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Gloria Hilliard
Christine DeKlotz

Village Voices light up season
Concert Review
By Cary Ginell

There was something for everyone Saturday afternoon at the Scherr Forum Theatre in the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza when the Village Voices Chorale presented its annual holiday concert, “Light Up the Season!”

Selections ranged from relatively obscure ancient carols to more modern works and familiar favorites as longtime director Gloria Hilliard led the 60-voice choir through a highly entertaining program. The show was made all the more fun by narrator Larry Jordan’s droll commentary that preceded each number.

In the first half of the concert the choir focused mostly on proverbial “ancient yuletide carols” such as “Verbum Caro Factum Est” by 16th-century German composer Hans Leo Hassler and “Glory to God” by Johann Christoph Bach (with Jordan making wry comments about the Bach family’s confusing musical lineage).

Other numbers ranged from the familiar—“The First Noel” and Norman Luboff’s arrangement of “Silent Night”—to contemporary British composer John Rutter’s “What Sweeter Music.”

Of the more recent numbers, “Lux Aurumque” by Eric Whitacre was recently the subject of a video that attracted more than 1 million views on YouTube this past March. Canadian Brian Emery’s “Torches” was the winner of the 1996 Amadeus Choir Writing competition.

But the incontestable highlight of the first half was an unbilled appearance by baritone Bobby Akinbobye, one of the Village Voices’ scholarship recipients for 2009. Akinbobye sang “O Holy Night” (“Cantique de Noel”), a well-known 19th century carol popularized by the likes of Enrico Caruso. Akinbobye’s moving performance brought a standing ovation and extended plaudits from the capacity audience.

Before intermission the audience was invited to join in singing three short carols, “Joy to the World,” “Away in a Manger” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” which the Chorale followed with spirituals “Keep Your Lamps!” and “Mary Had a Baby.”

The second half began after Jordan’s inconclusive discourse on how to properly pronounce the surname of Georg Frideric Handel, who was born in Germany but spent most of his professional life in England. Two choruses from Handel’s “Messiah” oratorio bookended the half: “And the Glory of the Lord” and the ubiquitous “Hallelujah” chorus, for which, according to tradition, the audience was directed to stand.

Hanukkah was represented by two pieces. “Al Hanissim” is a prayer of gratitude praising God for the salvation of the Jewish people at the time of the Maccabees. The choir was joined on this number by clarinetist Nancy Bonds, whose delicate and evocative playing accompanied several pieces during the concert. “Light the Candles of Freedom” is a contemporary Hanukkah piece written by Doug Konecky and Justin Wilde.

Not all Christmas songs are somber, ancient carols. “Silver Bells,” as Jordan pointed out, made its debut in the 1951 comedy film “The Lemon Drop Kid,” in which it was sung by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell. Written by Hollywood songwriters Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, it celebrates Christmas on the streets of Manhattan. (The irony of the song was that, like “White Christmas,” its songwriters were secular Jews.)

P.D.Q. Bach, the fictional alterego of composer Peter Schickele, wrote “Throw the Yule Log On, Uncle John.” In its confounding chorus, each of the four parts sings a different lyric (careful listeners will note the altos singing “fuzzy wuzzy was a bear, fuzzy wuzzy had no hair”). “Didn’t I Get This Last Year” is a send-up of the carol “Do You Hear What I Hear,” one of the “Twisted Tunes” song parodies spotlighted on radio’s “Bob Rivers Show.”

The singers were ably accompanied by pianist Christine DeKlotz.

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Copyright © 2018 by The Village Voices.
Published 03-Apr-2018

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