Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 5
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
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Princeton Girlchoir Presents Winter Program of Solid Choral Singing

Nancy Plum

For its winter concert, the Princeton Girlchoir actually presented two performances. Last Sunday, the organization’s younger ensembles performed, and this past Sunday in Richardson Auditorium, the Princeton Girlchoir’s Concert Choir and Cantores took the stage. Newly-appointed Artistic Director Lynnel Joy Jenkins and Cantores conductor Raegan Ruiz oversaw a concert entitled “(Re)Kindle Hope.” The title of this concert (as well as that of last week’s program) seemed to reflect a message the Girlchoir was imparting to its singers — the younger choirs “sang for joy” last week and the ensembles of older girls sought to “kindle hope” in what the Girlchoir recognized as “today’s challenging times.”

As the more experienced ensembles, the Concert Choir and Cantores explore more complex repertoire than the younger Girlchoir ensembles, and Ms. Jenkins opened Sunday afternoon’s performance with an intricate 18th century piece accompanied by a small group of string players and harpsichord. Baldassare Galuppi’s “Dixit Dominus” gave the eighty members of the Concert Choir the chance to demonstrate precision singing, accompanied by the Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra String Quintet and Elizabeth Hartnett playing harpsichord.

The Concert Choir sang from memory, and even though the singers were a little far back on the Richardson stage, the vocal lines were pure and well-disciplined, with an understated accompaniment from the instrumentalists. Ms. Jenkins has clearly trained the choir well in vowel production, and the Latin vowels had none of the offglides and diphthongs so prevalent in this part of the country. Whether singing in Latin or English, Ms. Jenkins’ choir sang with clean diction and clean vocal lines. As a conductor Ms. Jenkins is non-nonsense and unassuming, making it clear that the performance is about the singers and the music.

Cantores conductor Raegan Ruiz was just as straightforward in conducting a piece with the two choirs combined. The Cantores added a richness and maturity to the overall choral sound as the choirs sang the unique “Nada te turbe,” a setting of a 16th century Spanish poem by American composer Joan Szymko. The major chords at the end of the piece were especially in tune, imitated by a lyrical cello played by Tomasz Rzeczycki. Like Ms. Jenkins, Ms. Ruiz allowed the ending chords of each piece to ring in the hall. The girls in Cantores clearly had good control over their voices, with an especially well contained first soprano sound. The ensemble’s most elaborate work on the program was Randall Stroope’s “Magnificat,” a piece from a composer who has made a career in boychoir and treble singing. Accompanied by pianists Ms. Hartnett and Sean Condon, Cantores sang the mix of Latin and English crisply, with a well-executed solo by Meg Orita and an especially dramatic “Gloria” to close the piece.

For the second half of the program, Ms. Jenkins turned to fun, drawing from her experiences in South Africa and exploring some new vocal sonorities in a group of “contemporary works of hope.” David Maddux’s Tching-Tching-Ryah was especially interesting in its John Adams-like tone clusters on the text “Amazing Grace” and its rhythmic drive. Ms. Jenkins drew fourteen soloists from the ensemble to perform Stephen Hatfield’s “Run Children Run,” an arrangement of a “field yell,” and the fourteen were able to musically communicate well among themselves while being answered by the full chorus. “Shumayela,” a traditional Xhosa folk song from southeast South Africa, incorporated several movement patterns which the singers were able to accomplish well. The two choirs combined again for an energetic performance of “Walk in Jerusalem” in which it was clear that Ms. Jenkins is not as concerned with what is on the page of music as what is in the air as the piece evolves through performance.

The Princeton Girlchoir has always maintained a number of choirs within its organization and has recently added a “Quarter Notes” choir for advanced beginner singers. Ms. Jenkins will no doubt be adding new artistic initiatives to the program as she settles into her tenure with the Girlchoir. The number of singers already participating in the Princeton Girlchoir indicates that the current activities are artistically solid, and one can only look forward to the next phase of the Girlchoir’s history.

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