The Empire City Men’s Chorus (ECMC) began its 25th anniversary season with “Revelry,” a bright and gay—in several senses of the word—holiday concert, at Church of the Holy Apostles in Chelsea on December 9, made up of audience favorites from its past quarter of a century of singing. The concert was slated to be repeated on December 11. Artistic Director Vince Peterson was on the podium and principal pianist Sean Forte was at the keyboard.
Under Peterson’s baton, the chorus hailed the season with an a cappella Latin-language Renaissance “O Regem Coeli—Natus Est Nobis” (O King of Heaven, Today Is Born a Savior), mellifluous and swelling, by Tomas Luis de Victoria, and with Forte at the piano, a bilingual “Christmas Comes Anew” (“Noël Nouvelet,”), by Mark Riese, in English and French, bustling, reverent, and haunting.
ECMC chamber ensemble Otto delivered an affecting “Simple Gifts,” the Shaker song by Elder Joseph Brackett, as arranged by Stephen Caracciolo, harmonizing with humming against singing and singing, in the various voices, against singing. ECMC and Forte returned for a hushed and uplifting “Choose Something like a Star,” Randall Thompson’s setting of Robert Frost’s poem, guest conducted by chorus tenor two Ted Cherney. Closing the first half of the performance, guided by Peterson, were a joyous “Al Hanisim” (For the miracles), on this last night of Chanukah, in Elliot Z. Levine’s arrangement), and exultant Nigerian carol “Betelehemu” (Bethlehem), in Yoruba, as arranged by Wendell Whalum, a cappella, with some voices quietly intoning the refrain of “Betelehemu” as others continued with the verses, and as the song turned upbeat, joining drummer Mike Ramsey with percussive clapping, with the audience assisting, with tenor two Carlos Jimenez’s polished solo a highlight.
Assisted by harpist Tomina Parvanova, Empire City opened the second half of the concert with recent gay ancestor Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols,” originally written for treble voices and here sung by tenors, baritones, and basses. The choristers chanted the Procession (Vespers for Christmas Day), “Hodie Christus natus est” (Today Christ is born), simply and purely, and repeated it for the Recession. They welcomed the “heavenly King” with a lively “Wolcome Yole!” and wondered, dulcetly and with awe, that “There is no rose (of such vertu).” Two striking first tenors sang solos, Matthew Robbins, with the harpist, for mystical night song “That Yongë Child,” and Kameron Ghanavati, with the chorus, for gentle lullaby “Balulalow.” A sonorous and propulsive “As Dew in Aprille” was followed by “This Little Babe,” and Parvanova’s wistful and lustrous harp interlude. A crystalline “In Freezing Winter Night” featured solo lines by tenor two Jimmy Johnson and baritone Daniel Fiore. Tenor two Edward Angelo Enrique and tenor one Craig Goodwin-Ortiz de Leon shared an appealing duet, “Spring Carol.” And the full chorus gave thanks in a jubilant “Deo Gracias” before the closing Recession.
Baritone Tai Beckles and tenor one Ben Donahoo were soloists in a heartfelt rendition of spiritual “Everywhere I Go,” in an edition by Joseph H. Jennings of Chanticleer fame. A rich and soaring neo-Romantic a cappella “Ave Maria,” of Franz Biebl, also called for a small ensemble, behind us, angelically intoning the words of the “Angelus.”
A festive Carol Sing-a-long found us giving voice to “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “God Rest You Merry Genelemen,” and “Joy to the World,” with ECMC and Nathan Taylor at the organ. A quiet “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” what one might call the obligatory Judy Garland number, by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, from “Meet Me in St. Louis,” was the finale, under Peterson, with Forte.
ECMC’s season continues at Holy Apostles with “Retrospective,” on March 22 and 24, 2019, looking back over 25 years of men’s chorus music, led by Peterson and three past ECMC Directors, and at St. Bartholomew, “Resplendent,” its anniversary gala, on June 1. Visit www.empirecitymenschorus.org
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