After 25 years at the helm, John Daly Goodwin, Music Director of the New York Choral Society (NYCS), gave his final concert Friday night at Carnegie Hall. Titled ‘American Reflections’, all five works had an historical relationship with the New York Choral Society, three of which were commissioned and premiered by the NYCS: Paulus’ Whitman’s New York, De Cormier’s Legacy and Gould’s Quotations. More than a look at the legacy of American choral work, this unique progamme was also an opportunity for Goodwin to reflect on his own history with the NYCS. The result: an engaging and intimate concert experience.

John Daly Goodwin
John Daly Goodwin

Opening the concert was Stephen Paulus’ Whitman’s New York, a work the NYCS calls a musical tribute to its ‘mettlesome, mad, extravagant city.’ And the performance was exactly that. As the first stanza rang out, fast-paced string parts, increasing and decreasing quickly in sound, embodied the anticipation of seeing the New York City skyline for the first time, but also the restlessness of living in this bustling city we call home. In the second stanza, this tension gave way to a brief interlude with the darker side of the city. Ominous minor tones undulated beneath the words, ‘Give me faces and streets – Give me those phantoms incessant and endless’. Repeating the word ‘incessant’, the NYCS illuminated the overwhelming anonymity of urban living. A haunting musical effect, the choir suddenly sounded foreboding rather than celebratory. But just as quickly as the interlude began, a rise in sound gave way to an uplifting major key and excitement returned in the third stanza. The music became stately, almost patriotic, as the choir sang, ‘Manhattan streets with their powerful throbs, with beating drums now!’ Ending on a high note, the NYCS embodied the tenacious spirit that defines New York.

Next up was Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, a musical affirmation of hope and spirituality. Very quiet in the beginning, an eerie, high-pitched note sustained in the violins rang out over bright, warm tones played by the cellos. The effect was enchanting: harmonies were lush, expanding and evolving as they built on top of each other, much in the same way that a prism’s colours dazzle us with changing light.

An eloquent technique for a piece whose title literally means Eternal Light, each of the five movements also included a reference to Light assembled in Latin texts. Combined with lush orchestral sounds and raw vocals—much of Lux Aeterna is sung a cappella—created a sensual experience throughout.

Following the interval, Goodwin presented Morton Gould’s Quotations. A patchwork of platitudes, old sayings and poetic references, Quotations is also semi-autobiographical, reflecting memories of Gould’s childhood growing up in Richmond Hill, Queens. As a result, the piece felt very disjointed. But that’s not to say that the NYCS and Brooklyn Philharmonic did not step up to the plate. Whether it was a piercing flute solo accompanying the full choir, an electric keyboard sounding like an organ (and reminiscent of Sunday Mass) or staccato violins and sharp chimes mirroring the phrase, ‘the early bird catching the worm’, both ensembles tackled each musical fragment head on.

In Robert de Cormier’s Legacy, Michael Krzankowski (Baritone) joined the NYCS and Brooklyn Philharmonic on stage. In this dreamlike eulogy, Krzankowski gave a heartfelt performance. Engaged in a call and response with the choir, Krzankowski acted out a masquerade of the dead with waltz-like rhythms and cabaret-type themes. Paired with contemplative, dreamlike music in the other two parts, Legacy proved to be a deeply emotional choral work.

Ending the night with Charles Ives’ Psalm 90, Goodwin invited NYCS alumni to join the choir on stage. It was compelling to see Goodwin wield such a mammoth ensemble, especially one he has worked with for more than 30 years. Together, they mastered Ives’ polytonal, polymetrical masterpiece, achieving breathtaking serenity in just ten minutes.

Despite its grand scale—NYCS is a 180-voice symphonic choir!—Friday evening’s performance elegantly showcased Goodwin’s intimate connection with the the New York Choral Society and his deep commitment to the choir. Clearly, Goodwin will be sorely missed.

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