A HAPPY NOISE at Carnegie Hall
The outside temperature had dropped to wintery levels, but no one inside Carnegie Hall on Monday, December 6 was paying attention. The air was alive with the happy hum of people for whom it was the first time to return to the Hall since the start of the pandemic, greeting friends and speaking with the kind of exhilarated luminosity one doesn’t always hear in a concert hall. Everyone was happy to be back, happy to just sink into the red velvet seats and let the music bathe their ears.
That evening, the audience was treated to the sounds of the rightfully acclaimed MasterVoices choir. Known as the Collegiate Chorale when it was founded in 1941 and since 2013 under the direction of their superb artistic director and conductor, Tony Award winner Ted Sperling, the 100+ members of MasterVoices have presented “A happy noise“as the opening of the 80th season. They benefited from the abundant help of the charming soprano Mikaela Bennett, the fabulous a capella group Take 6, the wonderful Northwell Health Nurse Choir and a small versatile ensemble from some of the best instrumentalists of New York. Enthusiastic audience, there were a few hundred first responders invited to the room to cheer them all on.
There were several peak moments in the ninety-minute concert (played without an intermission). One of them arrived in the early evening. Randall Thompson would have been delighted to hear MasterVoices perform his magnificent “Alleluia“with nuance, grace and excellent pitch. The piece allowed the group to demonstrate their considerable choral skills, making everything that followed almost (but not) anti-climatic! More greatness was yet to come.
In fact, he came in the next selection. Juilliard-trained soprano Mikaela Bennett sang with clarity and precision in “May the brilliant seraphim“(from his oratorio, Samson). The highlight of this tune was his “duet” with Hugo Moreno on the baroque trumpet. This instrument is smaller than the standard trumpet and produces a much higher pitched sound. It goes exceptionally well with the soprano voice. Mr. Moreno and Mrs. Bennett captured all the joy and rapture in the air. Well done to both of you.
The exciting group Take 6 was an audience favorite, especially in “If we’ve ever needed the Lord before (we sure need him now)“There are some talented arrangers in this band. This song was arranged by Mervyn Warren. After their set came another highlight, that of Leonard Bernstein”Psalms of Chichester “.
This brief but major choral work had to have all hands on deck. Maestro Sperling kept the troops in hand. Their Hebrew diction was for the most part clear, the beautiful finish was hauntingly calm, and the outward movements were an exhilarating sonic ride. The second movement begins with a treble solo. Bernstein was pretty specific about using a single, unchanged male voice in this section, but he’s not easily found. Ms. Bennett sang the solo with her harp accompaniment (exquisitely played by Grace Paradise) and did a commendable job. Several members of the choir had short solos. Bravo tutti!
Because Hanukah fell right between Thanksgiving and Christmas like this gig, there just had to be a few Hanukah songs! Arranger Jeffrey Beigel has created a lively and intelligent group of mostly well-known tunes (“Fantastic Hanukkah”) for MasterVoices. They were as fun to listen to as they were to sing. Once again, the loyal instrumental group gave them excellent support, helped by the terrific arrangement!
Take 6, one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) a cappella men’s groups dating back to 1980, has audiences going wild with their crazy and fun take on “You are a villain, Mr. Grinch” arranged by member Mark Kibble and two other holiday songs. This group demonstrated why they are the winners of TEN Grammy Awards, several other NAACP awards, Dove Awards, and more. Their special blend of exceptional musicality, humor and unusually good mix of personalities all help to generate one or more exceptional moment in any concert. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to see them at Carnegie Hall. When the time comes for their next New York City appearance, run, don’t, at the box office!
For the last two issues of the evening, the Northwell Health Nurse Choir performed “You will be found” from the musical “Dear Evan Hansen ” and all equally opportune “Lean on me / Stand close to me “. The deeply moved public reserved a well-deserved standing ovation for them.
The festive evening ended with all the performers on stage to sing the traditional “Listen to the Herald Angels Sing ” arranged by Mark Kibble and Cedric Dent. It was a fitting ending to the concert, indeed, doing “A happy noise ” “loud” in the best possible way.
MasterVoices has more gigs coming up this season. A special note will be a portrayal of Stephen Sondheim “Anyone can whistle” on March 10, 2022 at Carnegie Hall. For more information, visit www.mastervoices.org or call 646.202.9623