The Sacramento Choral Calendar



Concert Review

Sacramento State University Chorus - Men's Chorus - Women's Chorus

The Road Home - November 4, 2017

by JR Keith

Ahhh... the first fall concert of the season was a delightful experience provided by 3 extremely talented choruses from the Sacramento State University (CSUS) School of Music. Consider me a new fan. My partner and I found the sanctuary of Sacred Heart Church to be beautifully adorned with heavenly motifs and figures characteristic of a Catholic sanctuary. Shortly after settling in, the CSUS University Chorus assembled on the stage.

Click here to open the program, which includes original texts and translations of the selections performed on this evening. Additionally, there are details about CSUS Director of Choral Activities, Dr. Donald Kendrick, the three guest conductors, Ashley Arroyo, Melanie Huber, and David Vanderbout, and their accomplished accompanist, Ryan Enright.

Dr. Kendrick took to the stage, gave a hearty welcome and introduced the music to be performed during the program. The opening song, Paul Hadley's “My Beloved Spake,” inspired by Song of Solomon 2:10-13, was performed by the assembled University Chorus. It began with a brief yet stirring solo. The eloquent, soprano voice of Melanie Huber captured my attention with a pitch perfect, clear-as-a-bell quality. I cozied up quickly to what I knew was going to be a warm and wonderful concert. At the conclusion of the solo, the sopranos and altos created a robust foundation of dissonance while melding phrases into one another, passing the melody back and forth with the men. The audience seemed to relax into their seats as the various parts resolved, creating a jubilant, harmonious forte moment. Organist Ryan Enright masterfully balanced the chorus with a gorgeous descant part.

After this first number, I had great expectations for the rest of the evening — and I was not disappointed. Enthusiastic applause subsided as Dr. Kendrick readied the stage for “When All Is Done” by alumnus John Muehleisen — which was commissioned by the University of Wyoming Choirs as a memorial to Matthew Shepard and all victims of hatred and oppression. This song began with intricate discord among all voices, with the polished professionalism of a tenured, master cathedral choir. Trumpeter, Michael Meeks, was spot on with blend and balance. The University Chorus' harmonies were hauntingly thick as tension built. Despite the magnitude of the subject matter, deep and reflective, the dominant impression was magnificent and hopeful. It was all simply stunning as anxiety caused by the disharmony melted away. This composition used the voices of the chorus to inspire thoughts of better tomorrows, while staying mindful of those who have suffered despair, pain, and death at the hands of hate. During the prolonged applause for “When All Is Done,” several in the audience, and on stage, wiped away tears.

Egvil Hovland's “Be With Us” was next on the program. It, too, was a gripping piece of music, though the organ was a bit dominant at times. It bears noting that the intersecting barrel-vaulted ceilings of the cruciform sanctuary may have contributed to some of the imbalance of the organ. Our location near the center of the space may have been less ideal than a seat nearer the sides or in one of the transepts (a note for next time). The sweet resolution was a saving grace as the ladies' voices led to a lilting finale that pulled many of us to the edges of our seats.

For the next two numbers, the chorus was directed by graduate student conductor, Melanie Huber. Already familiar with her splendid work conducting choirs of the Sacramento Children’s Chorus, I was excited to see her conduct a lively “Sanctus,” from A New England Requiem by CSUS Assistant Professor of Music, Scott Perkins. This gleeful respite from the heavier, more introspective earlier songs elicited many smiles from the audience. With celestial, cherubic melodies at the beginning, this piece concluded with an exhilarating “hosanna in excelsis.” I noticed some heads bobbing side to side as the ebb and flow of this song stirred feelings of hope, challenge, faith, and gratitude. A modern twist on a familiar movement of the mass, Perkins' “Sanctus” could become a new, energetic hymn of motivation among contemporary faithful worldwide. Huber then conducted “Kodutee” (“Journey Home”) by Estonian composer, Pärt Uusberg. The University Chorus took our breath away with this number which was sung in Estonian, a language I had never heard sung before. (We learned that members of the chorus had performed this piece during a tour of Estonia.) The challenging linguistics mesmerized and captivated the audience. As the piece ended, I overheard a nearby gentleman whisper “marvelous.”

Dr. Kendrick rounded out the first third of the concert with J. S. Bach's Cantata No. 190, Singet dem Herrn. The University Chorus delivered everything I love about Bach... the fanfare of a great trumpeter... involuted echoes... billowing climaxes... interludes of complexity... riveting harmonies — this piece was a highlight for me. As bows were taken, applause helped escort the University Chorus offstage as the Men's Chorus entered.

This dapper group of men began with Shawn Kirchner's “Brightest and Best,” which featured terrific performances by violinist Ardalan Gharachorloo and accompanist Ryan Enright. This rousing number employed dramatic crescendos and decrescendos, as well as spirited echoes to reflect on Christ in the manger, and the audience loved it. The men continued exploring elaborate harmonies with Benjamin Britten's 10-minute composition, “The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard,” a story about a cheated husband killing his cheating wife and her lover. After about 7 minutes, there was a stunning moment where the whole chorus in triple forte swept us off our feet with “Arise, arise, thou Little Musgrave...” (Lord Barnard having caught Musgrave and Lady Barnard in flagrante delicto). By the looks on faces around me, they had the audience entranced and captivated with each word.

“If There Is,” by Dominick DiOrio, was directed by CSUS alumnus, David Vanderbout. The men artfully delivered this number, which is full of tricky, syncopated rhythms. During the applause, my partner leaned over and shared, “that really makes you feel alive!” A lady sitting behind us leaned in and agreed. Vanderbout continued conducting the men for a big, bold rendition of Russell Robinson's “Shenandoah,” which concluded with a luscious, resonant chord. The final men's number was David Brunner's “Yo Le Canto Todo el Dia,” a cheery, Venezuelan-influenced dazzler that included rhythmic clapping and moments of machismo. There was extended applause for these brilliant choristers as they left the stage, a few of the audience rising to their feet.

The CSUS Women's Chorus then took the stage and began Tracy Wong's “Wau Bulan,” an ode to a Malaysian national symbol, the moon-kite (bulan wau). This number featured a lovely solo by Emma Vanskike, graceful hand movements, synchronized clapping, increasing tempos, and intricate enunciation — all sung in Malay. Z. Randall Stroope's “Magnificat,” then began with a big four-handed piano fanfare from accompanist Ryan Enright and graduate student conductor Ashley Arroyo, to which Gabrielle Montoyo added her gorgeous soprano voice as a soloist. I made note that the ladies had a glorious, rich sounding alto section, while the high sopranos held a delicate balance during this number.

The remaining ladies' numbers were conducted by Arroyo, taking the baton from Dr. Kendrick. “Songbird” by Sarah Quartel had an intriguing passage where the melody builds magically from the lower alto voices up to the highest sopranos — splendid! The staccato “doots” towards the end of the piece evoked images of lively little birds pecking at the ground and scurrying about. “Da Pacem: A Plea for Peace,” by John Muehleisen, was perfermed a cappella and in Latin. While the chorus created a vibrant, pitch-perfect foundation, soloist Sophia Palomo almost stole the show with her polished and powerful soprano voice, showcased by a hauntingly beautiful descant above the complex harmonies. The Women's Chorus continued impressing us with another a cappella song, Stephen Hatfield's “Son de Camaguey,” which was performed in Spanish. The ladies clearly enjoyed this piece, swaying with bright smiles as they sang about the beaches of Camaguey. The ladies' final song was the vibrant “Ama Musicam! Amor Musicae!” featuring complex runs, rapid echoes, and a repeating lyric. During the middle movement of the song, the ladies cast a spell on us with meditative, lulling moments; slowing the tempo, then taking us back a tempo for a zesty finish. I was in awe of the ladies' well-rounded bell tones and the apparent ease with which they harmonized as an ensemble.

For the final number of the evening, Dr. Kendrick combined all three choirs to sing Stephen Paulus' “The Road Home.” This outstanding a cappella finale produced a rich, buttery resonance.  The “wow” factor of bringing all this talent together on one stage made me drop my pen and sit in awe. I did, however, pick my pen back up during the standing ovation to note, “with that last chord, the basses tugged at my heart strings and my eyes watered up a bit.”

This was Dr. Kendrick's farewell CSUS fall concert as he is retiring from teaching after the spring semester.  Thank you, Dr. Kendrdrick for sharing your extraordinary talents.  Your legacy is alive and thriving.

JR Keith has worn a variety of hats: director, soloist, small and large ensemble member, tenor/baritone, and event planner of choruses from Texas to California, such as FBC Frisco, TX; CCCC Jazz Choir; DBU Chorus; several mission/worship teams; Sanctuary 101; Collin County Community Choir; Turtle Creek Chorale; Dallas Symphony Chorus; Amador Choraliers; and the Sacramento Gay Men’s Chorus.

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