About three-quarters of the way through the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus’ program Sunday evening at the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, artistic director and conductor Michael Kerschner turned to the audience and exclaimed, “It’s almost over!” Although meant to be tongue-in-cheek, the truth is that holiday choral concerts have become synonymous with overly-packed programs with long running times. While this concert by a talented group of young professionals could be accused of the same, there were also many admirable and inventive moments scattered throughout.
Entitled “Nova!”, the holiday concert featured a number of traditional carols mixed with heavier choral works by Bruckner and John Tavener, as well as three new works commissioned by the choir for their annual Competition for Young Composers. The program proved to be a mixed bag for the group, whose warm, full sound failed to deliver in the evening’s most challenging moments.
Bruckner’s setting of the Ave Maria played to the group's better attributes. The male voices had a dark timbre that lent itself to the more mysterious moments in Bruckner’s score, and Kerschner’s pacing throughout was poised and fluid.
Another highlight of the first half came from one of the competition’s three finalists, Robert Vuichard. A challenging new setting of We Three Kings of Orient Are, Vuichard's Thy Perfect Light merged the classic carol text with Luke’s biblical account of Jesus’ birth and the Agnus Dei. Filled with asymmetrical rhythms, numerous solos and a buoyant sense of pulse, Vuichard gradually corralled his source material into a number of majestic moments in the work’s second half. After moving along at breakneck speeds, the work ended in a triumphantly lyrical passage, with Vuichard’s voicing expanding the choir to their outer limits of range, thus transforming the chorus into an organ in itself.
Despite the length of the concert, Kerschner and his chorus seemed to save their finest ensemble moments for the second half, with numerous traditional carols highlighting the ensemble’s musical cohesion and energy. Among the remaining competition finalists, Paul Rudoi’s Sing Oh my Heart! fit well with the chorus’ smooth and syrupy tones, while Marie Incontrera’s Ring Out, Wild Bells showed a wealth of rhythmic ideas that never quite came together enough to make a firm musical statement.
The final trio of carols—Silent Night, Judas Land, and Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing—ultimately showed an exuberance from the choir that would have been well-received earlier in the program. Perhaps seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, the choristers rang outbeautifully, finally managiong to meet the power of the organ and bringing a well-deserved close to a joyous—if a tad long—ode to holiday cheer.