Governor's School for the Arts Performs Handel's Messiah
GSA Chorus with Director Stephen Z. Cook at the Organ
First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk, December 17, 2015
Review by John Campbell
The 49 member chorus of the GSA vocal music department sang George Frederic Handel's Messiah featuring 22 members in solos usually sung by 4 soloists—soprano, alto, tenor and bass. Drawing on their deep pool of talent allowed electrified exchanges of energy between the choir and individual soloists. By eliminating categories of voice type and gender the parts were sung by a voice that could deliver whatever was required: lyrical passages, seismic coloraturas, alto parts representing angels and others intended to encompass the depth of human suffering.
Stephen Z. Cook, conducting from the organ, urged the music on at brisk tempos, meticulously building choral figures. The entire piece was performed from memory by all the singers, giving them great freedom in communicating the text. After the organ overture, Earnest Kiah (senior) sang the tenor aria Comfort Ye with most natural diction followed by soprano Shannon Crowley's Every Valley with its florid, complex sound. The beautiful balance of the choral sound of And the Glory of the Lord was clean and clear. The usual bass recitative Thus Saith the Lord was delivered by soprano Leah Finn and But Who May Abide, with its caressing sweetness, by mezzo Susan Trammell. All this worked surprisingly well, letting us hear the words and relax as they were delivered.
Several brief passages such as Behold, a Virgin Shall Conceive delivered by Camryn Finn were only a brief line and were followed by an aria O Thou that Tellest by a poised senior Leah Shewmaker with chorus. Delvin Joppy was most impressive when he sang the bass recitative with delicacy For Behold Darkness Shall Cover the Earth and then called on his deep bass tones in The People Who Walked in Darkness which leads to the exuberant choral For unto Us a Child is Born .
A favorite of mine, Pifa (Pastoral Symphony), is a lullaby reminiscent of shepherd's pipes. Treble Kurt Lannetti sang There Were Shepherds. Samantha McCarty followed with And lo! The Angel of the Lord and Lindsay Marcus and Brook Jones were heard in brief passages about angels leading into the choral Glory to God. Student trumpeter Hamed Barbarji added his glorious sound to the organ accompaniment. Senior Brianna Drew smiled sweetly and so did the audience as she sang Rejoice Greatly in that fine soprano air.
Nairobi King's fine, brief Then Shall the Eyes of the Blind be Opened was followed by the caressing voice of Cecilia Humphrey joined by Juliet Ortiz in He Shall Feed His Flock. The overwhelming fullness of the choral Behold the Lamb of God is from Part II of Messiah. Madison Finke's mature sound and powerful voice made a lasting impression in He Was Despised which led into the choral Surely He Hath Born Our Griefs.
Well into the Easter section Catherine Scalzi captured the simple pathos of Thy Rebuke Hath Broken His Heart and Behold and See if There Be Any Sorrow, written for tenor. The hefty bass voice of Ricky Goodwyn Jr. was excellent in He Was Cut Off and But Thou Didst Not Leave. The bass air Thou Art Gone Up on High was sung by senior Ms. Sammi Garcia accompanied by a fleet organ while good tidings were announced in How Beautiful are the Feet by Ava Anderson. Grace Fitzpatrick sang I Know that My Redeemer Liveth from Part III of Messiah and Matilda Siegfried sang If God Be For Us.
After the accessible sound of Behold, I Tell You a Mystery (Dimetry Brown), the glorious voice of Ricky Goodwyn returned in The Trumpet Shall Sound (Do we have a basso profundo in the making?) followed by Hallelujah. And yes, we were encouraged to stand by Vocal Music Chair Alan Fischer in his opening remarks.
The GSA student singers captured all the joy and enthusiasm and as much of the pathos one can expect from youths. Their trills are coming along nicely, the descant was pure and the lofty vocal tones were firm and straight from heart-to-voice.
GSA Orchestra Plays Adams, Muczynski & Brahms
Conductor Jeffrey Phelps
Roper Performing Arts Center, January 8 & 9, 2016
Review by John Campbell
The Governorís School for the Arts Orchestra opened with The Chairman Dances (1985) by John Adams (b. 1947). The music was accompanied by projections created by the GSA Visual Arts Department Class of Musical Visualization taught by Instructor Kat Padua. They ranged from happy cartoons and nature themes to a female teen who successfully eludes a would-be abductor. There were circles and ghostly shapes dancing and so much more accompanying the 12 or so minutes of music.
The Adams music was written in 1985 as a byproduct of his work-in-progress, the opera Nixon in China. The dance in the completed opera is more melancholy than this uninhibited cabaret number, an entertaining and funny piece. It is as if the Chairman and the former actress-turned-Deputy Head of Chinaís Cultural Revolution have made their long trip back in time to turn into Fred and Ginger. The chugging music is associated with Mao; the seductive, swaying-hips melody La Valse with Madam Mao. You might imagine the piano part at the end being played by Richard Nixon.
Olti Myrtaj is a senior at GSA and Indian River High and sat at the Steinway loaned by the Virginia Arts Festival for the occasion. Olti is a slim, friendly young man who gave a stunning performance, with full orchestra, of Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 7 (1954) by Robert Muczynski (1929-2010). He has won several awards from the Old Dominion University Harold Protsman Classical Piano Competition, the James A. Bland Scholarship contest and the Virginia Music Teachers Association. Olti plans to study science and music in college. Michelle Whitley taught him since he was 7 years old and his current teacher is Oksana Lutsyshyn.
Composer Muczynski was a pianist who, at age 29, made his Carnegie Hall debut performing a program of his own compositions. Later he taught at several mid-western colleges and in the 1960s became composer-in-residence at the University of Arizona and chair of the composition department there until his retirement.
The first movement of his Piano Concerto was majestic, with chromatic gestures woven into tonal, listenable, demanding playing. The second movement was slower and lighter in style with rural or folk-like themes, some of them sad in feeling. The brisk, lively third movement with its bold orchestral sections let Mr. Myrtaj explore colors at breathtaking speed with brilliant finger work in this extroverted showpiece.
The second half was devoted to the Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) Symphony No. 2 in D major, op. 73. It took Brahms 15 years to complete his Symphony No. 1 and less than a year for Symphony No. 2. He had finally become confident in his own ability as a symphonist. The work is conservative with a formal structure adding transformations and variations with richness of harmony and rhythm.
In the four movements the GSA Orchestra offered music that was by turn, light or dark, lyrical or forceful, and extroverted or introverted. It opens with 3 notes in a simple horn melody, later heard in the cellos and double basses, all well played. Deeper into the piece the violins were occasionally not together at moments when the ensemble should have become a unified voice. Instrumental colors and textures are in a constant flux, shifting the focus of the ear. Two bassoons color the second movement opening. In the third a solo oboe introduces the opening theme while pizzicato cellos and a woodwind choir provide well-played accompaniment. The moody last movement moves between manic energy and somberness. This constantly changing motion never stops—it is a wild ride to the end.
Cabaret Evening at GSA Black Box Theater
Vocal Music Department is Joined by GSA Palace Orchestra
Music from the American Popular Songbook; Alan Fisher, Director; Michael Oberdorfer, Music Director
February 20 & 21, 2016
Review by John Campbell
Reconfigured seating in the Governorís School for the Arts Black Box Theatre had the audience facing the Palace Orchestra of 14 jazz students directed by Michael Oberdorfer from the electronic keyboard, leaving the central area for the singers. When not singing the vocalists were seated at cafe tables on the right and left. To honor cabaret history, Madison Finke, in rich, mezzo-soprano voice, sang Kurt Weillís (1900-1950) Moon of Alabama.
Director Alan Fischer's scenario was to create an intimate supper club reminiscent of Berlin after the end of WWI, a time when singers would take the microphone and transport their listeners with American jazz and American popular song.
Two songs by Irving Berlin followed: the smoldering flame of the singing of senior Grace Fitzpatrick in Letís Face the Music and Dance and the sensual crooning of senior Calvin Bremer impressed in Steppiní Out with My Baby. Later in the evening Ms. Fitzpatrick, with clarinetist Xavier Brown and the muted trumpet of Hamed Barbarji, sang Dream a Little Dream of Me. She was a relaxed, and natural communicator. Later Senior Sammi Garcia was totally convincing in Berlinís Blue Skies. Between verses she walked away and leaned on a column while the orchestra became our focus.
After the fourth song the orchestra alone gave us Antonio-Carlos Jobimís bossa nova Agua de beber in an up-tempo arrangement that focused on saxophonists Xavier Brown, Roland Brumfield, Jordan Leonard, Joseph Maniscalco, drummer Jimmy Goeke and percussionist Bryce Perry.
We heard two songs from from the 1936 movie Swingtime by Fields and Kern. As she sang A Fine Romance, Lilly Camacho gestured to her table-mates. Just the Way You Look Tonight (Best Song Oscar for 1936) was sung by Mackenzie Staicer in her high, clear voice with intense, orchestral interludes between verses. She was bathed in the light of a pink-colored projection by Lighting and Sound Designer Gabriel Kalman.
Several songs by Cole Porter were included: Camryn Finn, in a rust-colored, floor-length gown, sang Just One of those Things, conveying the feeling of the end of a brief romance with no regrets. She was perfect in that role. In a black-beaded, floor-length gown, Leah Shewmaker gave us an intense Iíve Got You Under My Skin, surrounded by lots of brass. A beguine, a slow rumba from the French Caribbean, was set by Porter as Begin the Beguine and received a sweet delivery by Matilda Siegfried. Earlier, this graduating senior sang Itís Only a Paper Moon (Arlen, Harburg and Rose).
How High the Moon by Hamilton and Lewis got a big performance by the petite Caroline Whitlow. She also sang the Parish/Glen Miller Moonlight Serenade.
In another orchestral number, Take the A Train by the great African American composer Edward Kennedy ďDukeĒ Ellington, the trumpet blazed. With trumpets still blazing, Berlin's Cheek to Cheek was sung with over-the top-confidence by Leah Finn. Reann Nichols, in an iridescent black gown took a soft approach to My Funny Valentine (Rogers and Hart). Intimately singing, gently swaying, she let the orchestra take over, and returned with the voice even more sensual. Matilda Siegfried had the last word and some lovely low notes in the Gershwin brothersí Someone to Watch Over Me. A sedate orchestra wrapped-up an altogether fabulous evening.
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