RALEIGH, NC – For some North Carolina residents, springtime means peeling back the icy layers of winter to expose dogwoods and sweet-smelling flowers. While for others, it means the onset of thick green pollen (that just doesn’t seem to go away) and seasonal allergies. As May begins its cycle, the worries of springtime seem to fade with the changing of the sun. The North Carolina Master Chorale ushered in the new season with grace and pure musical magic.

Inside the grandiose Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, the modern white walls contrasted with the sea of 170 darkly dressed musicians and vocalists standing underneath the crucifix. The large symphonic choir made the large room feel small with their powerful booming voices and delicate string performances. The program, titled “Sunrise Mass” for the program’s Gjeilo centerpiece, was the penultimate performance of the Master Chorale’s 2023-2024 season, leaving viewers excited for the next program to come. Naturally, the title is ironic as the program did not take place until 7:30 in the evening, as the sun was just setting and saying goodbye to a long day rather than rising and ushering in a new day. Whether or not this choice of title was intentional, I could not decipher.

The cathedral’s pews were packed and lined with old and young alike seated to seemingly watch parents, children, grandparents, friends, or strangers perform for the next hour and a half. The evening began with a selection of songs performed by NCMC’s youth choir directed by Dr. Daniel Monek and accompanied by Tom Koch. Made up of 52 9th-12th graders, the youth choir “provides a professionally directed environment for young musicians to study, prepare, and perform choral music.” All that to say, my expectations were blown out of the stained glass windows the moment the singing began. Closing my eyes, I felt like I was in Italy floating as the choir opened the show with Nisi Dominus in C minor and Ave Verum Corpus (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart). Now that my expectations were set high, I was ready to enjoy what I was told would be an “acoustically delicious feast.”

The feast was steaming hot, robust, filling, and masterfully crafted with flavor, presented on a silver platter by the hands of Alfred Sturgis. The crowd was nothing but giddy when music director Sturgis joined the floor. A regional icon in the performing arts world, Sturgis is known for his versatile conductorship for the Carolina Ballet and Tar River Orchestra. If you don’t know his name, you probably know his face, or at least have heard nothing but praises for his talent. The long program began with Jesu, Meine Freude (Johann Sebastian Bach) followed by Rheinberger’s Stabat Mater, Alleluia Tropus by Arvo Pärt, and the official Sunrise Mass program that had four parts – “The Spheres (Kyrie),” “Sunrise (Gloria),” “The City (Credo),” and “Identity & The Ground (Sanctus & Agnus Dei).” The most exciting part of the night came during “The City,” when the youth choir stood once again to join the Master Chorale in a symphony of jaw-dropping hymns that my ears had never been blessed with before.

The rising of the choir’s voices as the sun was setting made for an unforgettable experience and the perfect introduction to the warmth and giving nature of summertime. The end of the night was met with a standing ovation that continued for more than a few minutes and was whole-heartedly deserved by each of the vocalists and musicians standing before the crowd. If I could have clapped individually for each one, I certainly would have.

The North Carolina Master Chorale will bring their 23-24 season to a close with “All the Colors of the World,” on Saturday, June 1 at 4:00pm.