African-American Baritone-Bass in Heavenly Performance

baritone.jpgThe choir, orchestra, soloists and smaller ensembles prior to performance.  Photos by Adam Turner

On Sunday, the 23rd of November, at Hertz Hall (UC Berkeley) “superlative comments only” was the rule after the University of California Alumni Chorus, augmented by the UC Men’s Choral and UC Women’s Choral, plus selected voices from the San Francisco Unitarian Universalist Choir performed as a 170-voice choir.

The choir, together with a talented women’s ensemble – Perfect Fifth, and, professional soloists, plus a 26-piece orchestra provided the musical background for the 14th best film of all time – Carl Dreyer’s silent movie, “The Passion of Joan of Arc”. The oratorio background, “Voices of Light”, was a composition by Richard Einhorn.bell.jpgThere were numerous solos, duets, and small ensemble passages during the 15-movement work.

All were outstanding and none better than those sung by Martin Bell. His deep and highly resonant voice made a beautiful contrast to the other voices in the higher ranges.

The emotion of the performance was such that there were a few moments of silence at the end, before the packed house rose to its feet with shouts of acclamation and non-stop applause. Words such as “magnificent, extremely emotive, tremendous”, and “out of this world” were often heard.

The performance at Hertz Hall on the UC Berkeley campus was directed by Dr. Mark Sumner. His assistant, William Ganz, also received well-deserved recognition.

The film itself was a stirring depiction of the last day in the life of Jeanne d’Arc, the young 17-year old, deeply religious peasant girl, who having heard voices telling her of leading the French armies convinced the authorities to allow her to do so and led her army to a string of victories before being captured by the English.

The artists depicted the judge and jury in the religious court of the day, who derided and mocked the young leader before burning at the stake on 15 May 1431.

The music led one to feel the pain and the suffering, as well as the irony of men of the cloth ridiculing and condemning a deeply religious young woman.

The performance was so well integrated by the conductor that some felt the music was actually part of the film.