Doreen Rao, the Chicago choral eminence, led the combined choirs entering from the back ofthe hall in Wayland Rogers’s “Encounter,” a piece commissioned for the occasion. Rogers writes fluently and effectively, and segments of this straightforward work would be reprised at critical junctures during the program, lending unity to the whole.
The most exotic sounds of the evening came from Sedaa, four singer-instrumentalists, who presented songs inspired by Mongolian folk music. Some used polyphonic overtone singing, a technique that creates the aura of a single voice simultaneously producing multiple tones.
Crystal Children’s Choir, a group from San Francisco with a primarily Chinese American membership, sang Chinese traditional songs as well as a Romani song in Serbian. Naturally integrated movements enhanced their pure sound and vibrant rhythm. They were followed by the Ecuadoran ensemble, Choir Cedemusica, whose performance combined folk dance with traditionally inspired song. The Toronto Beaches Children’s and Youth Chorus gave an especially memorable performance of the music of the Canadian First Nations, including a challenging new work by Barbara Croall sung with heartfelt ease.
Some of the most impressive singing of the evening came from three expert chamber ensembles. The six lively female voices of Túumben Paax from Mexico presented music rooted in Mayan culture, concluding with “Be Joyful,” a rousing new work by Rodrigo Cadet perfectly gauged to the ensemble’s unique sound and spirit. Calmus, a polished and versatile ensemble of one female and four male voices from Germany, delivered intricate arrangements of Bach from the Lutheran tradition before veering into a disarmingly stylish “Everybody Knows” by Leonard Cohen. The male quartet Barbara Furtuna sang music from Corsica of raw emotive power, filled with muezzin-like embellishment and expressive hand gestures.
During the finale, Rao spoke to the audience about the continuing humanitarian crisis on our southern border. Rao’s poignant words added even more urgency to an impressive night of world music.