Review: Utah Voices in DCINY's “Under the Western Sky” in Review [New York Concert Review, INC.]

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents “Under the Western Sky” in Review

DISTINGUISHED CONCERTS INTERNATIONAL NEW YORK (DCINY) PRESENTS “UNDER THE WESTERN SKY”
UTAH VOICES AND LEGACY BRASS ENSEMBLE; MICHAEL D. HUFF, DIRECTOR; CARRIE MORRIS, ACCOMPANIST
MARIACHI ESPUELAS DE PLATA; RAMON NIÑO III AND IMELDA MARTINEZ, CO-DIRECTORS
CRISTIAN GRACES, DCINY DEBUT CONDUCTOR; DISTINGUISHED CONCERTS SINGERS INTERNATIONALSTERN AUDITORIUM, CARNEGIE HALL; NEW YORK, NYJUNE 22, 2014

The program presented by DCINY under the umbrella title of “Under the Western Sky” was really three concerts in one, a rare treat for the enthusiastic audience.

The first half was called “Hometown Praise: Music From Utah,” featuring the Utah Voices, led by Michael D. Huff, accompanied by the Legacy Brass Ensemble and Carrie Morris, keyboard (and an unidentified organist). The large choir (approximately 110 members by my estimate) was perfectly prepared, in tune, with rich full tone that could produce a thrilling forte or whisper more confidentially at the softer dynamics. If you think “Utah choir” means only the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, you need to hear this group. Only a few times did they threaten to be overwhelmed, balance-wise, by the excellent brass players.

Their selections made one realize what a crucial role the sense of place plays in both faith and patriotism. Standouts included Kurt Bestor’s “Prayer of the Children,” a harrowing plea for peace based on the composer’s experience in Yugoslavia as a Mormon missionary, and Utah composer Leroy Robertson’s setting of “The Lord’s Prayer,” from his Oratorio from the Book of Mormon, NOT to be confused with the irreverent hit Broadway musical. The Irish folk song “Be Thou My Vision” arranged by the conductor, Mr. Huff, was beautifully done, with special contribution from Carrie Morris, finally getting to play the nine-foot Steinway instead of the electronic synthesizer she had been using prior. The section concluded with the rousing English folk song “Thou Gracious God, Whose Mercy Leads,” better known to some as “Oh Waly, Waly.”

After intermission, the tone shifted to a youthful emphasis. First came the charming Mariachi Espuelas de Plata, an award-winning high school group from North Side High School in Fort Worth, Texas. Their three pieces were done with suavity and great flair, using different combinations of the traditional violin, trumpet, guitar, one flute, and one harp, and some vocals.

They then made way for the Distinguished Concert Singers International, a sort of collective choir, indeed international, of all-treble voices from: South Carolina, Indiana, Honduras, California, Australia, Washington State, Norway, Maryland, and Oregon. These girls’ and (unchanged) boys’ voices were scrupulously prepared, each choir by its own regular conductor, before meeting the excellent DCINY debut conductor/composer Cristian Grases.

Much of their work involved the integration of eurhythmics, that method of instilling music in early childhood through the use of bodily movement. You could feel how comfortable everyone was with the complex arrangements, all of which were done with clear diction and excellent pitch and humor, with a choir about double the size of the Utah Voices.

Dr. Grases clearly has a flair for this work, and must be applauded for his care. He was honored with the world premiere of his own Gloria, a setting of the second portion of the Ordinary of the Catholic Mass. Dr. Grases’ is in Spanish, and each of the five sections is a rhythmic travelogue of Latin America, from Colombia to Puerto Rico, the Andes, Venezuela, and Cuba. The joyful bounce was surely appropriate for this most celebratory section of the Mass, even if the numbers did have a certain “sameness” to them, that’s just nit-picking on my part.

Earlier, the choir had imitated the wind, and the conductor invited the audience to join in as well, in “El Viento” from OperetaEcológica, by Dr. Grases’ teacher, Alberto Grau, whose clever reworking of “La Cucaracha” culminated with the extermination of the bug ( Dr. Grases himself) by a cute child imitating a bug spray can.

The entire afternoon was a multicultural and multi-musical celebration. Bravi!