Review of Carnegie Hall Concert, 22 June 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.

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

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.”

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents “Under the Western Sky” in Review
by Frank Daykin for New York Concert Review; New York, NY

Read entire review at…


By Edward Reichel |

SALT LAKE SYMPHONY and UTAH VOICES, Libby Gardner Concert Hall, April 26

As a young man the Swiss composer Ernest Bloch wasn’t particularly religious. It wasn’t until much later in life that he embraced his Jewish roots. And finally in his 50s, Bloch’s testament to his faith found voice in Avodath Hakodesh (Sacred Service), a profoundly powerful and personal statement that ranks among the major orchestral/choral works of the 20th century.

Salt Lake Symphony, Utah Voices celebrate Beethoven

By Catherine Reese Newton | The Salt Lake Tribune

It was standing room only Saturday in Libby Gardner Concert Hall as the Salt Lake Symphony teamed up with the up-and-coming Davis County-based Utah Voices in celebration of Beethoven.

The evening’s main event was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Though this symphony is best-known for its grand “Ode to Joy” choral finale, most of the heavy lifting comes from the orchestra.

The community-based Salt Lake Symphony played valiantly under its music director, Robert Baldwin. There were a few rough patches, but there were also passages that sounded truly inspired. The volunteer musicians played with determination and joy throughout the symphony’s hour-plus running time. The woodwinds, and the bassoon playing of Ryan Van Liere in particular, were especially impressive.

The approximately 140 singers of Utah Voices clearly put a lot of preparation into this concert. They sang the Schiller text that closes Beethoven’s Ninth in the original German, projecting its inspiring message forcefully. They also demonstrated excellent balance, unwavering focus and contagious conviction, living up to the evening’s billing of “Glorious Beethoven.”

The four soloists — soprano Jennifer Larson, mezzo Kirsten Gunlogson, tenor Robert Breault and baritone Steven Meredith — were all solid, though balance among them was sometimes iffy. The jaunty “Turkish” verse, which Breault sang with gusto amid infectious percussion, was a highlight.

Utah Voices’ conductor Michael Huff led orchestra, chorus and soloists in a vigorous performance of the Gloria from Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” to open the concert.

Peter Verschoor of Salt Lake City

Dear Artistic Staff and Choir,
The beauty of your performance of “Messiah” was unsurpassed by any renditon I’ve ever heard.
The lively tempo and gorgeous balance in the orchestra and choir were superior.
The choruses were sung with such clarity and polish that tears fell down my cheeks during the “Hallelujah Chorus”.
Libby Gardner Hall did justice to you–or was it the other way around?
A+ hands down.

Peter Verschoor
Salt Lake City, UT

Utah Voices sings ‘Messiah’ with spirit conviction

The Salt Lake Tribune

December always brings a full slate of “Messiahs” to the Wasatch Front, and Utah Voices — a relative newcomer to the state’s choral scene — made a noteworthy contribution to the ranks this year.

The 166-voice volunteer choir was founded in summer 2009; over this past Thanksgiving weekend, about half its members participated in a large-forces performance of the Handel oratorio in New York’s Carnegie Hall. This head start resulted in generally well-polished performances of the oratorio’s soaring choruses on Monday; the singers of Utah Voices followed conductor Michael Huff attentively, with only one miscue to speak of. All through the evening, from a buoyant reading of “And the Glory of the Lord” until the final “Amen,” they sang with spirit and conviction.

Monday’s performance in Libby Gardner Concert Hall was an interesting mix of old and new performance practices. A chamber-size pickup orchestra accompanied the large-ish chorus; Huff did an expert job keeping the forces balanced.

Many of the rhythms were smoothed out, recalling “Messiahs” of years past — and the continuo part was played on a synthesizer. The Handel score was trimmed in the interest of time, but only a couple of the transitions — such as the one between the baritone aria “Why do the nations so furiously rage together” and the tenor recitative “He that dwelleth in heaven” — were particularly jarring.

Of the soloists, tenor Robert Breault gave the most polished performance; his laser-focused pianissimos were most impressive, and his use of ornamentation was always tasteful.

But it was mezzo-soprano Mary Ann Dresher who seemed to make the most genuine emotional connection to the music and text, whether in her exuberantly ornamented aria “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion” or her deeply moving “He was despised.”

Soprano Cindy Dewey brought dramatic flair to the musical telling of the Nativity story and the ever-popular “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” and Shane Warby used his light, agile baritone to especially fine effect on the simmering “Why do the nations rage.”

Utah Voices sing out heartily in ‘Carmina’

Breault’s ‘roasting swan’ is highlight of cantata — Catherine Reese Newton of the Salt Lake Tribune reports, Utah Voices, the new chorus on the block, seems determined to make a big splash. After introducing itself in December with Handel’s “Messiah,” the 170-voice ensemble followed up on Friday with another choral blockbuster, Carl Orff’s celebrated secular cantata “Carmina Burana.”

The chorus gave an enthusiastic and generally well-polished performance under the tag-team batons of artistic director Michael Huff and associate conductor Kelly DeHaan. Each conductor took his turn at the keyboard, joining assistant accompanist Natalie Campbell in the two-piano reduction of the score, when not on the podium; an impressive array of percussionists joined in at key moments.

Soprano Jennifer Larson and baritone Christopher Clayton were appealing as the young lovers in the cantata’s third section, “The Court of Love.” Clayton also had an amusing turn as the Abbot of Cockaigne in the tavern scene. But it was tenor Robert Breault who stole the show with his portrayal of the roasting swan. His disheveled appearance and hammy antics delighted the full-capacity Libby Gardner Concert Hall crowd — but, most important, his singing was impeccable…