Hartnell Community Choir — Winter Concert, December 16, in Carmel

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The Hartnell Community Choir presented its winter concert at 3 p.m. Sunday, December 16, at Church of the Wayfarer in Carmel. The choir, conducted by Robin McKee Williams, performed Dona Nobis Pacem by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Salve Regina by Arvo Pärt, Let Peace Then Still the Strife by Mack Wilberg and Always Something Sings by Dan Forrest. Dona Nobis Pacem was the main choral and orchestral work. David Dally’s Monterey Strings Orchestra accompanied the choir and soloists. Pamela Scholz, harp, Greg Bullock, timpani, and Kevin Jordan, trumpet, were also be featured instrumentalists.

Since Robin McKee Williams is a serious and dedicated musician deeply committed to the masterworks of the choral repertoire, we knew in advance that the choir would not shuffle in from the rear of the church wearing floppy Santa hats while softly humming “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.” Actually, although there was a gent in a Santa suit receiving donations and giving a “Ho, Ho, Ho” to the audience at the beginning of the concert, in fact, this concert was not “Christmas themed.” This concert was more about commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the ending of World I. Vaughan Williams had personal knowledge of the horrors of World War I, since he served as a hospital orderly in France and Macedonia.

Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem was inspired by the poetry of Walt Whitman, and since the audience was provided with a copy of the text the experience of hearing this moving work was enhanced immeasurably. Pronunciation is frequently a problem in choral works, and except for the absolutely clear projection of baritone Kiril Havezov and soprano Jody Lee, it was often difficult to understand the text while sung by the choir, even though it was sung in English. The Hartnell Community Choir, soloists and orchestra (supplied by David Dally) performed this work with bold passion and intensity. It was a very moving experience to hear this work, which probably most of us in the audience had never heard before, and most likely will never hear again.

During the first half of the concert we heard arias from Verdi’s Don Carlo and Nabucco sung by mezzo-soprano Anna Yelizarova and soprano Heather Green. We were impressed with their vocal virtuosity and the tremendous intensity they achieved at higher decibels than were always totally comfortable — not quite, but almost, ear splitting and eyeglass shattering. We also heard a lovely duet from Rossini’s Barber of Seville by mezzo Veronica Jensen and baritone Krassen Karagiozov — they achieved beautiful ensemble and acting skills. Pianist Bruce Olstad navigated his way through the orchestra reductions with skill and great sensitivity.

Cora Frantz from Baltimore, Maryland, returned to the Hartnell Community Choir to sing the charming soprano solo in Alway Something Sings by Dan Forrest. The Monterey Strings Orchestra accompanied Ms. Frantz and the choir. The text by Ralph Waldo Emerson could also have served as a lamentation for World War I –“But in the darkest, meanest things, There alway, alway something sings.”

George Peterson from Monterey was featured as the celeste player in the choir and orchestra’s performance of Salve Regina by Arvo Pärt. Mark Wilberg’s “Let Peace Then Still the Strife” on a text by David Warner, although not specifically referring to World War I expresses similar emotions — “Let peace then still the strife, the loneliness and grief, come heal the piercing silence of passing.” With a fine solo by tenor Arthur Woo, this expressive and moving work was a satisfying close to the afternoon’s concert.

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