The power of voice: Fresno Master Chorale bids adieu to season with stirring tribute to Bernstein


Catching up from the weekend:

When I listen to the Fresno Community Chorus, I often think of the raw, primeval, guts-and-all, human power of choral music. Sure, our ingenious brains have made possible the creation of musical instruments of all shapes and styles. Those instruments add immeasurably to our lives. But the voice came first. It remains special in terms of emotional connection.

I was reminded of this at the chorus’ spring concert on Sunday, which featured three of its illustrious ensembles — the Master Chorale, Coro Piccolo and a new group, Quintus — at Shaghoian Hall, along with a fine orchestra, all under the nuanced baton of Anna Hamre. Four pieces by Leonard Bernstein, in honor of the 100th anniversary of his birth, were performed. In keeping with that “birthday” theme, several other celebratory pieces by other composers joined the program as well. Here are a few of my thoughts:


Festive air: The opening piece, Henry Purcell’s “Come ye Sons of Art,” had a bright and chipper air, especially the rousing final movement, “See Nature Rejoicing.” Purcell wrote the piece in 1694 in honor of Queen Mary’s birthday. (And what a gift. It certainly lasted a lot longer than a new taffeta gown or a balloon bouquet.) This could have just been an overly mechanical, anachronistic exercise, but Hamre and her singers brought a warmth and spontaneity to the piece that gave it a special zest. As I listened, I could imagine the queen sitting there in a festive tent, colorful pennants fluttering in the breeze, everyone wearing lots of wool (ah, how that must have smelled when it got wet), as she presided over an intimate lunch for, say, a few hundred of her closest friends.

Five guys singing: Quintus is the chorus’ male quintet, featuring Aaron Burdick, Thomas Hayes, Joe Camaquin Vigil, Nick Olsen and Riley Garcia. Their voices blended beautifully on Bernstein’s “One Hand, One Heart” and “Pirate Song.” Still, there was a bit of a tentative feel to their performance, almost a sluggishness to the beat (especially on “One Hand”), as if they need a little more confidence singing together.

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In salute to Bernstein, Fresno Community Chorus tackles ‘Chichester Psalms’ and other works

The chorus’ Master Chorale, Coro Piccolo and Quintus ensembles celebrate the 100th anniversary of Bernstein’s birth

Leonard Bernstein, the famed conductor and composer, is getting a lot of attention in 2018. And for good reason: It’s the 100th anniversary of his birth. The Fresno Community Chorus is getting in on the celebration with a spring concert that devotes a big chunk of the program to Bernstein. It takes place 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 29, at the Shaghoian Concert Hall.

Here’s a rundown:

The marquee piece: Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” will be performed by the Fresno Master Chorale, the chorus’ largest ensemble. The text was created with the juxtaposition of segments of Psalms (including all of Psalms 100, 23, 131, and parts of 108, 2, and 133). Most familiar, of course, is the 23rd Psalm, says conductor Anna Hamre, which starts with, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

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The background: Bernstein insisted that, in depicting young King David, the solo be sung by either a countertenor or a boy. So, while there isn’t a specific familiar Bible story, there is nevertheless a tale being told. Hamre tells me: “The end of the second movement includes the fiendishly difficult section where the text translates as ‘Why do the nations rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?’ Within a few measures, the treble voices intone above this war-like text with the words “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” Bernstein’s notes instruct the treble voices to sing that segment “blissfully unaware of threat.”

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For classical music fans, it’s a winning weekend

Enter to win tickets to Keyboard Concerts, Fresno State Symphony Orchestra, Fresno Community Chorus and ‘Broadway on Van Ness’

Just call it the Big Ticket Giveaway.

This coming weekend is huge for the Fresno-area classical music scene. To celebrate, I’m giving tickets away to FOUR events. And you can enter all four giveaways with just one comment. Here’s what you can win:

A pair of tickets to hear acclaimed pianist Jeremy Denk perform for Fresno State’s Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series (8 p.m. Friday, April 27, Fresno State Concert Hall). His program includes Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 30, Shubert’s Sonata in B-flat, and Prokofiev’s complete “Visions fugitives.”

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Jeremy Denk performs April 27-28 at Fresno State, first with Keyboard Concerts, then the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra.

♦ A pair of tickets to hear Denk — in a great crossover collaboration — perform Beethoven’s famed “Emperor” piano concerto with the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Thomas Loewenheim (8 p.m. Saturday, April 28, Fresno State Concert Hall). The program also includes Prokofiev’s monumental Symphony No. 5.

♦ A pair of tickets to the Fresno Community Chorus big spring concert featuring its Master Chorale and Coro Piccolo ensembles, all in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth (2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 29, Shaghoian Concert Hall). “Chichester Psalms,” here we come.

♦ One of two pairs of tickets to “Broadway on Van Ness,” featuring past chorus members from Fresno Grand Opera (5 p.m. Sunday, April 29, with a reception an hour beforehand, First Congregational Church). The program includes classics such as Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” to newer tunes such as a selection from “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.”

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A fond adieu to 2017

I’ve already told you my Top 20 favorite cultural events for 2017. Now here are a couple of year-ender wrap-up lists that I can’t resist:

My favorite stories of the year

My criteria: It’s completely subjective. I just like how these stories came out. For some, it was the fun in reporting them, and for others the joy in writing them. (Note: Because of my hybrid year — working through May as the Fresno Bee’s arts reporter, and the remainder of the year in my new role at The Munro Review — you’ll find stories from both platforms.) Here they are in chronological order:

In the moment of totality: my photograph taken from Mary’s Peak in central Oregon on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. Photo / The Munro Review

In Delphi, a mysterious past provokes navel gazing: In this travel piece from Greece, I visit the strangely moody location where the famed oracles changed the ancient world.

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First remembering, then healing

Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale offers a concert marking the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II

Anna Hamre and her illustrious singers in the Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale knew they wanted to mark an important date: the 75th anniversary of when U.S. citizens of Japanese descent were forced into internment camps during World War II. But how would the programming for such a concert work?

Unlike past recent concerts by the chorale — which has tackled such provocative themes as the Armenian genocide and Alzheimer’s disease — there wasn’t a particular composition or cultural body of music that would work in terms of repertoire.

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“These were Americans that were put in concentration camps,” says Hamre, the ensemble’s musical director. “It’s not like we could just do ‘their’ music. They were listening to swing bands back then, just like everyone else.”

But then came an idea: How about a program that included a modern-day version of the Latin Requiem, and then a piece that exemplifies healing and joy?

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Nov. 3)

You can win a pair of tickets to New York-based Ballet Hispánico, which performs Saturday at the Saroyan. Plus: It’s time for ‘A Christmas Carol’

Here’s a roundup of promising arts/culture picks for the weekend:

Ballet Hispánico

Simply put, this is one of the prime dance events of the year, and it’s thanks to the Lively Arts Foundation. The New York-based Ballet Hispánico is making a special “run-out” to the West Coast just for Fresno.

Direct from New York: Ballet Hispánico performs Saturday in Fresno.

Plus: I’m giving away a pair of tickets to Saturday’s Saroyan Theatre performance to a lucky reader of The Munro Review. (Details on the giveaway are below.)

Diane Mosier, artistic director for Lively Arts, who prides herself on keeping up on the contemporary dance scene, has followed Ballet Hispánico for about six years.

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