Arts Column: Spring Is Sung, Hummed and Danced By Choral Society


By Linda Phillips

How many musical genres and styles can the gifted conductor of the Greenwich Choral Society weave, meld and relate to each other?

In a wonderful Spring concert at The Norwalk Concert Hall, conductor Paul Mueller programmed 20th century choral works for the choir, invited an a cappella youth choir, and paid homage to the music of Duke Ellington, combining strains of jazz, gospel, vocal, instrumental and choral.

And, there was the phenomenal tap dancer

The program, entitled Joyous Jazz, was pure joy from its opening. The first half of the program presented what the GCS often does best: sing beautiful compositions from contemporary composers. Opening with full choir, in How Can I Keep From Singing? to an a cappella performance by the Greenwich Public Schools Honor Choir, Prima Voce, of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and Lennon and McCartney’s Blackbird, accompanied by pianist Adam Birnbaum, and the audience willingly engaged. Two excellent soloists, Edward Pleasant, baritone and Jessica Ann Best, mezzo-soprano, were featured in Amazing Grace, and a triple meter Alleluia ensued, with just the right rhythm

So where, exactly, was the Ellington jazz

After the intermission, songs from Ellington’s The Best of the Sacred Concerts were considerably jazzed up by an instrumental ensemble (oh those drums), a narrator, the choir, and the tap dancer.

The instruments arrived on stage:  a bass saxophone played a jazzy motif, brasses introducing the spiritual, Ain’t But The One for chorus, bands and soloist Ms. Best.  Hooray for dissonance!  Trombone and saxes were prominent in, Tell Me the Truth, and a sexy, danceable David Danced brought on tap dancer Kazumori Kumagai, who commanded the stage with his astounding steps, moves, and rhythms. And did he ever dance! We could only think, Move over, Bojangles, Astaire and Kelly as he was a show stopper.

Almighty God sounded shades of St. James Infirmary, and “Come Sunday” was a bluesy lament for saxophone. “Freedom” moved back to jazz, with the drummer, the choir, the soloist and saxophones featured.

Praise God and Dance featured excellent drums and the full jazz orchestra. Suddenly, two dancers leaped and stepped down the aisles, waving handkerchiefs, and the hall became reminiscent of a 21st century revival meeting. One of the dancers grabbed a young man in the audience and danced with him, impromptu, but we should have known.

The performance ended on a jubilant chord, and the audience stood and cheered for a musical happening. Could we call the The Choral Society’s second act Ellingtonia?

One cavil: the choir was dressed in casual clothing and looked rather sloppy, particularly behind the beautifully dressed Greenwich Youth Choir, which, except for the young gentleman, were in lovely red and black long dresses.

For information about upcoming auditions, concerts and events, go to GreenwichChoralSociety.org

Linda Phillips’ classical music reviews have won four “Best Column of the Year” awards from the Connecticut Press Club, and have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism. She is the author of the novel, “To The Highest Bidder,” nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction.

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