By Dana Abbott
INSPIRARE is a new choral group formed and led by the energetic Dr. Sean Boulware, leader of several local vocal ensembles. Inspirare’s promotion material says it consists of an all-star collection of professional singers from our area, formed to bring the finest of choral music to performance. The group’s opening concert series, starting on October 25, 26, and 27 lent substantial veracity to that claim.
In the first of the series, at Compass Church in Salinas, the 21 singers were arrayed in a semi-circle. The concert began with Renaissance church music by Palestrina and Victoria. The polish, clarity and balance of the group were immediately evident in the interweaving of contrapuntal lines.
A pattern throughout the program was in the regular mixture of mostly modern choral fare with rhythmic, dance-like material of African origin.
Tuba—traditional Xitsonga—arranged by Michael Barrett, set this blend off with energy and precision and a fine, simple solo sung by Andrew Johnson. (There were several solo opportunities within the program, given to various members, all handled quite well.)
Boulware provided spoken introductions to all selections. The program handout was a single sheet with concert order and listing of participants. No written lyrics were provided. Enunciation in the performances was good with words often emerging clearly.
Boulware explained the Biblical origin of the text of the Harry Burleigh arranged spiritual, “My Lord, what a mornin’.” Boulware’s professed admiration for the work of composer Michael John Trotta was justified in the refined rendition of “Make Space for Life to Live,” a lush and colorful piece of writing, deserving repeated hearing.
Another standout in the program was “Stars I shall Find,” to a lyric from poet Sara Teasdale, set elegantly by David Dickau. This piece demonstrated that composers setting quality writing extends our knowledge of important elements of our heritage and culture often obscured by the clutter of life. This reviewer was unaware of Teasdale, who demonstratted the ability to speak with resonance across time.
More than half the program was a cappella, with the remaining pieces ably supported by Rumiana Drumeva at piano. The African pieces featured fine drum support from the Boulware dynasty, Sean and his son Isaiah.
Included in the program was an “Ave Maria,” with the traditional text set by Zachary Moore. The result seemed a bit diffuse, with several modulations and rich but under-resolved harmony. Also performed were two of the Three Nocturnes by Daniel Elder, “Lullaby” and “Ballade to the Moon,” the last whose text was sometimes sprawling, but with polished choral writing throughout.
Dan Campolieta provided a setting of “Will there really be a ‘Morning?’” text from Emily Dickinson, who is often a challenge to reader and composer alike. There was a selection from the Afro-American female group, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Ella’s Song, from Bernice Johnson Reagon; it touched on current issues within Africa-American society, calling for those who believe in freedom to stand up together against racism.
Eric Whitacre, important in current choral writing, was represented by Sleep, a challenging piece in modern open harmonic style with extended lower range writing as slumber approaches and an ably executed fadeout ending.
The concert closed with Sweet Rivers, a large-scale arrangement by Shawn Kirchner, using Appalachian mountain material as a foundation. Having done a few of these, Kirchner knows what he is about. Supported by piano, the piece employs varied choral voicings and maximum range, eventually building up to an all-out display in 12-part harmony; even with Boulware joining his singers, there must have been at least one to a part. Thus the piece stretched the resources of the group as it provided an exuberant climax to close the concert. The results were quite satisfying. The audience was enthusiastic.
Capable of good blend, fine tone and considerable polish in extended exposed singing, this proved an auspicious debut for a group from which one hopes to hear more.