Master Singers 40th anniversary gala
a splendid send-off for Halliday
Pianist Olga Rogach performs with the chorus (Photo/Jeff Slovin)
The Gala 40th Anniversary Party of the Master Singers of Worcester Saturday night in Mechanics Hall fused music-making by groups from Central Massachusetts in a dazzling celebration of the protean talents of MSW director Malcolm Halliday. At season’s end Halliday will depart for Mexico and semi-retirement. On brilliant display were Halliday, the 20-year choral director of MSW and 28-year music director of Shrewsbury’s First Congregational Church, Halliday, the composer and writer world premiering his eclectic meditation on the achievements of Clara Barton, Halliday, the pianist thundering through Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, and finally Halliday, the logistical wonder-worker presiding over the deft coming and going of these myriad choristers, soloists and instrumentalists.
To honor Halliday, MSW joined forces with The Salisbury Singers, and that strong amalgam under Michele Graveline’s tight direction also included the angelic voices of the Worcester Children’s Chorus, led with precise elan by Pamela Mindell. Worcester Polytechnic Institute sent over its vaunted Medwin String Quartet as well as its full bore 70-piece orchestra masterfully conducted by Douglas Weeks. The Shrewsbury Ringers, a bell-ringing group, led off the celebration, and pianists Olga Rogach and Lynne Lacomfora added their sturdy efforts to the nearly three-hour celebration.
The program began with the bell-wrung choral depiction of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, “The Bells,” hauntingly set to music by Worcester’s Stephan P. Barnicle. Polished brass thrustings counterpointed the affecting choral score. The blended choral singers occasionally struggled with Poe’s complexities but managed to articulate “tintinnabulation.” Astonishingly at one point the ringers drew whining sounds by rotating wooden dowels around the upturned edge of their bells.
Cellist Eric Cheng of WPI’s Medwin Quartet led off the second piece, Norwegian Ola Gjeilo’s “Luminous Night of the Soul,” in a hushed and captivating solo. There was a fine interplay between chorus and string quartet illustrating the work’s contention ”… long before silver was shaped in the fire … you were the Spirit of all that is art.”
There was equally brilliant artistry in Lynne McKenney Lydick’s embodiment of Clara Barton, in resplendent full hoop skirt and tightly bunned hair. In bell-clear tones she issued the biographical and aphoristic terms Halliday had assembled for her, with the choruses underscoring her sentiments. It was a mesmerizing presentation leaving Lydick, the choruses and the audience rapt and transfixed by Barton’s portrait hanging above the left balcony of Mechanics Hall, yet at the same time mulling over Halliday’s transcription of Barton’s final remark: “I have lived my life for well and for ill, but always less well than I wanted it to be. But it is as it is, and as it has been; so small a thing to have had so much said about it!”
The first half ended with Ruth Watson Henderson’s choral rendering of St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Sun.” And for this reviewer at least, the highest point of the concert came in The Worcester Children’s Chorus singing of Movement IV of that effort, sung with a breathtaking purity and heart-rending sentiment.
The second half opened with Worcester favorite Gwyneth Walker’s “Chords of Love,” and the blended choruses in superb form were joined by the Senior Choir and Vocal Interns of the First Congregational Church of Shrewsbury. No small feat, given that the stage was already crowded with the 70+ players in WPI’s orchestra. Next, Douglas Weeks led the orchestra in a rousing version of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Festival Overture, with its galloping surges adroitly carried off by the young musicians. Douglas led again in the final piece, a sumptuous and roaring version of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, with Halliday at the piano initiating and furiously punctuating that celebratory uplifting work.
One might hope that Halliday, once he’s settled in Mexico, will again, as is his wont, galvanize and lead local choral talent sufficient, say, to detonate a wall.