The Symphony of the Americas offered an eclectic mix of old and new compositions to mark the Christmas season at the Broward Center in Ft. Lauderdale.
The program notes state that Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms are among his most popular compositions and one of the most performed major choral pieces by an American composer. That may be true, but festive it’s not. Fortunately this was the only somber piece in an otherwise bright and uplifting musical offering that featured the Cathedral Choir of the First Presbyterian Church of Ft. Lauderdale.
This group of mostly older singers performed admirably on a suite of Christmas classics: White Christmas, We Need A Little Christmas, It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, Silver Bells and I’ll Be Home for Christmas.
Throughout the concert they were called upon to perform a variety of works, some that were likely unfamiliar to most of the audience: a carol from Trinidad, Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy arranged by Mark Wilberg, and Gloria, composed in 1990 by Randol Bass, founder of the Austin Symphonic Band. It was great to hear these as a fine complement to the well-known material, and the first piece in particular was a vibrant use of a chorus in a modern arrangement. Magnificat, another modern piece by John Rutter, was a joyous exposition that likewise gave the chorus free rein to show their skills.
Where the chorus struggled was in the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. They simply lacked the power to project it properly, but the Orchestra handled it well under the direction of conductor James Brooks-Bruzzese.
He did half the conducting, the other half being under the baton of Robin McEachern of the First Presbyterian Church.
The ending of the concert was a bit perplexing. Instead of O Holy Night, which was in the program, the Orchestra play New York, New York. While it’s a great tune, it has nothing to do with the Christmas.
Brett Karlin, Artistic Director of the Master Chorale of South Florida, gave a fascinating introductory lecture about the origins of several compositions on this evening's program. Among other things, he corrected the long-standing canard that Handel wrote The Messiah in 24 days. In reality, as he proved by several musical clips, Handel used Italian-language duets he had composed years earlier to provide some of the music for The Messiah. The words were new, and in English, but since the music was written for another language it doesn't always perfectly match the flow of English.
The next concert program in the series will be held on Feb. 11 at the Broward Center. It will feature Ciro Fodere playing the Concerto for Piano No. 2 by Rachmaninoff. For ticketing information visit the website: www.browardcenter.org.