Percussion Enseble, Concert Choir marry modern melodies

The Williams Concert Choir and Percussion Ensemble’s presentation of Les Noces was a spectacular ending to a day that featured the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Les Noces (“The Wedding” in Russian) was a beautiful fusion of choir, piano, percussionists and vocal soloists. Playing to a packed Chapin Hall, the choir and Percussion Ensemble did not disappoint in their performances. Even to a music outsider, the concert was truly one to remember and put the finishing touches on a day filled with royalty and tradition.
The concert started with Percussion Ensemble members Andrew Lorenzen ’12, Chaz Lee ’11 and Casey Mclellan ’14 performing “Drama,” a work composed by Guo Wenjing. A unique blend of Chinese opera gongs and the musicians’ own voices, “Drama” was described by Percussion Ensemble Director Matthew Gold as “a distillation of the whole of Stravinsky’s sound world into the clanging of three small pairs of cymbals.” Atonal and difficult to understand at first, the piece evolved dramatically and set the mood for the following acts. Comparable to modern art, the work forced audience members to think and make their own interpretations of what meaning was to be gleaned from the music.

Next came the Concert Choir performing “Village Wedding,” a work by John Tavener. Spread out over the second story of Chapin, the choir members surrounded the audience with an awe-inspiring retelling of a Greek village wedding story. The work, described by Jeremy Samuel Faust as an “expression of a supernatural and invisible order of reality,” was a calming follow-up to the offsetting opening performance by the percussionists. The raw feelings of a wedding ceremony were conveyed as the choir serenaded those of us below from the second floor landing of the hall.
After part two of “Drama” by the Percussion Ensemble, “In the beginning there was rhythm” by Soviet composer Sofia Gubaidulina was executed perfectly by a seven-person ensemble highlighted by solo timpanist Jay Sagar from the Crane School of Music. Like the Stravinsky piece that was to follow, folk elements figured prominently in this piece, as well as distinct Asian sounds and melodies. The use of different playing techniques and clever staging ideas (auxiliary players were stationed around second floor landing) made Gubaidulina’s music shine.
After intermission it was time for the main performance of the night, Stravinsky’s Les Noces. Made from a compilation of Russian folk elements, Les Noces took full advantage of both the Chamber Choir and Percussion Ensemble. Before starting, conductor Brad Wells, artist in residence and director of choral/vocal activities, commented that the sentimentality of the work was almost the complete opposite of what was experienced in England earlier in the day. Sure enough, the four-part work made its way through a traditional Russian wedding ceremony with the exoticism typical of Stravinsky’s style. With soprano and studio instructor Erin Nafziger, mezzo soprano Kara Cornell, tenor and studio instructor Andy Truex, bass-baritone and studio instructor Keith Kibler and the choir narrating the story, the emotions examined were of a bride-to-be and her anticipatory groom and the festive meal that caps their wedding day. As I listened to the back-and-forth between the singers, I couldn’t help but think back to England and wonder about the various currents of emotion that marked that event as well.
Modern music can be alienating to some, but Concert Choir and Percussion Ensemble did a magnificent job of making Stravinsky and the other composers accessible to the average listener by connecting the theme of the evening to the royal wedding. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and from the reaction of the crowd at the end of the concert, I believe most people in Chapin that evening held similar convictions.