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January 7, 2010

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Breathtaking concert at Hill Presbyterian Church

Donald Nally led his choral group, The Crossing, in a spectacular concert of contemporary music Sunday afternoon in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill.

­Donald Nally and The Crossing helped Chestnut Hillers usher in the New Year with a provocative concert of contemporary choral music Sunday afternoon in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The church was packed with an audience that responded to Nally’s challenging programming and the choir’s exceptional singing of it with a thunderous standing ovation at the concert’s conclusion.

In a daring choice quite typical of his approach of trusting an audience that has come to trust him, Nally constructed The Crossing’s program from the works of two composers: the Latvian Eriks Esenvalds and the American David Lang. To up the ante even further, the concert offered only three pieces: “Legend of the Walled-In Woman” and “The Sun Dogs” by Esenvalds and “The Little Match Girl Passion” by Lang. Although two of the three scores included minimal instrumental accompaniment, most of the time the audience heard unaccompanied choral singing. All the same, there was an impressive degree of variety in the sounds the audience heard.

Both works by Esenvalds — “Legends of the Walled-In Woman,” composed in 2005, and “The Sun Dogs,” written in 2008, and the single, though larger, piece by Lang — “The Little Match Girl Passion,” Pulitzer Prize winner of 2007 — look both backward and forward. Both break new ground in melody, harmony, voicing, texture and rhythm, yet all three scores recall aesthetics and modes of expression from the past. There’s a quality of humanity’s nomadic pre-history about the Esenvalds and a feeling of ancient Greek drama surrounding Lang’s formal references to baroque Passion oratorios.

Throughout the entire program, Nally’s intensity of interpretation and The Crossing’s near perfection of singing were breathtaking. The Crossing’s singing was superb: remarkably in tune, incredibly in ensemble, impressively evocative and memorably moving.

One can hardly wait for “The Month of Moderns,” presented by Nally and The Crossing in Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church June 27 at 4 p.m. and July 9 and 17 at 8 p.m. Visit www.crossingchoir.com.

OPERATIC SCENES

Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts will take temporary leave of the cramped quarters in its own Warden Theater on Spruce Street in favor of the more spacious environs of the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater for three performances of “Operatic Masterpieces in Concert” January 29 and 30 and February 2 at 7:30 p.m.

The program will feature one act each from three operas that would be virtually impossible to stage with even reduced orchestral accompaniment in the Warden Theater, where leg room and even air to breathe are in limited quantities. Although the performance will be presented in concert renditions rather than fully staged mountings, they do offer the current cadre of students and recent alumni the chance to try out roles in operas not possible at AVA. The Kimmel Center ventures have become regular and popular events under the executive directorship of Kevin McDowell of East Falls.

The roster includes the second act from Bellini’s “Norma,” the second act from Bizet’s “Carmen,” and the fourth act from Verdi’s “Il trovatore.” Although all three excerpts are compelling, it’s that slice of “Norma” that exerts the most powerful pull. Bellini’s “bel canto” masterpiece remains one of the most challenging roles for any coloratura soprano. Singing the role of the Druid High Priestess Norma in ancient Roman-occupied Gaul (France) will be AVA alumna Angela Meade, already on her way to a major international career.

“Norma is a role I have waited years to sing,” Meade said. “When I was working on my master’s degree, I brought ‘Casta Diva’ (chaste goddess) to a lesson on a whim, thinking it was a beautiful aria, not realizing at the time I had stumbled upon what many regard as the pinnacle role of the soprano repertoire. Since then I have been offering the aria both in competitions and concerts, and it has sort of become my signature aria. So to finally have the opportunity to perform the role is amazing.”

Meade recalled that while she was a student at AVA, she began entering competitions more regularly. “Winning the Metropolitan Opera Competition really launched my career partly because they were filming the documentary ‘The Audition’ that season, and that brought my name to a larger audience.” After winning the competition, Meade was offered a contract to sing Elvira in Verdi’s “Ernani” the following season, which in turn put her in place to make her unexpected debut upon the indisposition of another singer. Meade now regularly receives offers from all great opera companies in the world.

For ticket information, call 215-735-1685 or visit www.avaopera.org.

RE-SCHEDULED

The Christmas concert of the Philadelphia Boys Choir & Chorale, originally scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 19, but cancelled due to the day’s major snowstorm, will be performed Sunday, Jan. 10, 4 p.m. in the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square. The program is entitled “Joy to the World” and includes favorite carols, Handel’s “Hallelujah” Chorus from “Messiah,” Bennett & Shaw’s “Many Moods of Christmas,” and many more. Call 215-222-3500, #1 or visit www.phillyboyschoir.org.



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