Nichols Hall was alive to the sounds of music on April 30 and May 1, when all the US vocal ensembles presented their final performances of the year.
“Seniors and Friends” was the theme on the first night for the groups directed by Susan Nace. Camerata completed its inaugural year in fine fashion, presenting an 18th-century American piece, a Hebrew song with guest instrumentalists Cindy Tay, Gr. 9, Diana Lai, Gr. 12, and Sammi Werthen, Gr. 11, and a very difficult portion of a mass by Renaissance composer Josquin des Pres. Seniors Elena Madan, Emma Blickenstaff, Kartik Venkatraman (with a cameo by teacher Anthony Silk) and Sammi Lowe performed musical theater and popular songs, and Lowe was joined by her buddies Shubha Guha and Natasha Jeswani, also seniors, for a beautiful trio version of Johnny Mercer’s “Dream” that brought to mind the Lennon Sisters.
The boisterous boys of Guys’ Gig, a club for aficionados of a cappella doo-wop music, stormed the stage and performed four songs, two of which were also arranged by the senior Guy who took the lead solo: Amaresh Shukla’s “Earth Angel,” and Venkatraman’s “Aïcha.” Shukla also performed a classical solo, and Ida Gorshteyn reprised her Senior Showcase performance of the “Habañera” from “Carmen.”
Cantilena has focused on pieces by French composers this year, and gave the audience a wonderful variety, including a traditional French-Canadian folk song, and pieces by Debussy, Bizet and Duruflé. They closed the concert with a piece by the same American composer who wrote Camerata’s opening piece. They also performed their theme song with which they close every concert, the beautiful “How Can I Keep from Singing,” which featured soloists Jeswani, Guha and Lexi Ross, Gr. 12.
Nace honored her seniors, she and her girls welcomed next year’s Cantilenans with sweatshirts, and goodbyes and hugs were shared all around.
The next evening was Bel Canto’s and Downbeat’s turn to wow their friends and families in their annual closer, “Songs into Summer.” Bel Canto, directed by Catherine Snider, opened the concert by processing into the auditorium from the back, playing percussion instruments and singing an a cappella Macedonian folk song. After that exciting start they moved through several genres, with the Duke Ellington favorite “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing,” a sacred Latin piece, a rousing spiritual and a Spanish folk-style song. This group, mostly freshmen, was impressive in its sound and sonority.
Downbeat, directed by Snider and Laura Lang-Ree, took the second half of the concert, also showing off their wide range of styles. A scat-filled “Jada Jazz” started them off, followed by a doo-wop version of the Beatles’ “In My Life.” A spiritual and a song from the hit musical “Spring Awakening,” both with choreography, were included, as was a beautiful Irish lullaby, accompanied by Snider on piano and Jacqueline Son, Gr. 11, on flute. The group also reprised their Freeze Frame Fashion Show hit ’60s medley, sans runway, on the small stage of the auditorium.
The evening’s program was sprinkled with soloists from both groups. Bel Canto’s Noel Witcosky, Lauren Pinzás, Ashima Agrawal, all Gr. 9 and Clara Blickenstaff, Gr. 10, sang pieces from the Great American Songbook and musicals. Downbeat was represented in solos by Christina Li, Gr. 10 and Neha Sabharwal, Gr. 12, who each sang a torch song, Michelle Holt and Daniel Cho, both Gr. 10, who were adorable doing the duet “You’re Just in Love,” and D.J. Blickenstaff, Gr. 12 and John Ammatuna, Gr. 10, who closed the show with a dramatic, tour de force performance of “Lily’s Eyes” from “The Secret Garden.” Getting laughs and some nostalgic grins were real-life sisters Ananya and Namrata Anand (Gr. 12 and Gr. 11), who sang “Sisters” from “White Christmas” – their last chance to perform together at Harker.
Downbeat also acknowledged its seniors and the newbies joining them next year.
The US Conservatory is justifiably proud of all its vocal groups, and the two evenings made for an exciting, moving and musical transition into the summer.