A Choral Tribute Fit for King

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A capacity audience filled the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Sunday for the 18th annual Choral Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Three groups assembled for the event: the Choral Arts Society of Washington, the Martin Luther King Tribute Choir 2006 and the Suitland High School Visual and Performing Arts Chamber Choir.

The evening opened with a forceful account of Leonard Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms" by the Choral Arts Society. Led by Norman Scribner, the singers alternately conveyed the music's nostalgic sweetness (highlighted by 13-year-old Andrew Brown's poignant treble voice) and its bluster reminiscent of Carl Orff's violent "Carmina Burana."

Edward Jackson II conducted the King Tribute Choir in the "Hallelujah" Chorus from Beethoven's "Christ on the Mount of Olives." That and several other familiar selections led by Linda Edge Gatling were rendered with finely nuanced expressivity and precise diction. Along with impressive student soloists Tonaee Burgess and Tiera Furby, the Suitland High School Choir offered two moving traditional hymns under conductor Kenneth Boucher, performing them with confidence and professional aplomb.

The choruses combined for a movement from Charles Gounod's "St. Cecilia" Mass and a group of long-loved hymns with soloists who took the audience by storm with their beautifully ornamented improvisations. Ralph Herndon was the terrific pianist for much of the evening.

News anchors Leon Harris and Kathleen Matthews of WJLA-TV emceed the event. Human rights activists Dorothy Height and Marian Wright Edelman gave powerful addresses urging the world to keep King's message alive. Edelman received the 2006 Choral Arts Society Humanitarian Award, won by Height in 2004.

-- Cecelia Porter

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