There’s a special kind of beauty to be discovered in the solemn, a serenity that can accompany the dark – and in his first choral festival, Orlando Sings found both.
Orlando Sings is the new professional choral organization which presented its first concert in November last year. His first festival consisted of three gigs, and I was able to catch two of the band’s Symphonic Chorus – both of which tackled difficult subjects with grace.
At the First United Methodist Church in downtown Orlando on Thursday, Orlando Sings honored the victims of the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre with a rendition of Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem, conducted by artistic and executive director Andrew Minear. There was poetry in the rolling waves of the “Sanctus” as the hosannas swelled in the choir.
Mezzo-soprano Hillary Brown made “Pie Jesu” both lament and plead for all the dead in her aching solo. The musicians of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra gave special depth to the “Agnus Dei” with its soft strings.
The stars of the next work on the program, however, were percussionists Mark Goldberg, Kirk Gay and Christopher Nolin.
“Tse Go La (On the Threshold of This Life)” by Andrea Clearfield is inspired by and contains traditional Tibetan music. The three men played a phalanx of gongs, chimes, bells, singing bowls, drums, shakers and other noisemakers, many of which were native instruments provided by the composer. Nolin even blew through a shell for effect, perhaps making him an honorary wind player as well.
The choir added its own percussion, with rhythmic whistles and breathy syllables in this moving cantata that evoked not just a culture, but a lifetime of emotion.
Saturday night’s concert was at Steinmetz Hall at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
Minear conducted Eric Whitacre’s “The Sacred Veil,” a musical journey through a woman’s battle with cancer. In his remarks, Minear said that repeating the play helped him overcome his own grief; his wife, Ashley, died in November.
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The work certainly had the power to move, from the soft oohing of the choir to the surprisingly forceful exhortations of “Pray hard!” Pray loud!” David Bjella’s cello offered a mournful color, while coldly clinical medical terms contrasted with a mother’s love for her children. The choir’s clear diction meant for much of the work that it was not necessary to use the program notes.
Conductor Christine Le ended the evening with three American anthems arranged by Shawn Kirchner. Palpable joy permeated the voices of the choir as they awaited an “Angel Band” and looked forward to an “Unclouded Day.”
It was an auspicious start for the Orlando Sings, who already have their eye on the future with a full concert season scheduled for 2022-23. When it was founded, Director Minear told me that backers had pledged to support the organization for at least three seasons.
During Saturday’s concert, business manager Sarah Purser announced the formation of an endowment to help sustain the organization. More than $60,000 has already been donated, she said, to what will be known as the Ashley Minear Orlando Sings Endowment Fund.
A tribute to Ashley Minear – who died of cancer just two days after the organization’s first concert last fall – only added to the emotion of the evening.
“For years to come, this festival will solidify Orlando’s international reputation as a hub for choral music and serve as a creative engine to bring new art music to life,” Andrew Minear wrote in his notes. introductory program. Things start well.
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