The Voices of Ascension is a professional chorus based at the Church of the Ascension down in Greenwich Village. My dear friend Susie has sung with them since they first started, and she got me and Richard tickets for their 25th anniversary gala on 11/12. I’ve heard them many times, have a number of friends in the ensemble, and was very excited for this concert. The chorus is incomparable - - they have such a broad range of colors, they can be mighty, they can be hushed and luminous, and everything in between. They are never precious. The organist, Renee Anne Louprette, was fantastic, she had a gorgeous feel for all of the music.
They opened with Poulenc’s *Gloria*, one of the most gorgeous pieces in the choral repertory. It has Poulenc’s unique mixture of reverence, urbanity, and voluptuousness. Dennis Keene, founder, conductor, and Artistic Director of V of A, hired three young singers he heard at Santa Fe Opera this summer. The first was soprano Sarah Shafer, who sang the solo in the *Gloria*. Susie had warned me that I might have a happy accident in my undies when I heard her sing, and I came close! What a magnificent voice this girl has, and she knows how to use it. Her second solo opens with one of the most distinctive melodies ever written - - it’s angular yet elegant, bizarre yet inevitable. It sounds like a melody that was hanging in the air, and Poulenc plucked it out with a pair of eyebrow tweezers. Shafer’s voice reminded me of someone, and I finally figured out who it is: Leontyne Price. Their voices don’t necessarily sound alike, but they have a similar quick vibrato, which gives a lovely shimmer to the voice. Not a flutter, a shimmer.
They had a little ceremony before the next piece - - they gave the Perrin Prize for Lifetime Achievement to Gregg Smith. Smith founded the Gregg Smith Singers in 1955 (yeesh!) and has been one of the most important choral conductors on the scene for the last 60 years. He was a mentor of Dennis Keene, and Dennis was clearly very touched to honor Smith.
The next piece was the Dvořák *Te Deum*. I wasn’t so wild for this piece. It was a grab bag - - a little Verdi, a little Wagner, a little boiled cabbage. The soprano soloist was Devon Guthrie, who has a lovely voice with a nice thrust. I couldn’t always tell what pitch she was singing - - not a lot of the time, but let’s say 8% of the time. That’s still a higher percentage than I would want. There were a couple of moments when she was singing high and loud, with the full chorus hollering away, the organ playing with all the stops out, and the timpani boom booming - - I could JUST hear her. Maybe Dennis could have turned the dial on the chorus, organ, and timpani back to 9. The bass soloist was Joseph Beutel - - HE was fantastic! I also thought his solo was the most interesting part of the piece, musically speaking, so he had an advantage there. But what a big, dark, handsome, rolling sound.
They ended the concert with the “Regina coeli” from Mascagni’s *Cavalleria Rusticana*, with Guthrie singing the solo line. HIGH CAMP! Those Italians, they really know how to deliver the drama. The finale is a medley of musical clichés, it’s just adorable, hilarious, and of course had me in tears. One of those moments where I was wiping my eyes and rolling my eyes at the same time. Oh, the indignity!
There was a little reception after the concert. Richard and I had a nice chat with our friend Judy, who is so adorable. She gave us an update on her 15-year old son Alex. It was kinda loud in the room, so I couldn’t quite make out what she was saying.
JUDY: He’s managing three rappers.
JUDY: He’s managing three rappers!
ME: What is a Grabber?
ME: What is a Grabber?
JUDY: Did you ask me, “What is a rapper?”
RICHARD: You know, someone who does rap.
ME: Oh, rappers! I couldn’t hear you, I thought you said he was managing three Grabbers.
JUDY: What is a Grabber?
ME: Exactly, I thought maybe it was a sandwich shop in New Jersey.
Richard and I decided that this was a good opportunity to quote *I Love Lucy*:
LUCY: Ethel, why do you have to act like a rube?
ETHEL: Because I AM a rube.