Sunday evening, April 26, Helzberg Hall in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts became an extension of Village Presbyterian Church, but not for the staging of your father’s Buick, er, church musical. The presentation was more than the quality needed to fill the seats in that chamber; Village in the City was breathtaking.
To adequately credit the participants’ backgrounds would leave little space for discussing the music, but some space must be given to credit the Village Church investment in this event, dedicated to the glory of God, and the support of the Dominican Republic Medical Partnership, which is also a well-planned, effective organization. All donations received went to this effort; the expenses of the hall, musicians, publicity, etc., were paid by sponsors. Bev Chapman (also known from KMBC) made the appeal, calling on her own experiences with the team in the Dominican Republic.
The concertmaster of The Village Chamber Orchestra was Elizabeth Suh Lane, founder and violinist of the fifteen-year-old Bach Aria Soloists, former first violinist in the London Symphony Orchestra, and has had acclaimed performances with fine orchestras and top conductors around the world. Dr. Elisa Williams Bickers, harpsichordist with the Bach Aria Soloists, is Principal Organist at Village Church, and a busy recitalist. Dr. Keith Benjamin, Professor of Trumpet at UMKC, busy recitalist, adjudicator, and frequent go-to-guy for the Kansas City Symphony, was simply listed in the program by name.
Trilla Ray-Carter, cellist and orchestra contractor, is the founder and director of the Kansas City Baroque Consortium, and co-founder of the Jewell Early Music Summer Festival, as well as a key member of several ensembles around the area and adjunct professor at William Jewell College. The two vocal soloists, along with other singers, are Village music interns, a program established more than a decade ago; tonight’s conductor, Matthew Christopher Shepard, is a graduate of the Village internship program, as well as two master’s degree programs.
Choral forces included the Village Camber Choir, about 45 members, the Baker University Choir, about 35 members, and the 70+ strong Benedictine College Concert Chorale. By no means have all of the strengths of this assembly been listed; these are just a few examples of the extent the planners went to stock the stage with world-class talent. Village’s Chamber Choir was prepared by Bram Wayman, Cathy Crispino prepared the Baker group, and Dr. Sean Teets prepared the chorale fro Benedictine College.
Festina Lente by Arvo Pärt (b 1935) is a brooding adagio for orchestra, which begins somberly, but its lengthy, intertwined strains build over its few minutes into a massive plaint. Even the optional harp part was there. It dissolves into a diminuendo, comes back, as a departing whale, and finally ends, unresolved.
Josef Gabriel Rheinberger (1839-1901) composed two organ concertos; No.2 , Op. 177 (1894) is less heard, but was given a great representation by Elisa Bickers on the Kauffmann Organ with the orchestra. The magnificent sounds begin immediately after a few huffs from the orchestra, and continue. Dr. Bickers remarked that she prefers this over the composer’s other organ concerto. Sometimes the organ became part of the orchestra, adding heft. Other passages featured the organ with light orchestra, and antiphonally with the ensemble. Along with sweeping fanfares, could be heard folk songs providing melodic material. Screen composers probably studied Rheinberger.
After the intermission came the featured work of the evening, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ (1872-1958) Dona Nobis Pacem, A Cantata for Soprano and Baritone Soli, Chorus and Orchestra. It began with a thunderous soprano (Alannah Garnier) dialogue with the orchestra, then joined by chorus, on the Agnus Dei text from the third repetition in the Latin mass, Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, Dona nobis pacem (Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, Grant us peace).
This text is normally scored with a less frenetic sound, but in the context of of Walt Whitman’s three observations of the horrors of war that follow, the cacophony is quite appropriate. Swirls of music, perhaps musically painting the sulfured smoke of a battlefield carry Whitman’s tales of man making sorrow for man.
Baritone Devin D. Burton began the redemption section with the words of John Bright, describing the salvation of the Israelites in Egypt from the Death Angel. The chorus sang, with timpani and brass, the balm in Gilead complaint from the prophet Jeremiah.
Burton came back with words from Daniel, ‘O man greatly beloved, fear not, peace be unto thee, be strong, yea be strong.’ His sound was fully prophetic, as to be delivering God’s message from a heavenly parapet. Devin quoted Haggai, ‘The glory of this latter house shall be greater than the former . . . .’
The chorus then quoted several divine promises from the Old and New Testaments, ending with ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good-will toward men. Then, in a perfect bookend style, Alannah began a reprise of ‘Dona nobis pacem,’ which was expanded by the chorus and orchestra into a triumphant conclusion, based on God’s promises.
Conductor Matthew Christopher Shepard must be given high praise for managing well the fine resources assembled in Helzberg Hall; the fine performance by such heady talent was a credit to the personal knowledge and humility of the man on the podium.