Superlatives are inadequate to describe Saturday’s North Okanagan Community Concert Association’s final show of the season, Chor Leoni. So I’ll make do with the English Cockney expression, “Cor!”, which roughly translates to “Wow!” in Canadian.
I’d expected the 50-strong male voice choir and its founder, artistic director and conductor Diane Loomer, to be good, but not this good.
Loomer is second to none – not even her assistant conductor, Kevin Zakresky, who directed two pieces in the first half of the program and sang like a god throughout the rest. Her imaginative programming, staging and choral leadership, coupled with the musical prowess and fun-loving versatility of her choir, captivated the evening’s packed house, augmented by some who had seen the matinee performance and grabbed a second chance to enjoy it.
The men entered through the auditorium, where half remained, surrounding the audience, while the rest climbed the stairs to the stage. When they opened their mouths –– first the tenors, led by Zakresky, joined by the baritones and then the basses –– the crowd hardly breathed. At the final extended “n” of “amen” in Ola Gjeilo’s Ubi Caritas, there was a moment of suspended silence, then an audible sigh, followed by a burst of thunderous applause.
Such emotional moments persisted throughout the program, balanced by others that were vibrant and fun.
Pianist Ken Cormier merely gave starting notes for every a cappella piece, but when he played, his accompaniment was never intrusive and always enhanced the performance.
The choir’s lusty, robust rendition of a Czech folk tale in which villagers entreat the gods to send rain was, according to Loomer, somewhat faulty in the pronunciation of the foreign language. We were so rapt by the animated rendition that, had we noticed, we’d hardly have cared.
As if singing several more songs fluently in as many different languages was not enough, 20 or so choir members lined up downstage, each spouting a different translation of Lewis Carroll’s well-loved poem Jaberwocky in accents from classical Greek to Korean. Those out to spot Loomer’s husband didn’t need to look no further than “the Dutchman.” Then a whimsical musical version of the poem was accompanied by several members on zany percussive instruments.
Another high spot was the topical Saltarelle with Deschamps’ text coaxing “the people of Rome” to Mardi Gras before the beginning of Lent.
Les Boys stopped the show in Putting on the Ritz when they danced in unison, with several bursting into a Fred Astaire type tap routine towards the end.
And that was only the first half! The second opened similarly staged, though differently costumed, with a surround-sounding rendition of Shenandoah – another spellbinder. Others were The Williams Lake Stampede, Desperado and Rise Again, not to mention the well-deserved encore, Danny Boy.
Many pieces were arranged by choir members, most notably I Wanna Be Like You, which Chor Leoni includes in its children’s program; and many fine voices were given an opportunity to shine in solos.
Thanks to this Choir of Lions, NOCCA’s 2010-2011 season definitely went out with a roar, with the audience eagerly signing up for the 2011-2012 one.
NOCCA’s 2011-2012 season includes pianist Georgy Tchaidze, The Penderecki String Quartet, The Elmer Iseler Singers, cellist David Eggert, and Buzz Brass – a brass quintet with a difference. There will be an extra concert this November, featuring soprano superstar Isabel Bayrakdarian.
–– Christine Pilgrim is a local actress, writer and music enthusiast, who reviews the North Okanagan Community Concert Association series for The Morning Star.