Monday, November 7, 2011

Concert #1: Highlights from the 2011 NCCO Conference

You have probably already seen my posts listing all the repertoire from the three days of NCCO in Ft. Collins. Now I will highlight a number of the programs, and overall the performances and conducting ranged mostly from great to spectacular. Also evident was healthy singing with free sound production, use of more than one tonal color (thank you!) and also a Canadian choir which had amazingly varied, beautiful tonal colours (hehe- they spell that word funny). Conductor beat patterns and gestures were masterful about 97% of the time. Other than one conductor who was just working way too hard and did not not INVITE the choir to sing, there were no flailing arms or pomp and circumstance. I would think that attending this conference and watching closely would be highly beneficial to any young conducting student.

In my opinion, two programs were sung well but the repertoire was suspect- specifically they contained material that was more like average high school material, and in one case even included some mega church pop singing with three soloists using handheld mikes, a piano part filled with Disney ballad ninth choirs and the like. I don't think this was at all what NCCO had in mind when creating this organization. The other program was not offensive, but simply had vocal parts with no real challenge on the collegiate level and which contained all piano accompanied pieces.

By the way, as I am about tackle all this-- I would like to say I honestly wish more people were blogging about the choral world- come on, people, get to it. Or be a guest blogger here if you like, even if you are a young'n. Richard Sparks writes a great choral music blog, and Philip Copeland and Tim Sharp do great work through ChoralNet mostly, but we need more people doing this!

Program One: Riverside City College Chamber Singers, dir. Jon Byun

Der Feuerreiter by Hugo Wolf (CF Peters)

Lay a Garland, by Robert Pearsall (

This was sung with crystalline clarity and an amazing contrast with the preceding highly dramatic piece

O lux beata Trinitas, by Ko Matsushita, (Carus)

Easily by far the most fascinating new piece of music in the three days. It also showed up on the University of Louisville program. There is so much going on here, I loved getting a chance to hear it twice in three days. The music is generally set up with an amazing amount of highly intricate, divisi ostinati in the women's voices- very complex and very beautiful. I'd love to see a score of this piece. Ko is a Japanese composer.conductor well-known in the international choral scene. He, Marian Dolan, and my partner Sherri Lasko worked on a great project for Japanese tsunami relief (which is ongoing). You can visit the site Sherri developed for the project here.

O vos omnes, by Richard Birchard, (ms)

Hmm, a letdown after the Matsushita; this piece had the usual slow tempo and heavily homophonic American musical style we've been hearing so much of the time for the last ten years. There were even a few "Whitacre-isms" that you only tend to hear from composers younger than Whitacre, which this composer is not.

Alleluia, by Hyo-Won Woo (Chorus Center Publishing, South Korea)

This is a great piece, and one which will not forgive a single counting mistake from even a single singer. I have been fortunate to hear this piece live a number of times by Incheon City Chorale and other fine choirs and also get to know the very gracious and highly talented composer, Hyo-Won Woo. John Byun is a master of this kind of high energy piece which must not only be precise but artistic as well- bravo John!I am hoping that people here in the US will soon try to explore other pieces by Hyo-won. If you need a way to contact her or the Hak-won Yoon's publishing company which distributes her music e-mail me at

Congrats to John and this choir- I have now heard them three times in ACDA or NCCO conference concerts and have loved getting to know John's musical approach and product- and it still amazes me that this is a two year college!

Arizona State University Symphonic Chorale, dir. Gregory Gentry

Dnes Hristos, by Vasily Titov (ca. 1650- 1715)

I absolutely loved this piece for three, count 'em, three choirs. There was an amazing amount of richness and depth to the sound, of course what you expect and hope to hear in Russian music, and Gentry was a master of pulling that sound out of a young choir- I didn't see any 45 year old vodka consuming basses or altos in the choir. Of course as editor of a new edition of this piece, Greg knew the piece so well. It is a joy to hear Russian music sung so well, and another group I can think of who does this repertoire complete justice is David Rayl's at Michigan State. Greg also had the choirs spaced at exactly the right positions to not only get perfect multi-choir effects, but also sounding great when choirs were united in sound. I wish I had asked him more about how he did this when we were having lunch Saturday. I would highly recommend this piece to any advanced choir (published by Musica Russica)

Mass, by Stravinsky

The Stravinsky Mass was great as well, but with some roughness in the instrumentalists sound. Many attendees at the conference were so glad to see this long-ish, somewhat neglected piece programmed, and the entire Russian-themed program was one of a number of intelligently constructed themed programs that were true highlights of the conference.

After the concert I was interviewed by DMA student from the ASU choir Kira Rugen, whose dissertation is on the direction over the last ten years in choral music, as well as looking ahead to the next 10 or 20 years. Kira had a great bunch of questions for composers and also conductors and our interview went about an hour. I thoroughly enjoyed working with her and look forward to reading her work. She also was able to line up interviews at NCCO with actually famous people in the field (which I am not) like Morten Lauridsen and other personable folks who were on hand. Bravo, Kira.

Speaking of questions, as I travel around the country here and there to work with choirs here are some common questions I get from young people- usually K-5 folks but even sometimes from JHS through HS choir members:

1) what kind of car do you drive?
2) what is your favorite video game?
3) what is your real job?

Funny stuff- and yes, they also ask some great questions too!

Next Post: Day one evening concert highlights

Announcement: If you would like a free pdf file perusal score of my latest advanced SATB piece, please contact me. The piece is a compelling, expressive modern arrangement of William Billings' famous round "When Jesus Wept" for SATB double choir, suitable for college and professional ensembles. It was successfully premiered this past September by Chor Anno, Reg Unterseher conducting, in Vancouver, WA. The duration is six minutes. E-mail me at for a pdf file.

1 comment:

  1. "...I honestly wish more people were blogging about the choral world- come on, people, get to it. Or be a guest blogger here if you like, even if you are a young'n."

    Agreed! Thanks for pointing me to Richard Spark's blog; I've also been hoping there would be more NCCO highlights posted on ChoralNet, but so glad to read your review of the conference!