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À la Carte kicked off its fifth season with a program titled "Advent Concert for All," featuring "seasonal music from around the world." Indeed, the series offered a "buffet of music from every genre, style, epoch, and culture." True to its word, this concert offered music from the late Renaissance all the way to Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
ALC co-founder Lance Hulme directed the musical proceedings, arranged most of the music, and acted as emcee, providing background material on the music. He informed the decent-sized audience that the texts, translations, and performers were available online, which provided needed depth to the single page printed program.
First up was the Allegro movement from Concerto pastorale per il Santissimo Natale by Francesco Manfredini. This sprightly number was performed by Stephanie Ezerman and Jayon Felizarta (violins), Rachael Keplin (viola), Jonathan Simmons (cello), Steven Landis (bass), Samuel Taylor (lute), and James Douglass (organ). The ensemble was rhythmically tight and played with minimal vibrato, which lent a historically informed authenticity to the music.
The rich voice of mezzo-soprano Clara O’Brien was featured in the da capo aria "Bereite dich, Zion" from Weihnachts-Oratorium by J.S. Bach. O'Brien's voice is wonderfully suited to this Baroque gem. Accompanying her were the same instrumental forces (minus the lute and viola) that opened the concert. Again, Hulme directed the proceedings with precision and clarity.
A wonderful arrangement of the traditional Appalachian folk song "I Wonder As I Wander" featured violinists Ezerman and Felizarta. Hints of fiddling infused this rather plaintive tune.
O'Brien returned to present the gorgeous "Geistliches Wiegenlied" ("Sacred Lullaby") from Zwei Gesänge (Two Songs), Op. 91 by Johannes Brahms. With pianist Douglass and a wonderfully played obbligato viola by Keplin, the three worked together to bring out the lyricism that is so deeply embedded in the music.
A winning instrumental arrangement of "Coventry Carol" for string quartet and guitar provided a nice cushion between the previous Brahms and the next vocal work. The musicians played with tender passion.
"Natività di Christo – Con le stelle in ciel che mai" ("Nativity of Christ – With the stars in heaven") by Biagio Marini featured soprano Amber Rose Romero, accompanied by Ezerman, Simmons, and Taylor (now back on lute). Romero easily negotiated the many florid ornaments with solid support from Taylor; the violin and cello joined in the merrymaking between each verse.
This concert was a fundraiser for Greensboro Urban Ministry, and Hulme introduced Tyra Clymer, Senior Director of Programs and Emergency Assistance Department Director. Clymer thanked the audience (and the musicians) for their support, and highlighted the ongoing effort to help those in need.
The evening concluded with a medley of both familiar and unfamiliar seasonal music, all but one arranged by Hulme: a Latin hymn carol, a traditional Hanukkah song (arranged by Taylor), a Catalan villancico, a traditional French carol, an African American spiritual, a Burgundian carol, a piece by Emerson, Lake & Palmer (that had Hulme playing synthesizer), and the concluding Finale. The medley included all the musicians, including baritone Guy Chambers solidly contributing to the a cappella trio singing "Veni, veni, Emmanuel," and supplying a male counterpart to O'Brien and Romero in other vocal pieces.
The Finale included "Do They Know It's Christmas" (which, according to Hulme, was part of the BandAid recording in 1984). He wanted to conclude with something people could sing along with. And indeed, the audience did.