REVIEW:  The gifts of Julian Wachner as a composer shine through in a concert of his music performed by The Washington Chorus.

by Patrick D. McCoy

For many in the musical sphere of Washington, Julian Wachner is like a breath of fresh air.  Whether he is standing before The Washington Chorus as their conductor or playing an organ recital-there is an approachable nature that many would not expect from an artist that actually cuts a large figure in the musical realm. Over the years, DC audiences have come to experience Julian as the conductor many concerts at The Kennedy Center, or even as a supportive partner at the piano to collaborating artists.  This time around, the eyes and ears assembled at National Presbyterian Church was experiencing him as a composer.  Seated among the listeners, Wachner found himself in a totally different role.

In recent years, The Washington Chorus has presented several composers in its award winning New Music for A New Age Series, including Trevor Weston, Elena Reuhr, Nico Muhly, Paola Prestini and Luna Pearl Woolf.  Guest conductor Thomas Colohan took the podium in leading this performance of music by Julian Wachner.

The program opened with an anthem setting of the beautiful text from the Song of Songs-“Arise, My Love.”  Accompanied with the organ, the piece displayed a range of constrast.  From the full voiced singing by the chorus in the beginning to the beautiful legato section on the text “Set Me As A Seal” there was a feeling of majestic declaration, as well as quiet resignation to the work.  The “Rilke Songs” were a set of six vignettes (if you will) that ranged from playfulness to reflective intensity.   Colohan was able to bring these contrasting emotions forth with ease, with each movement very distinct in nature.

Demonstrating Wachner’s prowess as an instrumental composer was his florid “Blue Green Red ” for trumpet and organ. Certainly a showpiece for both trumpeter Eric Berlin and young organist Forrest Eimod, this piece was almost a mirror reflection of Wachner’s own personality:  Gentle in his interactions, yet assured in his delivery with thoughtful exuberance. This piece was a ‘hold on to your seats’  type of work full of tonal shifts, special effects and marked dynamics-bringing it to a booming close!

Reflective of his work in the church and early days as a choirboy at the St. Thomas School in NYC, it was only befitting that Wachner’s setting of the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” was included on the program.  Straightforward with organ accompaniment, the piece was deceptively simple, mostly because of the choir’s ability to sing with seamless legato and remarkable sense of vocal contrast.  The average listener perhaps would recognize this hymn as a tune that could one day be familiar, but the nuances and sense of quiet reverence revealed something more exquisite.

Bringing the program to its conclusion were a few more settings by the composer of the hour.  The biggest highlight was the appearance of soprano Colleen Daly who performed the aria “Blood Rubies” for Wachner’s upcoming opera Rev. 23. Accompanied by the small ensemble of instruments and Wachner at the piano, Ms. Daly brought life to the deep text that evoked the springing forth of love out of darkness.

As Julian Wachner marks his final season as music director of The Washington Chorus, it was wonderful to experience yet another facet of his talent.  His imprint on the Washington choral scene is undeniable and will be greatly missed.

 

A native of Petersburg, Virginia, Patrick D. McCoy is a graduate of Virginia State University and Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia.  He has been an arts contributor for Examiner.com, CBS Washington, The Afro American Newspaper and most recently was the Performing Arts Columnist at Washington Life Magazine for four years. As a church musician, he currently serves as Organist/Choirmaster at Saint John’s Episcopal Church (Zion Parish) in Beltsville, Maryland.   Visit www.patrickdmccoy.com for all of your arts news and send press releases and ideas to patrickdmccoy@patrickdmccoy.com.