I heard a concert by Distinguished Concerts International New York on 3/17/19 - - *Magnificat: Music in Celebration of International Women’s Day.* There’s a wonderful "it's a small world"i story behind how I came to the concert…
Last summer Richard and I were out on Long Island visiting Richard’s brother Robert, his wife Michelle, and their three kids, Aileen, Mark, and Harrison. Michelle said to me:
MICHELLE: Chris, you might be interested in this. I just heard from my cousin Valerie in Newfoundland that she’s bringing her choir to Carnegie Hall this spring.
ME: Wow, that’s exciting. You wanna go?
MICHELLE: Sure, why not.
ME: I’ll get the details, will keep you posted.
ME: Wait a minute. Did you say your cousin was named Valerie?
ME: And she’s a choir conductor living in Newfoundland?
ME: Is her name Valerie Long?
ME: We were in college together!
Can you stand it? This woman who I knew in the late 80s, we were in Concert Choir together - - she’s my sister-in-law’s cousin! What are the chances.
Unfortunately Robert and Michelle were in Aruba on vacation so they weren’t able to go to the concert. But Michelle’s brother Alan and their mom (who is Valerie’s first cousin) came into town a couple nights before the Carnegie Hall concert because Valerie’s choir, Les Ms., did a little concert and shmoozefest at Planet Hollywood in Times Square. THAT was spectacular. They have a vibrant, juicy sound, they engage with the audience and with each other, they know exactly what they’re doing and how to put it across. I was wild for them.
I was less wild for the Carnegie Hall concert. It was conducted by Nancy Menk, with the Distinguished Concerts Orchestra (which I imagine is a pickup band formed a few months before the gig) and 15 women’s choirs from around the English-speaking world.
They opened with a “Magnificat” by Johann Michael Haydn. Soprano Claire Leyden has a lovely voice, lots of bloom and presence. Mezzo Lindsey Anderson had very little to do in this piece, more about her in the next piece. The choir also had very little to do, but it was striking to me that about 150 adult women collectively sounded like a high school girl choir. Their sound wasn’t nearly as full, present, and colorful as Les Ms. was in their little concert a couple nights before. The big choir sounded pale.
The best piece on the program was the Vaughan Williams “Magnificat.” Fascinating piece, with a stunning flute solo - - I would give a shout-out to the flutist, but they didn’t list the members of the orchestra in the program (which I think is shabby). Mezzo Lindsey Anderson really delivered in this piece, she sounded tremendous, like a piece that would have been a glorious fit for Florence Quivar back in the day. The choir was less impressive: they sounded a little skeptical that they knew their notes (the piece was a bit on the abstract side), they needed more sense of line. Here's a gorgeous recording by the Ambroisian Singers:
Next: Brahms “Ave Maria.” The women sounded a little slushy, and the piece sounded like Brahms wrote it for money. On a deadline.
Next: Libby Larsen “Canticle of Mary.” I was pleased to see a female composer on the program. The piece was good, with a few interesting effects for the choir. The women impressed me most in this piece, they had admirable security in music that doesn’t really cling to the ear.
Next: Ola Gjeilo, “Gloria.” The program said it was commissioned to be sung at a St. Olaf College Christmas concert, and it certainly had a strong scent of pine.
The last piece was “Always Keep This Close” by Zachary Moore. The piece wasn’t as good as the poem by Colleen Carhuff, a touching tribute to the experience of singing in a women’s choir. The music was a little shlocky. I had the creepy feeling that I what I was watching was the finale of a Lifetime TV movie about a women’s choir performing at Carnegie Hall. The conductor of that concert, in the Lifetime TV movie, would naturally be played by Meredith Baxter.