La Scena Musicale

Friday, 19 December 2014

Conspirare Celebrates Christmas for Everyone!


Conspirare Christmas with Special Guest Ruthie Foster
Conspirare Company of Voices/Craig Hella Johnson

Long Center for the Performing Arts
Austin, Texas

Who knew that “I Could Have Danced All Night” was the quintessential Christmas song? Craig Hella Johnson, that’s who, and my guess is that a growing number of listeners agree with him.

It has become a tradition for Conspirare Company of Voices to perform their special version of this Lerner and Loewe classic from My Fair Lady as the finale of their annual Christmas concert. In a quiet, slow and hypnotic rendition, Conspirare gave us words and music to reflect on before returning to everyday life. The performance again was magical, as it was last year.

Conspirare’s Christmas concert is given seven times within a week, with performances in Victoria, Houston and at two different venues in Austin. The last performance this year was presented at the Travis County Correctional Facility. Each concert is about 90 minutes long, is presented without intermission, and includes seven groups of songs, with each group relating to a general theme: “Dear Heart”, “Love Bade Me Welcome”, “Just Come” and so on.  There is no narration during the concert, but it is clear that the audience is encouraged not only to enjoy the music but also to think about the words of the songs and the ideas they convey.

One of these ideas is “unity in diversity.” Craig Hella Johnson juxtaposes Christian liturgical music, popular songs, gospel music, opera, African folk music and Christmas carols. On one level it is a demonstration that beautiful music can be found in many unexpected places; on another, Conspirare is attempting to bring its listeners together by means of such an eclectic mix.

Soloist Ruthie Foster
Blues singer Ruthie Foster, a featured soloist at Conspirare’s Christmas concert last year, returned again this year and she was better than ever. She sang some of her own songs accompanied by the choir, but she also led some exciting rafter-raising gospel music.

As usual, conductor Craig Hella Johnson was seated at the piano, his back to the audience, as he led his fine professional choir through this varied and thoughtful program. He even took one of the solos himself. What a fine voice he has! Even in “pop” songs, he is able to bring each note and word to life in the manner of a great lieder singer. Amazing!

For Something More…

Conspirare just released a CD of their Christmas concert from last year. Titled Unclouded Day, it is available through their website at www.conspirare.org. Earlier in the year Conspirare released a CD of The Sacred Spirit of Russia, documenting one of the finest concerts I have ever heard from them. Available from Harmonia Mundi (HMU 807526), it is has been nominated for a Grammy.

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