Arts & Entertainment

Christmas concerts highlight Indy’s vibrant choral community

December 23, 2016

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I had the distinct pleasure of attending two superb back to back Christmas concerts last weekend. One featured the Indianapolis Men’s Chorus, in “Home for Christmas,” Friday, Dec. 16,  at Marian University Theater and the other was “Festival of Carols” presented by the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir at the Palladium, Saturday, Dec. 17. Herein are reviews.

“Home For Christmas” – Indianapolis Men’s Chorus

It’s clear that IMC artistic director Greg Sanders has learned a thing or two based on his experience as vocal director the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s “IPL Yultetide Celebration.” The annual event which is an Indy tradition, is noted for its stellar entertainment, slick production values and high caliber talent. The IMC holiday concert, though produced on a much smaller scale, mirrored some of those same qualities as  those exhibited in “Yuletide.” Since Sander’s arrival at IMC, the organization has heightened the artistic quality of the chorus and nowhere was it more evident than in “Home for Christmas.”

"Home for Christmas"

“Home for Christmas” – Courtesy of the Indianapolis Men’s Chorus. Used by permission.

The concert featured a mix of holiday pop songs presented during a very upbeat Act 1 and traditional Christmas carols during Act 2 which was a bit more somber. White dinner jackets worn by the 40 plus singers in the first act and black tuxedos worn by them in the second act reflected the differing tones of each.

Accompanying the IMC was a superb band consisting of D.J. Smith on piano; Kurt Von Schakel, organ; Conner Green, bass; and Cameron Bailey on drums. Including bands in IMC concerts is another innovation Sanders has made during his tenure at IMC and is one that has strengthened the chorus’ artistic product. Another very effective production element added for this concert was miked sound.  Admittedly, I am a purist when it comes to live choral, musical theater and opera singing, but I was very impressed with the amplification of the chorus’ vocals. Kudos go the whoever (a credit was no included in the printed program)  manned the sound board.

Exhibiting showmanship, with some more polished than others, the chorus as a whole, sparkled during Act 1 with such holiday favorites as It’s Beginning to Look a Like Christmas”; “”Silver Bells”; “This Christmas” featuring Pierre Perez, Brad Thompson, and Patrick Kunz; I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” with soloist Jon Edwards; and the finale, featuring Pierre Perez, David Barnhouse, Jared McElroy and David Kimes who sang a medley of holidays hits

Members of IMswing, which included Josh Cox, Greg Disney-Britton, Andrew Gault, Drew Hedges, Noah Katz, John Neubauer and Avery Tucker were delightful as they tapped danced to “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” by Leon Jessel.  Though slightly flawed by a few missteps, the IMC small group’s act was a crowd favorite.

"Home for Christmas" - Courtesy of the Indianapolis Men's Chorus. Used by permission.

“Home for Christmas” – Courtesy of the Indianapolis Men’s Chorus. Used by permission.

Act 2  was performed on a set with a church-like ambience that included a faux circular, rose patterned, stained glass window suspended center stage above the chorus, choir stalls, and gobo lighting suggesting large stained glass windows which flanked the stage. Highlights included “African Noel/Go Tell it On the Mountain” with soloist Drew Hedges; ” “I Wonder As I Wonder”; “Shepherd’s Pipe Carol,” by John Rutter; “The First Noel,” and “Good Night”/”Silent Night” with soloist Joe Cehovin, which closed the concert.

After the intermission, IMC president George Hanlin remarked that with post-election hate crimes increasing, their is no local organization, with its mission of inclusiveness more relevant. “Home for Christmas,” was indeed, a fine example of the role that the IMC plays as an arts organization that not only offers top drawer entertainment but also an inspiring dose of hope.

For tickets and information about the Indianapolis Men’s Chorus 201602917 season visit indianapolismenschorus.org.

“Festival of Carols” – Indianapolis Symphonic Choir

"Festival of Carols"

“Festival of Carols” – Courtesy of Indianapolis Symphonic Choir. Used by permission.

It’s safe to say that the Indianapolis Symphonic Choirs, celebrating its 80th Anniversary season, is the gold standard when it comes to choral music in Central Indiana and is one of the most respected musical institutions in the country.  The choral partner of the Indianapolis Symphonic Orchestra, the ISC pulls out all of the stops for its annual “Festival of Carols” concert, and this year’s edition was no exception. Led by conductor Eric Stark, the 200-member ISC was joined by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra for the concert with featured soprano Syliva McNair as soloist.

Performing in front of a sold out audience, at a venue blessed with pristine acoustics, the ISC and the distinguished ICO never sounded better performing together, a program that combined mostly familiar and a few classical Christmas carols and several pop offerings.

The grandness of the Palladium setting was only eclipsed by the majestic sounds emanating from the mouths of the talented, trained ISC singers joined by the accomplished ICO musicians who provided some thrilling moments during Act 1 as they sang such songs as “Joy to the World,”  “O Come, All Ye Faithful,”  and “Christmas Hosanna.”  The versatile McNair, projecting warmth and vitality, was charming when she sang “Mary Did You Know,” and “Go Tell it on the Mountain” in her bright-toned voice.

Sylvia McNair

Sylvia McNair – Courtesy of Indianapolis Symphonic Choir. Used by permission.

Highlights in Act 2 included McNair singing David Foster’s peace anthem, “Grown Up Christmas List,” which she introduced as her favorite Christmas song. Others were the ISC and ICO’s flawless renditions of “Ave Maria” byFranz Biebl, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” and “O Holy Night.”

Regrettably, the Brownsburg High School Madrigal singers who were to have performed as part of the ISC’s Spotlight Series, were unable to participate, due to inclement weather. In their place was ISC keyboard artist David Duncan, who captivated with his dynamic interpretation of “Carol of the Bells.”

The concert closed with the ISC and McNair leading the seemingly reticent, non-singing audience in the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah.” Performed within the magnificent confines of the Palladium, it was the perfect conclusion to a concert that personified the spirit of a joyful season.

For tickets and information about the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir’s 2016-2017 season visit indychoir.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Author

Tom Alvarez

Tom Alvarez is a freelance writer who has covered theater, dance, music and visual art for over 40 years. He has written for the Indianapolis Star, NUVO Newsweekly, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana and Examiner.com. Tom appears regularly as a contributor on WISH-Channel 8”s “Indy Style.” Also an actor/model, Tom is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

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