By Philippa Kiraly
Seattle Men’s Chorus celebrated the end of its 30th anniversary year with a gala concert this past weekend at McCaw Hall. Together with its seven-year-old sister group, Seattle Women’s Chorus, it used the opportunity to enhance the occasion with a grand finale to the city’s three-month long tribute to Leonard Bernstein, joining him with colleague composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.
Both Friday’s and Saturday’s concerts were virtually sold out, the audiences in a mood to party and, as always, the Choruses delivered in spades.
What struck the mind first was the extraordinary discipline of the singers.
Don’t get me wrong. ‘Discipline’ may sound dull and worthy, but put 400-plus singers on stage together and a bunch of fidgeters would make it look like an anthill in turmoil. Few groups can camp it up better than these choruses. Here they stood, everyone’s hands by their sides or, in the case of the front, seated row, one hand on each knee, still for the duration of the performance.
There were no pages to turn. Throughout the almost three-hour concert, the performers sang from memory, sounding as fresh and alert at the end as they did at the start.
The conducting was shared between the artistic director of the two choruses, Dennis Coleman, and his assistants in each chorus, Eric Lane Barnes and Rhonda Juliano. As one was finishing the last chord of a song, the next conductor would slip onto the podium and smoothly take up the beat. The ASL interpreters worked similarly, with long time SMC signer Kevin Gallagher sharing his duties with Jody Mayer and Debra Westwood.
It all ran like clockwork, except when the surprise guest of the evening, Broadway star Elaine Stritch, was announced too early, but that didn’t matter at all.
Most theater goers know Bernstein was the musical genius behind “West Side Story,” but not everyone remembers that Sondheim wrote the lyrics. It was a given that many of those songs would be on the program, starting appropriately enough with “Something’s Coming” and “Tonight” and ending with “Somewhere,” the words of this last particularly poignant (‘a place for us”) in that these two choruses are predominantly gay and use their influence to make life easier and more accepting for young gays and transgendered people.
It has recently been announced that artistic director Coleman is one of six recipients (out of 459 nominees) of the 2010 Mayor’s Arts Award, which he will receive at Bumbershoot.