December 21, 2019: WTAMU Christmas Concert

WTAMU Combined Choirs
Symphony Orchestra
Karl Jenkins Gloria I

Gloria! Music of the Christmas Season, the much-anticipated WTAMU choir and orchestra concert was held twice on December 8 in the now world-class acoustical space of Northern Recital Hall. The performance did not disappoint.

The orchestra began with something of a Christmas prime time musical icon, Overture to Miracle on 34th St, followed by a complete volte face, the Ave Maria by Vladimir Vavilov. Though of disputed attribution, the silky soprano solo, sung by Victoria Loustaunau, shows why this piece ranks in the trio of reigning Aves, along with Gounod and Schubert.

The transition from orchestra to choir was to the audience singing of Angels We Have Heard on High. Amazing how much grander the sound became as the WT Chorale filled the risers.

The choir’s portion featured a pure pullensque (< Dr. Sean Pullen: Director”) setup. The singers first delighted the audience by his own own arrangement of Jingle Bells, followed by Rachmaninoff’s first movement from his All Night Vigil, commonly mistranslated as Evening Vespers.

Immediately the listener was drawn into the majestic spiritual aura of Russian Orthodoxy, with its resonant bass and powerful harmonies, all clarified by the new world-class acoustics.

The choir sang in Russian and without music. Their delivery showed their potential to sing all fifteen movements. Wonder how many other collegiate choirs, not from Cowboy Country, capable of rising to this challenge? Lemme think: try zip!

Then, to three verses of The First Noel, the audience entertained the choirs as they exited, leaving the orchestra in sole possession of the stage.

This time the Symphonic Orchestra played Chaconne in E Minor by Dietrich Buxtehude, an influential German composer who once inspired a young Bach to walk 250 miles just to be in his company and learn.

Late in life and about to retire, Buxtehude offered his job as church organist to Handel, on condition that Georg Frederic marry Dietrich’s oldest daughter. Handel left the next day.

The oeuvre of the composer remains large, though much has been lost. The Chaconne, originally for organ, has been variously orchestrated. The version played tonight was by Carlos Chavez who included wind instruments.

Though a Baroque piece, the swelling melodic interplay evokes tendencies of the Romantic era. The influence on Bach, especially his Toccata and Fugue resonates in this work which built to a magnificent crescendo.

Bravos to both Bartley (Dr. Mark Bartley: Director Symphonic Orchestra) and Buxtehude: a bravura performance!

The last two numbers, with combined choirs and orchestra and composed by Welshman Karl Jenkins, were interesting choices with compelling messages.

The Armed Man, subtitled A Mass for Peace, was drawn from the Ordinary Mass and unabashedly anti-war, with the Benedictus seraphically intoning “Peace on Earth.” What message could be more appropriate for a fractured planet?

The piece featured a serene opening that continued for about a third of the length with female voices softly singing Benedictus, then gradually joined by the males.

At the two-thirds mark all singers join in a powerful Hosanna in Excelsis which then softens to the opening Benedictus.

The Randall High School Chorale sang with the soon-to-be professional collegiates with both comfort and confidence. Probably a number will decide, based on this experience, to commit to WTAMU.

The final number was The Proclamation from Jenkin’s Gloria I. The piece opens with a strong brassy, percussive assertion, with the females first singing out Gloria followed by the males. Jenkins apparently believes in ladies first in both manners and music.

Then the piece, at Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis, conveys a very languid and reassuring mood only to return to the emphatic dynamics of the opening. The work truly evoked a celebration.

So what could be more appropriate for the final sing-along than four stanzas of Joy to the World, followed by a choral coda and loud applause?

From Rachmaninoff to Buxtehude to Jenkins with caroling to satiety – only in the Panhandle and once a year at WTAMU.

Exiting into the cold High Plains night, warmed by Christmas cheer and buoyed by the hope of “Peace on Earth,” we can all be grateful to the Music Department at WTAMU and their special role to help “Keep Amarillo Artsy, Keep Austin Weird; Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”

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