REVIEW: Washington Chorus’ concert of holiday favorites resounds at the Kennedy Center.
By Patrick D. McCoy
Around this time each holiday season, The Washington Chorus presents its signature Christmas concert. Complete with organ, brass, percussion and 200 vocalists, music director Julian Wachner assembles a program that never fails to delight the listener. A wonderful dimension of this concert is the involvement of the audience. Full of personality, Wachner made the Kennedy Center audience feel right at home with an impromptu series of vocal warm-ups. Sticking to a formula that really never changes, “A Candlelight Christmas” is a wonderful recipe of seasonal favorites, with the exception of a few new musical ‘ingredients.’ Those favorites included the beloved fare of carols such as the candlelight processional on “Once in Royal David’s City,” the majesty of organ and brass in “O Come All Ye Faithful” and the timeless classic “Silent Night.”
An original arrangement of the carol “The Snow Lay on the Ground” composed by Wachner was a welcomed detour to the more familiar selections of the program. The vocal entrances from the respective voice parts on the single word ‘snow’ whimsically conjured the image of a cool winter night. Further enhanced by the interplay of brass with the voices of the choir, it was as if the instruments were the conduit of travel for the members of the holy family. The crescendo of the organ, played by Janet Yieh, brought the carol to a rousing close.
The classic spiritual “Mary Had a Baby” by William Dawson was a beautiful contrast to the rest of the evening’s holiday fare. Soprano Natica Stinnett sang from her place in the choir risers. In a humble similarity to Mary, the mere fact that the soloist was not the center of attention further enhanced this age old story as communicated in this spiritual. Whether it was intentional or not, the effect was stunning. In the carol “Still, Still, Still” by Norman Lubboff, the beautiful voices of the chorus aurally wrapped around the sparkling beauty of the harp accompaniment.
Anyone who has sung in a college choir at one point encountered the beauty of Randall Thompson’s classic “Alleluia.” Here, the chorus executed a wider range of dynamics and control. The moving lines of the tenor and alto voices, the floating angelic height of the sopranos and the supportive, constant bass brought forth a seamless rendering of a beloved classic.
An important part of the holidays is certainly the joy of young people. Each year, The Washington Chorus invites a local high school choir to participate in this concert as a part of its “Side by Side” initiative. This year, the ensemble ‘A cappella’ of the James Hubert Blake High School was the featured choir. Performing unaccompanied, the small group gave an impressive performance, marked by confidence, discipline and remarkable presence.
Ending the evening was the singing of “The Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah, beckoning the myriad of voice from the audience to raise aloud with the aggregation assembled on stage. What a powerful punctuation to a wonderfully planned and executed holiday program.
Recently named among the Forty Under 40 for his contributions to arts and humanities, Patrick 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 Renée Fleming, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy.