Traditionally, choirs with classical training tend to follow a more conservative program, especially to open the new concert season. This inevitably involves the three B’s, consisting of Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms. The Grammy Award winning Choral Arts Society of Washington DC, with former associate conductor Joseph Holt, had a different plan in mind, however. He not only steered clear of the three B’s, but traditional programming completely, opting for an entire performance of Latin repertoire. Perhaps the scheduled guest performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with The National Symphony Orchestra led Holt to try something new.
The program was titled La Musica Latina and featured not only works for the entire chorus, but also many smaller works including solo and instrumental music. Holt himself even played a few solo piano works as well as providing a narrative through the nights performance. Held at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium, the chorus reached a crowd willing to hear something different from the regular programs. However, the new concert hall was not as comfortable to the chorus as their home hall of the Kennedy Center. This was mostly due to the unfamiliar microphones which produced a singling out of certain groups of voices. This made noticeable some of the weaker voices that would normally have blended in a bit more with the stronger ones.
Even though performing as a chamber chorus, the nights main highlights tended to be around the solo works and artists. Patrick D. McCoy’s recent review of the season opener in Washington Life Magazine highlighted how Carmen de Vicente, one of only a handful of artists that perform with solo castanets, delivered a wonderful performance that left the audience much more than satisfied. Vocal artists included Deborah Brenner and Pablo Talamante, both having no trouble performing in this uncommon genre. With Michael Bard supplying the guitar solos and Luis Garays work on the Djembe (a medium sized rope tuned drum originating in Africa), the audience was kept alert and energized.
The Choral Arts Chamber Chorus was joined in the audience by founder and recently retired music director Norman Scribner along with his freshly picked successor, Scott Tucker. Scribner had been with the chorus for over 50 years, performing with them around the world and recording upwards of 16 pieces with the group. To many, Tucker was a surprise choice for the role, being fairly unknown in the mainstream, but those that have worked with him say he is the right man for the job. Scott Tucker held the position of assistant professor position at Cornell University music department for the last 16 years before accepting his new role, also conducting and overseeing many new projects.
This concert offered something for both the committed concert attendee and newcomers alike. For those used to a more traditional program, it brought some new sounds to the ear, and for first timers it gave something a little more easy to relate to, while still showing them some of what classical music performances entail. The Choral Arts Chamber Society seems to be ready to adapt and perform whatever is demanded of them, and they very well might have to keep it up with Scott Tucker taking charge.