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Performing arts events shine light on vast reservoir of Indy’s talent

If proof was required to confirm the high caliber of Indy’s performing arts, all one needed to do was experience the two extraordinary events seen by over last weekend. Saturday, the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir presented “War Requiem.” Then on Sunday this writer took in a matinee of Dance Kaleidoscope’s “Picture This” concert. Between the two events it was easy to conclude that Indy is indeed blessed, not only with its share of first rate performers but two gifted artistic directors as well.

"Girl at the Piano: Recording Sound"
Crowe's Eye Photography
"War Requiem"
Indianapolis Symphonic Choir

“War Requiem”

The Indianapolis Symphonic Choir presented a one-night only performance of Benjamin Britten’s epic choral-orchestral composition, “War Requiem,” at Carmel’s Palladium. Joining the ISC in a collaboration that included 400 performers was the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Children’s Choir, Indianapolis Men’s Chorus and Butler Chorale — all led by ISC’s visionary artistic director Eric Stark.

Britten’s epic piece, which musically communicates imagery of war, peace and reconciliation, incorporates the Latin texts of the Requiem Mass along with English poems by Wilfred Owen. It was first performed in 1962 at the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral in England, which replaced the original, destroyed by bombs in a World War II air raid.

This reviewer’s vantage point from a second floor box seat right of the house was such that the entire scope of the event could be taken in. Situated in the hall’s choral section behind and above the stage were members of the adult choir. On stage was the full orchestra as well as additional chamber size orchestra. Seated on either side of conductor Stark were featured soloists, soprano Sinead Mulhern, tenor Thomas Cooley and baritone Christopheren Nomura. Directly across from these performers, ensconced high in the top balcony, were members of the ICC, meant to serve as the “angels” in Britten’s piece, directed by artistic director Henry Leck. Seated below and in box sections and part of the balcony were members of the sold out audience. It was a viewpoint which revealed the massive size and magnitude of the concert.

As far as the music itself, it was not only emotionally impactful, it was also absolutely breathtaking. What with that numerous trained voices, professional musicians and singers all guided by the likes of Stark and Leck, all in one place, how could the concert not be spectacular? And given the fact the scale of the work is so immense, and thereby rarely performed, one could not help but feel that witnessing “War Requiem” was truly once in a lifetime experience.

The soloists, who interpreted World War I veteran Owen’s heart-wrenching poetry about the horrors of war, gave stellar performances with Mulhern’s exquisite soprano and Nomura’s sumptuous baritone vocals standing out.

Members of the combined chorus all demonstrated impeccable diction and intonation as they interpreted Britten’s somber, sometimes majestic and often thrilling version of the Requiem Mass, accompanied by the stellar Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. The ethereal sounds produced by the combined singers and musicians, especially during the second half of the Mass, which included IV. Sanctus, V. Agnus Dei and VI. Libera Me sections, were nothing short of sublime.

Ironically, during a performance of music filled with emotion, the most powerful, not to mention stunning, moment occured at the conclusion of the monumental piece when the audience sat in silence for what seemed like 30 seconds to a minute before Stark placed his hands on the podium, indicating they were free to applaud. And those present jumped to their feet enthusiastically and in gratitude for an electrifying musical experience that was the result of arduous work and a towering achievement for everyone who participated.

“Picture This”

Dance Kaleidoscope, another of Indy’s most adventurous performing arts groups, led by its incomparable artistic director David Hochoy, also represented itself well with “Picture This,” a concert which the company presented at the Toby Theater at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Included were two pieces: “Girl at the Piano: Recording Sound,” choreographed by Hochoy and first presented by DK in 1994, and “Georgia O’Keeffe: Heart of Joy,” also choreographed by Hochoy, which DK premiered in 2003.

“Girl at the Piano: Recording Sound,” featuring music by Sergei Rachmaninoff, “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43.” A painting of the same title, by Theodore Rosak, which is in the IMAs permanent collection, served as the inspiration for a Hochoy’s piece which imagines what preceded the girl posing at her piano in the painting.

Jillian Goodwin, who possesses a dynamic musicality and presence, was an ideal choice for the role of the Girl. Also featured were Liberty Harris (Mother), Timothy June (Father), Mariel Greenlee (Teacher), Justin David Sears-Watson (Friend), Brandon Comer (Music), Noah Trulock (Brother) and Caitlin Negron (Sister). All were wonderfully expressive in revealing their characters’ relationships to the girl, whose love of music is central to the story behind the painting, devised by Hochoy and narrated through his clever movement.

Though the dancing was of course preeminent in the piece, former DK costumer Barry Doss’ brilliantly designed costumes, which followed the Rosak style, and which were worn by the Girl and all Hochoy’s imagined characters, were a significant attraction.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Jimson Weed,” which is also in the IMA’s permanent collection, was paid tribute to in Hochoy’s “Georgia O’Keeffe: Heart of Joy,” which celebrates the composition, subject matter and style of the painter’s work.

Three movements from Symphony No. 4 “Heroes,” by Philip Glass, was the music which Hochoy used to score what was an effusive and exuberant valentine to O’Keefe work through choreography which shimmered with beauty. Danced by the entire company, all dressed in Cheryl Sparks’ splendid costumes, a particularly entrancing moment during the concert took place during a lovely duet performed by Timothy June and Liberty Harris.

The lighting design of Laura Glover, Hochoy’s long-time collaborator, was, as usual, both artistically and technically flawless but especially so for this concert that challenged her to effectively enhance one art form informed by another. Once again, Glover demonstrated her unequaled eye and mastery at creating atmospheres and environments which are nearly visceral in their visual impact.

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