The Chicago Chamber Choir began their 2010 â€“ 2011 season by joining forces with the Milwaukee Choral Artists to perform Songs of War and Peace. The pieces selected for the program assembled to articulate the stark and poignant effect of war on society, and powerfully resonated a plea for peace in the face of war.
Singers filed into the house as the lights dimmed at the Nichols Theater at the Music Institute of Chicago in Evanston, surrounding the front section of the theater to perform a mournful Kyrie Eleison in the round. Singers from both of the eveningâ€™s choirs blended beautifully through the chant-inspired arrangement imploring for mercy from God. The only voice rising above the rich harmonies was baritone Wyatt Sheederâ€™s solo feature.
After a densely harmonic piece performed in English and Arabic, the Milwaukee Choral Artists yielded the stage to the Chicago Chamber Choir. The concert was split into two sections, Songs of War and Songs of Peace, and within these sections were songs featuring just one choir or in cases portions of one choir, so the choreography of the performance led to (sometimes noisy) breaks for personnel shifts. It was also a terrific opportunity to showcase each choirâ€™s strengths while still achieving a highly collaborative experience.
War is one of the few common threads shared by cultures throughout the history of mankind. Chicago Chamber Choir director Timm Adams and Milwaukee Choral Artists director Sharon Hansen clearly did their homework: selecting compositions that both narrowed the focus of the theme articulating a central message, as well as incorporating multiple cultures and historical periods to really demonstrate the breadth of warâ€™s effect on humanity. Songs were selected ranging from medieval chants to Vietnam protest songs, from the somber and stately to the furious and frenetic. Adams described the selections as â€śa choral meditation that contemplates the human cost of war and the hope for peace.â€ť
The Chicago Chamber Choirâ€™s men performed the Civil War medley Workinâ€™ for the Dawn of Peace (arr. Ron Jeffers) immediately followed with Find the Cost of Freedom (arr. Stephen Stills, of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young). Milwaukee Choral Artists performed the impassioned and defiant World War II inspired Horobi No Naka Kara (arr. Kevin James) immediately followed by a 16th century Finnish arrangement in the style of medieval chant. Not only were transitions seamless, they were sensible, the thread so common between styles and cultures.
Memorable moments in the evening included the ascerbic arrangement of â€śWhen Johnny Comes Marching Homeâ€ť named Johnny I hardly Knew Ye (arr. Alice Parker) that tells of a young soldier returning home, minus a few parts. The James WWII piece encapsulated so much anger as the melodies and harmonies force the listener to reflect on the devastation felt by the Japanese at the hands of atomic destruction. The Milwaukee Choral Artists also performed a hauntingly beautiful rendition of Ma Navu (arr. Shira Cion) which, sung in the round, caused Hansen to dance among her singers as she conducted. Even the familiar Dona Nobis Pachem took on a somber tone under arranger James Mooreâ€™s minor, almost jazzy polyphonies, the lyrics and the music amplifying the plea for peace.
What was most surprising, though, was very few of the selections featured individual artists, instead opting for rich harmonies and broad dynamic arrangements that showcased the ensemble. The combined choir selections were beautifully balanced and had a depth of sound that resonated in the theater long after the baton was lowered. Even the quietest sections of songs had vibrancy not achievable by smaller ensembles, and the piano and violin accompaniment provided for the evening, while certainly performed admirably, seemed superfluous. Adams and Hansen and all the choral artists achieved what they intended with the evening, rising in concert against the ravages of war while striving to attain peace.
Chicago Chamber Choir continues its 2010 â€“ 2011 season with
Canciones de Navidad in December, and
Soar: Songs of Wind and Sky in April. Tickets are available at
chicagochamberchoir.org or by calling