Musicians and audiences alike love themed concerts, and you can find them any time of the year. But when it comes to enchanting and immersive artistic experiences, nothing beats a contemplative Holiday concert. On Tuesday night, Elon University's Camerata gave a lovely "Celebration of Light" in Elon's beautiful Whitley Auditorium.
Leading the Camerata was Elon's Director of Choral Activities Stephen Futrell. Between choral movements, two beloved and recently retired members of the Elon University community provided readings and contemplative music. University Chaplain Emeritus Richard W. McBride (ret. 2009) provided poetic and scriptural texts, accompanied by University Organist Mary Alice Bragg (ret. 2015).
The event was so beautifully cohesive and seamless that it's difficult to discuss any single aspect as a highlight. However, there were some significant details that contributed to the concert's warm and reverent mood.
The small size of the Elon Camerata is an important aspect of their sound. A large choir can produce floor-shaking fortes and lush, glowing pianissimos. But a small choir of skilled individuals has a crisp and transparent sound very well suited to the Holiday atmosphere of wonder. The two dozen or so members of the Camerata each auditioned for their place in the choir, and their elite level of skill was apparent: theirs is an extremely tight and precise choral sound.
The program's format was also very effective. As previously mentioned, a capella choral works alternated with readings accompanied by organ. The audience, as requested, held their applause for the end, creating a seamless out-of-time experience.
As for repertoire, there wasn't a weak moment. All of the pieces were well chosen and performed with tenderness. The standouts included "A Glimpse of Snow and Evergreen" by Vijay Singh (the musician, not the golfer) and Maurice Durufle's "Tota Pulchra Es."
The closing selection, Randall Thompson's "The Best of Rooms," provided a transcendent finale. Like Thompson's famous choral work "Alleluia," this piece features lush 20th-century harmonies cast in clean, classical counterpoint — a challenge for any choir. Even at the end of their program, the singers maintained their stamina and focus.
Far more impressive than any particular detail of the performance was the general mood and flow achieved by the performers. The atmosphere of quiet contemplation was never lost, even when the choir was at its loudest. Bragg's gentle organ improvisations brought the choir smoothly from one key to the next without interfering with the intelligibility or solemnity of McBride's readings.
Even among North Carolina's wealth of fine collegiate musicians and the numerous holiday concerts they provide, Elon's "Celebration of Light" was a beautiful standout performance. Bravi!