I can’t remember the last time that I attended a choral concert. All of the chorus works I’ve heard in recent years have been part of an opera or symphonic concert. In other words, the chorus has been in support of a larger work. Sunday, I was treated to a concert of chorale music by The Choral Project, in partnership with the San Jose Chamber Orchestra. The performance took place in one of the missions on the Mission Trail—Mission Santa Clara De Asis, located on the Santa Clara University Campus. Although I have been to the campus for other events, this was my first time in the Mission.
The Mission was started in 1777 by the Franciscan religious order, the order to which two of my aunts and two of my uncles dedicated themselves for their lifetimes, starting when they were teenagers. The Franciscans, who take a vow of poverty, gave the Mission to the Jesuits in 1851. They, in turn, started Santa Clara College. The original Mission land belonged to the Ohlone people. With Spanish colonization, the Franciscans were sent to convert the native peoples to Catholicism. Thus began a sad chapter in the history of the Ohlone https://www.scu.edu/missionchurch/historical-information/. One which I encourage you to read, but now, I want to focus on the concert.
The concert was divided into four parts, with Daniel Hughes, Artistic Director of The Choral Project, and Barbara Day Turner, the Music Director of San José Chamber Orchestra taking turns at the podium. The music varied from a traditional chant, Veni, Veni Emmanual to more modern fare with the World Premiere of The Singing Bowl by Daniel Hughes. Even the older pieces were fresh and lively. Instead of performing the 1818 version of Silent Night, (by Franz Xavier Grüber with lyrics by Joseph Mohr), we were treated to the 1948 version arranged by Sir Malcolm Sergeant, with lyrics by Sergeant, and a modern orchestration by Daniel Hughes. Instead of the typical English Lyrics:
Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child!
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Silent night, holy night
Round thy head a radiate light
Lovely boy beyond compare
Parents guard thee with tender care
Sleep now darling one sleep.
It was a marvelous rendition. Like everything else on the program, the music filled the Mission and filled my heart with joy. I was impressed by the acoustics of the Mission. They are quite wonderful and didn’t have the echo mishmash that so often happens in large concrete buildings of this type. Perhaps the bodies of the capacity crowd provided some sound absorption!
I particularly enjoyed the musical diversity of the program—a traditional Hanukkah song, a traditional Spiritual, a piece by the Venezuelan composer Antonio Estévez with joropo-like rhythmic figures. The choral work was interspersed with musical interludes, either lush introductions to choral pieces, or standalone instrumental pieces. Particular notable was Behind Me Dips Eternity by local luminary, composer Henry Mollicone.
As I walked out of the Mission, I wondered why I waited so long to attend a Choral Project concert, as they have been around for 25 years. But it’s not so bad to discover something late. Now I have something fresh and new to look forward to each holiday season.