Choral music brings people together, literally and figuratively, and the Serenade! choral festival, taking place in and around Washington, is celebrating that unifying power. Organized by Classical Movements, a company that plans tours for classical music ensembles, the festival brought together nine choral groups from five continents Sunday afternoon for a marathon concert. Friday night’s violent storms almost canceled the event, leaving Strathmore without power, but the organizers managed to relocate to National Presbyterian Church.
All of this music-making is laudable, and in one sense, those who most enjoy such performances are the enthusiastic performers themselves. Delights for the listener were not as consistent, especially when poor planning stretched the performance to nearly three hours. So much contemporary choral music is in a vaguely pop style — catchy rhythms, cloying harmonies, banal melodies — that thrills some listeners and grates on others. It comes in various regional accents — African (South Africa’s Imilonji KaNtu Choral Society and Namibia’s Voices of Namibia), South American (Colombia’s Verata E Liberi children’s choir) and North American (Boston City Singers children’s choir and Canada’s Cantaré Children’s Choir), including close-harmony jazz (Countermeasure, a polished a cappella group from Toronto) — but it all sounds pretty much the same.
Standing out for purity of sound and clear blend and intonation were the girls of the Minnetonka Chamber Choir, who held hands and, with radiant simplicity, sang the Irish World War I ballad “Bonny Wood Green.” Points of musical interest were provided by the Czech Republic’s Zvonky-Praha youth choir, singing charming arrangements of Czech folk songs and the opening chorus from Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride,” and by Australia’s Young Adelaide Voices, who filled the church with a twittering aviary of sounds in Stephen Leek’s “Currawong Dreaming.” The inevitable massed choir conclusion, featuring instantly forgettable new compositions, was an experience more to be endured than enjoyed.
Downey is a freelance writer.