It was an extremely innovative and conceptually brilliant idea to celebrate 35 wonderful years of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC (GMCW) in a sophisticated, elegant and somewhat serious mode (though there were humorous musical passages in Carmina Burana) at The Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall.
The integration of the GMCW with the classical music of the magnificent orchestral and vocal piece Carmina Burana (comprised of 24 poems set to music by Carl Orff), the superb singers of the New York City Master Chorale, the colorful flavor and physical agility of the Gallim Dance Company, and the accompaniment of three superb operatic soloists was flawless and fluid.
This challenging artistic push by the GMCW under the Artistic Direction of Thea Kano and Director John Moran bodes well for the future of the GMCW. An appreciative audience was treated to diverse artistic and musical elements that fully immersed the imagination, the ear and the eye throughout the evening’s crisp and eloquent presentation.
The tone of the piece was akin to a musical Canterbury Tales in its depictions of the joys of life, the sorrows of life, and the patterns of daily living replete with all the conundrums built into daily existence on this planet. Composer Orff did an extremely poetic job of adapting the ancient poems (from a much larger manuscript) mostly form the 11th and 12th Century. The exhilarating music embellishes text that is still relevant today and that represents the medieval period. The musically poetic passages that were heard at the Concert were primarily in Latin –with a few in Middle High German and some traces of old French.
The famous “O Fortuna” musical passage with its insistent beat was such a pleasure to hear live with the fantastic acoustics gained from The Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Of course, this and all the rest of the glorious music showed much discipline and passion by the GMCW as well as the marvelous New York City Chorale member that joined them for this sublime Concert. The singing was alternately, passionate, placidly pleasing, witty, or seductively poetic as the page of text called for. The intermingling of the voices of these two groups was, indeed, a veritable embarrassment of riches!
Added to the already existent musical glories, three wonderful visiting artists/soloists performed specific sections of the program with sublime grace, resonance and ease. These wonderful musical artists were Lyric Soprano Paige Cutrona, American Tenor Robert Baker and Baritone Young Kwang Yoo. All three singers sang with resonance and utter skill.
Extraordinarily subtle and accomplished musicians on Piano, Percussion and Bass accompanied with sensitivity and beauty throughout the evening.
If this was not already more than enough good fortune for the audience, the agile and powerfully nimble Dance Group—Gallim Dance— delivered wonderfully entrancing visual counterpoint to the singers during the entire performance of Carmina Burana. Performing dynamic and sensual new choreography by the innovative Artistic Director Andrea Miller, this fascinating group of nine dancers leapt in mid-air, lifted each other on high with muscular yet poised aplomb and paired –off in some very intriguing visual compositions.
It took me a few moments to absorb the vast amount of artistic conception going on but, I was soon “swept up” (as the dancers literally were!) with the complete immersion and synergy of these sublime dancers. To my “mind’s eye,” the swooping and seemingly carefree (obviously the result of highly disciplined practice) movements,–the leaps, arm and leg extensions, semi–reclining and coiled body movements seemed to bear the very positive influence of famed Choreographer Twyla Tharp to some degree.
These nine dancers certainly enriched the beautiful singing of the GMCW and the New York City Master Chorale by virtue of their sheer joy in movement. Clothed in flowing, ethereal-looking yellows, greens, and purples (Costume Design by Colin King) each and every dancer should be cited: Sebastian Abarbanell, Celine D’Hont, Allysen Hooks, Gwyn Mackenzie, Matthew Perez, Daniel Staaf, Austin Tyson, Georgia Usborne, and Paul Vickers.
Act Two brought the audience back to the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington (GMCW) as the primary focal point but, indeed, that is merit enough—for the evening sustained its level of excellence with some ravishing harmonizing, intriguing arrangements and fine soloists.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “We Kiss in a Shadow” from The King and I was performed with the expected sensitivity, but the surprise here was the quite implicit and extremely effective homoerotic subtext. The implication was subtle and heartbreakingly rendered. Homophobia continues to run rampant and I am afraid that in many places today, Gay men and women must still “kiss in the shadows.”
“The Boy Next Door” from Meet Me in St. Louis was wittily conveyed with just the right amount of an engagingly whimsical tone.
The charming and enthusiastic, youthful GenOut Chorus sang a very moving arrangement (by Alan Billingsley) of “I Was Here.” Their strong affirmation of these words–under the fine conducting of C. Paul Heins–did indeed prove that they ARE here. Let us hope that they are not going anywhere soon for these fine singers represent the future!
The traditional song “There’s A Man Goin’ Round” was most appropriately elegiac and moving. As the superb soloist Kia Suban sang so mournfully with the Chorus, white placards were slowly lifted in memory with the names of those stricken down by AIDS. For me, this was too painful to really analyze except to say the singing was so sensitively done that I thought of Wordsworth’s words from his famous poem “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”: “….to me the meanest flower that blows can give thoughts that lie too deep for tears”. This plague’s effect is so profound the deep loss even ebbs beyond mere tears.
A much needed segue way was provided by the gospel-tinged and more upbeat “Walk Him Up” from the musical Purlie. As the Chorus sang so vigorously and robustly, a feeling of transcendent hopefulness settled over the Hall in the midst of prior grief. This was an ingenious follow-up to the previous song.
Spiritual resonance and hope filled the Concert Hall as soloist Rick Bennett and the Chorus sang a stunning arrangement (by James Stevens) of “Nearer My God to Thee.”
The GMCW is known for their beloved and (thankfully) oft-performed “Make Them Hear You” from the musical Ragtime. The lyrics and music of this song by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens fit the spirit and progressive tone of the GMCW “to a tee” and I have listened in awe to their performance of this song at least ten times by now; I never tire of it. The pacing, passion and precise elongation of certain lines and notes is nothing short of breathtaking. In this Concert, Artistic Director Thea Kano has created a very intriguing new arrangement (with additional lyrics by Romm Gatongay and solo by Romm Gatongay with Paul Nicholsen and A. J. Rawls as Vocal Percussionists). The song started as per usual but midway through a very “rap-like” passage was interspersed that spoke of the trajectory of the GMCW. Then after this interlude- the song kicked back into its very steadily paced yet, concurrently, almost insistently pleading tone only to hold on for the most dramatic finale I have heard in a very long time. Startlingly original and effective!
The Concert concluded with two breathtakingly beautiful songs–namely, “We’re Not Lost, We’re Here” (with a superb solo by James Trinidad) and “This House Shall Stand.”
As an encore —the eloquent and moving “In My Mother’s Eyes” (depicting the Child’s birth to the failing of the Mother as the Child cares for the Mother) brought tears to the eyes—–very sensitively performed.
Kudos to ALL involved in any capacity whatsoever with the progressive GMCW —-but a special mention here to C. Paul Heins, Assistant Conductor, and Theodore Guerrant, Principal Accompanist.
Dr. Thea Kano should be commended once again for her advancement of the artistic excellence of the GMCW —the Carmina 35 Concert proves my commendations to be more than apt!
I can think of no better salute to 35 years celebrating the history of the GMCW than this innovative and exhilarating Concert!
Running Time: Two hours and 10-minutes, with one 20 minute intermission.
Carmina Burana 35 was presented by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC on Sunday, May 8, 2016 at The Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For future GMCW concerts and events go to their website.
This Sunday at 8 PM at The Kennedy Center: GMCW’s Restrospective Concert featuring ‘Carmina Burana.’
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