Next year, America will observe the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein. The Triangle Jewish Chorale chose to get a jump on the celebration by making its spring concert a tribute to the great composer, conductor, and educator who left his influence across a broad swath of the 20th century and into the 21st. The concert held at St. Paul's Lutheran Church was titled "Leonard Bernstein: An American Original."
The program began with "Simchu Na" (Let us celebrate), a spirited circle dance by Matiyahu Weiner (1904-19751) and arranged by Leonard Bernstein. This was followed by a sacred hymn by Bernstein, "Yigdal" (May the Lord be glorified and praised), which is often the concluding prayer of the Friday evening service. Both of these were sung in Hebrew with vigor and accompanied by J. Samuel Hammond at the piano.
The Third Movement and Finale from Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, as arranged by Larry Moore, was sung with organ (Hammond) and harp (Julia Van Patter) accompaniment and solo work by soprano Connie Margolin, alto Lisa Berley, tenor Ziggy Rivkin-Fish, and bass Benjamin Weinberg. This work, commissioned for the 1965 Southern Cathedrals Festival at Chichester Cathedral has pleased choristers and audiences alike with its warm praise and vivid realization of the text. The text of the finale is, "Behold how good and pleasant it is for bretheren to dwell in unity together." The final Hebrew word, Yaḥad, means "together" or, more precisely, "as one." The music here settles on a unison, which is secured even more firmly by being repeated on the Amen.
"Dream with Me" was written for the 1950 musical adaptation of Peter Pan. However, it was one of the numbers not used in that production. Fifty years later this number and others were rediscovered and released on CD in 2005.
From this point on, the TJC was joined with accompaniment by a quartet of saxophones: Steven Stusek – soprano, Mark Engebretson – alto, Emily Loboda – tenor and Taiki Azuma – baritone.
The saxophone quartet led off a set of four pieces from West Side Story with an instrumental medley of selections from the show as arranged by James Boatman. It treated several of the most popular tunes in a charming array of saxophone technique.
The chorus sang the lively "America," as arranged by William Stickles. They were accompanied by the saxophones and the piano. The catchy Latino rhythm was vigorously presented.
"Somewhere," the transcendent song of hope that sums up the show, was sung in a moving arrangement by Robert Edgerton. The other great song that looks toward a positive future, "Tonight," was arranged by Stickles and featured soprano soloists Shana Silverstein Barbieri and Louise Farmer, and alto Lisa Berley. They soared over the choir in climactic descant passages.
Candide, Bernstein's one operetta and composed in the mid-1950s, is based on the novella of the same name by Voltaire. Its 1956 premier received a cool reception from critics and audiences alike. It was not until the 1974 revival with major changes in the libretto that Candide received the success and popularity it enjoys today.
The overture to Candide as a separate concert piece has been a favorite on symphony orchestra programs from the beginning. It is swinging, airy, light and melodic, and programmers love to insert it often between heavier, more serious pieces to spice things up a bit. The saxophone quartet gave an outstanding performance of the arrangement by Johan van der Linden.
Judith Ruderman was featured, along with Michael Strichman and Bernard Most, along with the chorus, in the song and dance routine "I am Easily Assimilated." It was a delight.
The TJC sang the gorgeous chorus, "The Best of All Possible Worlds."
The final selection was the rich, luscious harmony of "Make Our Garden Grow," featuring two young singers, new to TJC this year – soprano Liz Crisenbery and bass Xavier Richert. Their vocal quality and superb blend with the voices of the chorus marked a promise for a bright future for the Triangle Jewish Chorale.
It has been a joy over the past several years to hear the TJC in concert singing selections from the great treasury of Jewish worship music, tradition, and unique classics from the theater and concert hall. The chorus, under the leadership of the vivacious and skilled Lorena Guillén, has improved its ensemble singing, developed its choral blend, and built a reputation for quality entertainment that assures a full house. May it continue to be so…