I don't usually get to two of these in one year, but fate decreed.
First was the Ragazzi Boys Chorus, which I attended with athenais, and reviewed at the behest of the chorus' publicity people, who were rather persistent. But it was only fair; after four years at the Daily Journal, I'd never covered one of their own concerts before.
Some nice stuff, especially the English Renaissance anthems, and some modestly imaginative new works. The carol singalong, though, didn't work: the throbbing heavy organ was out of place, and the choral arrangements were too complex for a singalong to latch on to.
Second was by the Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale, subscribed to with enthusiasm by myself and B. and all the other Friends of vgqn, who sings therein. It was at the California Theatre in downtown San Jose, where SSV plays, and was led by associate director Michael DiGiacinto.
This highly textured and well-balanced chorus was most excellently displayed in superb arrangements (by Dan Forrest and Peter Wilhousky, respectively) of "The First Noel" and "Carol of the Bells," plus James McKelvy's wacky setting of "Deck the Halls" in 7/8 time.
The big pieces on the program were two oft-played modern British classics. Britten's Ceremony of Carols, accompanied by harp (Karen Thielen, a true master of tone color on her instrument) was vigorous and charming, and the more angular Gloria of John Rutter - whose finale starts out sounding like Carl Orff and finishes up like John Williams - was likewise invigorating and sometimes unexpectedly beautiful.
Rutter calls for an instrumental ensemble of brass, percussion, harp, and piano doubling organ, and as long as the brass was there, we also had a couple antiphonal pieces by Gabrieli and Praetorius with the chorus forming one choir and the brass the other. Interesting experiment, and it worked pretty well.
And there were singalongs here too, better arranged than Ragazzi's, and encouraged by mugging comments by the conductor. One set of secular carols - "The Christmas Song" (you know, "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire"), which was co-authored by Mel Tormé, probably requires Tormé to do it justice - and one set of sacred ones. The latter included "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" ("Hark the Herald Tribune sings / Advertising wondrous things" - T. Lehrer) and "O Come All ye Faithful" ("Oh come let us adore him / Pippin the Cat" - Kalimac).
On the way over, we stopped for a brief walk-through of Christmas in the Park. Every year, Chavez Plaza is filled with Christmas trees which are decorated by various local organizations, both religious and secular (clubs, charities, schools, etc.), and in among them, as festive as any others, were trees by the local atheist group and the Satanic Church. The sight of these would probably cause Roy Moore's wig to fly off, but around here we take such diversity in stride. Also dioramas with recorded music playing, one of The Nutcracker in such sound quality as to suggest it was recorded by Tchaikovsky himself, and another of "Deck the Halls" at the speed of a dirge.