Third time’s the charm.
Actually, the first two editions of the Long Beach Camerata Singers’ annual Peace Project were also pretty charming, each in its own way. But the third, Sunday in the lobby of the Long Beach Arena (aka The Pacific Ballroom), especially charmed the large and appreciative audience.
The theme of the concert, “Beyond the Golden Door,” highlighted the musical contributions of immigrants, and featured texts in five languages.
First up was a lovely, lyrical piece titled “En Paz,” by Jesus Lopez Moreno, a Mexican composer who also worked in Minnesota. Right off the bat, the Camerata, augmented by six singers from the Bob Cole Conservatory’s Choral Scholars program, was in fine form. The sound was not only beautiful but beautifully blended, the sound rich and full throughout a wide dynamic range, and the articulations crisp under artistic director James K. Bass’ firm leadership.
An engaging narrator, Port of Long Beach deputy executive director Noel Hacegaba, introduced each number and gave background information.
A setting of a portion of Emma Lazarus’s poem inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty, by Polish-American Max Helfman, led directly into an excerpt from Ernest Bloch’s great “Sacred Service,” the moving “Silent Devotion and Response.” Jesús Echevarria’s “Cantaré,” from the mariachi tradition, featured an audience singalong.
German Kurt Weill emigrated here as the Nazis came to power, and became known as a composer of Broadway shows. Two of the Camerata’s excellent soloists, mezzo Tiffani Santiago and tenor Sam A. Cappella (possessor of maybe the greatest singer name ever) sang two of Weill’s best, “Stay Well” from “Lost in the Stars” and “September Song” from “Knickerbocker Holiday.”
Associate conductor Tammi Alderman led a small group in Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” in the great jazz choir arrangement by Steve Zegree. And the distinguished Haitian-American Sydney Guillaume was represented by two numbers, performed without a break, “Pour Toi, Mère” and “Touched by Love.”
“Xtoles,” a setting of a traditional Mayan text, was the work of one Jorge Cózatl. I suspect the Mayans were here before the Europeans, but why quibble? The piece was lively and attractive, with numerous vocal effects simulating jungle sounds.
The afternoon ended with — what else? — “God Bless America,” with the rarely-heard verse and an introductory musical setting of that same Lazarus poem, by Irving Berlin, born Israel Beilin in Russia.
Pianist Stephen Karr’s work was especially notable, exceptionally strong and powerful in his performance of some very substantial piano parts. We look forward to hearing more from him, although he was somewhat over-amplified on this occasion; it was a little disconcerting to hear the accompaniment coming from a small speaker to my left, while the singing was front and center.
The Camerata Peace Projects have dealt with the themes of peace, love, and now immigration. This leads to the inevitable question: What’s next?