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For the third year running, the Greenville Chorale joined forces with the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra to present a concert of seasonal music. "A Carolina Christmas" was performed first in Greenville, SC and then in Hendersonville. The Hendersonville event, at Mud Creek Baptist Church, is reviewed here.
The sophisticated architecture of the Mud Creek Baptist Church sanctuary makes for intimacy and short sight lines for an audience of 1500, while the capacious stage easily holds the full orchestra and more than 100 choristers. From previous concerts, I know the engineering of the space leads to good acoustics on the main floor. For this event, I tested the balcony. With a ceiling that is dropping from its domed height and with glass panels at its railed edge, the balcony provides a challenge...and it meets the challenge. While the sound in the third row of the balcony may be less free than below, there are no quirks and no objectionable resonances.
Bingham Vick, Jr., conductor of the Greenville Chorale, is a colleague at Furman University of Thomas Joiner, music director of the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra, so the joining of forces is somewhat natural. In previous years, the two have shared conducting duties. Maestro Joiner was out of the country this December, so Maestro Vick conducted the complete concert, including the orchestral pieces.
The program was a traditional and familiar one, with only one exception, the humorous "Twelve Days AFTER Christmas" by Frederick Silver (in which the chorus explains what happened to all those items, that "Twelve Days of Christmas" has gifted the narrator. The pear tree was cut down; the fowl were cooked, etc.) The audience was invited to sing along in four of the carols. The family-friendly program drew a near-capacity audience, a welcome contrast to the anemic audience size of many events during the current financial depression. (Our government has saved financial institutions while ignoring the soul of the country. During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration employed artists to create art and musicians to perform music, as part of the recovery plan. Why don't we do the same?)
What were the high points of this program? Firstly, the Jan Sandstrom arrangement of Michael Praetorius's "Lo, how a rose e'er blooming." Sung a capella, this involves a pianissimo humming by the large vocal ensemble while a twelve-person chorale presents the words. The composition is a tribute to the ability of a pianissimo to command attention; the audience was remarkably quiet during the performance, with no coughs, no rustling of programs, just rapt attention. The brass section of the HSO was notable in the "Fanfare for Christmas Day" by Randol Alan Bass and the woodwinds equally good in "Waltz of the Flowers" by Tchaikovsky.
Bingham Vick, Jr. is a sophisticated choral conductor with a masterful ability to communicate with his chorus. It therefore surprised me to see "no left hand" for long stretches of "Greensleeves" and a frankly pedestrian direction of the "Waltz of the Flowers" with no subtlety in shaping the sound. Apparently communicating brilliantly with vocalists does not necessarily mean communicating that well with an instrumental ensemble. Tom Joiner would have done better.