A sign of the maturity of San Diego’s choral culture is the heartening degree to which the professional organizations are reaching out to support and develop their art in the wider community.
In May, the Bach Collegium San Diego augmented the professional singers of its impressive Monteverdi 1610 Vespers concert with 13 top singers from the San Diego State University Chamber Choir. This gave the Bach Collegium a more robust choral sound for the work’s larger choral movements and gave the SDSU singers an opportunity to perform a major Baroque work with period orchestra and virtuoso soloists, a production typically beyond the budgetary resources of a state university.
Saturday (July 16), in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church of San Diego, Sacra/Profana presented in concert some 55 high school choristers who have been participating in that choral organization’s annual, just completed Summer Choral Intensive at Point Loma Nazarene University. Under the joint direction of Keith Pedersen and Juan Carlos Acosta, this well-trained festival chorus sang a broad range of serious choral repertory with polish and spirit.
A core of some 20 Sacra/Profana singers joined the young singers in the program’s opening and closing numbers and also performed three short works in the middle of the concert, but the evening belonged to the chorus of young singers, who made a splendid show of their solid week of intense choral immersion.
The festival chorus opened with Gioacchino Rossini’s rousing a cappella motet “Cantemus,” filling the church its infectious and disciplined counterpoint bathed in a warm, freely-produced sonority that sounded surprising mature for high school singers. In the rear gallery, the Sacra/Profana singers offered the motet’s antiphonal retorts with a bright, well-matched sound.
The young singers proved particularly convincing in the works by American composers, especially Moses Hogan’s “Music Down in My Soul, communicating its gospel inflections with avid delight. Finding another shade of ardor for David Dickau’s “If Music Be the Food of Love,” they shaped its gentle, mellifluous melodies and easy-going harmonies with winning innocence. For both of these works, pianist Jenn Opdahl provided stylish, rhythmic accompaniments that generously supported the singers.
David Brunner’s spirited, almost hypnotic Venezuelan song “Yo le canto todo el dia,” proved an excellent choice for the sparkling women’s voices, and their rhythmic clapping added to its sensual appeal. For the young men, a deftly layered arrangement of the traditional Hebrew dance song “Hava Nageela” (arranged by Maurice Goldman) allowed them to flex their vocal muscles and figuratively strut about the stage.
Robert Bridges’ poem “My Spirit Sang All Day” in the familiar choral setting by Gerald Finzi can strike the listener as somoewhat precious, but the festival singers’ confidence in navigating Finzi’s delicate harmonic traceries made a compelling case for the work. I was not completely convinced, however, by Brandon Waddles’ arrangement of Hall Johnson’s spiritual “Fi-yer.” Requiring a number of solos in a choral work for young voices, as Waddies did in this piece, is risky because few young voices have the vocal training to carry off a convincing solo, especially on short notice.
Kudos to Keith Pedersen for teaching his charges the demanding six-voice motet by Orlando Lassus “Musica Dei Donum Optimi.” Even a top drawer touring college choir would devote several months polishing this gem of Renaissance polyphony, and these young singers pulled it off quite credibly in a week!
To close the program with a flourish, Juan Carlos Acosta chose the Ralph Vaughn Williams anthem “Let All the World in Every Corner Sing,” which the two choirs performed together from the front of the church. Justin Murphy-Mancini supported the voices with a clean, colorful, and driving organ accompaniment that allowed the voices to soar with the composer’s grand phrases and George Herbert’s mystical poetry.