On Thursday, Feb. 19, there was a performance by the Eastman Woman’s Chorus, conducted by Susan Wharton Conkling and Mark Bartel, and the Eastman Repertory Singers, conducted by Deanna Joseph, both Kilbourn Hall. It was a well-attended event featuring a very diverse program. Before leading the Eastman Women’s chorus into singing Niccola Porpora’s “Magnificat,” Conkling reminded the audience that the year 2004 marks two important dates in the history of feminism – 185 years since the birth of civil rights activist Susan B. Anthony and 100 years since UR’s first women graduates. Conkling emphasized that all music performed by the Women’s Chorus was written especially for women, and not adapted male or children’s choir music. Porpora’s “Magnificat” was very poorly performed. Conkling has a very clear gesture, but the tempi were inconsistent. The choir didn’t blend well and the first sopranos were constantly out of tune with the rest of the singers. Fortunately, the choir improved considerably through the rest of the concert. The second piece on the program was “Songs from the Rig Veda” by Gustav Holst. Bertel conducted and Kerry Renzoni was the harp soloist. With the instrumental support, the choir did not go flat in pitch.However, the register was a little too high and the singers didn’t keep the good intonation consistantly. The composition itself featured an interesting blend of influences. The most obvious stylistic reference that Holst makes is highlighting the augmented tetrachord, one of the main pitch collections predominant in Near-Eastern folk music. Next, Conkling conducted Emanuel Amiran’s “Mayim,” a four minute, charming song based on an ostinato melody and rhythm. It was followed by Bartel’s interpretation of R. Murray Schaefer’s “Miniwanka.””Miniwanka” was the most original composition on the program. The composer had collected texts from 10 different Native American languages and combined them into a piece dedicated to the power and importance of water in nature. The choir hums, whistles and imitates different ‘water’ sounds, out of which pitches and chords emerge subtly. The performance was wonderful – clean, straight-forward and with big dynamic variety. Bartel had obviously rehearsed the piece excellently and his conducting was impeccable. Conkling closed the first half of the program with “Go where I send thee” – a traditional arrangement by Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory. Conkling succeeded in captivating the attention of the audience and helped the choir to successfully convey the happy and uplifting mood of the work. The second half of the concert opened with William Byrd’s “Sing joyfully,” a short praise-song for two antiphony choirs. Conductor Joseph immediately introduced a very high performance standard. Her good knowledge of baroque performance practice showed really well in the choir’s singing. The second work, “The Lamb,” by John Taverner, was totally different in character. The audience was carried away by the quiet, yet powerful presentation of the contemporary work. Benjamin Britten’s “Jubilate Deo” for choir and organ introduced the Kilbourn Hall organ to the listeners. This instrument is in very poor condition, with less than half of the stops working, and in desperate need of immediate repair. Whereas it is still imaginable to hear it play a three-minute work, one could hardly envision anyone succeeding to work around the technical deficiencies and perform the entire “Requiem” by Maurice Durufle. Organist Michael Unger had a successful performance. A graduate student in the organ department, this stellar performer accomplished a miracle with a mere four hours of rehearsal time. Using only three operating general pistons and every possible rest to adjust registration, Unger amazed the educated audience with his breathtaking virtuosity and fast adaptability to the instrument. The Repertory Singers performed Durufle’s version for organ and orchestra, rather then the organ solo version, “so, if it blows up, there will be some back-up,” chairperson of the organ department, David Higgs, said. Eastman can only hope that such phenomenally talented performers such as Unger will inspire rich donors to sponsor the full restoration of this otherwise extraordinary and very important instrument. Joseph’s conducting was exceptional. Even though still a student, she is an accomplished conductor with an excellent sense of taste and style. Her complete understanding of the piece was obvious and showed in the Repertory Singers’ concentrated and precise performance. Occasionally, the orchestra was a little loud for the choir and organ, and soloist Yvonne Douthat’s excessive vibrato left the listeners with doubts about the actual pitch. However, those were very minor weak points in this otherwise fantastic performance.Fol can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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