The Bel Canto Company from Greensboro furnished the “beautiful singing” for this Celebration Concert in the grand sanctuary of Edenton Street United Methodist Church. The evening capped the latest annual workshop sponsored by Hinshaw Music Company of Chapel Hill, wherein certain bright lights of the choral music world could shine upon the participants. This edition’s three honored guests shared conducting duties for the seventeen choral works on the program, all selections from Hinshaw’s catalog.
Speaking of which, no old pre-twentieth century choral classic was suffered to intrude on the evening. Each work was strictly up-to-now, with most of the composers present and able to take well-earned bows.
Bel Canto’s own conductor Welborn Young led the first set of five works. Featured here were Liz Doebler and Anthony Ballard, both members of the chorus. (This ensemble seems to be populated by members with “star power” of their own, as evidenced by the soloists and the overall precision of the group.) Particularly charming were the treble voices in “At Jesus’ Knee” by Anne-Marie Hildebrandt and all singers in Jay Althouse’s “In Bethlehem.” Serving as accompanist throughout the program was organist and pianist Adam Ward from Providence UMC in Charlotte. He had opened the proceedings with a stirring rendition of Richard Peek’s "Partita on Lobe Den Herren," a set of variations on that old tune demonstrating the tremendous power of the LèTourneau Pipe Organ. His accompaniment frequently rose as equal partner with the singers.
Next up was the widely honored Canadian conductor, Hilary Apfelstadt, a faculty member at the University of Toronto. This section was characterized by unusual and superior pieces. Violinists Gregorio Midero and Stephanie Silvestri, violist Noah Hock, and cellist Brian Carter joined Ward in actively accompanying “Kyrie” by James Green and Hildebrandt. Laura Stevens’ flute added to the emotional impact of “Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths,” the poignant text of W. B. Yeats set to music by Susan Naylor Callaway - “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” Tom Shelton contributed an authoritative update of a piece by Pergolesi, and Dan Forrest was represented by the huge “Over Havet” (Across the Sea), with soloist Karen Messina in lyricist Charles Anthony Silvestri’s testament to the indomitable human spirit – “…huddled in the shadow of Liberty. We’ve come so far across the sea.” Shonda Devine, Mary Virginia Dunham, Sara Teuting, and Jeremy Whitener provided much of the action in a jumping spiritual by Ken Berg.
After the intermission it was time for the third star guest, Carl Nygard. Anyone who has spent any time around choral music knows of this Pennsylvania-born composer’s manifold contributions to the genre, more than a hundred. After leading chorus and congregation in Robert Lau’s arrangement of “Holy, Holy, Holy,” he launched into seven of his own works. In the affecting and sorrowful “Elegy” for a lost friend, the text assured that “We’ll remember you…When the roses bloom in the garden…When the icy breath of winter and the silent snow paint the hill…You shall appear in memory warm and clear…” Nygard’s adaptation of “Psalm 86” featured the fine bass of Gerald Whittington. Soprano Maya Clausen did solo duty in the up-tempo “Rejoice in a Glorious Song.”
Hinshaw Music Company could scarcely have found a finer group than Bel Canto to demonstrate the company’s choral wares. And the attendees at the workshop were treated to the pinnacle of directing skills in Hilary Apfelstadt, Carl Nygard, and Welborn Young.