The Crossing premieres three in Chestnut Hill

by Michael Caruso
Posted 9/28/23

Donald Nally conducted The Crossing in concert on Sept. 16 in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The program was entitled “Crickets in Our Backyard.”

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The Crossing premieres three in Chestnut Hill


Donald Nally conducted The Crossing in concert on Sept. 16 in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The program was entitled “Crickets in Our Backyard” and featured two world premieres and one “indoor premiere.” The “outdoor premiere” occurred in June of 2021 at the Awbury Arboretum in Germantown.

The performance drew an audience that literally packed the church. Virtually every pew – front to back, left to right – was filled by local lovers of contemporary choral music that provided Nally, flutist Claire Chase and the choir’s 24 singers with standing ovations following each score’s rendition.

The first work on the program was “At Which Point,” composed in 2021 and featuring music by Wang Lu to a text by Forrest Gander. Divided into three sections, it proffers an unbroken stream of concept from its opening “Prologue” through its “Beckoned” to its concluding “The Sounding.”

Lu based “At Which Point” on a sliding series of tonal centers that employ chromatic harmonies projected through a texture of glissandos that mesmerize the listener through gliding counterpoint. Both the ranges of pitch and dynamics are vast, so that the listener experiences an awe-inspiring feeling of spaciousness.

Nally conducted the score with technical precision and passionate musicality. The singing was pitch-perfect and the ongoing sense of an unbroken lyrical melodic line was intensely focused.

Next on tap was “Singsong,” composed in 2003 with music by Tania Leon to words by Rita Dove. Proffering four movements and an oppressive use of a solo flute descant, I found it boring beyond belief. Leon’s setting of the text amounted to surrounding it with cacophony and, thereby, rendering it incomprehensible. Even so, Nally and his choristers sang it with superb precision of tuning and ensemble.

Fortunately, Phoebus Apollo, the Greco-Roman god of all the arts and beauty, smiled upon us Saturday evening. The concert came to a stunningly beautiful conclusion with a breathtaking performance of Ayanna Woods’ “Infinite Body,” composed in 2023 to her own text. It’s one of the most stunning contemporary choral works I’ve ever heard in concert.

The score is divided into four movements. Wood’s harmonic language encompasses the fullest range of tonality, modality, chromaticism, and moving tonal centers to project an ethereal sense of spaciousness that is both broadly universal and deeply emotional. The music delineates an immaculate balance between timelessness and narrative, a sense of permanence and evolution.

Nally and The Crossing gave “Infinite Body” an interpretation that characterized what has made this choir one of the most outstanding ensembles currently performing “in concert.” On the side of technique - tuning, balance, ensemble, blend and focus were flawless. On the side of musicality - expressive control was expertly paired with a passionate intensity of commitment that made you take notice of every sound and then effectively take all of those sounds into your mind, your heart and your soul.

Donald Nally and The Crossing will return to the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill Sunday, Dec. 17, at 5 p.m. with its annual “The Crossing @ Christmas 2023.” The concert’s major work will be David Lang’s “Poor Hymnal.”

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Ballet’s ‘Carmen’

The Philadelphia Ballet will open its 2023-24 season with a newly conceived mounting of “Carmen” Oct. 5-15 at the Academy of Music. The production will launch the 60th anniversary year of the troupe’s founding by Barbara Weisberger as well as mark the 10th year of Angel Corella’s appointment as artistic director.

“Carmen” is best known in its operatic manifestation by Georges Bizet. Its appearance as a contemporary ballet continues its tradition of transformation from the very start. Its original version was premiered in Paris’ Opera Comique because it had spoken dialogue. Shortly afterward, a through-composed arrangement with accompanied dialogue was performed by the Paris Opera in the Palais Garnier.

The Philadelphia Ballet’s “Carmen” is a world premiere fashioned by Corella “from scratch.” The Spanish-born former star of the American Ballet Theater has created a new narrative outline for the familiar story, and also designed the sets and costumes. The company’s music director, Beatrice Jona Affron, joined him to create a full-length score that includes music from Bizet’s opera as well as excerpts from other works by the composer and selections from traditional “flamenco.”

The 2023-24 season continues with “The Nutcracker” Dec. 8-30, “Giselle” Feb. 29-March 10, 2024, “Dance Masterpieces” March 14-16, and “The Dream” May 9-12.

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