- Written by Rebecca Evans
- Category: Opening Night with Rebecca Evans
- Published: 13 December 2018
Many musical groups around Hampton Roads are in the midst of performing their holiday concerts. The Virginia Choral Society presents an ambitious, unique, and spirited program this December called Carols and Lullabies of the Southwest.
Artistic Director and conductor Sarah Frook Gallo has been with the Virginia Choral Society since their 2015-2016 season. Gallo makes a charismatic and energetic conductor, deeply in touch with the music she selects for the group. Carols and Lullabies of the Southwest is a challenging, rewarding program for both its singers and its audience.
The two-hour concert includes works by almost 20 composers and arrangers. The centerpiece is “Carols and Lullabies” by American composer Conrad Susa, who was tasked with writing a companion piece to Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols.” The suite is made of melodies from the Spanish-speaking world, with vocal soloists, and guitar, marimba, harp, and vibraphone joining on a handful of the songs. The “Carols and Lullabies” provide light, serene pieces in addition to jovial, dance-like numbers, giving us great variety and fun.
Other highlights from the Virginia Choral Society’s concert include the wistful “The Hills are Bare at Bethlehem,” arranged by Ralph Johnson, and a Hanukkah song, “Ocho Kandelikas,” featuring Josiah DeSarro-Raynal on trumpet and vocal soloist Valentina Sorbera, a talented performer who also joins the Choral Society on piano for portions of the concert.
Vocal soloists perform with dedication and heart. Sopranos Sarah Finley and Patti Grayson sound especially soaring during the “Alegria” carol, showcasing strong Spanish diction. Baritone crooner Richard Archer and strong belting soprano Courtney Weber provide some of the most playful and vibrant vocals of the evening in their duet, “White Christmas.”
Harpist Jaclyn Wappel plays beautifully, especially during “In the Bleak Midwinter,” an arrangement that, according to Gallo, has more of the “chill of winter than the warmth of the manger.”
Assistant Music Director and accompanist Diane Drury helps lead the choristers with zeal and skill. Guitarist Timothy Olbrych adds lovely flavor to a number of the works on the program, and Dennis Northerner is precise, showing excellent musicianship in his parts for marimba and vibraphone.
All choristers sing with joy, vivacity, and full smiles - singers come from all backgrounds and experience levels to craft what’s truly a communal music experience, especially when the audience is asked to sing along to “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
For the past few years, the Choral Society has invited local school choirs to join them onstage. Last weekend, they spotlighted the Warwick High School Vocal Ensemble. The group was superb, especially during its rendition of “Mary Did You Know?”, featuring talented sophomore Lyric Slaughter, whose voice is commanding, emotive, and noteworthy. This Sunday’s performance will feature the Grassfield High School Select Treble Ensemble.
The Virginia Choral Society’s Carols and Lullabies of the Southwest gifts us with a chance to discover something new through a holiday concert of fun and moving carols, many of which we’ve never heard before.
The concert will play at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts on Saturday, December 15 at 4 p.m., and the Trinity Lutheran Church in Newport News on Sunday, December 16 at 4 p.m.
Next up for the Virginia Choral Society is a program called The Pale Blue Dot in May, featuring two new commissions by composers Lori Laitman and Tawnie Olson. Visit vachoralsociety.org for tickets and more information.