Thursday, November 17, 2011

Concert #4: Highlights from the 2011 NCCO Conference

Friday evening programs

By looking at the names of the choirs and conductors about to take the stage, it was fairly obvious that the Friday night program was potentially spectacular, and I am happy to report that it truly was. While these choirs were different from each other (most noticeably the youthfulness of the all-undergrad Iowa State Singers) what connected them was the maturity and experience of their conductors- Kent Hatteberg, James Rodde, and Jo-Michael Scheibe. These three fine musicians have conducted thousands of concerts over the years and they may well still conduct thousands more- their love of the choral art knows no boundaries.

University of Louisville Cardinal Singers, dir. by Kent Hatteberg

Kyrie from Missa Papae Marcelli, by Palestrina (

Amazingly beautiful- I don't think I have ever heard a choir so perfectly and sweetly in tune in my life. This performance glowed from within. People were gasping at the end.

Der 2te Psalm: Warum toben die Heiden, by Mendelssohn (Carus)

Mendelssohn was on more than one program- bravo. This performance was full of depth and emotion

Veni, dilecte mi!, by Wolfram Buchenberg (ms from composer)

O lux beata Trinitas, by Ko Matsushita (Carus)

Another performance of this piece (the first was by John Byun's fine group on Thursday) and I like it more and more- so much energy and so many voices to listen to. The performance was flawless and exciting. If one were keeping score, Louisville was the best choir of the three day conference. Their singing was impeccably tuned on such a magisterial level that the sound seemed to magically hover and shimmer in the air around you; every phrase and tiny, tiny nuance of the music was unified in all members of the choir. It was virtually impossible to find fault with anything they did. This was singing not just on a high collegiate level but on a truly professional level.

Iowa State Singers, dir. by James Rodde

Deus in adiutorium meum intende, by Juan Gutierrez de Padilla (Vanderbeek and Imrie)

O Radix Jesse, by Vytauta Miskinis (Ferrimontana)

Sitvit anima mea, by Palestrina (

Just as gorgeous as Louisville was in this repertoire

Warum ist das Licht gegeben?, by Johannes Brahms (Peters)

Satamasho, by Otar Taktakishvili, adapted Rodde (earthsongs)

A great piece- highly recommended!

A Worshipper and a Man, Tinothy Takach (

So this was a great, fun moment of contrast- as the audience showered the mixture of undergrads and grad students making up the Louisville choir with enormous amounts of applause, on walked Iowa State, looking super young, an entire large ( 80-90 voices, perhaps?) choir of undergrads. And in fact Rodde told me later that half of these kids are freshmen and sophomores! Wow, upper Midwest choirs are amazing. Their entire program was spectacular, and I wonder what Rodde could further achieve if do if he were leading a choir at a school with an MM/DMA program. I loved watching and listening to these young artists as they sang with joy on a level far beyond their chronological age.

University of Southern California Thornton Chamber Singers, dir. by Jo-Michael Scheibe

A Retrospective of the Music of Morten Lauridsen

Lament for Pasiphae, from Mid-Winter Songs (Opus)

This is an early piece, before Lauridsen had discovered his signature sound, harmonies. etc. I found it be the most interesting thing on the program- it was full of angularity, counterpoint, large dynamic contrasts, a very engaging and independent piano part- overall far more dramatic than his later, more languid music- very interesting stuff. Folks should look at this piece and perform it. In talking to Morten on Saturday night at Buddy James' intimate Saturday night reception, he told me that he devised this program personally and he very much wanted this piece on the program.

Contre qui, Rose (Peer, plus all following pieces by Peer)

Amore lo Sento L'alma (Fored Songs)

Se Per Havervi, Oime (Fire songs0

Soneto de la Noche (from Nocturnes)

Sure on this Shining Night (from Nocturnes)

The entire program was beautiful and memorable, and I had been very much looking forward to hearing Mike's USC choir- I had not yet heard them (I was an enormous fan of his University of Miami choirs). I was surprised to hear how big the sound was on the mostly gentle Lauridsen pieces everyone knows- I love that Mike expanded the sound that much in mf/f passages. I know Mike is very proud of his current grad conducting students/singers, and I believe the choir is going to get better and better as they learn more of what he wants from them. I would love to hear this group again in 1-2 years, for sure. Of course there will be turnover, but by then Mike will have his complete stamp on the approach and the sound. I would also like to make a shout out to ChoEun Lee, whose subtle phrasing was the epitome of expressive choral accompanying. Every note and phrase she touched was golden, EVERY note mattered, and that is something you do not often hear. Lauridsen replaced her for the final number, Sure on this Shining Night, and the audience simply melted with joy as the entire program, and magical evening, ended. This was a night that validated NCCO beyond measure- there was so much magical musicmaking by so many people - from teenagers in the Iowa choir all the way to Morten Lauridsen himself.

After this concert there was a wonderful reception at the Hilton with yummy beverages and food. Everyone mingled and chatted things up. What I especially loved here (as in elsewhere during the three days) was that I could not detect a single occurrence of jealousy among these folks, they are all there for each other- amazing. At the reception I was able to chat with old chums like Nancy Menk, Sarah Graham, and others, and still also meet and get to know a few people I did not know yet, but who had impressed me greatly in concerts or sessions-folks like Michelle Jensen, Joshua Bronfman, Nicole Lamartine, and many others. What a great day and evening of concerts and and a great reception too!

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