(Full disclosure: I was a member of the chorus for several years in the late 1990s, so I’m understandably biased.)
Settling into my seat Sunday afternoon at the Shaghoian Hall and waiting for the concert to begin. The hall is beautiful, both in an aesthetic and acoustic sense, and it elevates the performance of the Fresno Community Chorus and other community ensembles that are able to use it.
The tenderness of the second movement of Mozart’s “Christ lag in Todesbanden,” sung by the chorus’ smaller Coro Piccolo ensemble. Sung at the group’s first concert in 1956, the piece was a salute to the longevity of an ensemble that has featured hundreds of concerts over the decades.
The bouncing musicality of soloist Ryan Anton in “Christ lag.” I like when people bring a sense of joy (and a little bit of dance) to choral music, and Anton seems so happy when he sings that I feel that way, too. (I enjoyed all the soloists: Katharine McGregor, Michael Villarreal, Ed Olivarez, Hilary Swearengen and Glady Ruiz, all wonderfully prepared and present.)
The moment when former conductors Nicola Iacovetti and Gary Unruh were introduced to the audience. Having them there made it that much more special.
The first choral note of Handel’s “Zadok the Priest,” which after an ever-building orchestral introduction never fails to rouse me into a jaunty, ceremonial state. Sure, the lyrics are a bit eye-rolling, but the sense of pomp and grandeur can’t be topped.
The chance to hear the Fresno State Chamber Singers, conducted by Tony Mowrer, in a nuanced interpretation of John Rutter’s “The Lord is My Shepherd.”
Joungmin Sur, the collaborative accompanist for the Fresno Community Chorus. Her “Let Justice Flow Like a River,” also beautifully sung by the Chamber Singers, kicked off Sur’s river theme for the program. (She also wrote the music for the last piece on the program, the commissioned work “Like Streams We Gather,” marking the 60th anniversary of the Fresno Community Chorus.)
Glady Ruiz, who wrote the text for “Like Streams We Gather.” When she recited her poem before the “big chorus” (now called the Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale) sang the world premiere of the piece, it was hard to keep tears from gathering, at least for this alum. The collaboration between Sur and Ruiz produced a big, bright and uplifting work, very tonal and accessible, with a stirring and theatrical feel. I felt like I could “see” those individual streams flowing into a mightier river of sound – no hidden meanings here. What an inspirational piece.
Anna Hamre, conductor of the chorus since 2002. “Like Streams We Gather” was dedicated to her, and it’s easy to read in the faces of the ensemble’s members – and the excitement with which they have talked about her to me over the years – that she is well loved, not just for her terrific musicianship but also her emotional connection with the singers. None other than Theodore Kuchar, the outgoing conductor of the Fresno Philharmonic, told me recently that he greatly admires Hamre and her way with choral groups. “I would like to think that if I accomplished anything in my time in Fresno, it is my annual collaborations with Anna,” he said. Strong words from a master musician himself.
And, finally, the greatest thing about the 60th anniversary concert was how it made me think about the idea of time itself. I’m struck, sitting in the audience, at how many lives have been part of a group such as this. There is longevity here but also a fleeting sense of how quickly 60 years can pass by. (Two members of that original 1956 chorus, John Donaldson and Laverne Cottet, were also honored at the concert.) The ensemble that came together Sunday will never quite be replicated again. It will lose members, gain them, sing different programs, have great concerts (and not-so-great ones, perhaps), and, most important, forge on, hopefully for another 60 years and beyond. But on this afternoon, this music is one-of-a-kind, never to be repeated quite this way, a reminder of how moments are fleeting but music immortal. I leave with a song in my heart.