Los Robles Master Chorale Brings Africa to Thousand Oaks
On March 11, Africa came to Thousand Oaks via Los Robles Master Chorale and Los Robles Children’s Choir, directed by Lesley Leighton (pictured right) and Donna Young, respectively. The program entitled “Zimbe! Songs of Africa” featured Zimbe by Alexander L’Estrange as well as Baroque and Romantic works by familiar composers such as Bach and Vivaldi, and contemporary pieces, including the world premiere of Yamabiko, two Japanese poems set to music by Thomas Goedecke.
Ascension Lutheran Church was overflowing with attendees as seated patrons were asked to move in their pews towards the center of the venue and raise their hands if they were adjacent to an empty seats. After spending some time to make room for everyone, the audience was treated to a diverse and colorful program presented by the excellent voices of the artists.
The concert began with the youngest musicians, the Bel Canto Choir division of the Los Robles Children’s Choir, singing the well-known Bach aria, Bist du bei mir with Amy Momie accompanying on piano. The 37 young singers created a very sweet, unison sound that was equally gentle on the ears when they broke out in harmony singing Velvet Shoes, Ruth Elaine Schram’s setting of a poem by Elinor Wylie. Bel Canto performed their last two pieces, Dormi, Dormi, an Italian carol arranged by Mary Goetze, and Who’ll Buy My Lavender, Caryl Battersby’s poem set to music by Edward German, memorized. Nearly as impressive as Bel Canto’s sound was their German and Italian! They even rivaled their slightly older counterparts, the Amadeus Choir, consisting of 51 youths.
Amadeus Choir fittingly began their set with Gloria Fanfare by Sally K. Albrecht. Christine DeKlotz serves as accompanist for both Amadeus Choir and Los Robles Master Chorale. Evan DeLong tenderly accompanied the choir on violin for Patrick M. Leibergen’s arrangement of Giulio Caccini’s Ave Maria, an unusual setting that uses only three words, “Ave Maria. Amen.” The melodically descending theme is cleverly traded amongst a trio of voices, violin, and piano. The middle of the set took us back in time slightly, starting with J. S. Bach’s Now Let Every Tongue Adore Thee. Amadeus Choir shined in “Laudamus Te” from Vivaldi’s Gloria, written for female duet, but sounding almost like only two voices. The program was diversified by Al shlosha d’varim by Allan Naplan, a lyric setting of popular maxim from Pirkey Avot (Jewish Morality laws), and Beneath the African Sky by Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory, accompanied by Jaclyn Belleville on oboe. Caldwell and Ivory’s work was inspired by the story of Clemantine Wamariya who escaped from home at age six just two weeks after the Rwandan genocide began.
êkō, the 32-voice chamber ensemble consisting of members from within the Los Robles Master Chorale, then gave the world-premiere performance of Yamabiko by Thomas Goedecke. Set to poems from the 18th and 7th centuries, this work is dedicated to the victims of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, exactly one year to the day prior. Joined by the remaining members of Los Robles Master Chorale, the children were featured center stage with the adults on either side of them. I Believe in Springtime and Look at the Word, both by John Rutter, were excellent choices for the full compliment of voices with the children singing melody and the 100 adults expertly balancing harmony.
After intermission, pianist Howard Songstegard, percussionists Sidney Hopson and Jake Reed, and narrator Mark Edward Smith appeared wearing dashiki, colorful West African tops. The adult choir returned donning colorful shirts, the children matching with equally dazzling scarves. Zimbe! is a celebration of traditional folk and religious African songs that features chorus, semi-chorus, children’s chorus, piano and African percussion. Sacred songs, children’s songs, a lullaby, a funeral song, wedding songs, and songs of protest make up this work reflecting music, African culture, community, and freedom. The text, music, and stories created an emotional tapestry of pride, faith, sorrow, youth, fun, love, unity, and strength. Deidre Fisher, Shari Robinson, Dana Rouse, and Scully Cloete loaned their voices in the somber soliloquy, Aleluya/Thuma Mina, a traditional Zulu funeral song for mothers who have lost their children.
To this performance of Zimbe!, narration and projected images were added. Mr. Smith justly delivered quotes by Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and poet Maya Angelou while photos of Africans varying from simple every day life to Apartheid protests accompanied the music sung in Swahili (Kenya), Xhosa (South Africa), Akan (Ghana), Shona (Zimbabwe), and Zulu (South Africa). Considerable care and thought went into this concert, and it was well executed, showing off the space and its resources. The screen and projector were novel to the group’s performance, and the adults and children sang form various locations within the church using the aisles and even balcony section. Lesley Leighton, Donna Young, the choirs and instrumentalists triumphantly delivered this work of empathy, literally enveloping the audience by surrounding them with music and emotion.
On May 5th, 2012, Los Robles Master Chorale presents “Mostly Mozart” at Ascension Lutheran Church in Thousand Oaks. For more information, visit their website: http://www.losroblesmasterchorale.org/