Sunday, March 1, 2015

The 2015 ACDA National Conference- South Dakota Chorale

My review of the South Dakota Chorale performance at the 2015 ACDA National Conference in Salt Lake City:

One of the new ideas at ACDA 2015 (there were many, both large and small--bravo to Tim Sharp and Mary Hopper) was NOT segregating the honors choirs from the rest of the performing ensembles. For instance, the HS honors choir (about 300 GREAT singers, led by the epic Andre Thomas in a very creative program, bravo, Andre) sang Saturday (in the Abravanel space) just before the great professional choir, the South Dakota Chorale, directed by Brian Schmidt. This means there was a giant crowd of family and a few siblings present to hear the HS singers (and not any talking or noise-thanks to you parents for that) but also many of the parents stayed and heard the South Dakota Chorale sing a very challenging program and seemed to really dig it. For many of those parental units this may have seemed to be very strange music, but I loved how so many of them stayed fully engaged in the music and the absolutely riveting performance by the Chorale. This was one of the highlight reel performances of ACDA's four days. In fact, I don't think I heard a more amazingly flawless program from any other choir in the four days at SLC.

The programming and pacing was perfect on many levels, the singing was incredibly rich and highly professional without ever sounding like a group of pros phoning in a performance, and Schmidt's conducting was what you hope for; wherein a conductor allows a piece and a choir to create magic in real time--the conductor functioning as a superbly talented facilitator in service to the performers, music, and audience--without ever succumbing to the messed-up ego of the uber-conductor. Hey, Lennie Bernstein, are you listenin'?

South Dakota Chorale

Brian  A. Schmidt

Here is the program they presented, entitled Sacred Songs of Life and Love:

Prayers of Kierkegaard (excerpts)

by Knut Nystedt (1915-2104)

Four Songs of Love

by Sven-David Sandstrom (b. 1942)

O Salutaris Hostia

by Eriks Esenwalds (b. 1977)

Nunc Dimittis

by Arvo Part

Bogoroditse Dyevo

by Arvo Part

(hey, I'm still on the  road, please excuse lack of diacritic marks on the above titles and names!!!)

Things I loved about this performance/presentation/ interpretation:

1) the repertoire was kick-ass, and while much of the rep was somewhat gnarly, the Esenvalds sweetened things up--it's placement in the Fibonacci 8/13 zone of the program was perfect. This tune was the audience favorite, of course, and that's just fine. Sopranos Natalie Campbell and Julianna Emanski were simply to die for. This was like a flourless dark chocolate cake paired with a bad-boy Cab Sav.

Here is the chorale singing the The Lakme Flower Duet- oops, I mean the Esenvalds:

2) The choir sang with an entirely different tone for the two Part pieces at the end. Especially in the Bogo Dyevo there was a far deeper, building from-the-bass-up Slavonic tone. This is something I really dig in great choirs- don't just give me one lush, awesome tonal world for an entire concert- create new tonal worlds for each piece, for each composer's placement in history, in national heritage, in their intentions, etc.

3) The Sandstrom was the most challenging to the ear and mind. To stay engaged with his sound-world and formal structure required great effort. I wondered if the audience could stay with the chorale and Sandstrom during this process- and they did!

Here is the group's brand new recording- go buy it, fools:

The duet artists on the Esenvalds--absolutely exquisite voices!

Natalie Campbell

Julianna Emanski

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