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Choirs present evokative melodies

Published: November 8, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc.


Velvety smooth melodies and lush, tranquil harmonies filled the Slosberg Recital Hall last Saturday night with the concert performance of the Brandeis University Chorus and Chamber Choir. Presenting a program that drew references to Bach and repertoire from the Romantic era, including the works of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, the University Chorus and Chamber Choir gave a concert that was delightfully enjoyable as evident by the three rounds of thunderous applause the audience gave at the conclusion of the show.

Performing under the direction of James Olesen with Leslie Amper accompanying the group on the piano, the Brandeis University Chorus and Chamber group opened the concert by singing the Brandeis Alma Mater, a piece arranged from Brahms by Erwin Bodky, who was also an original member of the Brandeis music department. From the start of the show, with this first piece, the audience was able to tell that both the University Chorus and Chamber Choir sing with a strong attention to musical technique and musicianship. The sound was well balanced between each section, and harmonies were well built from the bass section all the way up to the soprano singers. The result was an entirely full, rounded quality to the overall sound that was produced by both groups singing.

Indeed, the technical skills each student presented, as well as the way both the University Chorus and Chamber Chorus can sing as a group—internally and when joined together—were some of the key elements that made the concert a success. An alto singer in the University Chorus, Emily Eng ’14, explained that the chorus works attentively to develop their ensemble skills, saying, “We have sectional for each song that lasts about half an hour scattered through the first part of the semester. The rest of the time, Professor Olesen will teach us how to phrase the music, sing healthily and come together as a group, focusing on balance, articulation and vowel sounds.”

Next, the University Chorus was featured in Mendelssohn’s “Lift Thine Eyes” from Elijah and “O Be Joyful (Psalm 100).” The chorus was impressive in the way they communicated the contrapuntal compositional elements of Mendelssohn’s works. Simply, the pieces use melodies that are similar but sung at offset time. First, a main melody is sung, and while it proceeds, a different section starts another similar melody and the process continues with each section starting and either ending together or independently.

“The selections for this concert were related through Bach’s music. All of the composers on the program knew, revered and strove to emulate his music, even as they were of a different time and had other music on their minds,” Olesen said. “They all wrote to a contrapuntal ideal, an ideal in which each voice has a measure of melodic and rhythmic independence yet combine to make expressive and motion-generating harmony.”

The University Chorus displayed their ensemble skills with timing of these different contrapuntal melodic motifs, rendering beautiful and angelically haunting echoes that were exchanged between the sections.

The University Chorus took a rest while the Chamber Choir group took the front stage, performing an array of sections from Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. Through its sections, the Chamber Choir showcased their wide range of skills and flexibly, singing a substantial selection of classical choral works in this part of the concert. A wonderful highlight was “Standchen,” which the Chamber Choir performed with the guest mezzo-soprano soloist, Pamela Dellal. As noted in the program, Dellal has been praised for her “exquisite vocal color,” “musical sensitivity” and “eloquent phrasing.” Dellal, a voice instructor at Brandeis who was also instrumental in writing and putting together the opera “Love in Schlossberg Village” last semester, truly went beyond her accolades as a soloist in “Standchen.” Dellal sang with her whole body, echoing the grace of her poise to her expressions and ultimately to her wonderful singing. She was well supported by the Chamber Choir, who helped to tie the piece together.

The University Chorus then performed four selections from Bach, threading each piece with the careful attention to detail and technical merit as they had done throughout the whole night. The University Chorus and Chamber Choir closed the show with gusto in singing a second Brandeis song: “The Blue and White.” Composed by Irving Fine, another original member of the Brandies Music Department and founder of the Brandeis School of Creative Arts, the piece was charmingly upbeat and had many of the audience members humming its catchy lines.

The Brandeis University Chorus has continuously stood as a strong cornerstone in the music department, both providing access to music performance for students and leading the community in the annual “Messiah Sing” that is held in the SCC atrium every winter. The University Chorus offers students a chance to sing music from the Renaissance to the present, exploring the extensive repertoire from the Western tradition with the occasional songs from Broadway, Hollywood and African-American tradition in the mix.

Similarly, the Chamber Choir gives students an added opportunity to dive into classical choral repertoire. The Chamber Choir is smaller in ensemble, but it is composed of talented and skilled singers that make for a group that is highly vocally and musically independent.

Many of the songs performed were religious in content; however, there is a something much greater in the activity of musical performance. Olesen noted in a post-concert interview, “I think all of western classical music speaks to peace, not directly, but by being beyond politics and showing there is an interior life for each individual which can be entered in no other way but by art of this depth and meaning.” Perhaps this was best exemplified by how the student musicians were able to work and sing together to produce a pleasurable listening experience this past weekend.