Perfect Pitch: Season End Triumvirate

by patrickmccoy

As the concert season comes to an end, arts groups dash to the final finish.

By Patrick D. McCoy


Conductor J. Reilly Lewis marked his 30th Season with The Cathedral Choral Society with a concert of great opera choruses. (Photo by Lindsay Sheridan)

As the curtain began to close, signaling the end of the main stage Washington concert season, many organizations performed major works on the same day. The Washington triumvirate of concerts included The Cathedral Choral Society‘s Great Opera Choruses concert at Washington National Cathedral, Handel’s rarely performed “Israel in Egypt” by the Washington Chorus at the National Presbyterian Church and Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” by The Choral Arts Society of Washington at The Kennedy Center.

Since we could only attend two of the three concerts, we began by heading over to the national cathedral to get our operatic fair.

We found ourselves seated in a different section of the cathedral for the afternoon’s concert, which presented a few challenges. Seated in the north transept of the cathedral, we were off to the side, unable to see conductor J. Reilly Lewis or grasp an overall aural perception of the voices of the Cathedral Choral Society. Thus, the main focus of the concert became the grandeur of the instruments, particularly the brass and percussion.

To the concert’s credit, this provided an opportunity to lavish the listener’s ear with the unadorned beauty of the orchestra, which can be neglected at such a concert; it was most apparent in the grand sweeping lines of the “Prelude” from Richard Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger.” Though out of sight, Lewis created wonderful moments, building a thrilling momentum that led to the regal entrance of the choir and full organ in the hymn that followed.

Solo operatic arias benefitted from the cathedral’s engineered amplification, which was apparent in soprano Jessica Julin’s rendering of the famous aria “Casta Diva” from Vincenzo Bellini’s “Norma.” Though it was a show-stopper, her rendering lacked the dramatic vocal edge in its delivery. The audience greeted the budding artist with supportive applause, which seemingly marked her potential. In Charles Gounod’s “La veau d’or” from “Faust,” bass Ben Wager was almost in direct competition with the percussion section, often being buried underneath.

We dashed to the next performance at the National Presbyterian Church, where Julian Wachner led The Washington Chorus and New York Orchestras Entertainment,Inc. in a performance of G. F. Handel’s oratorio “Israel in Egypt.” Besides a recording purchased almost 2o years ago of John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir, this was a welcomed first live hearing of Handel’s oratorio.

Wachner orchestrated a unique performance that created a nice balance of local professional soloists, as well as his cadre of NYC musicians. TWC presented a beautiful palette of sound. From the sustained lines of the a cappella chorus, “Egypt was glad when they departed,” to the bold, quick entrances in “Thy right hand, O Lord,” the chorus vocally depicted the full essence of the biblical story. The lyrical beauty of Lawrence Reppert’s tenor and the copper-like hue of alto Melissa Attebury brought a genuine quality to the duet, “Thou In Thy Mercy.”

Bringing the work close to it’s close was the triumphant chorus “The Lord Shall Reign.” Tenor Jerry Kravinski operated like a narrator offering the recitatives, which alternated with the chorus. The final chorus began with the brilliant clarity of soprano Deborah Sternberg, and the choir and musical forces, punctuated by brass and timpani, brought the performance to its stately close.

It would have been nice to attend all three performances, but time did not allow it. Perhaps their will be a meeting of the minds so that next year’s season-end concerts are not all performed on the same day.

After earning degrees in music from Virginia State University and Shenandoah University, Patrick D. McCoy has contributed arts pieces to CBS Washington and The Afro-American Newspaper, among others.  He also writes the magazine’s monthly performing arts column “Perfect Pitch.”  McCoy may be reached via email at and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy.


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