Dallas — On Oct. 21, the Santa Fe Desert Chorale gave a stunning concert at Highland Park United Methodist Church while on a North Texas tour. It was of local interest because Joshua Habermann has been the music director since 2009. He is also the Music Director of the Dallas Symphony Chorus and a renowned singer as well.
The Santa Fe Desert Chorale is a professional chamber choir made up of 24 voices. In Santa Fe, the chorale received 2006 Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. In 2016, the Santa Fe Reporter named it the Best Choral Group in Santa Fe.
The chorale’s mission is to explore Hispanic and Native American music as well as performing the music of out time. In addition to presenting seven world premieres, they have commissioned 22 works by 18 composers, most of which are American. In addition, another seven works have been given their American premieres.
The first impression of the chorale, bright faces all spiffed out in tuxedos and black floor-length dresses, is how young they all are. They could easily be mistaken for the elite chamber choir at a top-rated university with a distinguished music department. Once they began, this impression vanished. They are obviously a carefully chosen and meticulously rehearsed professional chorale.
Their intonation was right on. None of the a cappella work flatted or sharped, a common problem among such groups. The blend was generally good, although a soprano voice occasionally was more prominent than one would wish.
Habermann is a subtle conductor. His beat is contained within the confines of his body. Bigger movements were saved for just the right moment. My seat allowed me to see his face, a choristers view as it were. Most of his energy is communicated by his very expressive face rather than in his expressive, but minimal, podium technique.
The music on the program, titled American Voices, was a study in American diversity. There was some music of the past. From the 1800s, they sang some selections from the Shaker music tradition, even matching the throat singing technique that was common at the time. But the bulk of the program consisted of contemporary works by some of the top choral composers of our time. The familiar list of names included Stephen Paulus, Sydney Guillaume, Morten Lauridsen and Shawn Kirchner. There was also a world premiere of a work by Jake Runestad, Reflections based on writings by Henry David Thoreau.
The press release noted that Refections is “filled with the influence of traditions from the diverse cultures that make up our community.” The same could be said about the entire program.