Virginia Chorale's Voices of Light

      As part of the Virginia Arts Festival the Virginia Chorale capped their twentieth season with the contemporary oratorio Voices of Light by Richard Einhorn (b.1952) accompanying the1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc with the Virginia Symphony conducted by Shizuo Kuwahara. The quartet of soloists, Elizabeth L. Mead, soprano; Lisa Relaford Coston, mezzo-soprano; Daniel J. Markham, tenor; and Stephen Kelley, bass-baritone, gave a wonderful performance, backed by the powerful and professional chorus. The total experience was intensely wonderful, even overwhelming. In the film the searching eyes set in the beautiful face of Renée Falconetti created the character of Joan, the "Maid of Orleans," with passion.

      Born in 1412 in the village of Doremy, France, Joan heard voices that gave her directions for a mission to unite France during the middle of the Hundred Years War between England and France. After winning a number of battles that allowed Charles VII of France to be crowned at Rheims Cathedral with seventeen-year-old Joan at his side, she was captured by fellow Frenchmen and sold to the English and charged with heresy. She was then turned over to the Inquisition of the Catholic Church. A seven-month trial and ordeal (condensed into one day for the film) followed. By her actions she had challenged the social order of the day. She cut off her hair, wore men's clothes, commanded men in battle and insisted that her transvestism was ordered by "Our Lord." The peasants of her own day revered her as a saint. "In certain parts of France where Celtic belief survived, the word "maid" or "maiden" was a religious title signifying a type of divine being who had the power to cure people. (A.D. Hope in A Midsummer Eve's Dream, Viking, NY, 1970, pg 35). The conflict between conventional religion and personal action makes for high drama on screen.

      Einhorn's music completes and enhances the film with its texts by women of the eleventh through thirteenth centuries. His musical language ranges from Gregorian chant to Carl Orff to late twentieth century. He weaves a rich, exciting tapestry of music. The Chorale sang beautifully with intensity or gently as required and proved once again that Tidewater's only professional chorus is most excellent.

Robert Shoup Conducts Virginia Symphony's Americana

      The first half of the Americana program by the Virginia Symphony in late May at Regent University's Theater included four fine pieces of music by American composers. Charles Ives' (1874-1954) Variations on America, composed for organ was orchestrated by William Schuman (1910-1992) in 1963. The melody is used in Great Britain for God Save the Queen but was a hymn tune in Ives' America. Composed when Ives was seventeen, the piece is an early experiment in polytonality and is full of misplaced fanfares and mock solemnity. To quote the program notes, "We can be sure that Queen Victoria surely would not have been amused." Next came Samuel Barber's (1910-1981) Adagio for Strings in its orchestrated version and two pieces by Copland. His songs featured Lisa Relaford Coston, mezzo-soprano in Ching a ring chaw, Pretty Horses, At the River and Wall of Zion. Her singing was marvelous. In Copland's Lincoln Portrait, Channel 13 News anchor David Allen, a trained opera singer, was an excellent narrator of the moving text.

      The symphony did a fine job of playing throughout, though the quality of the music in the second half left me appreciating Ives, Copland and Barber even more.

      After intermission we heard Morton Gould's (b.1918) American Salute which uses the folk tune When Johnny Comes Marching Home followed by George Chadwick's (1854-1931) Jubliee. On the way out of the theater an older gentleman asked me if Ives studied with Chadwick. I explained that Ives studied with Horatio Parker who studied with Chadwick. I went on to say that Ives was lampooning the excess of German bombast found in much of American composition in this time.

      Jay Unger's Ashoken Farewell, so familiar from Ken Burns' Civil War on PBS, loses its poignancy when played by a full orchestra. Richard Rodgers' Victory at Sea opened the second half. Written for the NBC miniseries on the Navy's role in World War II, it had many melodies with little development and a lot of crash and bang. The Regency Theater audience received this music with great enthusiasm.

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