Lightning struck during Cantare Houston's 2011-2012 season-opening concert at Christ the King Evangelical Lutheran Church on Rice Boulevard. This is not a cheesy and clichéd attempt at attention getting, but rather a truth that doubles as an appropriate characteristic of what the choir is all about these days in a live context.
Last night, the choral ensemble entered into its ninth campaign with a robust program of songs sculpted by contemporary composers during Cantare's All-American A Capella (Almost). Led by conductor and group founder Kevin Raymond Riehle, the nearly two-hour concert impressed with numerous highs, despite one slight bummer that the group couldn't exactly rectify on the spot.
Early in the program, Cantare's rendition of Pilgrims' Hymn, composed by Stephen Paulus, hinted at the group's distinguished sound with an equal-volume-level rendition that unfurled during a brief crescendo.
As nearby thunderheads rallied in the Houston area, the group performed Randall Thompson's The Peaceable Kingdom, which is a bit of an endurance piece. Despite the vocal demands, conductor Riehle coaxed invigorating dynamics from the choir that flowed between busy/sparse and straightforward/dramatic, all while painting the edges of the number with subtle tonal shifts. As soon as the group arrived at the composition's final movement ("...as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the Lord"), a lightning burst lit up the window behind the group and above the pipe organ.
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Following a brief intermission, Cantare launched into Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine by Eric Whitacre, a 41-year-old creative type who is lauded as one of the genre's most bulletproof composers. Said another way, if hipsters start to take a liking to choral music, Whitacre could be their main man.
Whitacre is also a choice composer and arranger for choral ensembles such as the Kansas City/Phoenix Chorales, recipients of multiple Grammy awards. On Tuesday evening, Cantare took a stab at the number that imagines, through the poetry of Charles Anthony Silvestri, what Leonardo da Vinci might fancy in his dream world. The group killed the song in fantastic fashion, thanks to light percussion -- that's where the "(Almost)" of A Capella came out of hiding -- as well as the execution of the score's left-of-field sound effects that models a sputtering propeller-like plane as it aches to get off the ground.
The next song, Aaron Copland's In the Beginning, illustrated the only part of the concert that felt off. Featuring guest mezzo-soprano soloist Natalie Arduino, Copland's sweeping composition includes sections where the sound becomes busy. The room's sometimes dry acoustics -- and not necessarily Cantare's execution -- sucked out the brightness that gives the piece a sturdy pair of legs.
Last night's concert was the only time that Cantare is scheduled to perform All-American A Capella (Almost), so the next opportunity to see the choir is during its A Ceremony of Carols -- Christmas at the Museum of Fine Arts shindig. The first of five performances commences on December 10. For more information, go to the Cantare Houston website.