Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pebblebrook High School at Carnegie Hall

Just a quick post, as promised, to report on the National High School Choral Festival at Carnegie Hall on Friday:

The four choirs, selected from a pool of more than 80 groups nationwide, represented New York (Harlem), New Jersey (homeschooled kids!), Washington (state) and, of course, Georgia. With two choruses coming in from nearby areas, the house was packed -- though the Georgia contingent was pretty strong, given the state's proximity to NYC.

First out on the stage for a solo turn, Pebblebrook certainly did Atlanta proud. (This is the sort of impression we need to be making, continuously, on those parts of the country and the world that may erroneously think of Atlanta as a somewhat backwards place.) George Case (my friend) programmed Rene Clausen's "A Jubilant Song," Frank Ticheli's "Earth Song," and Moses Hogan's arrangement of the spiritual "My Soul's Been Anchored in the Lord." The real standout of this set was the Ticheli, as noted by James Oestreich in the New York Times review of the concert.

I'll admit that I'm biased toward my friend's choir, but as a connoisseur of choral music, I can say that, empirically (to my trained ear), Pebblebrook was the best of the four groups. Lovely blend, rich sound, tenors that sounded like tenors and basses that sounded like basses, which is not always a given in a high school chorus. Pebblebrook was the only chorus of the four that didn't spice up their set with "choralography." (And yes, there is a time and a place -- certainly in a high school chorus -- where choreographed movement to accompany a song is appropriate, but Carnegie Hall is not that place.) That always seems like pandering, to me, at least in formal settings.

The homeschool chorale picked a lovely, simple Eric Whitacre piece ("Lux Aurumque") and an arrangement of "My God is a Rock" that I hadn't heard before. The arrangement was fine, but the cheesy coordinated movements they made were... not. Overall, their sound was sweet, but thin; they lacked the depth of sound all the other choirs demonstrated. The choir from Washington took the choralography one unfortunate step further, incorporating stomps , sharp looks, and 90-degree turns into its pieces. It was surprising, then, that the song selection was the biggest offender in this set. Z. Randall Stroope's "The Conversion of Saul" is, quite simply, an atrocity. There was scant relief in the next song, "John the Revelator." [Juvenile sidenote: all I could think of was Trogdor the Burninator.] The powerful gospel group from Harlem got the loudest and longest ovation, to match their set of loudest and longest songs.

Michael Tippett's "A Child of Our Time" occupied the second half of the concert. The Orchestra of St. Luke's accompanied the combined choirs under Craig Jessop. Oestreich's review deals primarily with this piece (of which I am not particularly fond), so, in the interest of brevity, I'll leave its critique to the paid professionals. Congratulations, Pebblebrook!

1 comment:

Claire said...

The stomps in the Conversion of Saul are actually included in the music, they are not something that the choir chose to do.