Montclair State University held its Winter 2021 Choral Concert, titled “Rejoice!” on Dec. 4 at Alexander Kasser Theater, a performance featuring the Montclair State University Singers and Montclair State Chorale.
The audience anxiously awaited the start of the show. As the chorale made their slow descent onto the stage, the audience cheered. It soon became clear the love in the room, for the art that had been sorely missed over the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, far outweighed any nervousness there.
The night was sure to be historical, as the score, “The Breath Of Life,” was receiving its northeast debut performance from composer Dan Forrest.
On piano was Steven W. Ryan, an extremely accomplished musician. Ryan felt the concert was a joy beyond belief.
“To make music with such a fine group of singers and instrumentalists is a dream come true,” Ryan said. “I couldn’t have been happier with the concert.”
“The Breath Of Life” was one of Ryan’s new favorites.
“[In the new piece], Forrest captures the poetic sentiment beautifully,” Ryan said. “It has a beautiful piano part, so I enjoyed playing it. The thick choral writing was perfect for the big choir. [It was] sumptuous and warm.”
Customary for conductors, Dr. Heather J. Buchanan was the last to enter. As she bowed, the audience clapped, and soon everyone held their breath.
With a wave of her hand, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Chamber Ensemble began with the chorale following soon after. A slow, somber piece of music soon filled the air. Yet not one member of the audience wept. In fact, several were grinning ear to ear. The music was the perfect welcome back to an audience that had an immensely rough couple of years.
“The Breath Of Life” had three movements (plus epilog), each more beautiful than the last. The piece paired an electrifyingly mystic and magical sound with profoundly beautiful text, together creating, what is to me, one of the best classical pieces written in the last few years.
The audience was practically clinging to every note until the end of the piece, to which they reacted with a joyous uproar. The amount of talent within the chorale’s ranks alone is enough to fuel the entire music industry for years.
The piece’s vocal soloist, Montclair State’s own Taylor Amato, who is currently completing her master’s degree in vocal performance, was the cherry on top of an exquisite sundae. Amato’s classically trained voice can be best described as unforgettable and technically marvelous.
Even those reading their programs put them down to listen to her performance. It would not be surprising if Amato’s name soon appears in the programs of those at the Metropolitan Opera.
Amato herself felt excited by the return to live performances.
“It felt absolutely amazing and surreal being onstage again,” Amato said. “Singing without a mask again was truly an emotional experience.”
After a short intermission, the University Singers entered the stage, performing highlights from Handel’s “Messiah.” I was skeptical, as the chorale performance was close to perfect if the Singers would hold the same standard.
Not only were they at the same standard, but the energy radiating from their performance was extremely touching. The pure happiness to be singing within a theater again was present in each performer’s voice. There was an indescribable warmth within each phrase sung by the performers, which of course, the audience embraced with the utmost comfort.
One of the singers, Katie Kane, a junior theatre studies major, thoroughly enjoyed the piece and performance.
“‘Messiah’ is one of my favorite pieces to perform, especially with this choir,” Kane said. “The way we blend is just, well, heaven.”
The return to the stage was exhilarating for Kane.
“It feels amazing,” Kane said. “It feels like going back home. I wanted nothing more than to be up [there] again.”
The Singers’ soloists were some of the best vocalists I had heard in years.
Zachary Delcamp, an alumni who completed his master’s in music performance at Montclair State, was the first, performing pieces from the third movement, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive.” Delcamp’s countertenor tone was excellently placed, each note sitting perfectly within his register. If one was not paying attention, you could easily mistake Delcamp for a classically trained soprano.
Following Delcamp, adjunct professor Karen Driscoll began her performances of both the fifth and seventh movements, “Suddenly There Was An Angel” and “Rejoice Greatly.”
Driscoll’s soprano is some of the most alluring and lovely I’ve ever heard. She performed “Rejoice Greatly” with near superhuman precision. Each vocal run is done one after the other with an effortless air. Driscoll is nothing less than a talent powerhouse. Hearing Driscoll and Delcamp pair together for “He Shall Feed His Flock” is surely something memorable.
The last soloist of the evening was Jason Zacher, who graduated from Montclair State in 2016. Performing “The Trumpet Shall Sound,” Zacher came to the stage with a confidence to be envied. Zacher’s silk-like bass-baritone was as glamorous as it was engaging. One member within the audience audibly replied, “Oh, what a voice!” as Zacher finished his solo.
As the performance came to a close, Buchanan took to the mic. She expressed her gratitude to be back in the theater, as well as her excitement for what is to come.
She asked the audience to join the choir in singing their final piece, “Hallelujah.” The audience reacted immediately, standing up and facing the stage as if they were members of the choir themselves.
What happened next was nothing short of breathtaking; an entire audience and choir sang together, grateful and overjoyed with the art they were experiencing, something many will truly never forget.