... Anyone who was at Carnegie last night enjoyed an unforgettable experience. There is a difference between high school and adult choirs, and it's one that the Viennese and Anglicans have known for at least 600 years. Young voices have a more pure tone, a more silken texture than mature voices, and their sound filled the Isaac Stern Auditorium last night with an incandescent glow. Close your eyes, and you might have imagined you were sitting in a great Gothic cathedral.
The first half of the program featured each of the four choirs singing a capella or piano arrangements of various hymns and songs, conducted by their regular choral directors. The selections ranged from Jan Sweelink's 1626 setting of Psalm 96, to the Latin hymn Lux Aurumque, written in 2000 by 36 year old Eric Whitacre. I felt a bit uneasy when the Bentonville High School Chamber Choir - a public high school - chose to perform a rousing Gospel song called Worthy to Be Praised, but it got by far the biggest ovation of the night.
After the intermission, the combined choirs - nearly 200 singers in all - were joined by the Orchestra of St. Luke's for Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms and Poulenc's Gloria. Dr. Jessop paused to say a few words beforehand, reminding us that these works were challenging for an adult choir to pull off, much less high school students. In the Gloria, the choir was joined by the talented American soprano Nicole Cabell, who made her Covent Garden debut this season and is engaged to sing at the Met in upcoming seasons. Her voice had a dark radiance, effectively penetrating the huge sound projecting from behind her.
After the music ended, Jessop brought out all the individual choral directors to share in the huge standing ovation, a moment they seemed to cherish even more than the kids, who will likely have to wait for their grandchildren to realize just how magical last night was.