The earnest, youthful singers of this ensemble, numbering approximately twenty-two members and under the energetic and musical direction of Edward Wickham, performed music by Tallis, Tomkins, Weelkes, and Gibbons on their concert’s first half, and returned after intermission to sing Holst, Stanford, Parry, Tippett, and Jonathan Harvey in the beautiful Jaffrey Center (NH) Meeting House the evening of Thursday, July 7. While the somewhat dry acoustic of this venue was not particularly suited to a choir concert, it was nonetheless a very attractive and lofty space, a pleasure to be inside. This was the opening concert of Monadnock Music’s 46th Season – a remarkable achievement for this popular and well-regarded concert series. A large and enthusiastic audience of apparent Monadnock “regulars” was present on the first floor, and the balconies were packed with students from the Walden School of Dublin, NH, a summer music camp and festival devoted to teaching music theory to promising young students. It would seem that the stars were aligned for a wonderful evening.
Unfortunately, several issues conspired to make this occasion a disappointment:
1: No texts were provided; 2: The program book was totally at odds with the order of the works the group performed, which necessitated Wickham’s need several times from the stage verbally to correct the program book’s listings; 3: Owing, he said, to “the New Hampshire heat,” though the evening was pleasantly cool, Wickham twice begged the audience’s indulgence to shorten the program’s length; 4: The singers were score-bound, with only a few singers regularly watching their helpful leader; 5: The choir gave evidence of not being fully prepared on much of the repertoire. I wrote “shaky” several times in my note-taking throughout the evening. 6: While exhibiting excellent intonation in almost all that they sung – chords “locked” pleasingly at the ends of most pieces — there were just too many instances of false entrances here and there, occasioning a visible befuddlement on the faces of a couple of singers who had strayed from the printed score; 7: The programming was a puzzlement, with seemingly not much thought put into how to construct a program which ought to begin brilliantly, constantly build upon itself, and reach a musical highpoint by the end. Come, Holy Ghost by Jonathan Harvey which closed the concert before its obligatory encore, was a work of interesting construction, but its execution seemed lacking in energy and coherence, owing, perhaps, to vocal fatigue and that New Hampshire heat; and 8: The women’s attire was distractingly disparate. The first lady to come on stage did so in a very tight dress quite short of modesty for an elevated stage and wore sheer black stockings. Other women were bare-legged, yet another wore black pants, skirts were of varying length and jewelry was of such a variety as to be further distracting. On the other hand, the men’s attire was undistracting and appropriate.
On the plus side, the several soloists — unfortunately left unnamed by either Monadnock’s program book or the choir’s Director — knew their parts well, sang beautifully, and showed a welcome professional stage deportment. There is obviously some real vocal talent within this choir.
Despite all of the aforementioned issues, the generous audience awarded the singers a standing ovation spiked with some cheering from the galleries. My opinion of the evening was clearly at odds with most of those in the audience.
I realize that it is a truly good thing that these eager young singers are devoting part of their summer vacation to enthusiastically present beautiful music of their countrymen. Perhaps it is churlish of me to have expected a higher standard of execution from this ensemble. Yet I would suggest that if they wish to be judged as the equal of the finest of amateur ensembles that regularly appear throughout New England, there is much more for them to undertake to achieve this admittedly high standard. As a very knowledgeable audience member was overheard to say: “These kids just aren’t quite ready for prime time.”
John W. Ehrlich is music director of Spectrum Singers, which he founded 31 years ago. He has been a singer and conductor in the Boston area for more than 30 years.