Performing Arts: Choral Arts

by patrickmccoy

The Choral Arts Society kicked off their season on a Latin note.

Mexican American Pablo Talamante accompanies mezzo-soprano Deborah Benner. (Photo by Jeremy Norwood)

When most classically trained choirs, such as The Choral Arts Society of Washington DC, open a new concert season, they usually stick to the tried and true “Three B’s” of choral music canon: Bach, Brahms and Beethoven. Since Choral Arts would be satisfying the Beethoven requirement with his great choral work “Missa Solemnis” during their later guest appearance with the National Symphony Orchestra, their season opener took on a Latin flavor.

Former associate conductor Joseph Holt returned to the District to lead the Choral Arts Chamber Chorus and guest performers in “La Musica Latina” — a wonderful bouquet of choral, solo and instrumental music from the Latin experience. Holt provided informative narrative in the program and also performed several solo piano pieces. Notably in attendance was founder/music director emeritus Norman Scribner and his newly minted successor Scott Tucker.

The Choral Arts Chamber Chorus during rehearsal. (Photo by Jeremy Norwood)

Though it was certainly billed a Choral Arts concert, the program represented a handful of choral pieces performed by the smaller chorus. George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium was not as kind to the voices of the chorus as its familiar home of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Distinct sections of the chamber choir stood out due to the microphones enhancing the group’s sound. Unfortunately, some of the weaker voices were noticeable. One must still commend the singers for reaching outside of their musical comfort zone and appearing sincere in their interests in music not typically in their repertoire.

The true panache of the evening came from the solo artists. Carmen de Vicente simply wowed the audience with her performances on a pair of castanets; her gestures, expressions and intensity during her delivery held the rapt attention of the audience. Vicente is considered one of the only concert artists that perform on the one-of-a-kind instrument.

Deborah Brenner brought a smoky, velvety texture to her singing. She seemed to be comfortable and at one with the genre. It was not only wonderful to hear her sing, but it was an experience just seeing her entranced by the music. The bravura of the opera world emerged in the voice of Pablo Talamante. His confident, bright tenor was reminiscent of the great singer Placido Domingo.

Joseph Holt, the evening’s music director, conductor, and pianist, tickles the ivories during rehearsal. (Photo by Jeremy Norwood)

Luis Garay engaged the audience with his flashy performance on the Djembe, an instrument similar to the congo, while Michael Bard was a powerhouse in his guitar solos. Together, the guest instrumentalists, along with Brenner, transported the listener on a musical journey of Latin culture.

It was wonderful to see a diverse audience in attendance at this entertaining concert. Adventurous programming like “La Musica Latina” present opportunities for those new to classical music to become further engaged.

Petersburg, Va. native Patrick D. McCoy received a B.M. in vocal performance from Virginia State University and an M.M. in church music from the Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Va. He has contributed arts and culture pieces to CBS Washington, The Afro-American Newspaper and the newly published book, “In Spite of the Drawbacks” (Association of Black Women Historians), which includes his chapter on legendary soprano Leontyne Price. McCoy has interviewed some of the most acclaimed artists of our time, including Denyce Graves, Norman Scribner, Julian Wachner, Christine Brewer and Lawrence Brownlee. Listen to these interviews and others at Blog Talk Radio. McCoy may be reached via email at and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy.

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