”Tu the le vanita conoscesti del mondo” an opera about romantic love, tragic consequences and politics, Verdi employs the harp in a melody that uses dynamics of pianissimo and legato musical phrasing that conveys the tragedy of the vanity in the world.  Verdi begins the theme in a stately, measured tempo using the trumpets to portray regal authority and then he employs musical phrasing to reach the heart of the opera lover listening to this aria.  Joni Henson, the soprano sang the aria with expressive emotion showing the trepidation her character feels in the opera.  Her vocal color and timbre were perfect for her singing roles that she performed; bravo Maestro Zimmerman!

In Wagner’s Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin he employs a fortissimo dynamic in the beginning in his booming and dramatic entrance and then he moves to a gentler sound to convey the emotion of the upcoming warfare between the Germanic tribes and the Hungarian king in his opera Lohengrin.  Wagner also employs his technique of melismatic transformation of the theme in the Prelude and Liehestod from his opera Tristan and Isolde; here he begins the theme in the cello section, slowly building the theme and then transforming the melody by using musical imitation from violin to cello section, culminating in a glorious theme of beauty. 

After intermission the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra performed Preludes to Acts Land III from Verdi’s opera La Traviata with heart-felt emotion being conveyed by the vibrato of the violin section.   Also in the second half of the concert  the beautifully blended voices of soprano Joni Henson and tenor Brennen Guillory soared in their love duet from “Gia nella note” from Otello, Act I as well as in the duet “Dio ti giocondi, O sposo”, also from Verdi’s opera Otello.  Masetro Zimmerman’s  selection of voices who possess great musical color and expression individually, yet also possess the ability to melt into each other’s voices in a vocal blend of pitch perfect color to convey the feeling of their duets.

The ensemble of the orchestra was balanced and showed particular awareness by each instrumental section to the other sections,  in portraying the fabric of the music in a wonderful texture showcasing the feeling in the music that Verdi and Wagner wanted to convey to the audiences of their day.  The dynamics, technique of vibrato, phrasing and astute awareness of Maestro’s tempo and dynamic gestures enabled the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra to produce a professional and high-quality performance that was enjoyable to everyone in attendance at the Center for the Arts.

The Fairfax Symphony Orchestra is signing up subscribers for their upcoming season, and they are such an excellent regional symphony, that I would suggest checking out their website at www.fairfaxsymphony.org/subscriptions .html  or by calling 703 563-1990.  If you live in the Fairfax City, or northern Virginia region you should really check out the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra.

 

 

An Afternoon of Brahms with the National Philharmonic

On Sunday afternoon the Strathmore Music Hall rang with the glorious melodies of Brahms.  The National Philharmonic a local orchestra in the Bethesda, Maryland region is a very professional group of musicians who played extremely well on this lovely afternoon.  The National Philharmonic is led by Maestro Gajewski, who built the philharmonic into its present day glory.  He conducts many orchestras in his native Poland as well as being guest conductor for orchestras such as the Liverpool Philharmonic, the Karlovy Very Symphony in the Czech Republic, the Okanagan in Canada as well as many orchestras throughout the United States.  His musical expertise has disciplined and polished this regional philharmonic into a wonderfully professional group of musicians.  He was aware of sections where tempo could be an issue, and he intentionally focused on those instrumental and choral sections, to maintain the continuity of the music.

The program The Melodies of Brahms began with Schicksalied (Song of Destiny) being sung by the National Philharmonic chorus.  The pianissimo entrance flourished into a luscious chorus with expressive phrasing.  Since the chorus sang the text in German, it would have been nice to have a libretto to follow the text in German with translations; however, the emotional expressiveness of the chorus helped the audience get a feel of the melody.  The dynamics of the B section in this song along with the power of the words sang expressed a sense of drama to conclude the melody.

The Alto Rhapsody featured critically acclaimed mezzo soprano Denyce Graves and the combined choruses of the National Philharmonic chorus and the Walt Whitman High School Men’s Chorus.  Ms. Graves is well known for her operatic roles of Carmen and Dalila; she has also performed the roles of Mrs. Miller in Doubt, Herodias in Salome, Katisha in the Mikado and Emelda in Champion.  This composition showcased Ms. Grave’s profoundly distinct voice with her rounded, rich tones echoing from her soft palate to resonate throughout the hall with power and a full, dark quality.  Although the combined choruses’ entrance was slightly off tempo, they quickly recovered and the rest of the rhapsody was simply heavenly.  The choruses’ execution of the marcato notes in phrases near the end of the piece was distinct and precise in tempo and expression.

In the final composition, Symphony No. 4, in E Minor, the National Philharmonic had a chance to shine.  Maestro Gajewski conducted the symphony without a score, enabling him to concentrate on each instrumental section.  There were some difficult parts in the allegro non troppo and allegro energico e passionate sections regarding pitch in the brass and trombone sections.  In the allegro energico e passionato section there was a playful part for the flutes and other woodwinds.  The woodwinds danced this sweet melody in a delightful way, and they were later joined by the cello section to weave the treble melody with the harmonies of the deeper instruments.  Overall the orchestra did shine in this wonderful performance of Symphony No. 4, in E Minor.

The overall performance of these melodies was beautiful.  It was like eating a delicious soup and entrée in the first half and then being fully satisfied with the meaty, well developed themes of the gorgeous Symphony No. 4 in E Minor in the second half of the concert.  The Symphony was beautiful and the power of the nuances in each section was finely tuned.  It was a glorious afternoon with the National Philharmonic.

You can view the National Philharmonic’s upcoming season on their website at www.nationalphilharmonic.org.

 

 
The Diamond Jubilee Celebration of A Coronation Anniversary Concert
The City Choir of Washington and the Shenandoah Conservatory Choir

The Diamond Jubilee celebration concert at the National Cathedral on Sunday afternoon was splendid.  It featured Robert Shafer as conductor, the City Choir and Washington and the Shenandoah Conservatory Choir along with a pre-lecture for invited guests of the choir who is Director of the British Council in the USA and Cultural Counselor at the British Embassy in Washington D. C.
I did not attend the pre-lecture but Mr. Smith’s credentials are impressive.  He was educated at King Edward’s School Birmingham and Queens’ College Cambridge where he gained a double first in English.  He has lectured in English literature at St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi, as well as pursuing doctoral studies in Renaissance literature at Cambridge University.
The conductor, Robert Shafer is recognized as one of America’s major choral conductors and has served as Artistic Director of the City Choir of Washington since its inception in 2007.  For over forty years Mr. Shafer has served as a choral conductor, composer, educator and church musician.  He served as Music Director of The Washington Chorus for more than 35 years and in February 2000 he was honored by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences with a Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance for a live recording of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem.

The program included works by John Tavener a well-known British composer.  He came to public attention in 1968 for his oratorio The Whale at the inaugural concert of the London Sinfonietta.  The Beatles subsequently recorded this on their Apple label.
The three compositions that were presented by John Tavener were The Lamb, Tolstoy’s Creed and Three Hymns of George Herbert.  His composition The Lamb is a lovely short composition about a little lamb that is meek and mild, which I presume is a symbol of Christ who is the Lamb of God.  Each vocal part was separately distinct so the melody and harmonies could easily be heard.  There was a bass whose vibrato was bellowing across the chorus as the choral fugue was echoed throughout the cathedral.  I love bass voices, so I enjoyed it.  In his composition Tolstoy’s Creed, the vocal articulation was excellent.  I could understand the words clearly, and I know how difficult it is to cultivate techniques to accomplish good annunciation.  In the phrase “was never more clearly expressed than in the doctrine of the Christ-Man”, the phrase was sung pianissimo and with deliberate purpose, which captured the meaning of this all important phrase.  In words like “individual” and “increasing” articulation is difficult, but the City Choir mastered the technique of making each syllable and consonant distinct.  In Tolstoy's Creed the phrase regarding solitary prayer was sung softer to show the quietness of solitary prayer, in comparison to the following phrase in the sentence about restoring and strengthening an awareness and belief in God which is concluded by being sung louder for emphasis on the meaning of that section of music.  In The Three Hymns of George Herbert, John Tavener emphasizes the visions of heaven, love and life.  In heaven he uses bell chimes to portray the regal sounds that we may experience in heaven every time the word "Echo" is sung.  He uses the words I, leaves, bide, holy, light, joy, leisure and ever, to portray things that we may find in heaven.  The vocal parts were woven with balance and distinct separateness.  In the second hymn it speaks about love using dissonant second intervals to depict struggle that sometimes accompanies the pursuit of love.  The third hymn has both choirs singing together, but with the distance and echo effect, the distinctiveness of the words is lost, and it is harder to discern the words in the songs.  This is followed by an instrumental postlude which has a beautiful ethereal quality. 
The performance of Chichester Psalms by Leonard Bernstein sung in Hebrew had each vocal part well blended with the other parts.  Esther Ullberg is a soprano and senior at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, who has sung with the Washington Chorus, their youth program, the Junior Washington Chorus and the Chorus' outreach singers and she has the most heavenly, well-focused pure tone in her voice.  Her solo section "Adonai-ro-i, lo ehsar", was beautifully sung.  There was also a well-balanced quartet which sang Psalm 133, verse one.

Nimrod, Movement IX of the Enigma Variations by Sir. Edward Elgar was sung slow and deliberate with a quiet presence that brought out the sweet melody and harmonies.  Although short, it was a very moving piece.
The Voluntary on the 100th Psalm for Organ was played by J. Thomas Mitts.  This difficult to play composition by Henry Purcell has a melismatic melody that is played with such speed that the articulation is hard to achieve.   The acoustics in the cathedral made this piece sound like two melodies at some points because of the play back in the echo of the hall.  It was played very well.
Overall the chorus and the orchestra were held together by the conducting of Maestro Shafer.  This ambitious program could only be achieved by a professional orchestra and a well-coached chorus along with polished soloists.  This was a wonderful concert and I recommend you visit www.thecitychoirofwashington.org to find out about their upcoming concerts and their season for 2013-2014. 
 
Their next concert will be THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING at the Filene Center Wolf Trap Park for the Performing Arts Vienna, VA at the following dates and times:
Fri., Sept. 6, 2013 | 7:30 p.m.
Sat., Sept. 7, 2013 | 7:30 p.m.
 Linda Pellegrino
Metropolitan Arts
 
An Evening of Brass, Brahms and Britten at National Presbyterian Church with the Choral Arts Society

The Choral Arts performed a program of Brass, Brahms and Britten on Sunday evening at 5 p.m. at the National Presbyterian Church.   The venue is an elegant cathedral with wonderful acoustics.  The assembled choir is a large ensemble of beautifully blended voices that echo throughout the cathedral with glorious vibrato.

The conductor and Artistic Director, Scott Tucker opened the program with Paul Hindemith’s Apparebit repentina dies.  This composition has a heavenly sound using the intervals of seconds and quartal and quintal chords that give the listener of this piece a feeling of mystery and ascending into the heavens.  This music incorporates the brass to make the audience appreciate the splendor that we anticipate in heaven.  The vocal parts were well blended into a wonderfully full vocal color.

The second composition was”Warum ist das Licht gegeben dem Muhseligen?” by Brahms.  When the chorus repeated the word Warum, which is the question why, it made the point of piece clear.  The emphasis was important to the meaning of the text.  The text of this composition includes passages from Job, Lamentation, James and text from the Lutheran Nunc Dimittis.  The tempo and articulation of the chorus shows ample discipline in their practice.  The performance of this composition was lovely.

There was a short lieder written by Johannes Brahms called Geistliches Lied, with text by Paul Flemming.  Although this piece was short, the text was very comforting.  It speaks about being still and enjoying the peace of God.  It tells us not to worry for tomorrow and be accepting whatever God decides, because it is best.

The last piece performed before intermission was Antiphon by William Walton with text by George Herbert.  This composition was performed in English and demonstrated the clear articulation of the choir.  The phrasing and blending of the parts was excellent.

The choir’s singing of O Clap Your Hands by Ralph Vaughan Williams using the text of Psalm 47 displayed the annunciation skills of the choir and continued with their beautiful blending of the vocal parts.  Also important in singing a song like this one is to have a joyful facial expression, and there were singers who expressed this joy facially as well as vocally.

The main composition performed was Rejoice in the Lamb, Opus 30 by Benjamin Britten with text by Christopher Smart.  Britten’s text is unusual, with statements in the text such as “For I am possessed of a cat”.  Britten is trying to convey the importance of God’s creatures, whether they are a cat, a mouse or a flower.

The soloists performing in the Rejoice in the Lamb were from the chorus.  The Soprano soloist Erika Rissi had a beautifully focused tone with a very tight vibrato which echoed throughout the cathedral.  Her pitch was accurate, lovely and a joy to listen to.  The Alto soloist Holly Levanto had full, rich and darkly rounded tones in her voice.  Her articulation was excellent.  The Tenor, Joseph Heaton, had a nice head tone in his tenor range which was clear and focused.  His vibrato was light and fluttering.  His vowel in the word God could have been a little more open, but overall he has a wonderful voice.   After these three soloists sang the choir entered to sing the chorus and did a lovely job of phrasing in the crescendo and decrescendo of the phrase “are at variance with me”.  The chorus also annunciated the words “watchman smites me” well; many choruses have troubles with sloppy s sounds, but not the Choral Arts Society.  Their training made this phrase clean and concise.  The layering of the parts was excruciatingly beautiful.  The pedal work on the organ also emphasized the beauty of the choral vocal layers.

The final composition being performed was Giovanni Gabrieli’s piece O Jesu mi dulcissime.  This was performed in the round, with the chorus throughout the cathedral, just as Gabrieli would have performed it.  The initial part is brass only, which set the magnificent feeling for the vocal parts tosung by the choir.  Because of the distance of the chorus and instrumentalists from maestro, there was a slight syncopation delay in tempo, but because the cathedral itself echoes a repeat of vocal phrasing, this is an effect that the venue itself would produce.

The Choral Arts Society of Washington D. C. is a premiere vocal chorus which performs music of many cultures and nations in their performances.  This evening of Brass, Brahms and Britten was a wonderful example of a disciplined chorus.
 


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Washington Bach Consort Performs the Mass in B Minor by Bach

On Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 3 p.m. the highly accomplished chorale the Washington Bach Consort performed The B Minor Mass by Johann Sebastian Bach.  Only such a professional and polished chorus could attempt such a work.  Maestro J. Reilly Lewis, Music Director of the chorale said that Bach’s B Minor Mass is so magnificent that it transcends dogma.  Maestro Lewis dedicated the concert to Richard White an oboist who played with the National Symphony Orchestra and passed away seven years ago.  He also mentioned an occasion when the Belgium Ambassador and his wife were honored by the Washington Bach Consort for their support over the years by receiving a facsimile of the first page of the B Minor Mass.

The chorus is a very disciplined and professional group of singers.  They have a very precise phonetic technique and the placement of their vocal tones are focused and beautifully blend together to produce a pleasing choral sound.  I could hear each part individually, yet they all blended together with a well-balanced sound, echoing throughout the cathedral.  It is very difficult to maintain integrity of each vocal part in such a grand hall as the National Cathedral because of the echoing effect on vocal sounds projected in the architecture of the hall. The chorus in the Gloria was wonderful, and I was most impressed with the cut off of the “s” on the word “voluntatis”, when the chorus was concise and exactly on time.  (This is sometimes difficult for less disciplined choruses.)  The vocal layering in the Gloria was heavenly with the sopranos soaring while the other parts supported in a well-balanced chorus.  The chorus in the Symbolum Nicenum where they are singing of the crucifixion of Christ the rhythm gave a tempo symbolic of a walking step; I could picture him walking with his cross.

Laura Choi Stuart a lyric soprano who has performed with Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Boston, Annapolis Opera and Lake George Opera performed with rich full tones, singing with disciplined tempo and vocal color.  Her clear and beautifully focused vibrato rang throughout the hall with a heavenly sound.

Agnes Zsigovics made her Washington Bach Consort debut last season in Pergolesi’s Sabat Mater.  A recording artist for Sony BMG Classical, ATMA Classical, Hanssler Classic and Carus Records, she tours internationally with choirs and orchestras in the United States, Europe and South America.  She debuted with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Bach’s St. John Passion under the direction of Maestro Helmuth Rilling in 2007 and appears on the Juno-nominated Sony album The Voice of Bach.  Her voice had a pretty sound with a nice tight vibrato.  She ornamented the aria in the Gloria with numerous turns.

After performing in the premiere of John Adam’s oratorio El Nino at the Chatelet opera in Paris countertenor Steven Rickards has had international success.  He has sung in New York’s Carnegie Hall with the Oratorio Society of New York.  He has also performed with The American Bach Soloists, Chanticleer, Ensemble Voltaire, the Gabrieli Consort, Chicago’s Music of the Baroque Orchestra, the Opera Company of Philadelphia, the Santa Fe Opera, and the symphony orchestras of Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, St. Louis and Tokyo.  Mr. Rickards’ ability to sing a high tessitura consistently with such power and focus is absolutely amazing.  He did not sound like he was singing in head voice at all.  He is certainly a very talented musician singer.

Robert Petillo has soloed many times with every oratorio society in the Washington D. C. area.  He is best known for his performances of the tenor role of Evangelist in Bach’s oratorios and passions, as well as singing Telemann and Handel.  A co-founder of the Washington Kantorei in 1993, he has assisted with editing and performing unpublished church cantatas by George Philipp Telemann.  Mr. Petillo demonstrated strong musicianship and vocal control in his discipline in tempo and dynamics.

After singing ten years with the Metropolitan Opera chorus, baritone Jon Bruno began his solo career in December 2002.  He has performed at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Library of Congress, The White House, the National Cathedral and the National Gallery of Art.  He performed as a soloist in the Cathedral Choral Society’s recording of Welcome All Wonders and Mass for a Sacred Space. 

Richard Giarusso a versatile musician serves on the musicology staff at Peabody Conservatory and maintains an active career and singer and conductor.  He performs with the Cathedral Choral Society, Washington Bach Consort and also serves as Artistic Director of the Maryland Choral Society.  He had a rich and colored voice, and certainly was a basso profundo.

There were many duets in the Mass.  The first duet both sopranos sang sounded beautiful.  They sang with discipline and yet the joy of the text shone through on their faces.  Their voices blended well together.  The duet of soprano Zsigovics with Mr. Petillo echoed beautifully throughout the cathedral.

 
The Washington Bach Consort - Great Glad Tidings
 
The Washington Bach Consort is a unique oritorio ensemble.  The instrumental and vocal musicians are very specialized in their training and focus.  The chorale is not a typical chorus, but it is a unique blend of only sixteen singers.  With this size of a chorus each singer must be highly trained and qualified in reading music, musical awareness in timing and texture of voice and the vocal blend and accuracy must be dead on or any slight mistake would be easily recognizable.  The Washington Bach Consort accomplishes all of these tasks with preciseness and endearing emotion. The blending of the chorus is even and beautiful. 

The Washington Bach Consort promotes Giving Bach to the Community programs in three ways.  Bach in Time is the community program that reaches out to students in District of Columbia Public Schools.  The Noontime Cantatas provide an opportunity for anyone in the District to listen to a Bach Cantatas at noontime for free.  Talking Bach are preconcert lectures.  All of these programs are free to anyone and promotes the musical insight into Bach, his techniques of writing music, and educates everyone about the enormous amount of music Bach wrote. 

The Washington Bach Consort's Bach in Time is their mission to promote the love of Bach's music by introducing his music to third graders in the District of Columbia Public Schools through interactive lessons where costumed musicians and actors teach students about Bach and period instruments using creative settings to capture the students' imagination.  This year the consort is expanding their outreach to these students at the THEARC Cultural Center in Anacostia as well as the Sitar Center in Adams Morgan.

The Great Glad Tidings concert performed by the Washington Bach Consort at National Presbyterian Church on December 1, was a showcase of muscianship at its finest.  Beginning with the Advent Cantata, Schwingt freudig euch empor (soar joyfully you up), the chorus began in perfectly blended harmony.  For Lutherans the first week of Advent is not just recalling the birth of Christ, but also a time of looking forward to Christ's return to earth as a ruling King.  The music uses heavenly chords to evoke anticipation of Christ the Bridegroom coming back for his Bride, the Church.  Movements 1, 3 and 7 are parodies from a musical birthday card to a local professor, and echoes the theme of Christ's birth. 

The soloists were superb in a variety of ways.  The Duet in the beginning of the Advent Cantata matched Ian Howell a counter tenor with focused vocal tones with Robin Smith, a soprano with a rich yet bright quality.  Ian Howell holds a Master of Music Degree in Voice and early music from Yale University and is working on his Doctor of Music at the New England Conservatory. He won First Prize at the American Bach Soloists International solo competition and he won Third Prize at the Oritorio Society of New York's solo competition.  Robin Smith is a featured artist with the Bach Consort, the Bach Sinfonia and she performed with the Master Chorale.  The vocal blending highlighted the contrasting vocal parts. The aria by Robert Petillo painted a word picture of the beloved Christ approaching his bride the church.  Mr.Petillo's vocal quality is rich and his tones are pure and resonant.  He is a co-founder of the Washington Kantorei and has assisted in editing and performing unpublished church cantatas by George Philipp Telemann.  He studied at Rutgers and holds a Doctor of Music degree from the University of Maryland.The Chorale of the Advent Cantata echoes this joyous theme with gorgeous harmonic praise.  Stephen Combs' sang his aria about love and faith with full, rich tones that echoed throughout the cathedral.  The aria was followed by a male quartet.  The quartet sounded beautiful, with balanced blending.  Throughout this cantata, each section was executed with precise musicianship, beauty and ethereal sounds.

The instrumentalists played well, matching tempo, dynamic and color to present a delightful sound portraying the love dwelling in heaven coming to earth.  The melismatic phrasing was performed excellently and with proper punctuation.

The Cantata, Selig ist der Mann (Blessed is the Man) began with a powerful and well-articulated aria sang by Richard Giarusso.  He has a PhD in historical musicology from Harvard University and currently serves on the musicology faculty at the Peabody Conservatory and maintains an active career as a singer and conductor.  His voice is particularly powerful and exact.  His upcoming engagements include a program of Schubert lieder at Georgetown University, the Washington Bach Consort and the Cathedral Choral Society.  He also serves as Artistic Director of the Maryland Choral Society since 2009.  Attendees of the Washington Bach Consort's concerts and also learn about the composition process and details about the music from Mr. Giarusso prior to each concert at his Talking Back pre-concert lectures.
 
Laura Choi Stuart performed arias in Selig ist der Mann Cantata with clear and bright tones.  Her vocal tone is very focused and lyric.  She has appeared in mainstage roles with Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Boston, Annapolis Opera, Lake George Opera, the In Series and Opera North as Musetta, Adina, Gilda, Pamina and Frasquita.  She was one of the 2009 Art Song Discovery Series winner for the Vocal Arts Society and Second Prize winner at both the 2010 and 2012 National Association of Teachers of Singing Artist Awards.

Later in the Cantata her vocal blend with Richard Giarusso was breathtaking.  The collaboration of their voices in the duets was amazing.  Her lyric voice along with his powerfully resonant tones was a wonderful contrast, yet balanced.  Their recitatives recall the love of Stephen for his Lord and speaks about the joys of joining God in heaven.

After intermission Dr. Riley Lewis deconstructed the five Bach Variations for the audience and explained the motives and phrases to listen for when hearing the variations performed.  He then played all of the variations.  This was beautiful and performed with precision and feeling.

The concert concluded with the Bach Cantata Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen (Soar joyfully you up).  The chorale opened with a chorus that wove a colorful fabric of harmonic splendor, demonstrating the Washington Bach Consort's musical talent of vocal blending while retaining each voices distinct quality of resonance.  All four voice parts were able to showcase their unique talents.   Since it is the practice of the consort in accordance with known tradition at Bach's time of paying males to sing alto parts, the alto was a counter tenor. Sometimes baritones sang bass or tenor as they do today.  Each soloist was individually outstanding in their own way.  The soprano had a beautiful lyric and soft, yet focused tone.  The counter tenor had a very focused tone with pure high tones.  The tenor sang warmly and the baritone and bass sang with rich, full tones.

The Washington Bach Consort is one of the most disciplined musical ensembles I have witnessed performing in the Washington D. C. area.  Each and every singer is highly competent in performing Bach music with the beauty and accuracy that the music deserves.  The Consort will be performing concerts at the National Presbyterian Church at 3 pm on February 17, March 10 and on April 28.  Anyone who loves the music of Bach will find attending their concerts very delightful.

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