Friday, December 05, 2008

Carols by Candlelight with Georgia Festival Chorus

(Reflections on "Carols by Candlelight," annual program by the Georgia Festival Chorus, Frank Boggs, founding director; David Scott, Associate Director. Special guests Karen Parks, soprano, and actor / writer Tom Key. Performed at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Marietta, GA, December 4 2008. Written the night of the concert.)

Early in the program, founding director Frank Boggs used his left hand to shape an orchestral wave and then push it back, while his right hand sustained the choir's final syllable. Not remarkable at any other time in his fifty - plus years of choral conducting, but a welcome sight one year after the hand was nearly severed in a car crash.

Throughout the program, his choir sounded warm and blended like hot cocoa. They looked sure of themselves, committed to the material, "every one of them beaming joy" in the words of actor Tom Key, guest speaker.

For me, personally, many of the numbers brought back memories. Friends and I sang Holst's arrangement of "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" and Lutkin's "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" thirty-five years ago as students in Mr. Boggs's Westminster High School Chorale. While I recalled my part, tonight I heard a full tone that our adolescent voices couldn't approach. Frank's interpretations are bolder now, too, as in "Mary Had a Baby" when he extends the chorus's first word in the phrase "my Lord" way beyond the point where you think he has gone too far -- to the point where you think, "How rich! How expressive! What a dramatic contrast to the soloist!"

That soloist was elegant soprano Karen Parks, who sang with clarity, warmth, and authority. In her interpretation, the word "peace" sustained late in Handel's "Rejoice Greatly" became a quietly intense prayer from a depth of longing. She seemed to enjoy shifting vocal gears to ride the varied textures and sudden key changes that characterize the interplay between chorus and soloist in John Rutter's arrangement of "Go Tell it on the Mountain."

Rutter, a long-time friend and sometime teacher of my teacher Frank, showed up on the program many times. He always seems to know what we expect, and he always delivers it -- with a twist. His "Candlelight Carol" swelled to a surprising climax after its lilting start. His orchestral accompaniment for "Star Carol" was subtle and fun -- setting Associate Conductor Ken Terrell to dancing.

While the orchestra brought color and varying textures to the concert, the highlight of many numbers often came when the orchestra fell silent and the Georgia Festival Chorus crested and fell, ever unified, ever responsive to the gestures of their three conductors. Once, when Frank forgot to seat them, they remained standing thoughout a long solo number.

The least familiar piece on the program was a Caribbean tune, "The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy." By its end, the chorus could barely restrain themselves from moving. Instead, their voices and the orchestra did the dancing.

No comments: