Our community’s treasured New York City Gay Men’s Chorus (NYCGMC), now in its 36th year and led by Artistic Director Dr. Charles Beale, celebrated the season with a pair of terrific concerts, at Town Hall on December 13, entitled “Light: A Holiday Celebration,” with Justin Vivian Bond as guest artist. Pianist Aaron Dai accompanied, bassist Jason DiMatteo, and percussionist Dan Gross assisted, and Tom McGillis interpreted in sign. The evening performance is discussed here.
“I Will Sing,” by Anna K. Jacobs and Bill Nelson, from “Harmony, Kansas,” a forthright, rocking credo, served as the rousing opening number. Next came an uplifting “Shed a Little Light,” by James Taylor and arranged by Beale, evoking the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and beginning quietly, with more power unleashed as it continued. The choristers raised their voices in praise in John Rutter’s three-movement “Gloria,” in Kathleen McGuire’s arrangement. A fervent “Gloria in excelsis Deo;” a peaceful, ethereal “Domine Deus,” featuring Carlos J. Rios, Johnathan Gibbs, and Néviton Barros; and a bustling “Quoniam tu solus sanctus” were its components. On this final night of Hanukkah, chorus tenor James Matte guest conducted a hushed “Shehecheyanu,” with Adam Sank contributing spoken narrative as the candle attendant and Seth Watsky, Keitaro Manzen, Kevin Sterns, Francis Yasharian, Greg S. Rider, Jason Villarreal, Willis Goodmoore, and Christopher J. Anderson holding the additional candles.
Mx. Bond cast moving and militant “Christmas Spells,” in v’s own song; offered “an unsentimental Christmas song,” most decidedly, in Benjamin Smoke’s “Somebody’s House Always Burns at Christmas;” and was joined by the chorus for v’s dreamy answer to Harry Nilsson’s “Remember,” as arranged by Beale.
NYCGMC’s mellifluous rendition of Franz Gruber’s “Silent Night,” in Norman Luboff’s edition, was interspersed with inspirational quotes from Dr. King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. The chorus dedicated the heartfelt world premiere of its commission, Rona Siddiqui’s song and rap “What’s at the Intersection,” to LGBTQ and African-American siblings that we have lost, with Jo Lee and Jacob Levine as solo rappers. Choristers raised the proceedings to feverish, revival-meeting pitch with a gospel “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” arranged by Michael McElroy, Joseph Joubert, and Buryl Red, with George Fletcher, Gibbs, Varian Huddleston, Lee, Christopher M. Lucas, and Rayshaun Sandlin as soloists.
The Gay Men’s Chorus acknowledged contemporary communication in a festive, up-to-date “Text Me Merry Christmas,” by David Javerblum and Adam Schlesinger, in Alan Billingsley’s arrangement, with soloists Eugene Lovendusky and Danny Moreno. In Tom Lehrer’s satiric “(I’m Spending) Hanukkah in Santa Monica,” as arranged by Bill Bowersock, choristers considered making travel decisions for various holidays according to what rhymes, such as “Shavuos in East St. Louis” and “Yom Kippur way down in Mississipur.”
Robin Pecknold’s elemental “White Winter Hymnal,” arranged by Billingsley and transcribed and guest conducted by Assistant Conductor John J. Atorino, found choristers, including the featured Rob Keleher, Syville Padayao, Edwin V. Yangga, Joel Bright, and Lovendusky, functioning as body percussionists, rhythmically beating their breasts and legs, clapping hands, and snapping fingers. Atorino also guided a wistful, sentimental account of Walter Kent and Kim Gannon’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” in Mark Hayes’ version, with the singers spelling McGillis and interpreting some of it in sign.
NYCGMC let there be light in a gentle “Lux Aurumque,” by Eric Whitacre, strikingly highlighting and contrasting the diverse colors of the vocal sections, and in an ethereal “Light,” by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, from “Next to Normal,” as arranged by Beale, opening intimately and increasing in sonority and ebullience, with soloists Daniel Jeoung, Stephen Wise, Filemon Dela Cruz, Larry Tantay, and Noah Erin Fleischaker.
Encores were NYCGMC’s a cappella 23rd Psalm, with the feminine spirit of the Deity acknowledged throughout, and Bond and the chorus’ endearing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, Judy Garland’s song from “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
Hear NYCGMC in the “Big Gay Sing Eight,” the enjoyable annual sing-along, on March 18 or 19, 2016 at 8 p.m. or 20 at 3 p.m., and “Love Songs for Love Stories,” the Pride concert, on June 17 at 8 p.m., both at New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 556 LaGuardia Place. Visit www.nycgmc.org
for further information.