Even for someone who has tootled around this town theatrically for a decade or so, one can still find lesser known gems hidden in plain sight. Back after the two-year hiatus, the Congressional Chorus, in another collaboration with the Capital City Symphony, presented the aptly named “Of Sight & Sound.”
…a unique experience…met their ambitious artistic challenges.
For residents (like myself) who were unaware of these two groups, here is a quick snapshot. Founded in 1987 by Congressional staff who wanted to share their love of singing to the local Capitol Hill community, the Congressional Chorus has grown into an organization performing a full season of concerts throughout the metropolitan area. Their choruses includes an 80-member auditioned adult chorus, an a cappella chamber ensemble, the NorthEast Senior Singers (NESS)—a free musical engagement chorus for senior citizens—and the American Youth Chorus.
Capital City Symphony is a DC-based volunteer orchestra and presently call home the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Northeast DC. Serving the area since 1967, they present the best of 20th and 21st-century music, calling on the talent of 100 plus musicians. They also are a local presence for orchestral programs and community outreach, with the intent of making classical music accessible.
The “Of Sight and Sound” concert, an aural and visual delight for music lovers, was held at the historic Church of the Epiphany in central DC. This 180-year-old structure provided an inspired backdrop for the concert, supplying gravitas as well as soaring vertical air chambers and hardwood for resonance.
The program was set up as two substantial works. The first is called “Broken Link” by composer Zhou Tian. “Broken Link” was inspired by poetry from the Song Dynasty and includes strains from Chinese musical traditions and uses non-classical instruments such as Tibetan singing bowls, tuned gongs, and a large Chinese bass drum. Though based on five poems, the music flowed in a similar, powerful fashion, evoking quick shifts in volume and patterns. Percussion elements punctuated the large string sections to take one away to a foreign land and a distant time. The chorus has a supporting role in providing background and layers of sound to the orchestra.
Conductor and Artistic Director Victoria Gau briefly explained the upcoming piece and led the combined group. Her smooth and precise direction was masterful.
The second half of “Of Sight and Sound” is an orchestral piece entitled “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci.” Composer Jocelyn Hagen has amazingly coordinated three mediums—voice, music, and visual—for this work. Projected on two screens of not overwhelming size, was a visual display of the mind and work of Da Vinci in sync with the music and choral elements, highlighting art and science in a mixed media pastiche.
The orchestra presented sweeping and challenging riffs reflecting the elements of da Vinci’s notebooks and all the fascinating ideas brought to life. Initially, da Vinci’s own handwriting can be seen on the screen, backed by a violin staccato. Later images are of nature, still shots and slow video, followed by images of the human body, measurements of the human form and geometric sequences, and back to nature again. On it went, covering his notes and then his artwork, all accentuated by different orchestral groups. Behind the orchestra stood the full 65+ chorus giving an artistic 3D effect, singing some of da Vinci’s own notebook musings set to song. Yes, a lot to take in, and a unique experience made possible by latest MUSEIK software technology.
Erin Feng, Executive Director of Capital City Symphony, and Conductor Victoria Gau met their ambitious artistic challenges. Congressional Chorus Artistic Director and Chorus Master Allan Laino also is to be commended for the clear, uniform vocals that contained many complex transitions. This powerful combination of orchestra and choral is like the classic pairing of chocolate and peanut butter, making both better. Adding the coordinated visuals is akin to making it dark chocolate!
Running time: One hour 30 minutes with an intermission.
“Of Sight & Sound” was performed on May 13, 2023 by the Congressional Chorus and Capital City Symphony at The Church of the Epiphany, 1317 G St NW, Washington DC 20001. Upcoming events include “Homecoming” on June 3, 2023, a show-stopping evening of pop, gospel, jazz and art songs written or arranged by U.S. composers. For information and tickets to upcoming shows, call (202) 629-3140 or go online.