By Monica Mendoza
IN ITS HOME STRETCH the Carmel Bach Festival presented a veritable treasure box of choral works, titled “Signs and Seasons,” last Thursday night. The program was diverse, ranging from the middle ages to pieces by composers still living. Each half of the concert lasted roughly 45 minutes but the choices were ordered in such a way that the audience never became restless.
One of the first pieces performed was “In the Beginning” by Aaron Copland, featuring mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle as soloist. Clocking in at about fifteen minutes, it was sung entirely a cappella, which conductor Andrew Megill stated in his spoken remarks is a challenge for choral ensembles. As such it was most impressive to hear Bragle come in perfectly in tune at each of her solo entrances, all of which began on a different pitch than the one before.
The first half of the concert featured compositions focused on the sun, the moon and the stars. Choral works by many well known names, such as Brahms and Samuel Barber, were performed, but one standout was Sun by R Murray Schafer, a Canadian composer and writer. Sun is a piece where the word ‘sun’ is sung in forty different languages. Like Carl Nielsen’s Helios Overture, the piece follows the journey of the sun across the sky over the course of the day—starting with the word being sung in Vietnamese and ending with the English word for our star. It was another quite long piece for the choir, who displayed endurance and exceptional musicianship. Four soloists were featured, Melanie Russell (soprano), Patricia Thompson (mezzo-soprano), Owen McIntosh (tenor) and Andrew Padgett (bass).
What made this program particularly special was that each member of the chorus was shown to be valued for their skill. Two Renaissance madrigals started the post-intermission portion of the concert, which had a four-seasons theme starting with spring. In addition was George Gershwin’s delightful “Sing of Spring,” performed with energy and joy.
The summer set of songs included “Sumer is icumen in” (Summer is coming in), from the 13th century, one of the oldest songs in the English language. This lighthearted piece was sung as a round by the choir and allowed for audience participation as all of us were quickly taught a part of the song with which to sing along. Everyone was in good spirits as we joined in and Megill congratulated us on our Sunset Center choral debut.
The choir sang in many languages, German, old English, and French in Claude Debussy’s swift and sardonic “Winter, you’re nothing but a villain!” Hearing the chorus singing rapidly while pronouncing it with Gallic clarity was a treat.
The concert ended with “I’ll be on my way,” a gospel-style piece by Shawn Kirchner, featuring David Newman (baritone) dedicated to recently departed members of the festival and festival chorus.