REVIEW: ‘…And on Earth, Peace’ – An Excellent Dose of Christmas Spirit and Artistic Possibility

On the evening of Friday December 4th, Michael Hudlin’s second featured concert entitled, “…And on Earth, Peace”, produced by Chandelier Productions presented a one-hour, live-in-concert performance at the Pro-Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The show featured a specially selected chorus of vocalists inclusive of Music Festival champions, internationally debuted vocalists and renowned national performers including Samantha Stanislaus, Tracy Tuitt, Michele Dowrich, Janine Charles-Farray, Daniel De Cranie-Pierre, Garnet Allen, Jamel Williams and David Williams.

The safety announcement signaled the start of the show and the socially distanced congregation sighed almost in unison. The performers made their way onstage, eight vocalists and a pianist, distanced over six feet apart, each with their own music stands and microphone. Already the adherence to protocol allayed any further fears of coming out to a live performance in these times. Maestro Hudlin, entered to applause and greeted the audience. A ‘C’ was given, and the male voices entered on a reverent and confident “Requiem.”

Michael Hudlin | Photo Credit: Jael Dirpaul

If it was assumed Hudlin’s “Requiem” would be some quiet exploration of the theme of rest, you would be mistaken. Through highs of aural and emotional tensions that resolve beautifully between voices and piano, this piece set expectations high for the programme ahead. The inevitable intonation foibles that come as a consequence of protocol demands did not deter the opener from inspiring awe. 

North Eleven’s ingenious use of lighting and projection, effectively set the scene throughout the programme by adding dynamic and season appropriate backdrops to the presentations. Stars, Christmas wreaths, and baubles all festooned the space; a visual spectacle to get lost in as the music washed over you.

Following the plaintive minor cadence, came Bruckner’s “Virga Jesse.” Another quiet entry that was well chosen for the space and the vocal forces, the piece was effectively presented; this, though the pitfalls of intonation plagued some of the more clustered sections. Programming Bruckner’s vocal work on an ensemble that has not been together for a significant swath of time is usually a gamble. However, this ensemble did credit to the piece, ably led by Hudlin, whose gestures displayed an effective economy of effort, giving way to sweeping legato waves at the fortississimo chromatic sections. Special nod to the basses and Altos, and some passing anxiety for the tenors and sopranos, who recovered and rallied. 

Photo Credit: Jael Dirpaul

The decision by the director to have the pianist accompany the following piece – The Pilgrim’s Chorus from Wagner’s Tannhäuser, as adapted for a cappella chorus by William Dawson, was ultimately a wise move. This enabled us to comfortably focus on the ensemble’s masterful rendition of Wagner’s lines – interpreted to English text. Though not without its moments, noteworthy in this performance were the ostinati of the bass and altos while the tenors and sopranos soared on the theme in octave unison. 

The anchor work of the evening, Durante’s Magnificat in B-flat Major rounded out the first act. Hudlin gives us some brief context, as ensemble welcomed Pannists Kahea Tannis and Rhia Toppin to augment the accompaniment. With baton flourish and the enthusiastic entry of the sopranos, they were off. There were instances of true brilliance in this presentation, particularly the style-appropriate and moving dynamics. Movements which featured solo voices gave at turns thrilling and disconcerting moments. Soprano Samantha Stanislaus and Alto Michele Dowrich delivered clear tone and blend with just enough forward momentum in the “Et Misericordia.” In contrast, tenor David Williams and Baritone Daniel DeCranie-Pierre’s “Suscepit Israel” showed a divergence in interpretation of tone for their duo which belied the singers’ beautiful instruments. The work ended free of any of the perceived tentativeness of the previous movements when the ensemble hit “Sicut Erat in Principio,” which gave way to a confident, resounding “amen.”

Guest performers – Voix Riches offered an entr’acte of local flavour. A bit of mic issues was experienced at the onset, but this was overcome in short order. The lovely ladies of this parang ensemble, ably supported by a cadre of gentlemen on instruments delivered an energetic and seamless set local favourites: “Cantemos con alegría” and “Cantando Gloria,” closing their set with “Ave o Maria Ave.” This insertion proved a refreshing segue out of the previous act, and a welcome insertion of local music of the season.

Voix Riches: An Entr’acte of Local flavour | Photo Credit: Jael Dirpaul

To close out the show, the ensemble performed a selection of Traditional European carols, opening with Maestro Hudlin’s a cappella arrangement of The Christmas Hymn “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear.” Season staples “O Come all ye Faithful” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” swiftly followed, Led by Hudlin, whose ringing Baritone accompanied sweeping gesture as he invited the audience to sing along. Enlivened by this inclusion, audience members were then invited to meditate as the ensemble delivered Lutkin’s setting of “The lord Bless You and Keep You.”

Hudlin’s ringing Baritone accompanied sweeping gesture as he invited the audience to sing along | Photo Credit: Jael Dirpaul

“…And on Earth Peace” despite the pitfalls of live ensemble music making in a distanced environment (and the quirks of the acoustics of the space, and lighting an ensemble while performing with music), serves an excellent dose of Christmas spirit and artistic possibility. Michael Hudlin and team have, in my opinion successfully what they intend: Hope; particularly that the effectiveness of this artistically and safety-wise, signals in some way a return to live presentations in the near future.

In case you missed it, Michael Hudlin’s second featured concert, “…And on Earth, Peace”, produced by Chandelier Productions will be STREAMED ONLINE on the weekend before Christmas from December 18th to 20th 21st. To view the stream, book your US$7.99 (TT$55.00) virtual ticket by clicking the following link: https://bit.ly/AndOnEarthPeace.

… And on Earth, Peace – Online Stream has been extended to Monday 21st December 2020

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Your everyday awkward Cerebro-kinetic arts Junkie, Carl-Anthony has been in and around artistic concepts for as long as he can remember. Primarily a musical artist, he has a passion for ensemble music across instrumental and vocal styles of all genres, cultures and era. As a sometime dancer, Carl-Anthony has been a company member of The Company Dance Theatre in Jamaica, a guest dancer with The Metamorphosis Dance Company and routinely performs with the Astor Johnson Repertory Dance Theatre here in Trinidad and Tobago. Currently a freelance composer/arranger, choral clinician, music tutor, and Cultural Studies Graduate Student, Carl-Anthony actively serves as Musical Director of the Lydians.

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