Monday, April 20, 2009

South Jersey's cultural exports

To the west: Symphony in C with Astral Artists at the Kimmel Center, reviewed for the Courier-Post, April 20, 2009.

I had to chuckle when I was asked if I'd "made it through" the program's opening piece, a contemporary work by Sebastian Currier. It might have provoked some squirming, but I found it very colorful, witty and exciting, with soloist and orchestra pulling it off ably. Using the minuet form as a point of departure, Currier plays with cadences and expectations, making the phrases fall in unanticipated spots. Oddly, I heard some of that same playfulness in the delayed final cadence at the end of Strauss' "Four Last Songs."

To the south and west: This past weekend, I accompanied the Greater South Jersey Chorus to Washington, DC for a performance at the National Gallery of Art. I'm currently at work on a preview of the Chorus' performances of Carmina Burana on May 2 and 17, and the invitation to perform as part of a weekend choral festival came at just the right time to include the honor in my article.

Their program of 18th and 19th century American hymns and folk tunes was a very thoughtful, well-balanced assemblage, and the resonance of the National Gallery's Garden Court gave just the right boost to the chorus' sound, particularly the sopranos and basses. The 45-minute set could have used one or two more up-tempo numbers, but the concert's peak -- a stunning rendition of Aaron Copland's setting of "At the River" -- and its conclusion -- Rishel's own arrangement of the spiritual "All Night, All Day" -- were all the more effective for their deliberate pacing and slow build in dynamics and intensity. This indicates good things to come in May's Carmina performances.

Roughly two-thirds of the 90-member chorus made the trek, and I was very privileged to speak with director Dean Rishel, Chorus president Bill Kinsey, tour manager Bonnie Meilner and several other members of the chorus during the bus trip.

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