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February 10, 2004


Toronto Star-Tribune

A successful franchise can place a real burden on arts organizations, year after year requiring them to come up with new and exciting programs. This was the 14th year of "Witness," VocalEssence's annual celebration of African-American classical music, and Saturday's concert, focusing on the works of women composers, was one of the most compelling of the series. Many of the compositions had their roots in the spiritual tradition. The Leigh Morris Chorale performed pieces by Lucie Eddie Campbell and Deidre Robinson and joined VocalEssence for works by Lena J. McLin, raising the energy level of the celebration. The first half of the concert was a broad sampling of works by contemporary black women, many performed as excerpts. Brunelle seemed interested in squeezing in as many pieces as possible, showing off works he is obviously passionately committed to.

A highlight was Ysaye M. Barnwell's "Truth, Pressed to Earth, Shall Rise," set to King's words. True to her roots as a member of the quintet Sweet Honey in the Rock, it was a powerful call to social action, blending gospel, chant, anthem, even a military march.

Patrice Rushen (who was music director of Sunday night's Grammy Awards) opened the evening with a jubilant vocal fanfare, "Herald the Day." But Evelyn Simpson-Curenton nearly stole the showwith her comic duet, "Scandalize My Name," with Janice Chandler and Jearlyn Steele. Most of the first half was a cappella, sung with sweet, simple clarity. In the second half, the chorus soared intensely over a full orchestra. Throughout, they sang with commitment and heart. More

Posted by acapnews at February 10, 2004 9:02 AM


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