Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Triumphant debut by new SWC/SMC Artistic Director Paul Caldwell

Paul Caldwell (courtesy Seattle Choruses)
Seattle Women’s Chorus: Unveiled
St. Mark’s Cathedral
October 21-22, 28-29, 2016

SWC has clearly fallen head over heels for new artistic director Paul Caldwell. By the looks of things, he’s fallen in love with them, too! The love fest is on full display at St. Mark’s Cathedral on Capitol Hill during Seattle Women’s Chorus’ concert, Unveiled.

The audience is falling in love, too, because the program is fresh and inviting and focuses on the core function of a concert: choral singing. There are a few soloists, and they are all fantastic, but by and large, the whole chorus sings every song except for those done by “pocket choir” Sensible Shoes.

The theme of the evening is becoming more open and vulnerable, and doing so by “unveiling” oneself, especially areas of personal information that one might want to keep private, or be afraid to reveal. Paul Caldwell talks about accepting his new job in Seattle just a few weeks before a devastating car accident almost destroyed his opportunity to come here. The fact that he is here, waving around injured limbs vigorously as he conducts, and simply standing UP to do so is all pretty miraculous.

The music he chose for this concert is a mix of known pop and Broadway music, contemporary other-nation folk music, and a couple of his own choral arrangements. The themes are uplifting, but also touch on sexual assault by way of Lady Gaga’s Til It Happens To You. That said, even that song is empowering and morphs into Beautiful by Linda Perry.

The extended third composition of Act 1, Tres Cantos, is a beautiful soundscape of singers’ bodies and Caldwell invited the audience to even listen with eyes closed. Full disclosure, I didn’t close my eyes and had a wonderful time watching both the actions of the singers and the conducting of Caldwell, which added to my personal enjoyment of it. Having previously sung with the Chorus for five years, I wished mightly to be up there singing that one along with everyone else.

Sensible Shoes has expanded from 9 to 12! They all sounded terrific, as usual, though the only push back on the evening is that there was really nothing “funny” about anything, and often Shoes will bring at least a bit of humor. I missed that leavening a tad.

While the Cathedral is great for big blended sound, it’s not really a choral venue and muddies the individual words. I really kind of hope that it is not a continued rental choice. I get that there is pretty great parking (which is a huge plus) and it’s hard to find space for everything, but the pews of hard wood and their tight between-row arrangement and the fact that so many are spread so much wider than the stage makes for awkward viewing, especially with no “rake” to the seats.

The concert itself felt triumphant and it was inescapable how great everyone was feeling. The last song, Everybody Rejoice, was enlivened by Kristin Holsather, who could have charged everyone’s cell phone just by looking at it! I wish everyone in the audience had been more empowered to CLAP (with the music) when I was there. It’s OK, audience…clapping along is really OK.

Lastly, having gotten used to always having an encore when Dennis Coleman programmed, I did miss one more opportunity to hear everyone sing. But programmatically, it was a wonderful set. The accompanying musicians added to Nancy Otness Bent’s fabulous piano-playing, but the singers iced their own cake, this time. Brava!

You have three more opportunities to see this concert (Friday, Oct. 28 8 pm and Saturday, Oct. 29 2 pm and 8 pm). You can go to to check the schedule for the Seattle Men’s Chorus, which begins performing Silver and Soul, December 4 at Benaroya Hall.

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