A dazzling show and a smorgasbord of holiday music, great talent and an overflowing passion are what I found at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh. The Triangle Gay Men’s Chorus, directed by John-Philip Mullinax, performed their program, "Velvet Ribbons," with spectacular grandeur, and it was a performance worthy of a standing ovation, which was received with gracious humility and incited an encore.
John-Philip Mullinax’s control of his chorus was like that of King Triton’s control of the waves; they followed him exactly with crisp entrances, and powerful and moving dynamics. Mullinax weaved the threads of delicate harmonies with dexterity and dynamics that sent shivers down my spine. The choir itself was balanced and unified in both vowels and consonants, which is perhaps the most sought after accomplishment for choirs.
The concert repertoire itself was full of varied styles of holiday music, including a medley of Spanish carols in the first half of the concert. Conrad Susa’s Carols and Lullabies: Christmas in the Southwest had a folksong quality that came across very well from the performers on stage, which included not only the choir but also Joe Lupton on keyboard, Ed Stephenson on guitar, Les Webster on percussion, and two soloists from TGMC, Edward Farmer, bass, and Kevin Tillman, tenor. The song jumped from Spanish to Catalan to English and back again, the choir shifting back and forth seamlessly. I most enjoyed “A la Nanita Nana,” a softer piece with intricate harmonies
The second half of the concert picked up with "I Am In Need of Music" with words by Elizabeth Bishop and music by David L. Brunner. This was my personal favorite piece from the concert. The piano accompaniment reminded me of the music found in Hayao Miyazaki’s animated movies in scenes containing a mood of remorse, sadness, a determination for change in the future. The entire piece was beautifully delicate and moving in a way that reminds us why we perform music. The rest of the concert was a mixture of traditional and secular pieces, familiar and unfamiliar including “Hard Candy Christmas,” arranged by Chad Weirock, and “Hine Ma Tov,” by Sally K. Albrecht. All pieces were performed stunningly; my only concern was that, even though all vowels and consonants were in sync, some consonants were completely inaudible, leaving some doubt as to what was sung. In general, consonants just needed to be a bit crisper.
One of the most exciting moments for me was meeting Jay Althouse, whose setting of “Way Down in Bethlehem” will be printed by Alfred Music Publishing in 2010. Althouse was present to see his composition performed by TGMC to whom it is dedicated. Sally K. Albrecht was also present.
The concert ended on a humorous note befitting TGMC, including cheering, Christmas colored pom-poms, and choreography during “It’s Our Christmas Cheer!,” a fantabulous number that really got the crowd excited, so excited indeed that the audience needed an encore to calm back down. All in all, an astounding performance. I cannot wait to attend their next concert in March.