Monday, March 25, 2013

Recap of the 2013 ACDA National Conference in Dallas

The Friday evening concert at the ACDA 2013 National Conference in Dallas held three choirs- the Union High School Chamber Choir from Vancouver, WA directed by Mikkel Iverson; Chroma, the womens ensemble of Seattle Pro Musica directed by Karen Thomas; and the University of Louisville Cardinal Singers directed by Kent Hatteberg. The Cardinal Singers were happy to be back from Vatican City after electing a new pope.

Union High School presented a program of music all by living Washington state composers. The choir sang with great skill and confidence and as each piece finished the audience grew more and more enthusiastic. A new Ethan Sperry Indian-influenced piece in manuscript titled Albela Sjan was led by a tabla player with great effect- this will no doubt be another hit for Ethan.

Ethan Sperry

The totally engaged audience spurred the choir on and by the time this program ended with two movements of John Muehleisen's Eat your Vegetables (very campy in the best sense of the word) it was obvious that this choir was on a par with many a university choir. Iverson and the choir are high-achievers and it was an absolute delight to hear a fine high school ensemble singing advanced, adventurous (yet still appropriate for their age) music. I would also like to applaud the composers on this program for cultivating their own voice- I heard no blatant Lauridsen or Whitacre imitations, and also generally  heard no blandly simplistic forms of homophonic music. This concert made all the many ACDA members in attendance from Washington state and the Northwest division quite proud.

Mikkel Iverson

The NW flavor continued with one of the few women's ensembles at this years conference, Chroma directed by Karen Thomas. Their program was probably the most adventurous one I heard in the whole conference. Some of the pieces were moderately avant-garde which something really missing from this conference- most of the "new" music on programs were safe plays and, again, mostly homophonic pandiatonicism in one way or another). Thomas led the ensemble with great skill and the ensemble was an apt model of the new sound that has developed in women's choirs in the last 10-15 years- strong, full-bodied women's voices covering large territories of tessitura and dynamic range. To me the highlight of their program was an odd, very subdued and mysterious setting of the Charles Orleans text Quant j'ai ouy le tabourin. The choral tone palette of the choir here was mystical and intimate. Thomas' own Wild Nights, a setting Emily Dickinson's R-rated poem was passionate and - oh yeah, sexy and wild! The group then finished their set with a rollicking Bulgarian folk song sung expertly in the style made famous by the Bulgarian State Radio Female Vocal Choir. Thomas displayed expertise in this, to many, unusual singing style both in this concert as well as in her "Into the Mind" session a day earlier. This was another state of Washington triumph.

Karen Thomas

The evening ended with a performance by one of the premiere choral ensembles in the country, the University of Louisville Cardinal Singers directed by Kent Hatteberg. This was the third time I have heard them- the first time was an epic all-Baltic program at the ACDA 2009 Southern Division conference and their more recent NCCO performance here. For this evening Hatteberg once again showed his great knowledge of current  non-American choral repertoire. The program opened with a piece I am a big fan of- Josep Vila i Casana's Salve, Regina, which I first heard in a performance at the Western division conference of 2010 in Tucson directed by Brady Allred (review here). There is an absolutely magical passage when Casanas music becomes mesmerizingly polytonal. This is no bland,  accidental pandiatonic collision of notes, but true dissonance created by clashing chords. This Salve, Regina is something more conductors need to discover. After some great Monteverdi and Max Reger, an actual four-part fugue broke out (it was kind of like a fugue flashmob, man) in Swedish composer Michael Waldenby's Hominus dies. While the piece seemed a bit too long and not that great, I was pleasantly shocked to hear some- wait for it- REAL COUNTEPOINT! Hurray to Hatteberg for presenting such a musical curiosity. The entire program was excellent and beautifully sung- that's what this choir does! If you have never heard them, try to find a way to get to one of their concerts. Bravo to Hatteberg for being one of standard-setters not only in choral sound but also in presenting high quality repertoire, much  off it off the proverbially beaten path.

Kent Hatteberg
My evening ended with a visit to the NCCO (National Collegiate Choral Organization) reception where I had a chance to chat with cool folks like Josh Bronfman, Steve Grives, Steven Sametz, Giselle Wyers, as well as Mike Murphy from Idaho who I had not yet met. The NCCO reception was great and we all look forward to the NCCO conference in late October in Charleston, South Carolina hosted by Rob Taylor and of course led by current president Lisa Graham.

ADDENDUM to any earlier blog: During the Friday afternoon gold track concert Tim Sharp gave a state of ACDA address. It was pretty positive information about membership, initiatives and so on. Tim has led this group so successfully into the twenty-first century and has expanded the association into global initiatives and collaborations. Bravo, Tim and and to all at the national office in OKC. Tim also announced that the Brock commission composer for 2013 will be Alice Parker and for the 2014 national conference in Salt Lake City the composer will be Jake Heggie- quality folks, although Heggie has written very little choral music.

I had to leave early Saturday morning to get back to Chicago for the premiere of a new commission later on that day. I went from 75 degrees and sunny in Dallas to 25, cloudy, windy, and the streets filled with 20-somethings who had already been drinking way too much cheap beer in "celebration" of  St. Paddy's Day. The shift in weather was a shock, but the drinking wasn't. I'm pretty much used to seeing the ridiculous drinking that goes on here on St Paddy's Day-ugh. So......

COMING UP: The final day of ACDA 2013 in Dallas from guest-blogger Reg Unterseher. Reg has some good stuff for you (including some great insight into listening to The Tallis Scholars), and I think he's a better writer than me- so enjoy this when I post it!

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