Each spring, here in New York City, there are certain blessed days that just make one glad to be alive. This Orthodox Easter Sunday was certainly one of those days. Clear blue skies, pleasant temperatures in the 60’s, and plenty of sunshine had people all over town in a very good mood. And over on 57th Street there was a particularly festive mood among the assembled outside Carnegie Hall.
It had been almost two decades since I last visited here in the 1980’s when bringing my music students from New York’s Isaac Remsen School to hear the American Symphony in a concert celebrating the reopening of the newly restored Carnegie Hall. Now I returned, in a new role of performing arts critic, to enjoy the accomplished Texas choirs of The Woodlands High School. It would be a performance to remember.
Texas visitors were busy on the sidewalk outside snapping pictures of friends in front of the formal posters announcing the event to the public. Ticket prices ran as high as $79.00, and would soon prove to be worth every penny. Inside, the calming beauty of the hall itself is something to behold. Rich red velvet, ornately sculpted ceiling and wall decorations with highlights of gold, and craftsmanship that speaks of an earlier age, accent the creamy ivory color of the room. The gentle curves of 1st Tier, 2nd Tier, Dress Circle, and Balcony, along with the circular lighting at the ceiling, smoothly embrace the room from above. The beautifully detailed workmanship of the proscenium arch exquisitely sets off the stage where the world’s greatest artists have performed ever since the opening concert of 1891 featuring the American debut of none other than Peter Tchaikovsky.
Including members from both the Woodlands and McCullough campuses, TWHS choir director, Mike Ware, had successfully arranged for his choir to be the only one selected to do its own concert during Carnegie Hall’s April series of school performances. The participants were dressed in formal attire, with the gentlemen in tuxedos and the ladies in glamorous full-length taffeta gowns of either deep forest green or charcoal black. When the enormous (315 member) choir first came on stage, the guest accompanying me remarked, “It looks like they brought half the state of Texas!” It was an impressive assemblage.
Still more impressive was the musical sound these young people would produce in performance. In an almost mystical way, this was enhanced by the acoustical purity of the hall itself. There was also fine professional accompaniment from The New England Symphonic Ensemble with talented soloists Johanna Wiseman, soprano, and Ricky Ryerson, mezzo-soprano.
Assistant Conductor, Bob Horton, ably led the combined girls’ choir in the opening selection, Dixit Dominus by Galuppi. There was a deep richness from the strings as waves of choral excellence rose heavenward from the stage. The “Juravit Dominus” segment, performed with remarkable precision and carefully crafted interplay of the choral voices, was followed by a thrilling “Tu es sacerdos in aeternum.”
Then the gentlemen came on stage, and the entire choir, under the skilled baton of Mr. Ware, performed the featured work, Vivaldi’s Gloria. With a very solid opening movement, “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” it became quite clear that these extraordinarily well-trained and talented young people deserved to be here on the stage of Carnegie Hall. In succeeding passages, under Ware’s commanding direction, there was a kind of hypnotic power from the choir that filled me with a sense of wonder in the presence of such consistent excellence. Looking down on the scene from my Dress Circle seating, I was reminded of the sense of splendor I had the first time I stood at the rim of the Grand Canyon. Do I dare use the overworked word, “Awesome?”
Finally, with the closing movement, “Cum sancto spiritu,” there was a dazzling display of the full variety of these various vocal ranges. A beautifully craftedfinale would send the audience home on a rich river of sound, but not before a very enthusiastic and well-deserved standing ovation that was peppered with shouts of “Bravo!”
(The Villager 5.1.03)
(The Courier 5.4.03)