The Empire City Men’s Chorus (ECMC) is celebrating its 25th season of making music and, on March 22(and 24), at Church of the Holy Apostles in Chelsea, reminisced lyrically, in a program billed as “Retrospective,” by performing music from its past quarter of a century, some of it under the batons of past Artistic Directors, who had introduced it in earlier seasons. Current Artistic Director Vince Peterson presided for most of the concert and Sean Forte was at the piano.
ECMC began with music that it first performed in the 1990s, hopeful pieces offered during the dark early days of the AIDS crisis, which had been led by founding Artistic Director Donald Messer and were led here by Peterson. The chorus lent its smooth dulcet sound to Rodgers and Hart’s “My Romance,” John Dowland’s a cappella madrigal “Come Again,” and with ECMC alumni joining them, “Seasons of Love,” by Jonathan Larson, from “Rent.”
The ensemble’s second Artistic Director, Jonathan Babcock, guided a rapturous a cappella “Sweet Soul,” late American composer Stephen Paulus’ setting of Renaissance poet George Herbert’s words, with an ethereal solo line contributed by guest soprano soloist Mia Farinelli. A lovely, reserved a cappella “Alleluia,” by Randall Thompson, with the alumni, came to a ringing, celebratory climax, and with Forte at the piano, all joined voices for an achingly beautiful “Sunday,” from Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George.”
Peterson was back on the podium for a cappella renditions of “You Shall Not Go Down,” Dorothy Hindman’s setting of Walt Whitman’s words from “Song of Myself,” about having the courage to fight the good fight, and Felix Mendelssohn’s “Periti Autem,” with text from the Biblical Book of Daniel, an uplifting neo-Classical piece.
Matthew Oltman, ECMC’s fourth Artistic Director, took up the baton anew for forceful accounts of “One Song,” John Conahan’s setting of poet Rumi’s verses about war and peace, cultural diversity and settling differences, and “The Testament of Freedom,” a hymn to liberty and unity, with music by Randall Thompson and words by Thomas Jefferson. Oltman was also responsible for leading a soaring, transcendent a cappella “Ave Maria,” by Franz Biebl, with a smaller responsive choir situated at the other end of the church.
Peterson, at the piano, returned for Jars of Clay’s rock ballad “(See the) Art in Me,” reciting the poem before ECMC’s singing began; guided the chorus in Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Saltarelle,” with words by Émile Deschamps, a lively a cappella summons to a religious festival; led “Things that Never Die,” with Forte, with Lee Dengler’s music and Charles Dickens’ poem, and both setting and performance were aptly homespun and hymn-like; and finally, conducting again from the keyboard, “Turn the World Around,” a spirited calypso number about life’s renewal, by Harry Belafonte and Bob Freedman.
ECMC continues its anniversary festivities with the Silver Season Gala, a benefit reception, concert, and dinner, at St. Bartholemew’s Church, 325 Park Avenue at 51st Street, on June 1, during the World Pride season. Visit www.empirecitymenschorus.org/ecmc25
for further information and tickets.