At its mid-December holiday concert, the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus (NYCGMC), at New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, brought us much-needed “Comfort and Joy” during these Trump-troubled times. There were seasonal songs traditional and newer, numbers for the full chorus and for chamber ensemble, and a small instrumental complement, headed by pianist Aaron Dai, all guided by Artistic Director Dr. Charles Beale, who was at times seated at the Steinway, or spelled on the podium by Assistant Conductor John J. Atorino. The first of three concerts, on December 14, is the one discussed here.
NYCGMC opened with Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s “Counting Down to Christmas,” sometimes hushed, but generally full of excited anticipation, from “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” in Atorino’s arrangement, and a lilting “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” by Eddie Pola and George Wyle, arranged by Jerry Rubino, with a contemplative, ornamented a cappella section and an emphatic climax, capped with a salute to “Noël,” with outstretched arms, raised up high. That’s when Beale aptly offered, “Comfort and Joy feel like what we need right now.”
Next came the chorus’ “Choose Something like a Star,” by Randall Thompson, to poetry by Robert Frost, from “Frostiana,” quiet and mellifluous and swelling to a formidable conclusion, as arranged by Stephen Smith, and an a cappella “When You Wish upon a Star,” by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, largely employing the harmonies, rather than a straightforward statement of the melody. Steve Milloy and Maestro Beale’s arrangement of Leroy Anderson and Mitchell Parish’s “Sleigh Ride” proved gently rocking and hand-clapping.
The 16-voice NYCGMC Small Ensemble offered a dulcet “A Quiet Place,” of Ralph Carmichael, in Mervyn Warren’s edition, with Beale at the keyboard, and later, a sweet a cappella “Christmas Song,” of Mel Tormé and Robert Wells, arranged by Raman Gutteridge.
From Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols” came the composer’s takes on Robert Southwell’s “There Is no Rose,” reverently sung, and “This Little Babe,” all bustling.
Chanukah had already passed, but the Gay Men’s Chorus, led by guest conductor Bruce Ward, offered a warm “Tum Balalalaika” (Play, Balalaika), in Yiddish, with an audience sing-along of the choruses, alternating with verses that here told a gay love story, thanks to striking soloists Michael Angelo, Garrett Swanson, and Michael Zamora.
Celebrating the snowy winter, the choristers, under Atorino’s baton, sang a mostly light-hearted “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, from “Frozen,” in Atorino’s own arrangement, and rock number “Snowman,” by Sia Furler and Greg Kurstin, in a version by Christopher D. Littlefield.
Changing out of their first act dress blues and strutting Christmas sweaters in Act Two, the singers opened this second half with a hot, swinging “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town,” by Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, with Beale at the piano for his arrangement, and favored us with a tender rendition of the Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas, Darling,” arranged by Eric Knechtges. Their “Mi Regalo Favorito” (My favorite gift), of Daniel Santacruz, Efrain Davila, and Geoffrey Royce Rojas, in Littlefield’s edition, was a romantic Latin number, thanks to soloist René Ginett and the couples dancing on stage.
Children were the focus of the next part of the program, with Daniel Kibblesmith reading his heartening “Santa’s Husband,” and showing endearing illustrations by AP Quach, to children who were brought to the stage and to all of us. Kibblesmith shared his story of the Messrs Santa and David Claus, a loving interracial bear couple, with awareness of global warming and of Rudolph’s dietary restrictions, and the chorus went on to sing Ysaÿe Barnwell and Kahlil Gibran’s insightful “On Children,” arranged by Beale, and Kurt Bestor’s “Prayer of the Children,” in Andrea S. Klouse’s edition.
NYCGMC wrapped up the proceedings with a lively “Betelehemu,” the Nigerian carol of Via Olatunji, arranged by Wendell Whalum, enhanced by a six-chorister drum corps; Ian Axel and Chad King’s “This Is the New Year,” a spirited explanation of devotion; and Kenny Loggins and Bob James’ “Celebrate Me Home,” with Doug Paulson the sincere rock soloist, these last in Beale’s editions.
The Gay Men’s Chorus’ 2018-2019 season continues, at Skirball, from March 22 to 24, with “Big Gay Sing Bootylicious,” a sing-along with music by Aretha Franklin, Beyoncé, Destiny’s Child, the Jackson Five, and Meghan Trainor, and at Carnegie Hall, on June 27, with “Quiet No More: a Choral Celebration of Stonewall,” marking Stonewall 50 with a new choral music suite, co-commissioned by NYCGMC and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, as well as works by Julian Hornik, Our Lady J, Mike Shaieb, Ann Hampton Callaway, Michael McElroy, and Jane Ramseyer Miller. Visit www.nycgmc.org
for further information.