by Douglas Neslund
A full-scale concert on a work- and school-night in very wet weather, before an audience that filled every seat in the Broad Stage at Santa Monica College might not seem on the surface to be the optimum in scheduling. But it didn’t seem to matter for the 499 patrons, many of whom were family members of the performers. Late-comers had to find parking elsewhere. Scheduled to begin at 7:00 PM, those in charge wisely decided to delay the downbeat about 15 minutes to allow late-arrivals to find their seats.
The first half of the concert was dedicated to Gloria in D major, RV 589 by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), conducted by Luke McEndarfer, Artistic Director of the National Children’s Chorus. Inasmuch as men’s voices were required, all of which were drawn from the Los Angeles Master Chorale to complement the soprano and alto boys and girls, plus a professional chamber orchestra, one anticipated and heard a fine performance.
Mr. McEndarfer chose standard tempi and other than an over-exaggerated spacing before the final notes of section-ending cadences, maintained faithful adherence to the Baroque style. Solos sections were sung by teenagers from the choir: Madeline Bogert and Casey Burgess duetted in Laudamus te; Megan Wheeler performed Domine Deus; Gabriel Ziaukas managed to negotiate Domine Deus, Agnus Dei; and Christine Ocheltree displayed fine technique in her assignment, Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris. All soloists performed from a spot behind the orchestra, and without amplification. This circumstance, even in a smallish venue, requires projection without pushing the voice. In addition to the challenge of projection, Mr. Ziaukas was battling the onset of voice change, an obstacle not anticipated by the composer but a necessarily inherent vocal pothole facing the relatively few male participants at some point.
The chorus was heavily weighted with high school-aged girls who blended well together, with the altos seemingly unable to form a focused sectional sound.
After intermission, during which candles were lit across the stage, the auditorium lights were dimmed and finally extinguished. Out of the virtually complete darkness, a single amplified female voice belonging to guest artist Lisa Vroman rang out in the John Jacob Niles carol I Wonder as I Wander, decorated by Ms. Vroman with African-American inspired filigree.
What followed was a potpourri of holiday-themed carols and songs, including familiar Christmas, Hanukkah, African, Puerto Rican and secular music written for the various holidays, some of which were conducted by Pamela Blackstone, associate artistic director and leader of the younger children’s contingent, NCC’s Debut Ensemble. Ms. Vroman participated in most of these despite health issues that were greatly challenged by the interpolation of George Frideric Handel’s aria Let the Bright Seraphim from his sacred cantata Samson, which demanded the soloist’s very last ounce of energy. Her singing in this aria was superb, as was trumpet soloist Darren Mulder and the orchestra under the baton of Mr. McEndarfer.
One of the most beautiful items was the familiar Gesu, Bambino with Ms. Vroman assisted by two choristers, Kelly Morrison and Jade Cook, choir and orchestra. The single encore was an arrangement of O Holy Night by Mr. McEndarfer.
The same concert will be performed in New York at The Church of St. Paul the Apostle on Sunday evening, Dec. 8th, together with an additional element of the NCC based in that city.
National Children’s Chorus sprang from imagination of Mr. McEndarfer, who sought to elevate the already excellent and well-regarded Paulist Choristers of California to a more public arena that would allow for children not attending the parish school to have the enhanced musical training not available elsewhere in West Los Angeles.
Further information on the choir and auditions is available at the NCC’s website: http://nationalchildrenschorus.com