The Sacramento Choral Calendar
The Anniversary Concert - December 12, 2015
by Griffin Toffler
Congratulations to this exciting new choir on their fifth anniversary for thriving so splendidly and for the wonderful program they put together in St. John's Lutheran Church to celebrate their milestone. The Slavic Chorale, after only a few years, is well on its way to establishing itself as a musical voice to take note of. Their Facebook page already has over 1400 likes. It is going to be interesting to watch this promising group grow into its next five years.
In terms of the kind of music they perform, the program they put together proves that the Chorale has already created an identity as a group that faithfully honors the Slavic traditions with taste, quality of music and relevance to their place and time. Director Pavel Kravchuk shows promise as an emerging choral conductor.
The alto section was outstanding—always together and in tune, emitting a sweet sound akin to the cello section of an orchestra, a sound that is smooth and rich, almost creamy. As I listened, I had a "Eureka!" moment. "So," I thought, "this is the sound an alto section is capable of producing!"
The sopranos, though they had a nice sound, were not always clear in pitch, tone or color. The basses and tenors were good, but nothing distinguished them like the alto section did. I am sure this will all come together beautifully as evidenced by the group's already impressive achievements.
(Click here to open the concert program in a new window.)
There were four songs intended for audience participation, two in English, two in Russian. The rest of the program was a blend of carols and songs sung in Russian, Ukrainian, English and Spanish. All of the works performed are worth pointing out, but I will just highlight a few of my favorites. "The Lake" is a contemplative look through metaphor at the transience of life, depicting stars disappearing one by one in the lake's reflection. "Psalm 117" by Arvo Pärt is an amazing piece by the Estonian composer. Pärt's artful nod to ancient music, utilizing his own refreshingly modern style, offers a sense of intimacy, depth and introspection.
The decisive moment in the concert came about halfway through, with the singing of the Ukrainian carol, "Oh, in Bethlehem." This song, clearly embedded in the culture represented by this chorale, brought out their best. The singers looked and sounded as if they were having fun and one could discern the distinctively Slavic sound, even though (or perhaps because?) the audience sang along in Russian. This might have been a better starting piece than "Joy to the World" in English, for afterward, the whole concert was on an upswing. Now the group was warmed up and singing in "the zone."
The three excerpts from "The Nutcracker Suite," composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, were entertaining and well presented. This work was arranged for chorus by Jeff Funk, utilizing meaningless sounds which imitate the instrumentation of the ballet. I also enjoyed the discussion by Mr. Kravchuk in between pieces. He presented a nice blend of history, musical insight and humor, all of which made for deeper enjoyment of the concert.
The concert was aptly ended by a song called "Just Simply," which sent us home with a sense of valuing all the things in life we know are the most important. "Like a fish in the depths of a river, you will see above you new heights."
It was an enjoyable evening shared with hundreds of others in a beautiful church. This choral ensemble deserves your attention. I hope to see you at their next concert!
Griffin Toffler attended Longy School of Music and Morehead University as a music major for 3 years. Although she went on to be successful in her field after obtaining an MA in Clinical Psychology at John F. Kennedy University, she has often thought of returning to college to complete her degree in music education. She is currently taking conducting classes at CSU Stanislaus. Her first voice teacher, Olga Averino, was a major influence in Griffin's life. Griffin hopes to, in some small way, pass on to others some of the wisdom she learned from Madame Averino. Her website is www.griffintoffler.com.