The Amarillo Master Chorale christened the 2019/2020 concert season with a fortieth anniversary reunion concert held at the Amarillo College Concert Hall Theater August 24th. The conductors were the four men who have served in that capacity for the various iterations of the chorale over the past four decades.
The choristers demonstrated their talent by performing eight challenging numbers, including one in Latin, with only one day’s practice.
The AMC opened with Jane Marshall’s I Will Extol Thee from Psalms 145 and under the direction of Dr. Nathaniel Fryml, current artistic director. This piece has a soprano opening followed by a layering of tenors. The word “exuberance” defines this work, which ends with an incredible “Amen.”
Dr. Fryml would later conduct The Road Home by Stephen Paulus, which has a wordless opening and strikes this listener as a stream of consciousness bespeaking longing and hope, a sense amplified by the soprano of Cathy Weber.
Dr. George Biffle, founder of the then Civic Chorus, led the ensemble in two different works, the first Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal, a product of Alice Parker, longtime primary arranger for the Robert Shaw Chorale.
This work pulsed: the downbeat of each 3/4 triad was emphasized like a vocal percussion section. This is the second work of Alice Parker done by the AMC within the last year, and, like the first, connected the audience to America’s past, to the Second Great Awakening, when the country’s westward surge was seen as proof of divine providence.
Dr. Biffle’s second work with the Chorale, was John Rutter’s For the Beauty of the Earth. This piece was just a lovely, lilting prayer of thanksgiving, in contrast to the assertiveness of the previous song.
Dr. Richard Nance, artistic director of the Civic Chorus from 1985 – 1992 and now at Pacific Lutheran University, directed the Gloria from Haydn’s Paukenmesse, or, as it is sometimes called, Mass in the Time of War.
This work was written in 1796 during Austria’s war with revolutionary France. The virtual absence of martial overtones has led some critics to maintain that the piece is really anti-war in sentiment.
Regardless, this work is pure Poppa Haydn, textbook classical and grandiloquent. A protracted baritone solo by Lee Kindle was answered by the chorus and soprano Paige Brown. The cello of Russell Steadman complimented the piano of Dr. Noel-Paul Laur. who accompanied the Master Chorale in all of the numbers this evening.
It was under Richard Nance’s leadership that the Civic Chorus, teaming with the WTAMU University Chorale and the Amarillo Symphony, performed Beethoven’s Ninth. Thirty years would elapse before the Ninth would again grace an Amarillo audience.
Dr. Steven Weber, presently choral director at Wayland Baptist University, was artistic director of the Amarillo Master Chorale for twenty-four years, conducted the singers in two numbers.
The first, Where Your Bare Foot Walks, is based on a Coleman Bark’s translation of Rumi and very benedictive in nature. The song becomes a gaggle of co-existing parts, like the tongues of men, which coalesce to swell in unison.
The second work, Let Peace Then Still the Strife by Mack Wilberg, as the title suggests, is a beautiful prayer for peace. Opening with a first tenor lead, the lyricism becomes strongly hymnal.
Dr. Dale Roller, who as chairman of the music department at Amarillo College, oversaw AC’s affiliation with the Civic Chorus, directed the final number, The Lord Bless You and Keep You by Peter C. Lutkin, with music provided in the program.
Dr. Fryml invited all former singers with the group to join the AMC on stage, and perhaps ten emerged from the audience. On a personal note, after thirty years, my bass sounded pretty good. Of course, I was standing next to Steven Weber.
This concert fulfilled a noble vision while celebrating the impact of all those who have contributed their time and talent these last four decades.
Amarillo can be justly proud of its Meistersingers, whose music ranks as professional quality. These glorious sounds only enhance Amarillo’s artistic aura, enabling us to say as the 2019/2020 arts season is upon us: “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!“