Vienna Choir Boys in Concert

February 27, 2007 - Amarillo, Texas

Although the Vienna Choir Boys had performed in Amarillo before, this was their first appearance in the Globe News Center for the Performing Arts. Over 1,100 tickets were purchased for the Tuesday evening concert. The boys and Conductor Kerem Sezen were received on stage with a warm round of applause. The boys' white uniform tops reflected enough stage lighting to actually brighten the audience seating areas! (Later, when the boys would bow, lighting on those attending would dim.) When Sezen walked forward to make opening remarks, his wireless microphone was dead. After two tries, he lowered the microphone and was going to speak in a louder voice without the mike-- THEN someone turned it on. This was the only technical glitch, but it should have been very embarrassing for those who manage what is supposed to be a state-of-the-art facility.

I was first pleased to note that there was a full complement of twenty-four boys for the first half of the concert. As is usually the case, some of them looked so YOUNG. Even though it was stated, in the eight-page folding program, that all were ten or older, my guess is that at least eight of the boys could have been mistaken for eight-year-olds. This, the Haydnchor, was young overall-- The oldest boys seemed younger than I have observed previously.

The first part of the concert was pretty much as expected-- a mixture of classical and religious works.  The choir and a young soprano soloist performed Mozart's Laudate Dominum from Vesperae sollenes de confessore KV 339. Those in the audience who had seen the 1991 Disney movie "Perfect Harmony" would have recognized this as the selection used during the opening of the film.   Some individual voices were also featured in Henry Purcell's Sound The Trumpet. I thought I heard one boy attempt to come in early one time, but it happened so quickly, I could not be sure. At Intermission I asked some of those seated nearby if they had heard it-- They had not.

One special treat, a variation from the printed program, was a solo performance of Ave Maria, sung in German by a young man who had a rich alto, almost tenor, voice. His efforts were exact, sincere and beautiful. He received extended applause which continued even after his bow and return to his place on the riser. I had not (with my limited access to choral concerts) ever heard Ave Maria done in German!    But Douglas Neslund explained to me: "Ave Maria was originally a poem by Sir Walter Scott in English! Schubert composed the famous tune to the German translation of the English. Those who sing it in Latin don't know that the Latin words don't match the notes correctly!"

This Haydnchor had power! On Heinz Kratochwil's Cantate Domino canticum novum Opus 98b, their ability to raise the decibels was quite evident. I had decided earlier to just enjoy the first half, without taking notes. I would just say that the boys seemed very confident on each piece. Their conduct on stage during the entire concert was exemplary. I would actually have liked to have seen a few more smiles-- to match those of Sezen's page-turner, who had an almost constant smile, and seemed to enjoy the evening immensely.   One interesting change for this event: The boys no longer stand with their hands clasped behind them! This explanation by an authority on the choirs: "Traditionally, that's how generations of choir boys have stood on stage to perform. However, it has been found to restrict breathing and has, therefore, recently been changed to the posture you can see in the photo."

The above photo was snapped, without flash, using my Motorola E815 cellular phone.

The second half of our Amarillo performance featured several other changes from when I was last entertained by the boys in November of 2002. These new or changed items will also be highlighted using the different color of text.

Only twenty-two boys returned following Intermission, two altos having, we would assume, become ill. One or two of the boys seemed either a bit homesick or "under the weather" during the first half, but those individuals stayed on.

The concert's second half included a spirited rendition of Singin' in the Rain from the 1929 MGM movie, "Hollywood Review"; and Chim Chim Cher-ee from "Mary Poppins" (1964). Conductor Sezen, who has had only 29 birthdays, announced that one of the boys was celebrating HIS birthday that day. He asked him to come out front, and of course our Texan audience applauded. Then Sezen dedicated the choir's next number to the boy. Fitting the occasion, the boys sang A Wonderful Day from the musical "The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd" (1964). Sezen interacted much more with the audience than other Vienna conductors. He asked the audience to join in both clapping and singing on a couple of songs. He said at one time, "This is your rare opportunity to sing with the Vienna Choir Boys." He also had the boys sing part of one selection again-- to demonstrate the 'yodeling' characteristic of some Austrian folk songs.

Being a lifetime fan of Disney's "Almost Angels" movie, I was especially pleased with the choir's performance of Johann Strauss, Jr.'s Emperor Waltz. Die Wiener Sängerknaben sang this for the 1962 film's opening!   Even with piano accompaniment instead of an orchestra, it sounded much like the soundtrack.

Another Johann Strauss, Jr. favorite, the Vergnügungszug (Amusement Train)Polka, opus 281, was a special treat.   In addition to the boy blowing his whistle, the piece evolved into United States flags being waved from both soprano and alto sections, plus a large U.S. flag (I estimated about five feet by three feet) being held in front by some of the altos! Needless to say, there was enthusiastic approval from the audience.

As in thousands of concerts, the final selection was An der schönen blauen Donau (On the beautiful blue Danube) Waltz. A standing ovation then began, bringing the choir back out for their first encore-- a medley of songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music", the 1959 Broadway musical based on the book The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria von Trapp. The boys sang Do-Re-Mi, The Lonely Goatherd, and spontaneous applause erupted when the choir began Edelweiss.   This type of audience reaction must be a bit puzzling for the boys, since the musical is virtually unknown in Austria, outside of Salzburg, where the movie version was filmed. Because of the emotional and patriotic ending in the production, many people believe Edelweiss to be a traditional Austrian song, or even a national hymn. In fact, the song was written for the musical and is little known in Austria. Conductor Sezen obviously knows how to please the audiences in each country!

Another standing ovation, including "Bravo!"s, brought the group out for their second encore. The boys arranged themselves across the front of the stage (with Sezen in the middle), descending in height from stage center. There were twelve boys on the audience left and nine on the right. (Yes, one additional boy dropped out between encores.)  Then began another "sing-along" with Sezen leading the boys and audience in "Let's all sing and dance together!" I have NO idea of the song's name, but it was very effective in bonding the boys and their admirers together for one last time.

In my opinion, the concert was a complete success. Although they will never see it, I must say "Thank you!" to the parents who allow their youngers to be away from home for such extended periods in these troubled times. This relates to my only serious objection as to how the concert was handled: There was NO obvious security! It amazes me that five or six uniformed officers are always provided for hockey games here in Amarillo, but not a single one was hired for this event. I strongly believe that at least two uniformed officers should have been present outside the concert area, for security and as a sign of respect for our foreign visitors.

  

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