By Mary Elizabeth Nordstrom
Wells, ME, 16 May 2010. Holy Spirit Parish, St. Mary’s Church 7 p.m.
Robert Russell, conductor, produced an a cappella choral concert tonight worthy of his teachers and mentors, Lara Haggard and Robert Shaw. I am eager to report that this is but your first chance to hear this program during the spring tour of USM Chamber Singers, not only in New England, but also at Trinity Church and Urban Assembly High School in New York City between May 16 and May 21, 2010. Russell remarked that annually the USM Chamber Singers present a “Joyous Sounds of Christmas” concert at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Portland to an average audience of only 250. He said that tonight’s was by far the largest tour audience to which they have sung. The sanctuary was nearly full. A few years ago, someone insisted that classical concerts would not draw an audience in Wells. How quickly the world turns! When impeccable quality musical performance is offered at family rates, or as they say about baseball fields, “Build it and they will come”!
“Volare!”-- the stated title of the program--will also be the title of USM Chamber Singers’ soon-to-be released CD, inspired by the Eric Whitacre composition that they sang tonight “Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine”. This was a very dramatic presentation of an imagined Sixteenth Century dream of something that seemed impossible at the time.
“Priidite, Poklonymsya” and “Bogoroditse Devo”: a pair of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1843-1973) titles opened the program with great energy and exemplary vocal projection as the undergraduate chorus responded to the conductor, each part coming across brilliantly as a single voice. This program was the result of a whole year’s work, Russell explained. This, I hasten to add, is what can be realized with carefully-selected auditioned voices. People who think they don’t like classical music perhaps haven’t heard it performed at this level.
Additional works included “Arirang” by Chen Yi, a delightful departure in staccato voice simulating Oriental language, and a group of two choral works: Gary Kent Walth’s (contemporary) “Two Japanese Proverbs” and “The Circle” by J. Jerome Williams. (contemporary)
“Gamelan” by F. Murray Schafer allowed the voices to imitate the sound of the instrument of that name. Then we were off to the swift hour’s final collection of Spirituals arranged by the late Moses Hogan (1957-2003) who was taken by cancer at age 45. This was listed as a tribute to the composer. The list, as follows: “I Got a Home on Dat Rock”, “I’m Gonna Sing ‘Til the Spirit Moves in My Heart” “Old Time Religion” and “Elijah Rock”.
It is interesting to note that The University of Southern Maine has the only school of music in a public university in New England. The program lists the voice faculty and names the Director of Opera Workshop, Director of Musical Theater and Director of Vocal Jazz Ensemble, no doubt all responsible in some way for the level of performance by the individual singers. There were impressive brief solo parts as a demo during the Moses Hogan group, and these brought the house down individually with applause.
Editor’s note: Classical Voice of Maine, a subsidiary of www.CVNewEng.org, will welcome comments addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org , either about this concert and the review, or performances at other New England tour locations: Portsmouth High School, NH; North Smithfield High School, RI; Ledyard High School, CT; Henry Barnard School, Enfield, CT; Keeney Street Elementary School, Manchester, CT; Wilton High School, CT.