Flower Mound — In a preview for their presentation at the Texas Choral Directors Association Convention later this month, the Dallas Chamber Choir previewed Refuge: Our Quest for Sanctuary and Meaning to an intimate audience Sunday at Flower Mound United Methodist Church.
Artistic director Jon L. Culpepper’s curation calls upon an eclectic mix of pieces, including two U.S. premieres and two original works by members of the choir (one of them being a world premiere). By invoking a multitude of musical styles and traditions—in six languages spanning three continents—the program provides a globally holistic approach towards understanding the universality of fear, self-doubt, hope, and redemption in the human experience. With humanity’s search for understanding, security, and purpose running through its thematic center, this concert develops a beautiful palette of tonal colors and textures.
Opening with the U.S. premiere of Ily Matthew Maniano’s Magnificat, the DCC kicks off the set with an energizing blend of musical legacies. The Latin text of the Magnificat, set against a rhythmic wooden-block percussive treatment, yields a new and exciting interpretation of an age-old Christian tradition. The featured world premiere, Duo Seraphim composed by DCC member Andrew Steffen, also draws from religious inspiration with Latin text. The vocally energetic arrangement sets text from the book of Isaiah in flourhshing, smooth lines that are equal parts rhythmic and lyrical.
Engaging cultural blends like this characterize the hour-long program, ebbing in and out of moments of high intensity and tender introspection. The Cloths of Heaven, a setting of poetry by William Butler Yeats composed by DCC member Mari Valverde, blends rich and lush choral harmonies with expressive piano accompaniment to convey the poet’s inner sanctuary of thoughts and dreams. Another notable arrangement in this set is Hyoyoung Ahn’s Niliriya. Characteristically pentatonic figures dance in quick, waltzy syncopations against a heartfelt mezzo-soprano solo to convey the ups and downs of spousal love.
Musically, the Dallas Chamber Choir executes Culpepper’s vision with marked sensitivity and thoughtfulness. Their navigation of the varying colors and textures throughout the program shows thorough preparation, though tonally the choir leans in and out of a balanced blend. They reconfigure their arrangement a number of times throughout, and some configurations work better than others.
Their presentation of Maniano’s “My God Is a Rock,” a traditional African-American spiritual, brought forth very clear stylistic choices that worked effectively overall, yet led to some pushy, weighted moments in the bombastic pair of trios toward the song’s conclusion.
Under Culpepper’s leadership, the choir was dynamically and rhythmically engaged. Perhaps most impressively, their interpretations of each cultural milieu proved quite convincing. In addition, the solo performances peppered throughout were consistent and strong. Notably, mezzo Shelby Stroud in Niliriyawas was expressively warm and resonant, while soprano Alie Lory and baritone De’Evin J. Johnson gave Thomas LaVoy’s “White Stones” a melancholic shimmer.
Aided by tight accompaniment from pianist Jim Wilson (Jordan Peek will accompany for TCDA performance), bassist Daniel Nix, and Matt Shaw on percussion, Culpepper and the DCC present a thoroughly moving set with Refuge: Our Quest for Sanctuary and Meaning. The weighty, reflective themes that define this narrative arch take shape in a number of stimulating ways. Ending with Jake Runestad’s Proud Music of the Storm, which sets Walt Whitman’s poetry rousingly to choir and piano, Culpepper’s dedication to music educators rings beautifully with artistic vision and musical exploration.