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MIT Chamber Chorus


By Fred Choi

Associate Arts Writer

April 15, 2000 in Kresge Auditorium

One can’t help but feel rather suspicious of a concert program that features solely American composers. For one, audiences have a tendency to feel somehow cheated by music that is sung in English, as if music sung in a foreign language is more immediately profound due to the inability to comprehend the text. Likewise it is natural for critics to feel disdainful of performers for their blatant avoidance of the difficulties of an unfamiliar language.

Such attitudes, while valid, lose all relevance when contemplating the program the MIT Chamber Chorus presented on Saturday, April 15, 2000 in Kresge Auditorium. It is to the great credit of William Cutter, the conductor of the Chamber Chorus, that the two and a half hour concert presented music which was completely engrossing, deeply moving, and virtuosic, decisively silencing would-be critics of classic American music. Because American vocal works are by nature generally less familiar than their orchestral counterparts, it was admirable that the program sensitively incorporated several well-known works to complement the largely unfamiliar works which made up the bulk of the concert.

The program included four major choral works which balanced out the rest of the program which consisted of art songs and scenes from various operas. The first of the choral works, Copland’s The Lark, featured Youngmoo Kim G as the baritone soloist and was an ideal opening to the concert. The chorus, under Cutter’s direction, instilled emotion into every note and carefully crafted each phrase of the piece while at the same time circumspectly setting the tone of each section and deftly handling the intricate counterpoints. Kim’s powerful performance was a harbinger to the high quality of the solo and ensemble performances which followed.

The chorus continued to impress with their performance of Samuel Barber’s Reincarnations. The first section of “Mary Hynes” was beautifully crisp and the ending was sublime. The bassists in “Anthony O Daly” were not a solid enough presence to drive the piece forward, nor were the sopranos full enough in “The Coolin,” but despite these oversights and a seeming lack of concentration at the end of “The Coolin,” Reincarnations was one of the most stirring works of the program. The Chorus gave a welcome nod to contemporary American composers by including Libby Larsen’s setting of Emily Dickinson’s “I find my feet have further goals,” which was pleasant and unassuming and demonstrated the strength of the chorus’s tenor section.

One of the greatest sources of variety for the concert was the ingenious decision to devote half of the concert to soloists and ensembles drawn from members of the chorus. Although some pieces, such as the excerpt from Bernstein’s Candide, lacked precision and others, such as the duet from Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, lacked consistency, all of the performances ranked high among the concert’s highlights and exhibited the impressive skills of the talented individuals who comprise the chorus.

Senior Tara Duhan’s performance of the uncomplicated aria “Laurie’s Song” from Copland’s The Tender Land was quietly moving and showed off her clear, pure soprano voice. The all too short trio “Skid a lit day,” also from Trouble in Tahiti, performed by Lauren Moffa, alto; William Vanderson G, tenor; and Will Koffel ’00, bass, was a wonderfully light confection of perfection full of endearing humor.

Annie Lee G, mezzo-soprano, performed the three selections from Copland’s “Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson” with sweet confidence and a dark tone that was well-suited to Dickinson’s plaintive verse. Although Lee’s intonation was not quite faultless and her characterization was at times lacking in subtlety, these minor complaints did not prevent her interpretations from being effective and completely engaging.

Among the most ambitious of the non-choral works was “A Hand of Bridge,” Samuel Barber’s nine-minute opera concerning two dissatisfied married couples. The work, light and generally comical, was given a generally straightforward account by Anna Benefiel ’00, soprano; Tara Rosenberger Shankar G, mezzo-soprano; Minjoo Lee G, tenor, and David Kokorowski G, baritone. Unfortunately, the performers tended to err on the side of being too subtle in a work which is largely satirical.

Shankar, in the limited role of Sally, a vain and petty woman who spends the evening thinking to herself, “I want to buy that hat of peacock feathers,” perfectly caught the comedic tone of the work, such that every subsequent repetition of the inane phrase, especially when juxtaposed with the comments of the other characters, set off muffled laughter in the audience.

Kokorowski approached but did not quite reach a similar level of caricature as he relished in the erotic fantasies of David, who dreams of “twenty naked girls, twenty naked boys,” as did Lee, who, as Bill, wondered what his illicit lover “Cymabline ... with her geranium-scented breath” was doing. Benefiel, faced with the daunting task of being the sole quasi-serious figure in the opera, chose to give a completely sympathetic interpretation of the role and provided a beautifully pathetic, touching performance as Geraldine, a woman struggling to cope with her mother’s illness.

The performance of “A Hand of Bridge,” like the other non-choral works on the program, featured the skillful dramatic coaching and staging of Assistant Professor Thomas DeFrantz and the impressive piano accompaniment of Karen Harvey.

The final work of the evening was Copland’s setting of the first two chapters of the book of Genesis, entitled “In the Beginning.” Shankar, in a complete contrast to her previous, comic role, dazzled in her authoritative reading as soloist and gave the distinct impression of being a voice from God. The Chorus did an admirable job invigorating the work and keeping the audience engrossed in each moment, although the piece itself still proved to be rather too serious and lengthy for some.

The concert presented by the MIT Chamber Chorus demonstrated that this group is one of the most vital and high-caliber music groups on campus. After an evening of such gorgeous music-making I am left with only three words: “Bravi!,” “Bravissimi!,” and “Encore!”