by Rick Pender
The beginning of this week was a slower pace for the World
Choir Games in Cincinnati. At the halfway point, choirs visiting for
the first week departed and new ones arrived, so there was very little
activity on Monday. A festive, rambunctious parade from the Convention
Center to Fountain Square too place 6 p.m. Tuesday, with dozens of
choirs, many in traditional dress from their home countries and others
in matching T-shirts that designated their team, nation and so on. Each
choir was preceded by a WCG volunteer bearing their national flag, and
the crowd — lined up five-to-six people deep along both sides of Fifth
Street — cheered for each choir as strolled by. There were as many
cameras in the parade as well among those watching: Everyone wanted to
capture the fun to share later.
On Wednesday evening at the Aronoff Center, I went to the "Music of the
World" Celebration Concert. Since two of the four performing groups were
from the U.S., I guess this title referred more to the music than their
origins, but each had something to offer. The opening set was by the
Collegiate Honor Choir from regional universities near or in Cincinnati:
CCM at UC, Xavier, Capital University (Columbus), Wright State
(Dayton), Miami and NKU. They sang as a large ensemble at first,
conducted by Earl Rivers from CCM (also one of the WCG's artistic
directors) and then several groups were broken out for specific numbers,
led by their own director. The most interesting number was "The Storm
is Passing Over" by the singers from NKU: Amid some angsty singing,
several performers spoke out lines of dismay about contemporary life or
laughed maniacally. After several minutes of that, once a few singers
collapsed from exhaustion, a spiritually inspired passage resolved the
piece on an air of hope for the future. This segment also included a
brief film tribute to esteemed American composer Morten Lauridsen (the
full film is on view at various times at the Downtown Public Library
during the WCG) and then a performance of two of his pieces, "Dirait-on"
and "Sure on this Shining Morning," with Lauridsen accompanying the
singers on the piano.
Up next was the University of Newcastle (Australia) Chamber Choir with
40 singers, male and female. I especially enjoyed their second number,
"Birds," based on three traditional Australian Bush songs. It was full
of whistles and shrieks, as well as choreographed hand motions that
simulated the movements of various kinds of birds. It was an unusually
delightful piece. More delight came from the Gema Sangkakala Choir from
Manado, Indonesia. Another mixed group of approximately 40, its men were
attired in black jackets with symmetrical yellow patterns (eight leaves
about the size of a human hand is my best guess since my seat was far
back from the stage) and the women wearing beautiful sparkling
traditional dresses accented with scarves of primary colors tied around
their waists. The group sang four numbers with lots of dance motion; in
fact, each number concluded with a held pose — arms upraised, for
instance — that became the initial pose of the following song. Their
very coherent program was full of humor: One song appeared to be a
flirtatious exchange between the men and the women, while another was a
tongue-twisting piece full of what were probably nonsense works (my
notes say "packa-packa-dum-dee-dum," a phrase and others like it were
repeated at high speed). Neither the program, the emcees nor the
directors offer any insights about the songs, so audiences are left to
figure them out — I wish I'd known more about the substance of this
Indonesian group's performance, but it was delightful from start to
The final group was the Indianapolis Children's Choir, about 100 young
adolescent girls and boys. They were wonderfully trained, and their
program was a perfect selection of material for young performers, not
too challenging but very appropriate for youngsters full of energy and
expression. "Tell My Ma" (accompanied by an adult playing the spoons!)
was a clever song about competition between groups of boys and girls;
"Happy Together" (a Pop tune from the 1960s by the Turtles) was a great
number for the kids to cut loose with their own swaying body and hand
motions, not synchronized but each doing something that expressed their
joy at young love. That approach typified this group's performance —
carefully chosen numbers that fit the youthful nature of the performers.
Everyone left the Aronoff smiling!
I have a "day pass" for Thursday, so I'll be wandering in
and out of activities all over downtown. I'll report on that on Friday
morning. There's only a few days left — WCG ends on Saturday evening. If
you haven't attended anything yet, there's still time.
Weston exhibit erases doubts over digital art
0 Comments · Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Digital World presents James Duesing and
three other artists whose work originates on a monitor via 3-D imaging
and other programs. Should this art be viewed as something less because
of its origins? I say no.
0 Comments · Tuesday, July 10, 2012
The Battle of the Abstract Expressionists,
as Mary Ran of Ran Gallery playfully calls her current show, could be a
draw between the artists, but color rules in the works of each. Two
well-known, deeply committed 20th century Cincinnati artists, Jack
Meanwell and Paul Chidlaw, both practiced abstract expressionism — as
opposed to non-objective art, in which tangible subject matter has been
thrown out entirely — and both used color with visceral pleasure.
0 Comments · Tuesday, July 10, 2012
When FotoFocus — the new citywide
celebration of photography and lens-based art — occurs in October, there
will be so many artists and venues involved it will be hard to choose
which to see and when. While I am looking forward to all of it,
one photographer I am particularly eager to see isn’t that famous, but
has certainly made an impact. Nancy Rexroth, who will be presenting new
work from her landmark Iowa project, is sharing with Judi Parks and Jane Alden Stevens a show called Landscapes of the Mind: Metaphor, Archetype and Symbol 1971-2012 at YWCA Women’s Gallery. It opens Oct. 5.
by Rick Pender
Eight riveting performances at sold-out Aronoff Center
I had a trip around the world on Sunday afternoon, thanks
to the World Choir Games. It includes stops in South Africa, the
Netherlands, Venezuela, Switzerland, and the Chinese cities of
Guangdong, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Hangzhou. The program, playing to a
completely sold-out house at the Aronoff Center's Procter & Gamble
Hall, was a chance for eight choirs, each champions in one or more
categories, to briefly showcase a few selections. Singer, performer and
Cincinnati native Drew Lachey hosted the afternoon program.
In order, we were treated to performances by the Shanghai Conservatory
of Music Girls Choir (Female Choirs champion); the Diocesan Boys' School
Choir from Hong Kong (Young Male Chorus champion); Männerstimmen Basel
from Switzerland (Male Choirs Champion); the "8 Seconds" Mixed Chorus fa
Hangzhou Normal University (Mixed Youth Choir champion); the Children's
Choir of the Orchestra of Laraand Camerata Singonica Larense from
Venezuela (Folklore champion); Guangdong Experimental Middle School
(Youth Choir of Equal Voices champion); Stellenbosch University Choir
from South Africa (a double champion for Musica Sacra and Mixed Chorus);
and Dekoor Close Harmony from the Netherlands (another double champion,
for Popular Choral Music and Jazz).
That's too many to offer song-by-song details from the two hour program,
but I want to share some memorable highlights. Perhaps most powerful
was the "African Prayer," sung by the Stellenbsoch choir, following a
remark from the group;s director about how much they appreciated
Cincinnati's hospitality. I head this group sing the same number on
Thursday evening's celebration concert, and it was equally powerful —
driven by full-voiced female singing, rhythmic clapping and building
enthusiasm. What's more, the director sat down and let the choir proceed
under its own steam. Demonstrating their varied repertoire, the same
group also did a quirky rendition of Queen's "Seaside Rendezvous,"
playing kazoos for part of the number.
The Chinese choruses showed tremendous discipline, carefully following
their directors and, especially in the case of the group from Shanghai,
creating a pure, crystalline sound that was virtually one voice. Each of
those choirs were also stylishly dressed in matching costumes. (I found
myself wondering how transportation was handled for these choirs, not
just for the singers but for their gowns and other attire. No one seemed
to have left anything behind!)
The group from Basel looked more like a scruffy Euro band, about 30 men,
some with beards, others with wooly heads of hair. Many of them wore
knee-length pants and suspenders. But their singing was strong and
well-rehearsed. The Venezuelans were in costumes that had a Latin flair,
especially the women in white, knee-length dresses with traditional,
multicolored ruffles on their hems and necklines. This latter group had a
fine sense of humor, especially for its tongue-twisting final number
that involved singing faster and faster, then concluding in a sort of
faux collapse of exhaustion.
Most unlike other choirs I've heard, Dekoor from the Netherlands, which
sang in colloquial American English offered three numbers from the Pop
repertoire. The group of 30, evenly divided between men and women,
opened with "We Are Young," a song about friendship, youth and trust —
all qualities represented by their stances and interactions (a repeated
lyric: "We are young/So let's the set the world on fire/We can burn
brighter/Than the sun"). They moved next to James Taylor's paean to
frustration, "Damn This Traffic Jam," and as an encore rendered a funky
version of George Michael's "Freedom." Quite a switch from beautifully
executed but not so stirring sacred numbers.
For my second concert of the day, I was back at the Aronoff for the
Energy of Youth" Celebration Concert featuring three groups. The frist
was local, the Cincinnati Children's Choir, mostly junior high and high
school youths. They were augmented for the second half of their program
with a specially formed "Cincinnati Public Schools Honor Choir," a pair
of singers selected from each of the CPS elementary schools. They
concluded with two numbers commissioned for the event and conducted by
composer Rollo Dillworth; the finale, "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me
Around," had a clapping rhythm that engaged the entire audience. What
this group lacked in polish (they had only three rehearsals) they more
than made up for in enthusiasm.
The next group was the Farnham Youth Choir from Great Britain. Forty
singers, mostly girls (there were three boys with voices not yet
changed) offered a varied set that combined some sacred numbers with
some folk-inspired pieces (The Piper o'Dundee" and ""Iona Boat Song").
Most interesting was a number titled "Aglepta," that began with a single
member reciting this text:
"To leave a enemy without an answer, say
this words to him: Aglaria Pidhol garia Ananus Qepta" and blow in his
direction; then he will not know which way he is headed and cannot
answer you." What followed was a strange collection of sighs,
whistles, squeals, shrieks, clapping and other odd noises, an odd
showcase of discipline that was a long way from the more traditional
numbers. It was a bit fearful, and completely captivating.
The program concluded with a set by the Guangdong Experimental Middle
School Choir that was as much choreography and tradition as it was a
choral performance. Native costumes, a Mongolia throat singer, drums,
bells, wild dancing — this performance made me think about how little we
know about other parts of the world ... and how much an event like the
World Choir Games opens us to learning about other cultures.
Quite a day.
Still fresh after 30 years
0 Comments · Sunday, July 8, 2012
I’ve seen Ken Shue’s 1984 comedy The Foreigner in
several good productions. It’s one of the funniest plays I know, a
well-oiled laugh machine, but if you anticipate what’s happening, you’d
think it would diminish the humor.
by Rick Pender
Hot night at the School for Creative and Performing Arts
Despite the 100-plus heat on Friday evening, on my way to a
World Choir Games concert at Over-the-Rhine's School for Creative and
Performing Arts (SCPA) I took an extra half-hour to wander through the
renovated Washington Park, which officially opened earlier in the day.
What an incredible scene! Hundreds of operagoers were streaming through
the park on their way to see Porgy and Bess at Music Hall, while
kids from the neighborhood — young and old, I must add — were playing in
the people-friendly fountain. Everyone was strolling around admiring
the views and the colorful "OTR Flags," another festive element of the
On from there to SCPA's Corbett Theater for another sold-out
"Celebration Concert." This one used the theme "Voices of Gold," because
each of the three choirs have won multiple honors in past World Choir
Games and other choral competitions. SCPA seemed like the perfect
setting, since each group was made up of youthful performers: Zvonky
Praha is a school group from a school in Prague in the Czech Republic
and some of its singers were obviously elementary school age kids; SKH
Lam Woo Memorial Secondary School were high schoolers; and the Mansfield
University Concert Choir was a mixed choir of young adults from the
university in Pennsylvania. It's fascinating to observe the differing
personalities of the choirs, here a product of age but also of directors
with very different styles of leading the singing.
Zvonky Praha begain with its 19-member chamber component, separately
named "Abbellimento," all high school age girls clad in black pants and
shirts, with scarlet sashes, some worn as belts, others as scarves and
one as a head band. Their female voices were reedy but strong for their
program, virtually all sung in Czech, so I can't tell you much of what
the music was about. But I can say it was delivered with passion and
clarity, accompanied in most cases by a blonde-haired pianist who played
with expressive emotion. Several numbers were enhanced by one of the
singers picking up a clarinet and offering soulful punctuation. When the
balance of the choir came on to join Abbellimento, the numbers were
roughly doubled, but again almost all girls wearing red choir capes.
(There were two young boys, but I suspect their voices had not yet
changed, and the feminine quality of the singing did not change.)
Director Jamila Noveknová kept the ensemble in tight control, but for
several final numbers had some soloists step forward, including one of
the younger performers with a gorgeous soprano voice. Their final
number, a choral replication of bells, was especially memorable.
Lam Woo's director, Siu Mei Lee, is a petite, beautiful woman with
shining, black hair. She conducted with the expressive grace of a
ballerina, using large gestures and physical movement to inspire her
very focused choristers. This was a big group, roughly 80 singers,
wearing school uniforms: The boys had white shirts with a school emblem
and ties while girls wore knee-length pale blue dresses with white
"sailor" collars and white knee socks. This group were serious in their
demeanor, totally focused on their animated director. Their wide ranging
program encompassed works by Mendelssohn as well as Asian composers;
their concluding number, "Zum Gali," was a rhythmic traditional number
from Israel that swung between soft and loud passages and up and down
energy, but with a beautiful fading elevation of tone as its conclusion.
The intense singers maintained their demeanor as the audience gave them
a standing ovation, but when a little boy entered from the wings to
hand a bouquet to Siu Mei Lee, the entire chorus burst into applause.
Their affection for her was evident.
Peggy Dettwiler is clearly a veteran conductor (she teaches the craft to
others at Mansfield University) and her work with her more mature
singers was the most satisfying component of the evening. A balanced
choir of about 60, the men wore traditional tuxedoes and black ties,
while the women were attired in floor-length gowns all cut the same way.
(The women also wore identical sparkling necklaces and earrings.)
According to the introductions made for this group, their repertoire is
generally drawn from religious works, but that did not mean it was a lot
of the same thing: They offered a beautiful piece with German lyrics
and music by Mendelssohn, followed by a solemn, stately song by Stephen
Paulus, "The Old Church." Next was a traditional Gospel number, "Hold
On!," delivered with relaxed energy. For a traditional Appalachian hymn,
"Every Night When the Sun Goes Down," the group formed an unorthodox
circle around Dettwiler, who conducted the entire program without music
from a small, square platform about six-inches in height. That meant
that some had their backs to the audience, but at one key moment, they
turned toward us, which elevated not only their volume but the intensity
of their heartfelt performance. Their finale, "Pal-so seong," was a
humorous number in which various solo singers burst into giggles, hoots
and chortles, culminating in gales of laughter — a truly unusual piece.
The group's encore, an infectious "Alleluia," had them file up the
aisles at Corbett Theater, surrounding the audience with joyous song. It
was a perfect conclusion to the varied program.
by Rick Pender
Masonic Center performances high quality and appreciated
On Thursday evening I slogged through the humid, 100 degree soup
of downtown Cincinnati to hear a World Choir Games concert at the
Masonic Center on Fourth Street (next door to the Taft Theatre). I've
lived in Cincinnati for 32 years and covered lots of arts events, but
I've never set foot inside this honeycomb of stages, halls and meeting
rooms. The sold-out event I attended, "Global Harmony," was in a steeply
sloped, floridly decorated auditorium that seats approximately 1,000
people. A four-step set of risers was set up in front of a proscenium
with a curtain; the scenery was provided by three choirs, two
international groups — the Diocesan Schools Choral Society from Hong
Kong and the Stellenbosch University Choir from South Africa — both
highly recognized ensembles at the 2010 World Choir Games in Shaoxing,
China. The third choir had a shorter trek to Cincinnati; the Capital
University Chapel Choir, about 80 singers strong, came from Columbus and
held its own with the two groups from other continents.
The Hong Kong group, roughly 120 high school boys and girls, offered a
beautiful, restrained program of earnestly conceived works performed
with polish, some religious and some literary (the latter included a
piece based on Robert Burns' poem, "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose").
The singers from Capital University had the men attired in black suits,
shirts and ties, the women in long dresses with identical bias-cut
necklines but in varying colors, bright blue, maroon and navy. Their
program was an interesting mixture of pieces, with several uptempo
numbers — a lovely song by Dolly Parton, "Light of a Clear Blue
Morning," that featured a crystalline solo by Annie Huckaba, and several
rhythmic works, "Hehehlooyuh" and "Tshotsholoza," both of which evoked
strong responses from the audience. The latter, a South African number,
featured two forceful soloists, Chris Bozeka and Nicholas Klein, as well
as percussive accompaniment on African drums by Emily Riggin and
another chorus member (not named in the program).
The Stellenbosch choir, constituted of approximately 120 white and black
college students and which earned three gold medals in the 2010 World
Choir Games in China, presented a half-dozen songs plus an encore.
"Kiasa-isa Niyan," described by conductor André van der Merwe as a
counting song from the Philippines, used catchy choreography and motion,
including chest thumping, vocal clicking, head snapping and a sharply
executed bow at the end. The most moving number of the program, a
traditional Zulu song, "African Prayer." It pulled six strong-voiced
soloists (again, not named in the program) to the front of the stage and
placed two more among the audience for an emotional call-and-response
counterpoint that evoked a standing ovation.
In fact, each group was greeted with sustained applause as its singers
filed on stage and cheered with a standing ovation after their
performance. The audience was appreciative and wildly enthusiastic; some
were parents of the Capital University performers, but many others were
clearly people who simply love choral performances that are delivered
with finesse, creativity and enthusiasm. Fifth Street was choked with
buses bringing people from various hotels beyond downtown, here as
tourists to listen to these performances.
Oh, yes: The auditorium was comfortably air-conditioned, a fact
appreciated by those in attendance as well as the singers. It was a fine
way to be introduced to the possibilities of the World Choir Games,
here in the United States — not to mention in Cincinnati — for the first
time ever. I was proud to be in attendance.
by Anne Arenstein
Opening Ceremony involves welcoming by U.S. officials and lots of singing
It was quite the spectacle and in a good way. As I, along
with other members of MUSE, approached Great American Ballpark around 4
p.m., there were already hundreds of World Choir Games participants
thronging the entrance, and despite the stifling temperature, the
excitement was palpable. All the hype about this being an international
event was no hype at all. For the first time I can remember, Cincinnati
looked like an international city.
Choirs from West Chester, Loveland and Pleasant Ridge
chatted with groups from Japan, Colombia, Canada and Australia. Cheers
erupted from all parts of the plaza, spontaneous singing and dancing
were everywhere. The plaza was a riot of color: the Colombians in vivid
red, orange, and yellow; Japanese women in blue and pink kimonos; the
Nigerian choir in bright green dashikis and caps; and the Costa Rican
women's choir in flowing white dresses embroidered in bright red.
With no signage but a multitude of helpful volunteers,
5,000 of us were mustered into holding areas before marching over to
U.S. Bank Arena. Bottled water and mist sprayers relieved the heat, and
when the water ran out, there plenty of ice cubes — putting them down my
back never felt better.
We found ourselves in a shaded area along with a youth
choir from Erie, Pa. Suddenly they started chanting, "Sing! Sing! Sing!"
As we launched in the South African Xhosa song "Bambelela," their eyes
lit up in recognition and suddenly we were one big chorus. They
answered us with "The Storm is Passing Over," and this time, our eyes
lit up. Same arrangement we do. They sang a beautiful arrangement of "As
I Went Down to the River to Pray." When we sang Bernice Johnson
Reagon's "I'm Gon' Stand," with Lois Shegog belting out the solo, they
Once inside the arena, more cheering as groups saw
themselves on the JumboTrons. The soundtrack took in The Temptations,
The Jackson 5, Gloria Estafan, The Monkees, and I think Neil Diamond was
in there somewhere. The Aussies sitting below us started a beach ball
toss that would have gone on longer if an arena-wide wave hadn't taken
over. I didn't see many empty seats.
WCPO's Clyde Gray and Carol Williams were affable emcees
and the opening remarks by Mayor Mallory and Interkultur head Gunther
Titsch were mercifully brief (Titsch spoke in heavily accented English
and then reverted to his native German. That was fine — I'd rather look
at his translator any day. Williams read greetings from President Obama —
the letter was projected on the video screens to the accompaniment of
hundreds of camera flashes. Rob Portman didn't applaud. But he recovered
to declare the games open.
Cincinnati Pops conductor John Morris Russell paid tribute
to the late Erich Kunzel, who was the driving force behind bringing the
WCG to Cincinnati. And it was his vision to include the traditional
July 4th concert as part of the opening ceremony. I think he would have
been delighted and not at all surprised at the power of singing to bring
people together. Choruses rose with pride as their nation's flag was
announced, but they also cheered on their peers. I'll never forget the
group from Namibia turning to cheer South Africa.
As we left, I couldn't help singing India Arie's "There's Hope." MUSE sang that, too.
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Opera always struck me as a strange,
overblown cousin to musical theater. I told people that I had to “turn
off my theater filters when I went to see opera.” But then I spent
several seasons working for Cincinnati Opera, and my eyes were opened to
the reasons people react so strongly to that art form.