Choral Masterpieces at Carnegie Hall


Collegiate Chorale/American Symphony Orchestra/James Bagwell
Bruckner: Te Deum/TippettA Child of Our Time
Carnegie Hall, February 3, 2012

It has been said in various ways that live performance affects the listener in ways no recording can duplicate. The sound vibration of the live, unamplified singer and orchestra plays not only to one’s ears, but to the body, the internal organs, and particularly to the heart. There is no denying that the sounds produced by The Collegiate Chorale, American Symphony Orchestra, and soloists Nicole Cabell, Marietta Simpson, and Russell Thomas, conducted by James Bagwell, made a beeline straight to the heart at Carnegie Hall last Friday night. Phil Spector at his height never constructed a “wall of sound” such as this!

The performance of Anton Bruckner’s Te Deum, a Latin hymn of praise customarily sung for the dedication of a church, the coronation of a monarch, and various other festivities, was a mighty piece. The performance at Carnegie Hall was of such force that committed non-believers might find themselves experiencing something akin to a sense of Deity.

The oratorio A Child of Our Time by English composer Sir Michael Tippett was inspired by the story of seventeen-year-old Herschel Grynspan and the ordeals both he and his family endured in Germany and elsewhere in the late 1930s. The official and unofficial anti-Semitism of the countries which they lived in and passed through, in combination with the international tumult of the times, put them in positions of intense stress and danger. On November 7, 1938, outraged beyond control, Gyrnspan entered the German Embassy in Paris and shot Ernst von Rath, the clerk on duty. He freely confessed to the shooting, declaring his motive was to avenge the persecution of German Jews. Two days later Von Rath died from his wounds on the day that just happened to be the fifteenth anniversary of the Nazis' Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, the most important date in the Nazi calendar. Nazi Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, never one to miss an opportunity, took to the microphone to say it would not be surprising if the good people of Germany took matters in their own hands and attacked everything Jewish. In a matter of hours “spontaneous outbursts” commenced, and the carefully pre-planned and orchestrated Kristallnacht exploded.

A Child of Our Time is a musically complex work, with the English text written by Tippett. The structure of the oratorio shows shades of Handel and Bach in its structure, and the text, omitting direct reference to Grynspan, centers on the universal  themes of winter/spring, evil/good, dreams/reality, etc. Contrasted with Tippett’s very modern melodic music are interludes of lushly orchestrated and sung American spirituals and slave songs. Tippett’s creativity allows the piece to work in a strangely cohesive way.

The Collegiate Chorale’s 171 singers, supported by American Symphony’s 51 musicians, along with the four world-class soloists, made a total success of this adventurous undertaking of performing both Bruckner’s Te Deum and Tippett’s A Child of Our Times.

I highly recommend experiencing The Collegiate Chorale first hand. Their next appearance at Carnegie Hall will be a concert version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado on April 10, 2012. It will feature the multi-talented Kelli O’Hara (South Pacific, Night in the Piazza) as well as Christopher Fitzgerald and Jason Danieley. - Jay Reisberg

photo credit: Erin Baiano

Mr. Reisberg is a UCLA film school grad, professional singer, comedian, assistant to the founder of New York's Love Street Theatre, and bon vivant at large.

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