Search This Blog

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

ACDA Revisited, Part II

Hello again. Here is the second installment of my review of the 2013 National Convention of the American Choral Directors Association. Let's begin with the concerts that I got to hear.

The University of Delaware Chorale

Interesting programming was the high point of this choir's performance. I appreciated conductor Paul Head's epoch spanning selections, with a nice balance of traditional favorites and new adventures. Giles Swayne's spiffy Magnificat was a nice little surprise, as was Kevin Memley's elegant Ave Maria, deftly paired with Bruckner's gorgeous setting. If there was anything to quibble about it was that the Delawarians bought into the convention's general trend of over singing. But not too much to offend.

The University of North Texas A Cappella Choir

The UNT A Cappella Choir delivered a beautifully executed performance of some very challenging literature. True to form, Jerry McCoy found delicious repertoire that was sadly hampered by the poor acoustics of the Winspear Opera House. I wish I could have heard their Meyerson performance. The two standout works were the Gloria from Frank Martin's near perfect mass setting, and Dan Forrest's lovely Entreat me not to Leave You.  This is a choir with a reputation for seamless blend and balance as well as spot on intonation. In spite of the bad room, we got a suitcase full of pretty much flawless singing.

The Westminster Choir

For a group with such a stellar reputation, this was one of the more disappointing concerts of the convention. Although the repertoire was well chosen it just wasn't all that interestingly executed with Victoria sounding like Bach sounding like everyone else. The biggest flaw was the choir's tendency to shout, particularly in Holst's stunning Nunc Dimittus. Brandon Waddles rollicking Ride the Chariot sounded like a Pentecostal tent revival with the ending being unbearably loud and out of control. And my God, who unleashed those Banshee sopranos in the final bars? It was pretty bloody awful.

Britten's War Requiem

The Dallas Symphony Chorus rounded out the week with a world premiere performance of Steven Stucky's Take Him Earth, and Benjamin Britten's monumental War Requiem. Sadly, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is away on tour and thus a pick up group of local musicians served as the orchestra. Although they were very fine, the Britten is not a work that is suited to bands that don't regularly play together and there was some sloppy playing including a rather nastily botched trombone solo in the beginning of the Dies Irae. The singing however was superb and Craig Jessop led a well paced and emotionally stirring performance. It was a little odd to see him beat out measures in seven and five meters as opposed to dividing them into groups of twos and threes. But I'm nitpicking. Phillip Cutlip and Stanford Olsen were superb soloists as was soprano Barbara Shirvis, although she was at times overpowered by the orchestra.

Steven Stucky's Take Him Earth, commissioned for the convention and in memory of President Kennedy, was well sung but the score failed to impress. To use a text that was so perfectly set by Herbert Howells is a risk and sadly, Stucky's music was a bit of a sound mush without central themes or interesting melodies.

Please note that if I didn't review your choir here it is because I did not have the opportunity to hear you. No choir that I heard went unreviewed.

Outstanding Composers

Four composers deserve special kudos for their outstanding and at times even amazing music.

Kevin Memley was well represented in ACDA concerts. Of particular merit is his She Walks In Beauty, which received a fine performance by the Indianapolis Youth Chorale. I had heretofore not heard Memley's music but I shall certainly seek it out in the future.

Dan Forrest was also a frequently heard composer and Entreat Me Not to Leave You as splendidly rendered by the University of North Texas A Cappella Choir was a particular standout.

Ola Gjeilo is one of two composers that I would award an ACDA Composer of the Year Award were there such an honor. His gorgeous O Magnum Mysterium was ravishingly performed by the Mt. San Antonio Chamber Singers and Ubi caritas was another fine work as performed by the Kennesaw State University Men's Ensemble.

Eriks Esenvalds stood out as the finest newer composer to be performed. Again the Mt. San Antonio Chamber Singers dazzled us with the hauntingly beautiful Long Road,  and the Pacific Lutheran University Choir of the West gave us a stunning first performance of Northern Light.  Luminescent sonorities and brilliant effects from the use of native instruments and tuned water glasses made this young Latvian's music stand head and shoulders above almost anything that we heard all week.

In summary, the ACDA put on an inspiring and informative conference, and it was a gas to get to see some old friends, particularly Dr. Douglas Amman, who was my choral professor at Ball State University long many moons ago. I also had the pleasure of meeting two fine young composers from Clarke College in Iowa. I am sure that Timothy Gelhaus and Adam O'dell will give us some fine music to listen to in the future if the works that I have already heard are any indication, and I am sure that they are. It was also great to meet a fine young singer from Wyoming in the person of David Ginger. The best part of ACDA is the new friends you make, and the old friends you see.

Congratulations to all who worked so hard to put on a great convention, and here's best wishes to everyone as we look forward to Salt Lake City in two years!

No comments: