The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Yuba Sutter Master Chorale
With Full Voice - April 29, 2012
by Dick Frantzreb
This classical concert brought together two music organizations for a joint performance under the direction of Joaquina Calvo Johnson. The first half began with the full orchestra accompanying the chorus in Haydn’s Te Deum in C. This was followed by shorter choral pieces (with instrumental accompaniment) by contemporary American composers, Stephen Chatman and Rene Clausen. The remarkable thing about the presentation of these pieces is that they included original choreography (about which more later). Orchestral compositions by Edward Elgar and Frederick Delius completed the first half of the concert which concluded, after intermission, with Mozart’s Coronation Mass. (Click here for details of the titles and solo performers.)
My passion is to promote local performances, so it is ironic that I drove an hour to attend this one. But I’d do it again without hesitation. St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Yuba City provided an open, yet intimate setting for the concert, with the audience very close to the performers. The acoustics were excellent, and the seating more comfortable than any theater.
The presentation was dignified and serious: chorus, soloists and orchestra were in concert dress. Joaquina Johnson directed with confidence and sensitivity to the music. The 24-piece orchestra performed flawlessly to my ear, and the 51-voice chorus sang with good blend and balance, with clear articulation, and with control in all dynamic ranges. Over many years, I’ve heard a lot of good choral singing and a little that was not so good: this was good choral singing. As I sat there taking in the work of director, chorus and orchestra, the thought that came to me was that what they were conveying was a sincere love of and respect for the music.
There were five dancers who performed during the Chatman and Clausen pieces: three girls who appeared to be around 12 years of age and two who were older, perhaps 15 or 16. Their dance teacher had choreographed the routines that they performed separately and together. The whole idea was a bit of a shock at first: my mind was set on a primarily choral performance. But I was instantly struck by the stage presence of these girls and the elegance of their ballet movements. Their segment seemed like it might have lasted as long as 15 minutes, but I was really oblivious of the time: I was carried away by the beauty of the singing, the playing and the girls’ interpretive movements. It was enough to move this Grandpa to tears.
I think that people in Yuba and Sutter Counties may feel they are up against a prejudice that their idea of culture can’t measure up to that of the big metropolitan areas. But that’s just not true. The introduction to the program noted that “we do have a symphony orchestra, master chorale, regional opera company, oratorio society, youth orchestra, an active community theatre company and a Regional Arts Council.” And there was a lot of community spirit evident in this performance which nearly filled the church and had people lining up in the hot sun to buy tickets. The feeling of community spirit and pride in the cultural resources of Yuba Sutter was so strong that I almost felt as though I had crashed someone’s private party.
After a long intermission during which performers mingled with the audience in sampling a wide array of free refreshments in the church’s lobby, the performance resumed with the Coronation Mass. As this piece proceeded, I was impressed with the obvious thorough preparation of the chorus, their respect for silence as well as sound, their expressiveness of Mozart’s musical ideas, their responsiveness to dynamics, and their energy. I perceived no obvious flaws or departures from the overall quality of the presentation, and though I couldn't see her throughout, it seemed to me that Mrs. Johnson directed the whole piece with a smile on her face. Certainly there were smiles on the faces of the audience members who rewarded the musicians and dancers with a standing ovation.