The “there” was the Harlen Adams Theatre at Chico State University Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, and the event was a musical extravaganza including nearly 75 separate musical bits, close to 200 performers, and lasting more than two and a half hours. The show involved four Chico State choirs, the Wind Ensemble, the Centennial Organ, and a slew of other performers drawn together into a monster concert labeled American Dreams, New Beginnings. It was overkill for sure, but it was terrific.
Put simply, the concert was divided into two parts, the first consisting of more nearly conventional “choral” works and the second comprising a race through American popular music over the last hundred years. Each half could have been a concert on its own. Still, conductor Jeffrey Gemmell, along with organist David Rothe, Pianist Sandra Libby, Wind Ensemble Director Royce Tevis and Pop Ensemble Advisor Joe Alexander, deserves great credit for having created a physically fluid (singers and ensembles popping up all over the auditorium) and musically exciting show.
Highlights of the first half included Howard Hanson’s musical version of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Democracy,” a beautifully varied and exhilarating work sung by the Choral Union, a collection of all university vocal groups; a portion of Swiss born Ernest Bloch’s Avodath Hakodesh, accompanied by the organ and sung in Hebrew (excellently) by Rollie Hauser as cantor and the University Chorus as responders; a series of lovely tunes from the Chamber Singers, including six delightful little songs from Rilke turned into mini-tone poems by Paul Hindemith; and the A Cappella Choir performing songs ranging from William Bennings’ “King David’s Lament” and Stravinsky’s 1949 “Ave Maria” to a very pretty, image-making trio of Japanese folksongs arranged by Misuzu McManus and a pair of spirituals, one more old fashioned and one arranged last year by Moses Hogan.
There is not space to describe the wonderful headlong gallop through the at least 30 “popular music” selections that comprised the concert’s second half. Suffice it to say that, although the singing was not always top flight, the mere energy and kaleidoscopic variety of more than 25 separate performing groups made it something to experience. Standouts include Selena Garcia and guitarist Bruce Macmillan’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Chris Wenger and bassist Mike Di Trolio’s “Fever,” Daun Hayes’ “People” (although the song’s lyrics still make me retch), Jennifer Moore’s “Maybe,” and Jennifer Elliott’s self-accompanied version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.”
It was, as they say, one helluva show, and if you missed it, that’s sad.