The Sacramento Choral Calendar


Concert Review

Sacramento State School of Music
Chamber Choir - University Chorus - Women's Chorus

Sound Horizons - November 14, 2015

by Diane Boul

As I sat amidst the buzz of a large audience on this Saturday night, at the beautiful Sacred Heart Church in Sacramento, I was distinctly aware of the presence of a young adult contingent. This pleased me no end, and I hope that will be a trend at choral concerts and not just be the fact that these young people were supporting their college friends.

The concert, divided into three parts with no intermission, included the mixed-voice Chamber Choir; the Women’s Chorus; and the University Chorus, a mixed-voice choir of students and community members. Shawn Spiess, Conductor of the Rocklin High School Vocal and Choral Department, and currently working on his Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting at Sac State, made a guest appearance along with Graduate Student, Matthew Foley on guitar.

I definitely enjoy “serious” choral concerts, ones with well-balanced programming, interesting arrangements, and technically good singing. "Sound Horizons," Sacramento State School of Music’s Fall Concert, did not disappoint. The performance was eclectic with music from the 17th to the 21st century; compositions by German, Russian, Hungarian, Tamil, Norwegian, Gaelic, English and American musicians, and poetry by Sara Teasdale, Octavio Paz, Louise Ackerman, Robert Herrick, Robert DeCormier, and others. Most of the music was memorized and sung in the language of the composer, and there was a good mix of a cappella and accompanied pieces. The blend and balance of voices was probably the best I’ve heard. With the exception of a few solo parts, there were no obvious voices sticking out or inappropriate vibratos. The harmonies, some quite difficult, were a pleasure to hear. Outstanding!

(Click here to open the program for texts and translations.)

Spells of Herrick (Incantation and Charms) – Sung with good vowel shapes for a quality sound, there were not enough consonants to make words understood. The wonderful dynamics heard in Charms obviously came from strong breath support, not from throaty yelling. Dynamic!

Stars – Set to a poem by Sara Teasdale, this basically a cappella piece was accompanied by a wineglass harp played by select choir members. The effect of tingly, twinkling stars was very effective, but subtle.

Duh Tvoy blagíy – A Russian composition, sung a cappella in Russian, had few words, but was simply beautiful. I liked that I could understand the correctly pronounced word, "Alliluiya."

Let Me Fly – An American spiritual, probably written in the 19th century, this is thought to possibly have had a secret meaning amongst slaves looking to escape by means of the Underground Railroad. This is a song of hope. Good spirit from the soli.

Gloria – (from The Coronation Mass of 1779) – Accompanied by the chamber orchestra, this favorite Mozart piece was sung with excellently enunciated Latin and competent soli, all singing with the spirit of the piece. Well done! Loved it!

Horizons – This premiere, written by Donald Kendrick, has lovely lyrics, though I felt they were not well articulated by the Women’s Choir. The sound effects were nice, harmonies were tight, and the taped bird with the last sustained note made me smile. I’d like to hear this piece again.

Túrót Ёszik a Cigány – Sung in Hungarian, this cute children’s song is from the rich repertoire of the great Zoltán Kodály, who transformed the teaching of music to children, and his techniques are still employed today.  Good job memorizing the language.

Hébé – Sung in French with piano accompaniment, this gorgeous piece was sung by nicely blended voices and with good dynamics. The chorus sang with confidence, and it was the singers with expressive faces, as well as voices, who made this piece memorable.

Ödi Ödi – This was a song written to text from the Southern Asian Tamil people, with a rousing djembe drum accompaniment by Chris McCuddy, and choreography based on simple movements from the Baratnatyam tradition. This was a meditative piece with lyrics, “…constantly seeking, …for the light that is within them.”

Dixit Dominus – As with the Chamber Choir, the Women’s Chorus seemed most comfortable singing classical music, like this piece by Baldassare Galuppi, accompanied by the chamber quartet. Their beautiful round vowel sounds were uniform.

Way Over in Beulah Lan’ – Written in 1875, this spiritual, arranged by Stacey Gibbs, allowed the choir to show their range with good expression and full range of dynamics. Apparently Beulah Land is defined as "the peaceful land in which the pilgrim awaits the call to the Celestial City." Sopranos Sarah Nulton and Crystal Hunt were strong in their solo roles.

Water Night – This Eric Whitacre composition, with text by Octavio Paz, was one of my favorites of the evening. This is obviously a very difficult piece with many beautiful, dissonant harmonies. Fortunately, the text was in the program, because the lyrics were hard to catch among the beautiful sounds that were being produced. How thrilling it must have been to sing this. “And if you close your eyes, a river fills you from within, ….” Breathtaking! Are there really 14 parts in 3 octaves?

The Lake Isle – Conducted by guest conductor, Shawn Spiess and accompanied by guitarist, Matthew Foley and the chamber orchestra, this song was written by Norwegian Ola Gjeilo to a poem by William Butler Yeats.  There was a lot going on in this performance, especially by the instrumentalists, who somewhat overpowered the choir, especially in the beginning. However, the choir ended strongly. This was a guitarist’s chance to shine and Mr. Foley did.  I also enjoyed the understated conducting style of Mr. Spiess.

Psalm 43 – Again conducted by Shawn Spiess, the choir sang this psalm a cappella and in German.

The Rune of Hospitality – Written in 1984/85 to a Gaelic text, conducted by Dr. Kendrick and accompanied by guitarist, Matthew Foley, this ”poem of mysterious significance” casts Christ in the stranger’s guise and tells of the hospitality to Him. The guitar-only accompaniment gave this piece a lovely ethereal quality.

What Hath Night to Do with Sleep? - Sung to poetry written by John Milton in 1634, this academically interesting piece was accompanied by the string quintet. Milton tells the story of three siblings traveling through a forest at night. The sister, who becomes separated from her brothers, comes across a disguised and treacherous Comus (son of Bacchus and Circe) who tries to seduce her with an intoxicating potion and tempting food. I think this piece aptly applies to this partial quote by Aryeh Oron from The Canadian Encyclopedia: “Derek Holman composes in an elusively tonal, strongly rhythmic style, with frequently angular melody, exuberant polyphony, and musical wit.”

It’s difficult to really absorb everything possible with just one hearing of a concert, so I undoubtedly missed some important aspects of this program. My brief remarks are only my impressions. There was so much to like about this program, but I was frequently disappointed when articulation was not sharp enough to understand the lyrics.  Fortunately, they were printed in the program.

There is little question that no one has done more to promote choral music in the Sacramento area than Donald Kendrick. By promoting his choirs, of which there are at least six, Dr. Kendrick furthers the appeal of choral music, bringing attention to genres of music which seem sometimes to have been left behind with the advent and popularity of newer pop and rap music. We who love choral music are grateful!!!

Ryan Enright, despite his engaging presence, managed to slip into the background when his services weren’t required. I’ve heard him play many times, and every time, I’m impressed. Thank you, Dr. Enright!

 2015 Reviews