Friday, December 19, 2014

Holiday Brass and Chorale Concert

This evening David and I heard a lovely program of music for Chorus and Brass presented by Music of the Baroque, directed by William Jon Gray. Mr Gray is the regular conductor of the group and prepares the chorus for appearances by our favorite conductor in the world, Jane Glover. Mr. Gray is no slouch! He conducted a varied program with energy and sensitivity in the wonderful space of St. Michael's Church in Old Town, Chicago.

The chorus sounded fine; much better than at last year's holiday concert under a different conductor. Mr. Gray and Ms. Glover apparently agree on the sort of sound a choir should make.

There was also en excellent brass ensemble, a wonderful 'cellist, Barbara Haffner, and a fine organist, Mark Shuldiner. Vocal solos were taken by members of the chorus. I especially liked the work of baritone Kevin Keys.

The repertoire ranged from the likes of Gabrieli, Victorio, and Monteverdi to Jean Berger and Tarik O'Regan (whose work I especially liked).

It was a fine concert in a wonderful room, both visually and acoustically.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Advent Vespers

This afternoon David and I attended an Advent Vespers service at the Monastery of the Holy Cross. We actually thought it was going to be a concert by the Chicago Chorale, and they were represented by a group of 12 singers who sang very well in a few pieces. They were basically appearing as the church choir.

Most of the singing, however, was performed by the monks of the Abbey. They performed the service, singing plainchant in Latin. I had thought that after Vatican II, most English speaking Catholic churches used English for the services. However...

The monks sang very nicely, processing with incense, wandering all about the church.

Image result for tomas luis de victoria  Tomas Luis de Victoria

The small group from the Chicago Choral, about 6 men and 6 women, sang very well choral music of Tomas Luis de Victoria. The conductor is Bruce Tammen. Mr. Tammen has an unusual technique of conducting this type of music. Everything is a downbeat. 

All in all it was an interesting experience.

Sunday, December 7, 2014


This afternoon David and I heard a program presented by the Fourth Coast Ensemble, Karen Ann Bacon, soprano, Bridget Skaggs, mezzo-soprano, Zachary Vanderburg, tenor, Reuben I. Lillie, baritone, Luciano Laurentiu, piano and organ, Stephanie Bouwsma and Maria Storm, violins, and Jennifer Ruggieri, harp.

  Karen Ann Bacon      
   Bridget Skaggs

The program loosely followed the various sections of the Magnificat, with compositions from composers as different as Georg Philipp Telemann to Samuel Barber with various degrees of success.

    Zachary Vanderburg

Mr. Lillie has a fine baritone voice with a good, easy top. He has excellent diction. The other singers had basically good voices with areas that could stand improvement. They used music for the most part of the program, which places a barrier between the singer and the audience. The program would have a more professional feel with a memorized presentation.

Mr. Laurentiu was an excellent pianist but had less success at the organ. Ms. Ruggieri was excellent in her harp work and the violinists were fine in their part of the program.

 Reuben Lillie
Two of the singers are soloists in the choir of  St. Paul and the Redeemer Church, where David also sings.

We visited Christkindlmarkt right across the street from the Chicago Temple, where the concert was held. Did a bit of Christmas shopping in this German-traditional marketplace. A chilly interesting afternoon.

Finished with a wonderful pizza and salad at Giordano's. Talk about an international day!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

I loves you, Porgy!!!

Well- I can tell you one thing for sure:Eric Owens has one hell of a bass voice! And I mean that in the most complimentary way. Tonight at the Chicago Lyric Opera's performance of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, he made William Warfield look like a piker. 

   Eric Owens

I heard Warfield, along with Leontyne Price and Cab Callaway in the 1953 revival of the opera in New York City way back when. That's a hard act to follow.

His strong, clear voice, along with excellent diction, and strong dramatic presence, made his performance one I will long remember.

The rest of the cast was very strong both vocally and dramatically. Bess, sung by Adina Aaron, was sung with beautiful tone but poor diction. She seemed bent on coloring vowels in a way that kept you wondering what word she was trying to say.But the sound was lovely and she is a good actress. No Leontyne Price, but then, who is?
    Adina Aarons

Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi as Clara, Norman Garrett as Jake, Karen Slack as Serena, Eric Greene as Crown, and especially Gwendolyn Brown as Maria were all excellent. Several chorus sopranos who had solo lines sounded glorious.

The one exception was Jermaine Smith as Sportin' Life. Not only was there not enough voice present in most of the range, he took such liberties with 'It ain't necessarily so' that were vulgar and out of character, that it ruined that number for me. Cab Callaway, all those years ago, sang the socks off this role.

One dramatic touch that was missed here, that I saw in the 1953 production, was at the end, when Bess has gone off to New York with Sportin' Life, and Porgy say he's going to New York to find her. In the earlier production he says 'Bring me my goat!', and a little goat is brought on stage attached to a wagon. He sets off to New York on his knees behind the goat. I always have to cry at that moment.

(In the original productions, Porgy spends the whole opera on his knees on a little wheeled platform that allows him to get around.) 

In this production he was on a crutch the whole time, and at the climactic moment said 'Bring me my crutch', and sets out to walk to New York.

I missed the goat!

Ward Stare led the fine orchestra, always keeping a good balance with the singers, which seems to be a CLO thing. I think partly because part of the orchestra pit may be below the stage as in Weimar, which would make the difference.

A very imaginative set by Peter J. Davidson, good costumes by Paul Tazewell, and lighting by Mark McCollough made the production come alive.

The fine chorus, prepared by Michael Black was sensational in the magnificent choral moments.

It was a glorious evening! And that Eric Owens can sing for me any time!!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

And the winner is.....

I must confess that tonight I spent from about 7:30 to 10:30 just watching Jane Glover conduct. From her amazing fingers, arms and body emerged the mighty Christmas Oratorio of J.S. Bach. She has an electric connection to the splendid chorus and orchestra of Music of the Baroque that is unequaled in my experience. A flick of a finger or a sweep of an arm brings forth wonderful sound. She is the best!

Image result for jane glover

Barbara Butler, the co-principal trumpet nearly stole the show in the pieces she was involved in, tossing off mind-boggling passages with ease. The continuo players and the entire orchestra were top notch.

Of the vocal soloists I felt that Roderick Williams, the baritone was the best. He sang with a lovely sound and with great ease. Paul Agnew, the tenor, was fine in the recitative passages, with his voice able to go to voix mixe and falsetto easily. He was less successful in the arias.

The mezzo, Krisztina Szabo, has a fine voice but needs to find her bottom range, which was mostly not there.

The soprano of Yulia Van Doren troubles me. It is just not a very well organized voice. She was practically inaudible in duets and trios, a bit better in her solo pieces, but with a tendency to yelp high notes.

But the kudos of the night go to Jane Glover. She will be conducting Britten's War Requiem at the Berkshire Choral festival next summer. I look forward to hearing that performance.

I have never conducted this work but I have prepared soloists for a number of performances. In the 1950's I worked with Pamela Munson on the mezzo solos. She went to the Metropolitan Opera at that same time. My first Met singer.

Recently I worked on the bass soli with Nathaniel Watson, who is performing the work in Montreal.

So I have a vested interest in how the solos are sung.