Monterey Peninsula Voices

By Dana Abbott 

MONTEREY PENINSULA VOICES sang a three-concert series, called Lumina, over the weekend, which got the holiday season off to a fine start. There was indeed light aplenty; four selections positively glowed with diamond-like brilliance.

Led by Sean Boulware with pianist Michelle Galindo and a quartet of strings from the Monterey Symphony, the program was rich, acting as a fine antidote to the plethora of holiday music that pervades the airways from mid-November to late December. Selected numbers were supported by selected photographs from local Steve Zmak, mural work by Jose Ortiz, and watercolors of unusual delicacy by Pam Takegawa, projected on the rear wall of the sanctuary at First Presbyterian in Monterey. 

The program opened with Rise Up, a resetting of the spiritual Rise Up Shepherds and Follow. It was done a cappella with energy. Ola Gjeilo is a young composer who often sets choral music;  his Ecce Novum, on a Latin text in praise of Mary, was harmonically rich and chorally pleasing. It made anti-climactic a performance of How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place from Brahms’ German Requiem. Then Boulware turned to Mark Hayes, a very capable arranger, for a reworking of Christina Rossetti’s In the Bleak Midwinter using Gustav Holst’s definitive setting as a foundation with fine string quartet work. With the Gjeilo, this was a second diamond in the first half of the concert.

Isaiah Boulware made a conducting debut, courtesy of his father, leading Glow by Edward Esch and Eric Whitacre. The men of the chorus sang Star of Light by Paul Dunbar and the altos had a place in the bright December sun bringing their own warmth to Solstice Song by Jan Garrett. The first set closed spectacularly with a brilliant arrangement of the Sussex Carol by Elaine Hagenburg with the string quartet supporting and giving Galindo prominent opportunity to bring her light to the fore in carillon-like figurations.

The second half of the concert carried a major challenge to match the first. It started with two  Hanukkah songs, Celebration of Light and Candles in December. Run to the Manger gave the women of the chorus their moment in a fast-paced run. But the powerful words of Christina Rossetti mixed with the gifted Ola Gjeilo’s setting raised The Rose to tiara-like height in the second set. Boulware offered Victor Johnson’s fine SATB choral setting of Stars I shall find by Sara Teasdale. (He scheduled a choral version for sopranos and altos in an Aria concert two weeks ago.) There was an arrangement of Silent Night in sing-along style combined with Peace, Peace. 

The concert closed with a crowd-pleasing potpourri on the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas. Arranger Craig Courtney set each day in different musical styles starting with Chant, running through Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart, Saint-Saëns and more, ending with John Philip Sousa. Isaiah Boulware provided drum support for the Stars & Stripes Forever ending. 

The chorus, with 95 members listed in the program, sang well; the capacity attendees at the Sunday concert were highly pleased with their effort and with the concert’s fine programming.