The 2019 Family Concert is almost upon us, and I cannot imagine a more powerful infusion of youthful energy and enthusiasm to offset the late-winter doldrums. This year, we’re inviting four outstanding choirs of young people to take the stage individually and to join us in several selections. We had a colossal rehearsal on Monday evening with all the students, who packed the large fellowship hall at the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem to capacity. The excitement and energy in the room were both palpable and visceral. We first dove into Händel’s Coronation Anthem, Zadok the Priest, which, as I mentioned in my last post, is a classic point of entry for young singers into the pleasures of singing baroque music, and one’s first encounter of the piece is often an indelible memory for those experiencing it. I remember singing it at a district chorus with Thomas Douglas, who is now the conductor of the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh, some 29 years ago! On our Facebook page, you can read a few spontaneous comments from some of our followers about their first Zadok, or their most treasured memory of the piece. Greg did an excellent job harnessing all of the energy and excitement, and I can guarantee that the first choral entrance of the piece, after a stately and inexorably intensifying orchestral introduction, will raise the hairs on the back of your neck!
We rearranged ourselves into two mammoth loops to rehearse the next selection, Shawn Kirchner’s winsome arrangement of the great evangelical hymn, Unclouded Day. This is a ruddy, infectiously-joyful arrangement in which the choir frequently breaks into eight-part (and more) divisi, sung a capella, with much energy and verve. Hearing 200 voices blazing away on this number was absolutely thrilling, and I’m certain that the audience will enjoy the special way we are going to sing it to them!
Our final combined selection was the Dona Nobis Pacem from the Mass in B-Minor, Bach’s incomparably ardent prayer for peace, a timely selection if ever there was one! We’re gratified that the young singers will have an experience of singing such a work of musical, intellectual, and spiritual depth.
24 select singers from the choirs and 24 singers from Bach will form an ensemble to sing a wickedly difficult (friends, it’s hard) and ebullient Sanctus by Bach. BWV 238 was composed for Christmas Eve of Bach’s first year in Leipzig, and must have really put the Tomanerchor through their paces. We’ve devoted a considerable amount of time to it in rehearsal, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time practicing it on my own, and was prepared for a little woodshedding after our first go with the high school students on Monday evening. Instead, we touched on a few of the tricky spots, and it came together beautifully. Kudos to the kids and their conductors for the excellent preparation.
The guest choirs, themselves, will be presenting some interesting repertoire. The Parkland Chorale, under the direction of Frank Anonia will sing an excerpt from Mendelssohn’s Elijah, the popular a capella extraction of “For He shall give His Angels.” This is one of Mendelssohn’s most sumptuous movements, and is sure to delight. From our friends in the Emmaus High Shool Chorale, under the direction of Rita Cortez, we’ll hear a recent setting of a bit of Psalm 42 by the Kentucky composer, Richard Burchard, Sitivit Anima Mea. This work is in the of-the-moment atmospheric style, with compelling harmonies and soft dissonances. The Touring Choir of the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, we’ll hear a fascinating arrangement of singer-songwriter Vienna Teng’s Hymn to Axciom, a trenchant warning about the perils of big data fused with modern marketing, led by David Macbeth. Finally, Joy Hirokawa will lead our own Bel Canto Children’s Chorus in a duet from Bach’s Cantata BWV 93, a vigorously complex and lyrical work.
The programs at our Family Concert have been widely varied: we’ve collaborated with dance and theatre groups, staged a children’s opera, worked with marionette artists and painters, partnered with elementary schools, all with the intent of providing an enjoyable, moving afternoon out for the youngest members of our audience (and children of all ages) that also introduces them to the pleasures of listening to classical music. We had one other Youth Choir Festival, and it was a smashing success. This year’s concert promises to be especially thrilling. We are collaborating with the crème de la crème of our region’s excellent high school choirs and the sheer power of 200 or so voices will be exceptionally moving. We’re also delighted to offer the young singers the opportunity for choral/orchestral performance at a very high level, something they will surely carry with them into their futures as potential Bach Choir choral scholars, as singers in college choirs, and beyond. I hope you’ll join us for what promises to be an outstanding afternoon full of power, enthusiasm, and overflowing joy.