Ken Davis Chorale Inaugural Concert
Mesquite Arts Center
January 21, 2012
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a talented young choral conductor who touched half-a-generation’s worth of college kids and enriched their lives with singing.
Dr. Ken Davis’ influence on those Texas Tech college kids – now 30-somethings – was so strong that when they met last summer in Dallas for a kind of choral reunion and concert, something magical happened. A new Dallas choral voice was born.
Today was the first of what will likely be two metroplex concerts a year for the foreseeable future. Mark your calendars for June 23, 2012, when the Chorale will present their next show.
For the inaugural concert, sixty of Dr. Davis’ former students, now musicians and teachers, consultants and pastors, doctors, lawyers, tech folks and homemakers put the decades behind them and blended their voices like they were still at Tech.
After a dozen hours of rehearsal – yesterday(!) – this group of singers sounded like they had sung together forever and had rehearsed for weeks. Only 20 live in the area so for most of the chorus this was a long weekend of travel, rehearsal, and reunion.
The program today consisted of fourteen numbers and an encore piece. No one could say Davis chose easy works to compensate for the lack of rehearsal time. Most of the first half of the show was sung a capella and in languages other than English. The second half featured some familiar choral works and some new to my ear, but was equally challenging.
For a chorus made up of “whoever shows up,” the Ken Davis Chorale was surprisingly balanced. Overall, the basses were rock solid throughout the show and lent some deep rich foundation to the works. The tenors were thin in some places but at other showcase moments, they met the challenge. Altos sang with one voice and had some really wonderful and important chord resolutions and melody spots – particularly in the second half of the show. The sopranos were bright and present although in some places overwhelmed the rest of the chorus with volume.
When individuals had solos, they were strong and confident. These people know how to sing.
There were some very very strong moments throughout the 2-hour concert. Davis and his singers have such precise diction, there was rarely a word sung I couldn’t understand. With his spare and understated direction, the chorus had repeated moments of whisper-soft pianissimo all the way to FORTISSIMO – and they moved back and forth with aplomb.
Chesnokov’s Spaseniye sodelal showcased the chorus with great huge pipe organ-like chords and wonderful volume changes was a strong first set offering. Mozart’s Regina Coeli, K. 276, with its delightful lilting runs also offered an opportunity for some pretty solos.
After intermission, the third movement of Wedding Cantata by Pinkham offered the chorus another chance to overwhelm with the big glorious round chord closing the piece.
The final three pieces, however, were my favorite. Black spirituals are some of my favorite choral music – and some of the most difficult to pull off without a lot of rehearsal. The Chorale sang John Saw Duh Numbuh (arr. Parker and Shaw) and Witness (arr. Halloran) with their souls. These spirituals are in call-and-response format, with the men opening the themes. Here’s a place where the tenors absolutely rose to the occasion. The trick in these pieces is for the men and women (who sing the response) to keep the same tempo – the tendency is to rush faster and faster as you move through the piece. It looked effortless, but there wasn’t a tempo issue in either number. They were fantastic.
Deep River (arr. Ringwald) just made me feel teary it’s so wide and lush and beautiful. You never heard it sung as pretty as you heard it today.
The Mesquite Arts Center was, as they say, the other star of the show. It is a wonderfully rich acoustic room with Ryman Auditorium-shaped double balconies – making it a hall without a bad seat. My guess is that the Ken Davis Chorale brought 300 or more people out to hear them sing.
What a great Saturday afternoon with the Ken Davis Chorale. Can’t wait for the next show.