Perfect Pitch: Flourishing Season

by patrickmccoy

Round Up:  A look back at some of the season’s most memorable concerts and performances.

By Patrick D.  McCoy


Mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves and composer Steven M. Allen (center) join fellow cast members on stage at Dunbar High School following the performance of his opera “The Poet.” (Photo by Chuck Frink Photography)

While the news has overflowed with tales of financial woes of  numerous arts institutions such as the Minnesota Orchestra, and most recently the Metropolitan Opera, arts in the nation’s capital continued to flourish this season.  From opera to recitals, the 2013-2014 season has taken WL Performing Arts around the city to a variety of exceptional performances.

This season, The Kennedy Center has been a prominent focus for many of the concerts attended.  Washington National Opera‘s opening night featured a trendsetting performance of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”  With colorful costumes by Jun Kaneko, the staple work took on a youthful flair.  In the role of Sarastro, local favorite Soloman Howard used his statuesque presence and commanding bass voice to great effect.  As the “Queen of the Night,” soprano Kathryn Lewek championed note after note, delivering consistently. A benefit concert featuring of “The Black Eye Peas” rocked The Kennedy Center to raise awareness of the devastation done to the Philippines following the recent typhoon. Along with guest artists ChariceRodell Rosel and Lea Salonga among others, the special evening of music was a powerful show of unity.

Star tenor Lawrence Brownlee was joined in recital with pianist Kevin Murphy at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium.  Presented under the auspices of Vocal Arts D.C., the music of Verdi, Poulenc, Marx and Ginastera formed the cornerstone of an exceptionally sung recital, and a standout was the performance of spirituals arranged by Damien Sneed, written expressly for Brownlee.  Whether Brownlee was singing in German or French, the singer exuded a sense of musical command throughout.

Performances of great choral music are a huge part of the musical fabric of Washington.  Dubbed the ‘choral music capital,’ hundreds of choral conductors and arts administrators descended upon the city for the national convention of Chorus America. For the first time, two of the areas largest symphonic choirs, The Choral Arts Society of Washington led by Scott Tucker and The Washington Chorus led by Julian Wachner, joined forces for the opening night concert. ‘Made in America’ featured the choirs in a variety of American choral works and was capped by an inspiring performance of  “Mass” by Leonard Bernstein. Guest soloist Rodrick Dixon was particularly charming in his delivery and rapport with the stellar Children’s Chorus of Washington. Other performances during the conference included those by The Washington Bach Consort and The Washington Master Chorale.

Earlier in the season, Choral Arts highlighted the music of Spain in a special concert entitled “Tango! Soul and Heart.” Under conductor Tucker, the choir performed the music of several representative composers including Ginastera, Piazzolla  and Bardi. Ginastera’s “The Lamentations of Jeremiah” was one of many perfect examples of the music created in Spain that excelled in the Western European classical tradition. The choir sang the  a cappella motets with great attention to intonation and musicality.  Local mezzo-soprano Anamer Castrello made her Kennedy Center debut with the chorus and brought a level of authenticity and flavor in both language and vocal execution.  This concert was a moving journey through the different musical styles of the Spanish repertoire and seemed to be a learning experience for both the listener as well as the performer.

At National Presbyterian Church, The Heritage Signature Chorale, under the direction of Stanley J. Thurston, presented its 14th anniversary concert, featuring Princeton University organist Eric Plutz and a brass ensemble, as the choir offered a program of anthems, hymns and spirituals. From the grandeur of Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s coronation anthem “I Was Glad” to the reflective reverence of Eugene Thamon Simpson’s “Steal Away,” the chorale sang a well-balanced program that conveyed the full breadth of the sacred music experience. Rounding out things a bit was the performance of “The Poet” by Washington composer Steven M. Allen. Based on the life of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice Ruth Moore, the performance was a collection of vignettes from the composer’s larger work, which is slated to be performed this fall. Standouts from the cast were baritone Gregory Watkins as Dunbar, soprano Lisa Edwards-Burrs as Alice and guest star mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves as Matilda Dunbar. As Alice, Edwards-Burrs brought an endearing quality to the role, with her lyric soprano voice, while Graves brought a dramatic fervor to her role. Together with the energetic spirit of Watkins, the ensemble of singers seemed to embody the love story effortlessly. Overall, the presentation piqued the audience’s interest to hear the work in its full form this fall.

So what’s next? WL Performing Arts promises a full schedule of performance coverage, reviews and interviews, including an exclusive with Deborah F. Rutter, the new president of The Kennedy Center as of September 1, in our upcoming September print issue. See you at the next concert!

Recently named among the Forty Under 40 for his contributions to arts and humanitiesPatrick D. McCoy received a B.M. in vocal performance from Virginia State University and a M.M. in church music from the Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Va. , where he serves on the alumni board of directors.  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 , Joshua Bell, Martina Arroyo, Denyce Graves, Eric Owens,  Norman Scribner, Julian Wachner, Christine Brewer and Lawrence  Brownlee.  He is music director at Trinity Episcopal Church, DC.   Listen to these interviews and others  at Blog Talk Radio.  Additionally, he is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America.  McCoy may be reached via email at and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy.

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