The Sacramento Choral Calendar
GOETHEANUM: Light, Space, Sound, Color - February 24, 2018
by JR Keith
It was a cool Saturday evening when my partner and I entered Beatnik Studios, a unique multi-function event / photo / art / concert space; albeit a bit warmer inside the building, the air still had a crisp, cool feel to it.
At the appointed hour, the lights dimmed and within moments, humming began back-left of the audience. Vox Musica (VM) filed in, double row, behind the audience, chanting Sarah Hopkins' “Past Life Melodies,” and halting their advance within feet from (and facing) the back wall. The reflected reverberations felt warm and mystical. The simple tones became increasingly complex as new notes and chords were added... the hums turned into yeahs, loos and what seemed to be child-like neener-neeners as the ladies turned to face the back of the audience... then glided to the performance area (free of any risers) facing the now captivated audience. This addition of consonance and assonance created layers upon layers of cadences so entrancing that when I closed my eyes, my mind envisioned bright lights falling to earth with pillow soft landings; sounds like the plucking of various widths of stretched rubber bands; and high-pitched dissonance resembling that of whistles though blades of grass. Erik Urbina, the cellist, added a thrilling and chilling nuance. The sonic landscape near the finale led me to imagine what it would sound like if star dust were scattered and settled like falling pollen on a beach of fine sand; it's almost inexplicable as I felt like time stood still. I peered around the audience; faces reflected wonder, serene smiles, astonishment... peace. My partner turned to me, and we silently nodded to each other as if to say, “WOW, what was that!?”
(Click here to open the program in a new window.)
The 2nd and 5th pages of the program provide details of the inspiration for this performance, conceptualized with featured artist Gioia Fonda, a tenured professor of art at Sacramento City College. Daniel Paulson, dedicated founder and multi-faceted director of VM, consistently produces programs that thoughtfully translate and provide context for the cerebral music they tackle. Heather Razo, pianist for the night, played brilliantly on six selections. Eurythymist, Alice Stamm, graced us with “movement to sound” for the final number of the evening. This evening of multi-sensory art was punctuated by palmas, contrapalmas, hapi drum, and serene interludes by consummate cellist, Erik Urbina. Everything needed to understand each song is captured in the program.
This was my 7th concert to experience with VM; obviously, I'm a fan. I could write volumes attempting to capture what these artistes accomplished this evening — the impeccable craftsmanship with which they deliver each piece of music, the intricate and elaborate details, not to mention the requisite work ethic and integrity of each singer in order to bring to life concerts of GOETHEANUM's caliber.
Consistent with their mission, VM has once again created something fresh for our choral-art community. Paulson wrote in the “welcome” section of the program, “We hope this concert project will offer you a platform for a synthesis of diverse artistic music, media, and sensory effects” — and it did exactly that. This collaborative effort incorporated work from art students who created panels with a faux stained-glass effect, which were hung above the audience and singers. During intermission, the audience was invited to help create one of these pieces of art with the help of Fonda — adhering shapes and strips of multi-colored tissue paper onto a large, translucent sheet of white paper. Audience members seemed enthusiastic and delighted with the opportunity to collaborate on this mini-project.
This concert presented VM with the task of fusing music with shapes, spaces, and light; using sounds and words to evoke a spectrum of colors, perception of textures, and the expanse of the cosmos. For example, the lighthearted, “Abstract Blue” composed by Cliff Shockney (who was in the audience that evening) created an atmosphere of calm, melancholy, easy feelings — frequently associated with various hues of blue. Director Paulson's “Blue, Red, Yellow” brought to mind the contrasting extremes of color. His composition of complex chords, harmonic dissonances, chromatic runs, syncopation with undertones of Gregorian chants, and waves of intricate echoes with oft-changing dynamics brought feelings of excitement and deep reflection.
Soloist Becky Parker began the intricate and challenging “Northern Lights” by Ĕriks Ešenvalds in Latvian. Several choristers played glass harps (wine glasses tuned to certain notes by filling with water and rubbing around the rims with moistened fingertips) while others played hand chimes (light weighted, square tubes with an attached mallet clapper — sometimes used for training handbell players and/or used as secondary hand bells). The ladies walked counter-clockwise around the edges of the stage space while simultaneously singing intricate harmonies and playing their instruments. It was all intensely mesmerizing.
The second half of the concert delivered more thrills as the luscious depth and range of Paige Kelly's alto voice presented an outstanding solo performance of Robert Schumann's “Heiss mich night reden.” Coloratura soprano Anne-Marie Endress then dazzled us with back-to-back solo performances of “Die Bekehrte” by Hugo Wolf and “Gretchen am Spinnrade” by Franz Schubert. The concert came to a close with VM and soloist, Beth Nitzan, showcasing a movement from “Faust II” that I'm sure Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn, herself, would have cheered and jumped to her feet for.
The entire concert was spellbinding. So many of the audience members I spoke with during intermission, and after the concert, shared a common impression: They were awe struck. Overcome by the uncanny sophistication, eloquence and intricate artistry, I once again felt as though I had participated in a spiritual experience with the celestial conduits of VM.
Vox Musica continues to delight those who appreciate unique, vocal art that moves the soul, music that challenges the senses, and multi-media artistry that creates scintillating experiences — fans of nuance containing flashes of deep introspection — all-the-while being graced with moments of awe, clarity, whimsy, challenge, and nostalgia. I heartily encourage anyone who identifies with this description to become part of Vox Musica's e-mail list, and make it a priority to treat yourself to a seat at an upcoming performance.
JR Keith has worn a variety of hats: director, soloist, small and large ensemble member, tenor/baritone, and event planner of choruses from Texas to California, such as FBC Frisco, TX; CCCC Jazz Choir; DBU Chorus; several mission/worship teams; Sanctuary 101; Collin County Community Choir; Turtle Creek Chorale; Dallas Symphony Chorus; Amador Choraliers; and the Sacramento Gay Men’s Chorus.