Tennessee Chamber Chorus Performance Left Audience Thrilled With The Warmth Of The Season

Friday, December 20, 2013 - by Dan Gawthorp

Tuesday evening's performance by the Tennessee Chamber Chorus in the warm and clear acoustics of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in Signal Mountain was a deeply satisfying experience and left its audience filled with the joy and warmth of the season. Masterfully programmed by artistic director and conductor Cameron LaBarr, the perfectly balanced collection of new and delightful selections with warmly familiar music turned from festive and joyous to haunting and evocative, and then back again, several times during the evening. There are few places in the country where a similarly impressive collection of professional voices could be assembled in an ensemble with such polish and refinement or, when appropriate, such power and intensity. Chattanooga is fortunate, indeed, to be able to hear this group twice annually.


As a suitable invocation to what followed, tenor soloist Andrew Crane and countertenor David Stanley began the evening with the hymn Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland presented as an achingly beautiful and utterly simple unaccompanied duet. This led directly to the full chorus singing a powerful arrangement of the 16th century Personent Hodie. Two additional pieces from the same period served to effectively highlight the evening's world premiere performance of a piece inspired by early music, Laudemus Cum Armonia by Tennessee composer John Wykoff. From the tonal portion of Wykoff's output, the new piece was vivid, intense and engaging. It was given a suitably focused and bright-edged performance by TCC.


There is a certain class of purist who believes that Benjamin Britten's iconic work A Ceremony of Carols is compromised when performed by any ensemble other than the quintessentially English boy choir. That is the sound which many of us have in our ears when we think of this piece, and it is hard to beat. However, as we heard Tuesday evening, there are some real advantages to the greater lung capacity, more mature sonorities and years of life experience which adult singers can bring to this work. The stunning  performance by the treble singers of the TCC was revelatory and offered what was, in some ways, a whole new piece.


Adult singers have the luxury of sustaining phrases beyond the point where a boy would have exhausted his breath. Similarly, adults can create a range of dynamics that boys simply cannot. They also have the understanding needed to respond meaningfully when a conductor asks for a deeply felt approach to a musical line. These advantages added up to a conception of this work which completely transcended typical performances. Tempos were chosen for interpretive reasons, without regard for the physical limitations of children's voices. Phrases were shaped with thoughtful intent and caressed lovingly. Even the difference in timbre between a boy choir and an adult ensemble was moved from the "compromise" column and made into a bona fide feature. At this point the reviewer's skill in conveying ephemeral abstractions comes right up against the limitations of written language. The performance was magical, wondrous and definitive and was the high point of an evening already filled with musical marvels. Composer Britten (along with all of the composers represented) was well served this night.


The second half of the program began with mostly familiar tunes in inventively crafted arrangements, sung with precision and warmth, and leading into a set of three carols from the countries of Norway, Sweden and Finland.  Three of Alice Parker's masterful arrangements of well known Christmas pieces followed and were approached with both respect and enthusiasm. The concluding piece, Night of Silence provided the audience an opportunity to sing "Silent Night" to the accompaniment of the professionals in the Tennessee Chamber Chorus, which surely must have been on several bucket lists!


An extended standing ovation brought a short encore and suddenly the memorable evening was over. The extraordinary vocal artistry of twenty professional singers (many of whom were heard in stunning solos), extraordinary accompaniments by harpist Christa Wenger and organist/pianist Mary Beth Wickes and superb musical direction by conductor Cameron LaBarr combined to make a musical event worthy of any prestigious venue in any of the great cities of the world. Chattanooga celebrates Christmas with style and excellence.

(Dan Gawthrop is a former music critic, Washington Post)


Darrell Scott Plays At The Camp House Thursday

Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Darrell Scott will be performing at The Camp House on Thursday.  Angel Snow will be opening the show, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Review for Darrell Scott: Darrell Scott is touring in support of his album Couchville Sessions which released on May 13 via Full Light Records. The project has already been featured in The Associated Press, ... (click for more)

Auditions For Halloween Show War Of The Worlds Are Aug. 8-9

Back Alley Productions is hosting auditions for the upcoming Halloween show War of the Worlds. Based on both the H.G. Wells novella and the Orson Welles radio show, the production is seeking talented community actors in the local area. Auditions are Monday, Aug. 8, and Tuesday, Aug. 9, at any time from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Mars Theater. The theater is at 117 N. Chattanooga ... (click for more)

County Schools Receive Community Gift For Almost $1 Million To Fund Public School Bible History Program

Bible in the Schools presented a community gift for nearly $1 million to the Hamilton County Department of Education (HCDE) to reimburse 100 percent of the costs of funding a Bible history program in 18 public schools for the 2015–2016 academic year. Enrollment data for 2015–2016 reported 3,582 students in grades 6–12 elected to take a Bible history classes. “This gift from the ... (click for more)

DA's Office Defends Suspended Sentence In School Bus Driver Rape Case

The District Attorney's Office defended a controversial suspended sentence in a rape case involving a substitute county school bus driver. Prosecutor Jason Demastus said the victim, who was 15 years old at the time of the March 2015 incident, was in agreement on the plea and refused to testify against Alexander Rodriquez. Rodriguez, 34, last Thursday pleaded guilty to ... (click for more)

Make America Good Again - And Response

“No people can be great, who have ceased to be virtuous.”   Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784) Last week I witnessed first hand the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. As I observed the happenings within the Quicken Arena, the one theme that continued to pop up again and again, was  Make America Great Again .  Of course, that being ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Keep Mike Carter’s Genius

Mike Carter, who has just been chosen as the “Best Overall” member of the Tennessee Legislature by a group known as the Tennessee Forum and “Legislator of the Year” by Citizens for Home Rule, is truly both. A lawyer and then a Sessions Court judge for 8 ½ years, he is overwhelmingly favored to win a third term during next Thursday’s election and rightly so. While it is laudable ... (click for more)