The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Folsom Lake College Music Department
Great Choruses: The Alpha and Omega - December 5, 2017
by Dr. Jeff Nelson
I always like concerts at the Harris Center. Although the parking can be too far away from the venue, it's a clean and modern facility that has the nicest volunteers. Even after all of its consistent and regular use, it still looks and sounds terrific. The acoustics are quite different in each of the three halls, and this evening the Folsom Lake Concert Choir and the College Chorus were joined by the American River College Orchestra (ARCO) in the largest hall. I don't think I've ever had a bad seat at the Harris Center. For this evening they had the balconies closed off, so it felt like intimate seating on the lower floor which ended up being fairly full.
The doors opened a little late, which almost always means the conductor has kept the musicians later than usual with last minute preparations. In this case, it would be easy to do, since there were so many moving parts and people in this program. With approximately 70 singers on the risers and 80 instrumentalists on the floor, it made for a full house indeed. I was handed an elegant but huge poster-style program, one sheet of 11" x 17" card stock paper which had all the pertinent info for the concert on it but was impossible to use comfortably. It was too large to refer to without bumping someone, and there was nowhere to put it except on the floor. I've never seen a program like it before and I now know what size of program I will never use!
(Click here to open the program in a new window.)
The simple single poinsettia pots lining the front of the stage made for an elegant setting. The Folsom Lake College (FLC) Chamber Singers were the opener for the program and sang a very traditional set of classic chamber group pieces. Henderson's arrangement of "Won't You Buy My Sweet Blooming Lavender?" is an echo and response type of number, similar to a round. It was highlighted by a nice “through the audience” entrance by tenor Garrett Olsen. Conductor Dr. David Newnham was seated throughout this part of the program, allowing a good visual of their shotgun choral formation and how the singers worked together. I heard later that the chamber singers group is a new addition to this choral program.
The next piece was Thomas Morley's classic, "April is in my mistress' face." It's a beautiful piece, but I found myself a bit worried about the disagreement of tonal center in the bass section. The parts were also well memorized, but I would have preferred them to be more aurally aware of the rest of the group. This will no doubt come as this group spends more time together.
"Il bianco e dolce cigno" is a lovely ballad by Jacob Arcadelt that you don't hear often and that was sung in the original Italian. I was impressed that this group performed this part of the program all from memory, particularly with busy school schedules and finals week coming up.
The lively "Fair Phyllis" by John Farmer was sung with excellent intonation, and the kiss at the end of the piece as an exclamation mark was a nice accent to my favorite selection for their portion of the program.
The 3 Haydn folksongs were accompanied by Mariia Pechenova, who is also on faculty at FLC. Her attention to detail and accuracy with this style was much appreciated. She gave them a platform from which to leap, and they really nailed the singing. "Die Harmonie in der Ehe" was the first song of the program that was not memorized. It had a lively and strong finish. "Der Greis" was playful, as originally intended. The German vowels had a little English that crept in but the umlaut vowels were spot on. The stirring "Die Beredsamkeit" is a tricky number that requires good counting and precision. They not only sang this flawlessly, but it was their best German pronunciation of the three. It was a nice touch to have all the foreign language selections translated on a separate paper for the audience.
Their last selection was the a cappella "Polly Wolly Doodle" by Kubik and Shaw. It was a bouncy, clever finish to this delightful chamber program, complete with the male soloist singing in a characterized falsetto. You could tell they had a lot of fun with this one.
The entire concert was conducted by Dr. David Newnham, and he certainly gets my vote for "most improved college choral program." Considering what he started with just a short time ago, he has brought this entire program around 180 degrees and has created something special.
The FLC Concert Choir and College Chorus then joined the ARCO for “Rhythm of Life” by Coleman and a special arrangement of “Joy to the World” by Shelley Rink, who also accompanied them. The Coleman piece had simple and clever choreography which added a lot to this presentation. The group had this number memorized and sailed effortlessly with great diction, which can be tricky at this brisk tempo. The “doo-bee” section was reminiscent of the Swingle Singers in their prime. When the piano could be heard, Rink was invigorating.
Rink's "Joy to the World" opened with a Latin rhythm and melody and harmonies that followed the traditional ones for this song. The drumming added a refreshingly unique treatment, although the drummers sometimes overpowered the vocals in this hall's acoustics.
The next and final portion of the first half was excerpts from Handel's Messiah and, one might say, "Messiah's Greatest Hits." Newnham introduced it as the first piece of classical music ever recorded, with 5,000 musicians at the Crystal Palace in London.
The ARCO is normally conducted by Dr. Stephen Thompson, and the size of the group was very impressive. As they put the Handel through its paces, I found a great balance between the orchestra and the chorus, which did not seem sluggish, even for its size. I also appreciated the boldness this orchestra gave to these selections, which moved along smartly but gracefully. "And the glory..." demonstrated this great balance and also the strength of the soprano section. I could easily listen to an entire program of this! The most athletic of the sections was "For unto us..." and this chorus executed it well. The soprano solo by Galina Orlova in "There were shepherds..." was brilliantly clear, bright and strong. She was the perfect choice for this part. She had another beautiful solo for "Rejoice greatly..." but it was noticeable that the violins struggled to stay together in these difficult, faster passages.
There was a strong solo/duet by contralto Tanya Dyer and soprano Jessica Villa with a beautiful unison section which was a lovely finish to Part I.
Part II followed immediately and had a good, strong start to "Surely, He hath…." It also saw an octet of soloists take center stage for "All we like sheep." You could tell they had a great sound and had worked very hard on this music. I only wish the mic choices were different so that I could have heard them better.
There was a short intermission, and we began the final leg of the concert with excerpts from Mozart's Requiem. Again I was grateful there was a printed translation for the Latin. The "Introitus" had a simple and straightforward soprano solo by Kaley Nelson that was gracefully done. The "Kyrie" gave the orchestra a bright moment to shine, and the size and talent of this group easily provided the volume and drama necessary for this movement.
The "Dies Irae" was precise, together, and strong, and it was one of my favorite parts of the program...awesome! The "Confutatis" again gave the violins some trouble, but their playing improved towards the end. The assembled musicians concluded with a “sing-along” of the "Hallelujah Chorus," which was enjoyed by everyone.
The chorus' final move was to surround the audience and perform a wonderful piece called “Now We Thank You One and All.” It’s a traditional English round that served as a cheery Christmas wish to all in the audience.
I personally am looking forward to seeing and hearing where this group goes in the future under Newnham's and Thompson's leadership. It's refreshing to see the direction it's headed now, and I can only see good things coming from this collaboration.
Dr. Jeffrey Nelson was born in Seattle, WA and began studying music at the age of 5. He has sung in chamber, popular and theatrical groups and played in orchestral, jazz, symphonic and marching bands throughout his career. He also toured in Europe with the US Army for four years as a vocalist, instrumentalist and choreographer with the 7th Army Soldiers Chorus based in Heidelberg, Germany. He studied and worked with Fred Sautter and James DePriest (Oregon Symphony) and Dr. Bruce Browne (Portland Symphonic Choir) while studying Brass Performance and Conducting at Portland State University. He also studied with Anthony Plog (LA Philharmonic) and was a studio freelance trumpet and vocal artist in Los Angeles before moving with his wife Jennifer to Northern California. He has held conducting positions for Cantare Chorale, Gold Rush Men's Chorus and has been a guest conductor in D.C., Geneva, Switzerland, and Toronto, Canada with the VA National Medical Musical Group based in Washington, D.C. He currently teaches private instruction in trumpet, voice and guitar in Placerville, CA and is a music director for Church of the Foothills in Cameron Park.