by Michael Caruso
Donald Nally and The Crossing, the chamber choir dedicated to contemporary music he founded 11 seasons ago, returned to their home base Friday, July 8. After performing a pair of concerts in late June in the murky acoustics of the Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Savior in West Philadelphia, it was a delight hearing Nally and his choristers in the crystalline yet resonant aural ambience of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. All the clarity of texture, eloquence of phrasing and potency of emotions they delineate that had been muddied by the Episcopal Cathedral were projected with scintillating immediacy in the Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church.
Friday evening’s concert was entitled “Jeff Quartets.” The Jeff in question is Jeffrey Dinsmore, a founding member of The Crossing who died unexpectedly at the age of 42 in Los Angeles April 14, 2014. The 15 works comprising the program were written by composers with whom Dinsmore was intimately connected through The Crossing. All had produced works for the choir, often through Dinsmore’s involvement and under his auspices. This is the repertoire that has brought The Crossing to international prominence and that remains Dinsmore’s enduring legacy.
The concert opened with a sweet rendition of “You are Most Welcome” by local composer Kile Smith set to words written in e-mails sent by Dinsmore. The piece is set for four solo voices within the context of an elegant tonality that boasts lovely resolutions and an impressive accessibility of its text.
Louis Andriessen’s “Ahania Weeping,” to poetry by William Blake, has perhaps the most moving connection with Dinsmore. The chorus was rehearsing Andriessen’s “De Materie” in Disney Hall when Dinsmore suddenly passed away. That piece was scored for eight singers; only seven performed it later that day. The seven choristers who sang it Friday evening were those singing with Dinsmore when he died in Los Angeles.
“For Orpheus,” composed by William Brooks to a text by Pierre Joris, is characterized by harsh dissonances suspended by delicate textures that come to a surprisingly consonant conclusion. “A Jeff Quartet for 4 Voices,” composed by Bo Holten to poetry by Thomas Campion, is actually scored for full choir and boasts spacious choral passages from which solo voices emerge.
David Lang’s “Make Peace” for full choir, after the “Mourner’s Kaddish,” opened the concert’s second half with canonic themes. “Sumptuous Planet,” written by local composer David Shapiro to a text by David Dawkins, was the evening’s loveliest score.
Bass Dan Spratlan, Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church’s music director, was one of four singers in “Gentle Soul, Find Peace,” composed by his father, Lewis. Gabriel Jackson’s “Yes, I am Your Angel” projected changing moods and emotions, and Ted Hearne’s “What it Might Say” brought the concert to a delicate conclusion.
If one knew Jeffrey Dinsmore only from the music composed in his memory, one would feel that the world of contemporary classical music and, indeed, the world itself, had lost a musician and person of transcendent generosity. One might feel that way until realizing that the world, because of this music, hasn’t lost him, at all.