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Cornell University Glee Club hits plenty of high notes at the Kennedy Center

Monday, January 11, 2010; C04

Throw out all stereotypes. The Cornell University Glee Club has developed a virtuosic choral sound that has far more in common with the King's Singers than 40 guys with a keg. Under the direction of Assistant Conductor John Rowehl, this ensemble performed with uniform tonal production, clear diction and laserlike intonation to a warmly receptive Saturday night audience at the Kennedy Center.

For its Northeast tour, the glee club commissioned two compositions by American composer Daniel Kellogg: "Winter Lullaby" and "Innisfree," set to poems by Christina Rossetti and William Butler Yeats, respectively. While these evocative works earned the masterful readings they deserved, the singers demonstrated their true vocal prowess in Eric Whitacre's "Lux Aurumque." The closing measures have a dangerously sustained falsetto in the first tenor line that wants to go flat or elicit gasps at staggered breathing points. It simply did neither.

Saturday's repertoire was as diverse as it was challenging and featured compositions spanning five centuries interspersed with segments of school songs and appearances by the Hangovers, a select ensemble whose a cappella popular arrangements and tightly choreographed moves found an appreciative audience composed largely of glee club alumni who took to the stage and joined in on school songs with pyrotechnic accompaniments by Rowehl and University of Virginia music faculty member Michael Slon. After local alumnus Austin Kiplinger was presented with several distinguished service awards, the two-hour program closed with a combined performance of Franz Biebl's "Ave Maria," the glee club's signature work.

-- Alfred Thigpen

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