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The American Voice Soars in Santa Clara Chorale’s “Ages of America” Concert

The American Voice Soars in Santa Clara Chorale's

The winter concert of the Santa Clara Chorale’s 52nd season, “Ages of America” was an eclectic songbook of choral and solo pieces by American composers from the 1700s through the 1900s. Representing both the diversity and the commonality of American music, the program included spirituals, selections from musicals and opera, and Hebrew love songs.

“Seeking makes the American voice unique,” says chorale artistic director Scot Hanna-Weir. “From the beginning of America, composers were trying to find an American identity in their sounds. They struggled to find an American voice.”

Accompanied by Dan Cromeenes, the more than 50 voices of the chorale reflected this quest for an American voice, beginning with “Hear My Prayer,” a hymn-like, three-part spiritual by Moses Hogan. All voices combined to sing “Zion’s Walls” by Aaron Copeland, “David’s Lamentation” by William Billings, and “No More Beneath th’ Oppressive Hand” by Stephen Jenks. They captured the rowdiness and frontier spirit of western expansion in “The Settling Years” by Libby Larsen.

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Tenor Christopher Fernandez was powerful as he sang Stephen Sondheim’s “Being Alive” from the musical Company. Other well-known composers on the program were Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin.

Some of the solo pieces were, perhaps, more familiar than their composers. “And This is My Beloved” from Kismet, by collaborators Robert Wright and George Forrest, was sung by soprano Sara Folchi. “The Willow Song” from the opera The Ballad of Baby Doe by Daniel Moore was sung by soprano Ivy Depner and Samuel Barber’s “Sure on this Shining Night” by soprano Kathleen Pheneger.

The chorale was accompanied by a string quartet for five Hebrew love songs, written in Hebrew by Hila Plitmann, a young soprano who studied at Julliard. The songs were set to music by Eric Whitacre, the love-smitten young classmate who later married Plitmann. Katie Rohrbach sang the soprano solo for the chorale.

The concert ended as it began—with spirituals: “Abide with Me” by Hogan and the lively “Ain’-a That Good News!” by William Dawson.

The all-volunteer Santa Clara Chorale’s faithful and appreciative audience of family and friends had a choice of pleasing venues for the concert—March 14 at Mission Santa Clara and March 16 at the First Baptist Church of Palo Alto.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the concert—the variety and liveliness and closing with a spiritual note. The soloists were excellent,” says Myra Sternlieb from San Jose at the Sunday afternoon performance.

“My friends and I enjoy the concert as a day out. It’s reasonably priced, and parking is no problem. Then we go out for dinner afterwards,” says Dorothy Funk from Cupertino. “We have a personal connection with some of the chorale members.”

For the May 17 season finale, one performance only, the Santa Clara Chorale, the choirs of Santa Clara University, and the San Jose Chamber Orchestra will jointly perform John Corigliano’s Fern Hill and Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Lord Nelson Mass,” juxtaposing “Something Old and Something New.”

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