Saturday, July 19, 2008

BraveSouls & Dreamers

Miami, Florida

The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, Oregon, was the setting, June 16, 2007, for the premiere of BraveSouls & Dreamers, the latest of many choral works commissioned by the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus since its founding in 1980. Composed in 10 movements by Robert Seeley, the lyrics by Robert Espindola were inspired by the words of Gandhi, Jesus, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Isaiah, Jimmy Carter, Confucius, Buddha, and the Qur’an.

Portland's artistic director, Bob Mensel, led an orchestra and 70 singers, including Seeley and Espindola, in a Thursday morning performance this week in the Symphony Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in downtown Miami.

Written for men’s chorus and orchestra, the cantata reflects on the tragedies of war and contrasting hopes for peace. Featured soloists included Jennifer Gill, mezzo soprano; Steve Fulmer, bass; Derek Becker, tenor; and Brian Robertson, baritone.

The performance of BraveSouls & Dreamers was part of the week-long Festival 2008 in Miami. The work is available on CD.

The Festival’s second, Thursday afternoon concert block at the Ziff Ballet Opera House included the Hampton Roads Men’s Chorus from Virginia. Arthur Broadbent III led 22 of the group’s 40 singers through Vows, a recent commission from composer Scott Henderson. The 23-minute work comments on the state of gay marriage in the U.S., asserting the need to love fully, faithfully, unconditionally, and forever.

The Oakland East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus, approaching its 10th season, brought 12 of its 48 singers to a GALA festival for the first time. Conducted by Michael Robert Patch, the black-tie-clad group presented five selections with a crooning and barber shop sound and feel: Vive L’amour (traditional; Paker & Shaw, arrangers; Edward Sell, soloist); Over the Rainbow (Harold Arlen, composer; Mark Hayes, arranger; E. Y. Harburg, lyricist); Send in the Clowns (Stephen Sondheim, composer; Michael Martin, arranger); You’ve Got A Friend (Carole King, composer; Chuck Cassey, arranger); and Open Wide Your Eyes (John David Earnest, composer; Mervyn Goldstein, lyricist).

After attending GALA’s 2004 festival in Montreal, François Monette issued a call to form the Montreal Gay Men’s Chorus. Thirty one of the new group’s 40 members stepped-out lively on Thursday with an ambitious mix of singing and dancing to tunes from the movies. It will be interesting to watch them grow in strength and cohesion. The songs, in English or French, included I’m Gonna Wash That Man… (Oscar Hammerstein, composer; Richard Rogers, lyricist); En Courant (Goffin Gerald, composer; Masser Michael, lyricist); Can’t You Read My Mind – Love (John T. Williams, composer); Les Moulin de mon Coeur (Michel Legrand, composer; John Dawkins, arranger); Die Another Day (Mirwais Ahmadzai, composer; Madonna, lyricist); My Heart Will Go On (Horner James, composer; Jennings Will, lyricist); and One (Marvin Hamlisch, composer; Edward L. Kleban, lyricist).

Artistic Director Aric Henson and CHARIS – The St. Louis Women’s Chorus opened the Thursday evening concert block at the Knight Concert Hall. The group is celebrating its 15th anniversary and last appeared at a GALA festival 12 years ago. Seventeen singers, attired in a variety of chic evening wear, marked the return with four pieces from a recent concert, presenting Jubilant Song (James McCray, composer and arranger; Walt Whitman, lyricist); My Love Walks in Velvet (Gwyneth Walker, composer); The Gender Polka (David Maddux, composer); and Still I Rise (Rosephanye Powell, composer; Kendra Ellen Henry, soloist).

A program sung by 23 members of the New Jersey Gay Men’s Chorus included two recent commissions, one of them a world premiere. The premiere, Come Share Our Pride (Mark Hayes, composer), celebrated the inauguration of New Jersey’s civil union statute under which seven chorus members got hitched. The other commission, Wild Nights! (Joel Phillips, composer; Emily Dickinson, lyricist), was followed by Shoshone Love Song (Roger Emerson, composer); Walkin’ to School (Robert S. Cohen, composer; David Javerbaum, lyricist; Leyland Brenner, Tom Myers, Michael Schwarz, Ron Pae, Richard Alagona, Tomaso Collik-Migliaccio, and Joe Pisano, soloists); If Music Be the Food of Love (David Dickau, composer; Henry Heveningham, lyricist); and Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder (Negro Chain Gang Song; Robert DeCormier, arranger). Steven A. Russell conducted.

Everyone loved the boys from Germany in their fourth appearance at a GALA festival. Schola Cantorosa – Schwuler Männerchor Hamburg is 21 years old. Its performance stops have included London, Paris, Stockholm, Zürich, Amsterdam, Tampa, San Jose, and Montreal. Conductor Matthias Weickert led 15 singers – in blue satin pants, white tennies, and chamois-colored shirts slit to the navel – through a set of tunes, exercises, and dances. Selections included Paradise Cruise (Maury Alan Yeston, composer; Lutz Schubert, arranger); Clubdance (Jaques Offenbach, composer; Hans Peter Reutter, arranger); Aqua Fitness (Raymond William Froggart, composer; Dirk Früauff, arranger); The Party’s Over (Jule Styne, composer; Schubert, arranger; Betty Cowden, lyricist); Ich gehör nur mir (Sylvester Levay, composer; Sebastian de Domenico, arranger; Michael Kunze, lyricist); and There’s No Business Like Show Business (Irving Berlin, composer; Sebastian de Demenico, arranger).

The Gay Men’s Chorus of San Diego closed the evening with four selections honoring the past, present, and future. Gary Holt conducted 50 singers, accompanied by piano and cello, in Song of Democracy (Howard Hanson, composer; Maurice E. Ford, arranger; Walt Whitman, lyricist); Last Letter Home (Lee Hoiby, composer; Jesse Givens, lyricist); How Glory Goes (Adam Guettel, composer; Steven Withers, arranger); and Something In Mind (Roger Bourland, composer; Adrienne Rich, lyricist).

The Southwest Florida Gay and Lesbian Chorus from Cape Coral opened the afternoon concert block at the Ziff Ballet Opera House, Fri., July 18. Led by Kevin S. Halesworth in their first appearance at GALA, 13 singers delivered friendly and spirited renditions of Bidi Bom (David Eddleman, composer); Benedictus (Brian Lewis, composer); Who Knows Where the Wind Blows? (Joseph M. Martin, composer; Joseph Martin and Pamela Martin, arrangers and lyricists); I Got A Name (Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, composers; Jay Althouse, arranger; Norman Gimbel, lyricist); Everybody Rejoice (Luther Vandross, composer; Andy Beck, arranger); and Hand In Hand (Dawn Rodgers and Tricia Walker, composers; Kirby Shaw, arranger).

The Harrisburg Men’s Chorus from Pennsylvania just finished its 21st season. The group last sang at GALA for the 2000 festival in San Jose. Thirteen singers presented six songs conducted by David Walker. Soloists David Payne and Ed Diel sang with particularly good voice in Seasons of Love (Jonathan Larson, composer; Roger Emerson, arranger). The program also included Step to the Rear (Elmer Bernstein, composer; Chuck Cassey, arranger; Carolyn Leigh, lyricist); Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) (Billie Joe Armstrong and Green Day, composers; Mike Taylor, arranger; Armstrong, lyricist); Harriet Tubman (Walter Robinson, composer; Kathleen McGuire, arranger); Fare Thee Well (traditional American folk song; Vicki Tucker Courtney, arranger; Ed Diel, soloist); and – performed with gusto – We Shall Be Free (Stephanie Davis, composer; Keith Christopher, arranger; Gary Brooks, lyricist; Eric St. Clair, soloist).

Patriotic themes informed the program offered by the Des Moines Gay Men’s Chorus, formed in 2001. Twenty singers, wearing black suits and shirts with red rose boutonnieres, and led by Rebecca Gruber, gave a strong rendition of In Our America (Ben Allaway, composer; Julianne Allaway and Ben Allaway, lyricists), along with Libertatum and We All Have a Right (both works Jim Papoulis, composer; Francisco J. Nunez, arranger); The Quest Unending (Joseph M. Martin, composer; Alfred Lord Tennyson, lyricist); and The Colors of Love, from “We, the People” (Mark Koval, composer).

From Rhode Island, Terry J. Lindsay brought 17 singers of the Providence Gay Men’s Chorus. Decked-out in light blue polo shirts and khaki-colored slacks, the group started well and grew stronger in sound, confidence, and command of their material. They sang Freedom, from “Shenandoah” (Gary Geld, composer; Peter Udell, lyricist); Sky-Born Music (Carl Johengen, composer; Ralph Waldo Emerson, lyricist); The Dodger (Aaron Copland, composer; Irving Fine, arranger; Steve Isherwood, tenor soloist); Over The Rainbow (Harold Arlen, composer; Mark Hayes, arranger; E. Y. Harburg, lyricist); Will You Love Me Tomorrow (Carole King and Gerry Goffin, composers; Jerry Barrow, arranger); and Love Gone Wrong (Benny Andersson, composer; David Maddux, arranger; Bjorn Alvaeus, lyricist).

Of the 27 concert blocks offered at Miami’s Arsht Center for the Performing Arts this past week, the one that I am glad not to have missed by virtue of overall artistic excellence took place Friday afternoon, July 18, in the Knight Concert Hall. The five choral groups in the segment all commanded their material and audiences, entertained engagingly, and displayed awareness of top-notch production values. From a strong beginning, the block crescendoed to the end.

From Seattle, five members of The BEARatones made their GALA debut performing songs from their “Bear With Me” CD, including The BEARatones (Bear Patrol) (Charles Baker, composer; Aaron Rodriguez, soloist); California Dreamin’ (John E. A. Phillips and Michelle Gilliam, composers; Chris Blain, arranger); Miami Habañera (Charles Baker, composer); Giving You a Cuddle for Christmas (Chris Blain and Loz Blain, composers; Aaron Rodriguez, soloist); Bear With Me (David Maddux, composer); and Tap That Secret Code (Charles Baker, composer; Tony Gilkinson, soloist). The last was an over-the-top ode to the Minneapolis airport and those waiting for a flight to Boise from Gate 14 on the Gold Concourse.

Most pleasantly surprising were the 19 men and women of One Voice Chorus from Charlotte, North Carolina, conducted by Kathryn Mahan. Their soloists were especially fine singers in a set that included Yonda’ Come Day (spiritual; William Appling, arranger); I Know Where I’ve Been (Marc Shaiman, composer; Shaiman and Scott Wittman, lyricists); For Now, from “Avenue Q” (Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, composers; Mac Huff, arranger); For Good, from “Wicked” (Stephen Schwartz, composer; Mac Huff, arranger; Madeleine Bock, Jerry Gardner, soloists); what matters (Randi Driscoll, composer; Kevin Robison, arranger); and I Need to Wake Up (Melissa Etheridge, composer; Mark Brymer, arranger).

Thirty minutes with the men of the Silicon Valley Gay Men’s Chorus were not enough. I wanted more! This smooth and accomplished group of 32 singers were, to a man, very comfortable with their choreography as they delivered a bright, clear and soaring sound. Under the direction of Daniel Hughes, and backed by piano, percussion, and bass, their rep included Come Travel with Me (Scott Farthing, composer; Walt Whitman, lyricist); Eres Tú (Juan Carlos Calderón, composer; Galt Johnson, arranger; Ray Tovar, soloist); Swing Set (In the Mood/Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy) (Joe Garland and Don Raye, composers; Daniel Hughes, arranger; Bette Midler and Hughie Prince, lyricists; Ray Mendonca, Bill Russell, Keith Byron, first trio; Brian Cagadas, Eric Tooley, Phil Boyer, second trio); Sto mi e milo (Macedonian folk song; Daniel Hughes, arranger); Grace (Mark Hayes, composer); and Wana baraka (Kenyan folk song, from Barack Obama’s ancestral village; Shawn Kirchner, arranger; Yvonne Farrow, choreographer).

For those who like their men really tall and handsome, the Gateway Men’s Chorus from St. Louis is the ticket! Gearing up for their 22nd season, 20 singers directed by Al Fischer made good choreographic use of the bright red lining on their tux jackets while singing Lady Luck Review (The Lady is a Tramp/Luck Be a Lady/A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody) (various composers and lyricists; Rich Cook, arranger); Try To Remember (Harvey Schmidt, composer; John R. Anderson, arranger; Tom Jones, lyricist); The Nearness of You (Hoagy Carmichael, composer; Harold B. Anderson, arranger; Ned Washington, lyricist); More, theme from “Mondo Cane” (R. Ortolani and N. Oliviero, composers; Stanley Lebowsky, arranger; Norman Newell, lyricist); Fever (John Davenport and Eddie Cooley, composers and lyricists); Sway (Pablo Beltran Ruiz, composer; Kirby Shaw, arranger; Norman Gimbel, lyricist); and Fly Me to the Moon (Bart Howard, composer; Neal Richardson, arranger).

Call me a patsy for the (at least, seemingly!) suave and sophisticated, but Men Alive: The Orange County Gay Men’s Chorus from Laguna Hills, California, was first class! An army of 120 black tuxedos and gray vests grabbed the stage and did not let go. This was the group’s second appearance at a GALA festival since its formation six-and-a-half years ago. These guys are cool! These guys are hot! Rich Cook directed them through seven delightful numbers, including Don’t Rain On My Parade (Neal Richardson, arranger; Bob Merrill and Jule Styne, lyricists); Glamorous (Bob Gunn, arranger; Will Adams, Elvis Williams, Stacy Ferguson, Jamal Jones, Christpher Jones, lyricists); Defying Gravity (Stephen Schwartz, composer; Gunn, arranger); Finlandia (Jean Sibelius, composer; Rich Cook, arranger); Always Look On the Bright Side of Life (Eric Idle, composer; Neal Richardson, arranger); Time To Say Goodbye (Cook, arranger; Francesco Sartori, Lucio Quarantotto, Frank Peterson, lyricists; Andre Chasse, exquisite soloist); and River Deep, Mountain High (Cook, arranger; Jeff Barry and Ellie Barry, Phil Spector, lyricists; Joe Tish, soloist).

Following this concert block, American Coaches mobilized its fleet of buses to transport Festival 2008 delegates to a night of escape at Club Nikki Beach. [Another post will follow.]

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