Wellington Youth Choir – stories for the telling

Wellington Youth Choir presents:

Choral Music from The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, The Prince of Egypt, and by Samuel Barber, Trad. (arr. Philip Wilby and Gustav Holst), Schumann, John Bratton and Jimmy Kennedy (arr. Andrew Carter), Eric Whitacre, Saint-Saëns (solo), David Williams, Anthony Hedges and the Lighthouse Family (arr. Isaac Stone)

Wellington Youth Choir, conducted by Isaac Stone

St. John’s in the City Church

Friday 24 May 2013

A varied concert of items telling stories was given by the Wellington Youth Choir, under its Acting Musical Director.  It began in great style, with ‘The Circle of Life’, from the movie The Lion King; the music by Elton John and Lebo M, with lyrics by Time Rice.  Drums and other percussion instruments plus whistling opened the piece, along with a very good male solo.  The choir had impressive control of dynamics.

Unfortunately a few singers had the heads so deeply in their music scores that perhaps the conductor could never catch their eyes.  However, I detected very few false entries; the choir was always disciplined and together.  An excellent soprano solo followed, and then Isaac Stone played the African drums in front of him – altogether, an exciting performance, with the choir providing a strong, confident and pleasing sound.

The special lighting was rather strange, plunging the back row of the choir into too much shadow.  Isaac Stone soon acknowledged that they couldn’t see the music, and so more lighting was provided, which had the added bonus that the audience could read their programmes.

Another piece from the movies, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ from the film of the same name, had Juliette Irwin as soprano soloist; the performance featured a lovely unified sound from the women, whereas the men had less of that quality, and sounded uncommitted.  However, rhythm and timing were spot on.  The men’s singing improved in the louder passages.  The quality of the harmony singing was usually fine, and in tune.

Barber arranged his Adagio for Strings for voices, as Agnus Dei, more than thirty years later; they are both extremely well-known.  This performance was rather faster than others I have heard, but proved to be a very effective and sensitive one.

The first of two arrangements of traditional songs, ‘Marianne’ and ‘I love my love’, was in six parts, but maintained good balance, attention to dynamics, and matching vowels.  Tuning and ensemble were again very fine.  Another feature of the choir was that for the most part, the singers stood very still, so there was no distraction from their concentration on getting across the mood of the songs superbly well.  The latter song was somewhat slower than I’ve heard it before, but this enabled the choir to bring out the delightful clashes of the interval of a second, and their beautiful resolution.  Difficult harmony set low in the voices appeared to present no problems.

‘The Recruit’ by Robert Schumann was new to me.  The performance was notable for outstanding attack and the absolutely unanimous movement of the words in this lively song.

Homemade refreshments in the interval were welcome, since the church was unheated – hard to take on an evening of 10deg. outside temperature.  Nevertheless, there was sizeable audience in attendance, but largely composed of family and friends, I suspect.  The only publicity I saw was on the website of the New Zealand Choral Federation.

The excerpt ‘Deliver Us’ from Stephen Schwarz’s The Prince of Egypt featured a violin solo, played with strong, euphonious tone by Vivian Stephens, accompanied by Isaac Stone on the piano.  That meant there w s no-one standing in front of the choir to bring the singers in – yet the men came in on the dot.  The women’s part was very low in the voice at the start; perhaps rather too low for young voices.  It brightened up later.

Isaac Stone said in his spoken introduction to ‘The Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ by Bratton and Kennedy, that it was a favourite of the choir – and it was soon easy to see why.  The excellent harmony arrangement by Andrew Carter was great fun, and gave plenty of scope for the singers to show their skills.

Eric Whitacre’s ‘Leonardo dreams of his flying machine’ was an extended piece, in more ways than merely length – its contemporary angular style and variety of writing would have challenged the choir.  There were awkward intervals and chords, and many difficult effects, symbolising the sounds of the dreamt-of flying machine.  It was hard to pick up most of the words, but the choir sustained the piece well.

Having a solo item gave the rest of the choir a break, but I found ‘Amour! Viens aider ma faiblesse!’ from Samson et Dalila somewhat out of place in this concert.  Natalie Williams sang, accompanied on the piano by Isaac Stone.  This was a big voice, and rich, suited to the mezzo-soprano role of Delilah.  The was sung in good French, but the movement from note to note was not always secure.  Mostly the tone was mellow and exemplary, but top notes were rather strained

Young composer David Williams, a former student of Isaac Stone’s (presumably at Tawa College, where the latter teaches) was present to hear his piece ‘As I fall’, a setting of a poem by Margery Snyder, a young American poet.  The idea of falling was realistically conveyed, and the piece was sung well, growing more and more in complexity and volume as it proceeded.  It was a skilled piece of writing.

‘Epitaph’ by Anthony Hedges was a humorous item, the words including “Where I’m going there is no eating so no washing up dishes”.  A close harmony item, it gave scope for some expressive singing from the choir.

Finally ‘High’ by the Lighthouse Family and arranged by Isaac Stone was a short item in which both men and women hummed for some passages.  It was sung with vigour, using the words well, and with great attention to rhythm

Nearly all the items were sung unaccompanied with no apparent difficulty.  This is an excellent choir.  The concert comes soon after a splendid one by the Wellington Youth Orchestra.  We have great young musicians, who deserve every encouragement.


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