BWW Feature: The Washington Chorus Celebrates Choral Excellence with a WEST SIDE STORY BALL
The Washington Chorus sure knows how to throw a party. Capping off their 2017-18 season, the organization's recent West Side Story Ball allowed the organization to showcase their strong vocalists while celebrating famed composer Leonard Bernstein's 100th birthday. A festive evening such as this also underscored the importance of choral performances in classical spaces like churches: it makes the performance ten times better.
Beginning with a silent auction and cocktail reception, the Chorus fostered a strong sense of community among those in attendance. Donors, friends, and Chorus members partook in lively conversation while bidding on the meticulously planned auction. Lucky winners were recipients of tangible goods like wine and spirits, travel experiences like a seven day escape to Santo Domingo, and priceless engagements like the ability to conduct the Washington Chorus yourself. All the while, guests were able to admire the West Side Story-inspired lighting installation which beautifully lit the Washington National Cathedral.
Following the cocktail hour, guests were able to enjoy a three-course catered dinner by Design Cuisine. While enjoying their appetizer of a spring avocado vertical mosaic with artichoke and hearts of palm, remarks from members of the Chorus reminded those in attendance why they supported the organization. During the entree of skirt steak and potatoes, additional remarks from Board Chairman Chris Denby and Artistic Director Christopher Bell accompanied reminders about the silent auction. All of these speeches built momentum prior to the evening's main feature: the Chorus's performance.
Adhering to the evening's theme, the Chorus performed selections from Bernstein's West Side Story. Performing the tunes with the full chorus is helpful in preventing the program from becoming a forgettable addition to the year of Bernstein tributes. Hearing songs designed for soloists rearranged for the large Chorus gives another layer to these already deep songs. David Miranda (tenor) provided a strong start to the performance as the lead soloist in "Maria." An overarching concern for Bernstein's works presented in a choral environment is the loss of emotion in favor of stronger technical ability-something reflected in both Mr. Miranda's solo and the rest of the ensemble. Such a concern is incredibly minor, however, and does nothing to diminish the power of the evening.
In addition to the Chorus, the Eleanor Roosevelt High School Concert Choir lent their voices to renditions of "Something's Coming" and "Tonight." This school group was able to participate thanks to The Washington Chorus's education initiative, Side-by-Side. Now in its 26th year, the program chooses up to two exemplary high schools in the D.C. area to partner with The Washington Chorus. Throughout the season, these groups rehearse and perform alongside the professional group. Their hard work was on display during last week's Ball, with the students of Eleanor Roosevelt High School seamlessly blending into the Chorus.
As a fundraiser for The Washington Chorus, the night was surely a great success. If the silent auction weren't enough, the live education drive (in which guests pledged various amounts in a live auction style) built immense excitement in the room. Proceeds from the evening help support the education programs the Chorus runs throughout the D.C. area. Such programs include both Side-by-Side and the D.C. Honor Chorus which unites elementary and high school students from all eight wards of Washington for music training intensives.
The evening served as a warm prelude to the final concert of The Washington Chorus's, Lenny and Friends. Playing on June 2 and June 9, the program celebrates the influence Bernstein and his contemporaries had on each other and the current musical landscape. The evening includes works by Bernstein, Randall Thompson, Aaron Copland, Michael Tippett, and Louise Talma. For fans of choral music, the evening will highlight the power of this group as the Chorus will be unaccompanied throughout.
With so many artistic options throughout D.C., gala season is a great way to step back and examine just how vital every program is. When it comes to preserving the power of choral music, The Washington Chorus is a crucial organization both in D.C. and on a national level. After getting a small taste of this group during their Ball, there is no denying they are a group whose future concerts are worth seeing.
The Washington Chorus's West Side Story Ball was a one-night-only event last Wednesday. For tickets and information on their upcoming concert, Lenny & Friends (June 2 and June 9), click here.
Sam Abney is a Washington, D.C. based arts professional. A native of Arizona, he has happily made D.C. his new home. Sam is a graduate from George Mason University with a degree in Communication and currently works for Arena Stage as a member of their Development team. He is a life-long lover of theater and is excited about sharing his passion with as many people as possible.
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