by Allison Centobene
On Sunday, March 3, the Nashville Symphony and Nashville Symphony Chorus, conducted by Tucker Biddlecombe and Lauren Ramey, hosted their annual Voices of Spring choral showcase, which features a number of other vocal ensembles from the Nashville area. This year, the visiting ensembles included the Montgomery Bell Academy Chamber Choir, Nashville School of the Arts’ Paragon, the Middle Tennessee State University Women’s Chorale, and Vocal Arts Nashville. Admission to this event was free to the public and offered a wonderful opportunity for people who normally would not attend a concert to experience the Symphony, Symphony Chorus, and a number of local ensembles of all levels. The program was extremely varied, allowing each visiting ensemble to showcase an a cappella work and feature two numbers that included all five vocal ensembles as well as the Nashville Symphony. It truly was something to behold.
The concert began with a beautiful setting of the traditional hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” by Mack Wilberg, which featured all of the ensembles present. The positioning of the ensembles in the hall created quite a unique effect, with ensembles on either side of the second floor, an ensemble in the back balcony, and two ensembles onstage with the orchestra. The piece started very delicately with just the MTSU Women’s Chorale singing from the back balcony, which was equally unexpected and beautiful, and created a very interesting surround-sound effect in the hall. The piece then featured some of the other ensembles individually throughout, and grew to a spectacular peak. It was quite possibly the loudest piece I have ever heard, but it was absolutely glorious and left everyone in the audience wondering how this could be topped!
The Montgomery Bell Academy Chamber Choir, a high school ensemble directed by Matt Smyth, performed Edvard Grieg’s “Brothers Sing On.” This very popular song for men’s voices is short and sweet, and was performed extremely well by the Chamber Choir. Every syllable was crisp and understandable, while still being expressive and staying true to the character of the piece. The ensemble’s blend and balance was exceptional, and their sound projected very nicely in the hall. It truly was an impressive performance from a group of young men, and added a wonderfully different blend of voices to the program.
The mood then shifted to the Nashville Symphony & Chorus’ performance of Haydn’s Te Deum for the Empress Maria Therese, which was beautifully conducted by assistant conductor Lauren Ramey. It’s always wonderful to hear the Symphony and Chorus perform together, and it’s a treat that doesn’t happen quite enough. As always, the Haydn was performed with all of the necessary elegance and technique, and served as the perfect middle ground between a five-chorus and orchestra affair and the many a cappella features of the program.
The Nashville Symphony & Chorus, conducted by Tucker Biddlecombe, later premiered World Without End, a piece by Nashville-based composer Daniel Elder. Interestingly enough, this piece’s text is the same as the Haydn, but instead translated to English, which created a wonderful link in the program. This piece truly showcased the large, well-blended sound of the Nashville Chorus, as well as their skill to always stay in balance with the orchestra. This premiere was full of so much energy and featured many different styles and moods, all of which were perfectly conveyed by the Symphony and Chorus.
It was also a very nice touch for Mr. Biddlecombe to address the audience directly, and to inform them about the connection between the Haydn and the Elder. It truly made this performance feel like a community event, and helped lighten the mood of a classical concert for those who wouldn’t normally attend. His personality is very charming and he truly made everyone in the hall feel welcome.
Nashville School of the Arts’ Paragon, directed by Trey Jacobs, performed Desh, a Traditional song arranged by Ethan Sperry. This piece is a complex and interesting setting of a traditional folk song, which featured many different rhythms and timbres simultaneously. These different timbres were embraced fully and executed wonderfully by the ensemble, and made the piece truly stand out from all of the others on the program. All of the rhythms and different individual moving parts of the piece were so steady and clean that they worked together wonderfully, and made for a truly great performance. It’s always a treat to hear such talented young musicians in performance.
The MTSU Women’s Chorale, directed by Angela Tipps, performed “Voice on the Wind,” by Sarah Quartel, a piece for women’s voices and percussion. Similarly, to the first piece on the concert, this piece began with a gorgeous solo before adding more voices and harmony. The Women’s Chorale put so much powerful energy into the piece, with even more added by the ever-present beat from the percussion. The blend and balance of the women’s voices was wonderful to hear, and this emotional and exciting piece showcased the ensemble’s strengths quite well. As an alumna of this ensemble, it was a very personal and special moment to hear them sing again.
Vocal Arts Nashville, an up-and-coming professional vocal ensemble directed by Matthew Phelps, performed four selections: “Sweet Honey Sucking Bees” by John Wilbye, “My Soul There is a Country” (from Songs of Farewell) by Charles H. H. Parry, “Deep River” by Gere Hancock, and “Jesus Was an Only Son” by Bruce Springsteen, arranged by Dunnavant. It was refreshing and interesting to have a smaller ensemble on the program, and they did not disappoint. Their selections had a nice variety in style and featured individual members of the ensembles nicely. The overall blend and balance of the ensemble was quite nice as well, especially the lower voices. Like all of the other ensembles on the program, Vocal Arts Nashville brought their own sound and style to the table, and showcased it confidently and passionately.
The concert was closed with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” by William Steefe, arranged by Wilhousky, and again featured all five vocal ensembles and the Nashville Symphony. While I was a bit skeptical about the piece, it was a pleasant setting of the tune and text, with wonderful interplay between the orchestra and all of the vocal ensembles. Once again, the “surround sound” effect of voices from all sides of the hall was put to good use, with interjections from the ensembles in the balconies at different times during the piece. There was also a wonderful male quartette feature from the members of Vocal Arts Nashville, which added another special touch. The piece ended even larger than the first number of the concert, which did not seem possible, but it was an absolutely perfect end to an afternoon of vocal music.
Overall, it was a wonderful free concert that was well-received by a large audience. It was a wonderful opportunity to get to hear ensembles that normally would not be heard by such a large audience, and surely it was a wonderful experience for all of the performers involved. It is truly special that the Nashville Symphony & Chorus offers this experience annually!