It’s a question any arts group should ask itself, even a volunteer ensemble. Why devote a couple hours a week to rehearsal, and more as performances approach, learning material even professionals find challenging? Another stand in the spotlight? To make a statement? To hone a craft that you love?
Saturday night, the Lexington Chamber Chorale gave a pretty emphatic answer: It is a group of serious singers who want to develop their craft by challenging themselves with new, interesting material.
Fascinating would also be an apt description of the fare in “Music from the Land of the Midnight Sun,” the choir’s decidedly wintry concert of Scandinavian music. It was a program inspired by Chamber Chorale director Gary Anderson’s work with Swedish choral conductor Gary Graden. Graden was actually supposed to conduct Saturday night’s concert, except he fell ill and had to stay back home. Anderson seamlessly stood in for him.
Guest percussionist Anders Åstrand was able to make the journey and joined with Jim Campbell, head of the University of Kentucky’s award winning percussion program, to add another dimension to the evening.
It began with the chorale processing into the sanctuary of Central Baptist Church where it surrounded the audience to sing the improvisation “Veni Sancte Spiritus/Adoro te devote,” a piece in which different parts took on the task of singing a chant while others improvised. It was an opening where you may have gotten a decidedly different performance from others in the hall, depending on where you sat.
Improvisational choral singing is one of Graden’s specialties, and we heard it again on full display in American minimalist composer Terry Riley’s “Olson III,” a piece that in this performance sounded similar to choral work by György Ligeti, albeit a bit more free and underscored by Åstrand’s jazzy marimba and the high tones of Campbell’s accompaniment.
Per a request at the beginning of the concert, the approximately 55-minute performance was presented without applause or break. There was a program with a schedule of pieces, though it was easy to lose your place getting wrapped up in the often intricate, sometimes unusual sounds of the chorus taking on this unfamiliar repertoire.
It was mesmerizing and, considering the music’s northern origin, appropriate to an evening where the audience exited into a snowy landscape and bitter cold temperatures. A few utterances of “Gloria” and “peace” even lent the night a Yuletide vibe.
No, a night of music from a far off, vaguely familiar land, utilizing unusual techniques may not be the board room recipe for building an audience. But Central Christian was packed Saturday night demonstrating that if you do something you love and do it very well, often an audience will find you.