Columbia Collegiate Chorale and New England Youth Ensemble
Washington Adventist University, Department of Music
Monday 22 June 2015
On a cold winterís night a good number of people came to listen to these groups and clearly by the standing ovation at the conclusion of the performance were not disappointed. Some fifty and more people, mostly students with a Director each of the Chorale and the Ensemble and some graduates as Mentors, are touring Australia and stopped in the Southern Highlands for this performance.
An observation is that an Adventist University may seem to Australians with experience of higher education to be unusual; here denominational universities such as the Australian Catholic University are quite new, not more than 20-25 years old. It is different in America. Institutions of higher education started, soon after the founding of colonies, through the denominations which were a strong part of the original colonies. Thus Harvard College, known now as Harvard University, was started in 1636 by the Puritan settlers; and its counterpart, Yale University, started shortly thereafter. Drew University, New Jersey, which I attended many years ago, was started by the American Methodist Episcopal Church in the early 1850s as a theological college, at the same time as the University of Sydney. So there has been a strong sector in American higher education which started with the Puritans and then other denominations; and it remains active with institutions such as the Washington Adventist University from which these two groups have come.
Under the direction of two clearly accomplished musicians, the Chorale with James Bingham, originally from Geelong, and the Ensemble with Preston Hawes, originally from Canada, presented a varied program of choral and instrumental works. Thus we first heard a full, lively chorus of the priests assembling for the dedication of the Temple of Solomon from Handelís oratorio of that name. There followed a Vivaldi concerto for four violins. Back to the Chorale for an excerpt from Mozartís Twelfth Mass, the Gloria and then his Il RE Pastore. In both of these one of the students sang soprano solo with a lovely, clear and strong voice.
There followed a Mozart Concerto for Horn No. 3, with the flugel horn played beautifully by a graduate who was with the group as a mentor - one of about four such mentors. The horn was followed by an instrument of which we hear all too little, an harp - from James Binghamís comments the harp was borrowed in this country and they were having not a little difficulty in carrying it with them in a bus. The composer is, certainly to me, not well known, the Frenchman Marcel Grandjany who started playing the harp at the age of eight. This, Aria in Classical Style, was a truly beautiful and moving work.
But what a selection: a prelude from Greigís Holberg Suite, a movement from Chopinís Concerto for Piano No.1, again played by a student - interestingly Romanian born and to Maryland via Canada. The Chorale presented a Requiem composed by their Director, James Bingham; and we heard Darkeís Brother Jamesís Air, a traditional spiritual. And to finish there was on old favourite, I am sure, of many in the audience (congregation): How Great Thou Art (and I was surprised to learn from the program notes that this is a Swedish folk song O Store Gud). This was a stirring and moving finish to a wonderful performance.
After this wonderful finish the standing ovation said it all in terms of the appreciation for these wonderful young (still learning) musicians. May they have a great tour and, at some time, come again to the Southern Highlands.