in: Reviews

November 16, 2013

Children’s Chorus Restores Faith in Youth

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With 11 choirs in 5 Boston locations, the Boston Children’s Chorus serves 450 singers, 67 of whom were on hand for the BCC’s inaugural concert at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Founder Hubie Jones has shaped and defined the civic and social landscape of Boston for more than 45 years; BCC continues in his words to “discover the power of singing, and transcend social barriers in a celebration of shared humanity and love of music.” Despite the choir’s “unsurpassed performing experiences locally, nationally, and around the world” over a decade, its “Autumn Landscapes” on Saturday afternoon was my first opportunity to experience its singing under the leadership of artistic director Anthony Trecek-King.

In red and black attire, young ensembles sang 15 choral pieces from memory, beginning with an old Thanksgiving church favorite that I would have thought would have been long forgotten by today’s generation— “We Gather Together.” With choristers on the second floor to my left and right and others encircling the piano center stage, it was ever quite moving to hear such purified sound coming from these young voices.

“Pale light over autumnal lands” began a set of three songs from “Sügismaastikud” (Autumn Landscapes) by the lionized Estonian Veljo Tormis, showing off some of BCC’s flair for less traditional harmonies and tone painting. BCC tuned in on Brahms’ “Lullaby No. 2” and “Lost Youth” from Op. 104 imparting more youthful straightforwardness, less depth than usually expected from this composer.

Between the two Brahms’ came “Amazing Grace” with oohing from the voices and too many of those pop style sus4 chords throughout the piano accompaniment. Oohing here made little sense whereas in the Tormis it worked for “Wind, yellow corpse over the barrens/Wind, Bending Road.”  In each instance, BCC skillfully oohed.

Anthony Trecek-King’s lean look and shifting stances attracted just enough attention, my eyes moving from chorister to chorister all of them directing their attention to him. Disciplined they are in every way. I did not detect a sour note during their 40-minute performance. There was hardly a fuzzy entrance. What a nice arrangement by J. Purifoy of “The Blessing” by Brendan Graham and David Downes, the lovely ballad made known by the Celtic Woman touring ensemble. BCC touched our hearts with this simple song about two in love: “And when you come to me/and hold me close to you/ I bless you and you bless me.”

Trecek-King told us that for the past two weeks BCC had been in Calderwood Hall rehearsing and exploring the space. The configuration of voices he decided on, as described above, was a masterful touch. Though I could only see one of the two second floor groups, I found their whole sound-splay as intriguing as it was sumptuous. Calderwood’s drier acoustic, however, carried less resonance than we have come to expect in choral production. This effect was most pronounced in phrase ends where notes simply dropped off.

After politely hearing a careful rendering of the Lacrymosa from Mozart’s posthumous requiem featuring female voices, the audience came completely alive with the male ensemble going up tempo on Jester Hairston’s sharply carved arrangement of “Poor Man Lazrus.” The excitement of this traditional spiritual and the Celtic expression of “The Blessing” had to be the absolute favorites of the day.

Joshua Shank’s “Autumn” did not resonate well as it should have with its new-age clusters in alternation with straight old triads, some laced with a fourth. Its ending dragged us to end of the program. This piece and too many others represent mainstream programming, which came as a surprise given the mission of the organization.

All in all, the well-trained Boston Children’s Chorus learnt all the sounds well and surprised with a range of dynamics and depth of engagement. They will be performing again at the Gardner. You will be refreshed if you go; your faith in youth will be completely restored.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. www.notescape.net

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