Trending Now on Patch, Concert Review posted in Foster City Patch, May 22, 2014 at 10:53 AM
It is seldom you will find a group that is up to the task of singing a program as difficult as Viva la Musica's concerts on May 17 and 18, "The Soul of Music". The program consists of several relatively new works by mostly living, mostly American composers with minor exceptions. Shulamit Hoffman, the founder and artistic director of Viva la Musica, created Viva as part of a Masters thesis in choral conducting and created a choir made of members of a community with a focus on musical excellence and intellectual enjoyment. This program certainly demonstrates a level of sophistication not typically seen in community groups and Viva was able to execute with poise and aplomb.
These concerts mark the West Coast premier of Dan Forrest's Requiem for the Living. The requiem is a type of funeral mass that offers prayers to souls of those departed. This requiem offers these prayers, but in addition, offers prayers to the souls of the living, as well. Viva dedicated this performance in memory of Tony Orazem, husband, father, civic leader, and stage director and designer for community theater productions, who passed away this past year. Soprano Teressa Byrne's voice carried effortlessly, imparting an extra layer of warmth to the lush orchestration. Tenor Michael Mendelsohn's ringing, broad voice added a familial quality to the Lux Aeterna.
The requiem was followed by "Dark Night of the Soul" and "Luminous Night of the Soul" by Ola Gjeilo. These pieces, also recently composed, are a cinematic and poetic mix of voices, piano, and strings. Hoffman cites Gjeilo's embrace of modernity in his music populist and compares him to Bach in that way, saying that you can also hear elements of Bach in his music. She calls his use of non-traditional meters (measures of five and seven beats)"spicy injections of flavor". The piano forms the backbone of these pieces, a central line surrounded by the ethereal strings and voices, a strength to which Anya Khaydarova added a sense reflection, warmth and reverence.
Reflections from Yad Vashem by Daniel Hall is an intricate piece for female voices that was written in response to a visit to the Children's Memorial at Yad Vashem. Some of the names from the memorial are interjected between verses of Genesis and Psalms and a traditional Hebrew lullaby. These waves of sound were punctuated by a plaintive viola solo, played by Janet Lynch, a penetrating counterpoint to the smoothness of the vocal harmony.
Air and Gavotte from the Serenade in E major for strings by Arthur Foote. provided a musical breath of fresh air from the intensity of the previous pieces, followed by Viva la Musica!, a traditional round of voices by David Brunner. The choir had such fun with this piece that at the end, the audience giggled. This was followed by Ritmo, by Dan Davison, a piece requiring four-handed piano, a choir and relatively complicated sequences of clapping. Shulamit walked away from her conductor's perch and let the choir, supported by Anya Khaydarova and Angela Kraft Cross perform on their own.
Very few conductors are able to command a room the way Shulamit Hoffman is able. She is very powerful in her clarity and zest for the music. There is no dissonance between her command at the helm, the choir, and the orchestra, a combination that imparts a sense of ease to the audienec. She kept the intensity of the performance through even through silences. At one point, the intensity of the silence was so palpable after a piece that no one in the audience fidgeted or coughed until after the next piece began. Viva la Musica's winter seasons begin rehearsing early in the fall with concerts in December.