Thursday, July 17, 2008

Siren songs

Miami, Florida

Flying House Productions is the third largest of Washington state's music organizations in budget, audience exposure, and ensemble size. The organization houses the Seattle Men's Chorus -- the largest community chorus in America, and the largest gay men's chorus in the world -- and the Seattle Women's Chorus. It also operates a publishing arm and a concert presenting series. More than 40,000 people attend its annual subscription series.

Formed in 2002, the Seattle Women's Chorus has grown to more than 200 singers, more than 100 of whom traveled to Miami this week for GALA Choruses Festival 2008. The Chorus joined with women's music legend Cris Williamson to present Siren Song, a morning concert of Cris's work, Tue., July 15, in the Symphony Ballroom at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Miami.

Lori Surrency arranged the selections, which included Waterfall, Sweet Woman, Songbird, Sister, Mercy, Blue Rider, If I Live, Peter Pan, Midnight Oil, Live Wire, Sound of the Soul, and Lullabye.

A group of 21 gentlemen from Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill opened that evening's concert block at the Ziff Ballet Opera House. Formed in 1995, the Triangle Gay Men's Chorus, in black formal wear with long black ties, performed a pleasing set led by Artistic Director John-Philip Mullinax. In a GALA premiere, Kevin Michael Tillman soloed in "Winter Before the Fire," a movement from his composition Where is Love. The program included When I Hear Music (Michael G. Martin, composer); How Do I Love You (Penny Rodriguez, composer; E. B. Browning, lyricist); The Quest Unending (Joseph M. Martin, composer; words by Alfred Lord Tennyson); In Whatever Time We Have (Stephen Schwartz, composer; Mac Huff, arranger); and Holy is the Lord (Jeffrey I. Ames, composer).

Half of the 50-member Capital City Men's Chorus made the Miami music scene. Directed by Dr. Jeffrey Jones-Ragona, this fun group from Austin, Texas, will celebrate its 20th anniversary next season. Their performance opened with Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy (Tchaikovsky, composer) and was followed by Stars I Shall Find (David Dickau, composer; Sara Teasdale, lyricist); A Love That Will Never Grow Old (Gustavo Santaolalla, composer; Jeffrey Jones-Ragona, arranger; Bernie Taupin, lyricist; John Lopez, soloist); Resurrection (Karl Logue, composer; George Klawitter, lyricist); Live-A-Humble (traditional spiritual; Peter Bagley, arranger; Timothy Ryan, tenor, James Gaeta, baritone, soloists); and There Won't Be Bad Hair Days In Heaven (Jerry Garrison, composer). Gaeta and Freddy Herrera, Jr. added fine solo touches to The Parting Glass (Irish traditional; Jones-Ragona, arranger).

I really liked the Calgary Men's Chorus from Canada's Alberta province. The group embodies a sepia-tinted classicism. Jean-Louis Bleau conducted a quintet of strings and piano, an angelic boy soprano, and 22, tux-clad singers. Their perfectly lovely set of offerings in English or French included Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen, composer; Roger Emerson, arranger); Caresse sur l'Ocean and Vois sur ton Chemin (both works: Bruno Coulais, composer; Christophe Barratier and Coulais, lyricists); and One Voice (Greg John, composer; Greg John and Heather John, lyricists). Dancer Gessuri Gaitan performed the modern dance role of Sebastian in Homage a Sebastian (John Bouz, composer; R. McGinnis and L. Montgomery, lyricists).

Audience members waving green, white, and orange Irish flags greeted Gloria, Dublin's Lesbian & Gay Choir as it took the stage for its third GALA appearance (previously seen in San Jose and Montreal). John Francis Murphy directs the group, formed in 1995. As always, it was nice to hear Danny Boy (Weatherley, composer; Jonathan Rathbone, arranger). The 32 singers also presented Pai Duli (composer unknown; Steven Samitz, arranger); Change The World (Kirkpatrick/Kennedy/Sims, composers); Virga Jesse (Anton Bruckner, composer); Wanting Memories (Ysaye Barnwell, composer); Don't Stop Me Now (Mercury, composer); and Dúlamán (McGlynn, composer).

The men from Lakewood, Ohio, beamed individual character and oozed sex appeal in a playful set. Accompanied by percussion and piano, 42 of 100+ members of the North Coast Men's Chorus, dressed in black pants and pink polos, entertained with tunes conducted by Music Director Richard Cole. The line-up included Think Pink (Roger Edens, composer; Ralph Raymond Hays, arranger; Leonard Gershe, lyricist; James J. McPeak, soloist); Gonna Build a Mountain (Leslie Bricusse, composer; Norman Leyden, arranger; Anthony Newley, lyricist); You Made Me Love You (Joe McCarthy, composer; Robert W. Thygerson, arranger; James V. Monaco, lyricist); In What Ever Time We Have (Stephen Schwartz, composer; Patrick Sinozich, arranger); Coffee in a Cardboard Cup (Kander and Ebb, composers); Stand Up for Love (David Foster and Amy Foster, composers; Steven Milloy, arranger; Stephen Adams and Virgilio P. Fajardo, soloists). Twelve singer-dancers employed pink and white feather fans in Let Me Entertain You (Jule Styne, composer; David Maddux, arranger; Stephen Sondheim, lyricist).

The evening finished with Michael Shaieb's Through a Glass, Darkly, edited closely to fit the 30-minute limit. Commissioned and performed by the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus, led by Artistic Director Stan Hill, the work examines the effects of methamphetamine addiction. A filmed version of the March 2008 premiere has been broadcast multiple times on Twin Cities Public Television in Minnesota and is available in DVD format. Two full stagings of the work will be presented on Wednesday morning at the Hilton Hotel. [Another posting to follow.]

Before taking the stage of the Ziff Opera House, 20 TCGMC members attended the One Voice Mixed Chorus performance in the Knight Concert Hall across the street. Directed by Jane Ramseyer Miller, the men and women of One Voice presented TJAK! (Stephen Hatfield, composer; lyrics from Balinese Ketjak ceremony); How Can I Keep From Singing? (Robert Lowry, composer; Gwyneth Walker, arranger); Sicut Cervus (Giovanni Palestrina, composer; lyrics from Psalm 42); A Palette to Paint Us as We Are (Elizabeth Alexander, composer; Gerald Rich, lyricist); Distinctions (Kevin W. Wojahn, composer; Shams Tobriz, lyricist; commissioned by One Voice in 2006); I am Flying (Nan-Chang Chien, composer; Britt Abel and Joy MacArthur, soloists); and Musical Risotto (Jonathan Willcocks, composer; Darcy Juhl and Kristen Schweiloch, soloists).

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