Wednesday, March 21, 2012

SF Gay Men's Chorus & Stephen Schwartz

San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, 03.20.2012 San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus on the stage of Davies Hall.Tuesday night I was at the first of two performances by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus featuring composer Stephen Schwartz. The program included songs from Godspell, Wicked, Pippin & a medley of songs from Disney movies. The 270 member chorus sometimes performed fancy choreography, & there were many short break-out solos. A small band accompanied the chorus, & conductor Timothy Selig led with broad gestures. I've never seen any of Mr. Schwartz's musicals, so I did not recognize a single song, which my friend in the chorus thinks is bad.

Mr. Schwartz made a showy entrance, rising to the stage on the pit elevator as he played the piano & sang in French. He sang 4 songs in the 1st half, accompanying himself on the piano. His singing is rough, but he communicates the words clearly. In the 2nd half he accompanied soprano Melody Moore in 2 arias from his opera Séance on a Set Afternoon. She was so yearning & emotionally engaged that she nearly stopped the show. I was surprised when Mr. Schwartz chose to sing another song himself after her. The chorus then premiered Mr. Schwartz's Testimony, which begins with a series of soloists singing self-despairing words from the It Gets Better campaign. The piece is quiet & earnest & ends on a hopeful note. Members of the chorus hugged each other at the end, & the performance received a standing ovation. Mr. Schwartz composed Testimony specifically for the chorus without accepting a fee. It will be released on YouTube on Thursday, so it is a true gift.

The concert's performers also included The Choral Project, a well-prepared mixed chorus from San Jose. They sounded crisp in Kéramos, an a capella piece written for them by Mr. Schwartz with a text by Longfellow. Their female soloists sang with clarity in "Meadowlark" & "For Good."

The show had a ton of lighting cues & a couple of miscues. The stage was plunged into darkness midway through one of The Choral Project's numbers, & the lights inexplicably came up on the audience during another. In "That's How You Know", the audience cheered when a same-sex marriage tableaux appeared on stage. I liked the simple rendition of "Beautiful City," sung in unison & accompanied only by the piano. Right before the 2nd half, a friend & I waved to our chorister friend but got no reaction. We later learned that he saw us but had been instructed to preserve decorum by not waving back.

§ Enchantingly Wicked, An Evening With Stephen Schwartz
San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus
Dr. Timothy Selig, Artistic Director & Conductor

Music from Godspell:
"Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord"
"Day by Day"
"All For the Best"
"All Good Gifts"
"We Beseech Thee"

"Popular" from Wicked

Schwartz at the Movies:
"Deliver Us" from Prince of Egypt
"God Help the Outcasts" from The Hunchback of Notre Dame
"Colors of the Wind," "Just Around the Riverbend" from Pocahontas
"Through Heaven's Eyes" from the Prince of Egypt

"Meadowlark" from The Baker's Wife
"For Good" from Wicked
Featuring The Choral Project

Selections featuring Stephen Schwartz & Vocal Minority

"When You Believe" from The Prince of Egypt

"The Spark of Creation" from Children of Eden
Featuring The Choral Project

"That's How You Know" from Enchanted

Music from Pippin:
"Corner of the Sky"
"Magic to Do"
"Morning Glow"

Selections featuring Stephen Schwartz, Melody Moore, & The Lollipop Guild

Testimony (World Premiere)

"Beautiful City" from Godspell

"Defying Gravity" from Wicked

Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall
Tuesday, March 20, 2012 — 8 PM


Civic Center said...

"I've never seen any of Mr. Schwartz's musicals, so I did not recognize a single song" reminds me of why I adore you. I saw him recently on TV for the first time, and he looked to be about three feet tall. And "Godspell" makes one hate Broadway and 1960s Jesus Freaks in just about equal measure.

As for that 270-person Gay Mens chorus, well, let's just say I'd rather do something extremely distateful than see them perform ever again. I admire your courage and open mind.

Axel Feldheim said...

I don't know if I should be adored for my ignorance. Mr. Schwartz probably was the shortest person on that stage.

It's not a matter of an open mind. I have a couple of friends in the chorus this year, & I like to see them excited about performing, & they are happy to have me in the audience.

Civic Center said...

"Ignorance" is not the same as "enlightened disinterest," which is what I was trying to imply.

And let's just say you're a more indulgent friend than me. I've had friends in the group too over the years, but after one concert in Davies Hall about 15 years ago, I vowed Never Again strictly on musical terms.

Axel Feldheim said...

"Enlightened disinterest" shall be my motto to live by.

I know what you mean about the SFGMC's purely musical values, but the show did include a great Melody Moore cameo, & The Choral Project from San Jose sang quite beautifully. In fact, after the show my friend asked worriedly, "Was The Choral Project better than we were?"

Izzy said...

Axel, I'm glad you enjoyed the show. It's unfortunate that sfmike has different views on the chorus, but to each his own, right?

Anonymous said...

It's a shame Mike hasn't joined the thousands of others who have enjoyed SFGMC's musical renaissance since the arrival of Tim Seelig in 2011. The tracks from the "Words" concert on Spotify should speak for themselves.

On the other hand, it may be better that Mike stays home. So many give up on the joy of making music because of discouraging, selfish snobs like him.

John Trompeter said...

You can't please everyone for sure. As a member for 22 years we have had our ups and downs musically. We are in-fact an all volunteer organization and our membership is not so exclusive that only the most educated in music get in. It is a community organization that represents a large segment of the community. It is what it is and we continue to improve. SFMIKE you have said you would rather "do something distasteful" then see us perform again- that sir will be your loss entirely and in your comment you have lived up to your desire.

Anonymous said...

It is indeed unfortunate that a 270-member amateur chorus, many of whose members have limited musical training, is unable to fulfill the most exquisitely refined artistic expectations. Perhaps in 2013 it should focus on 20th-century atonal Lithuanian liturgical chant. That's guaranteed to sell out Davies THREE times!

Brian Roberge said...

I attended a concert by the San Francisco Gay Mens Chorus at Davies Symphony Hall. As that group of 275 gay men sang Testimony, like I'm sure many others were doing, I couldn't help but think of my own life and how it has gotten so much better.

I remember growing up with that feeling of absolute despair that somehow I was not worth as much as others. That I was somehow defective. I remember those feelings that I could not talk about and that I could not get rid of. The feelings of alienation, hatred, rejection that dominated every single day of my life. I remember trying everything and anything to deny who I really was and in the process led a life that was deceitful and hurtful to others. There isn't a phrase of "Testimony" that I did not feel. I remember the hateful words thrown out as barbs that pierced my self esteem and destroyed my self image. Those who uttered those words probably had no idea how much they hurt and cut and even destroy someone else. And, I remember trembling with absolute fear when I had decided to tell my Father who I really was. I was convinced because of his ultra-conservative outlook that I would be thrown out the door and totally rejected as a person and a son. And I remember how totally surprised I was when he said, "I would never throw you out the door." For me, that's when it really GOT BETTER. As the last line of "Testimony" says, "and when it's time to go, I want to come back as me."

I don't know anything about music. What I do know is that when something can move people ilke this song does it doesn't matter whether the singers are professional or amateur, whether its a professional presentation or not. What matters is that the message gets across. And Testimony does that!

Axel Feldheim said...

I have been hearing a lot of enthusiasm for Tim Seelig, which is one of the reasons I've been to the last few shows. I also think it's OK not to like a performance.

Brian: Thanks for your story. I think performances are ultimately judged by how well they communicate, & clearly Testimony found its audience this week.

John: I appreciate hearing about the concert from the performers' point of view. I got an email from my friend today about Wednesday's show, & he said, "[Stephen Schwartz] wrote this song for us, with words from people who submitted to the It Gets Better Project. It proved to be so powerful to me, I've gotten teary every time I've sung it. The last night of our concert, people in the chorus were 'losing it' behind me, sobbing a bit, and that happened to audience members too."

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