2013-04-18 / On the Town

Wacky link of classical, pop, draws crowds

CONCERT REVIEW Areté Vocal Ensemble
By Cary Ginell


SING OUT—Areté Vocal Ensemble presents songs by composer Benjamin Britten and The Beatles at Cal Lutheran University recently. 
BRIAN STETHEM/Special to The Acorn SING OUT—Areté Vocal Ensemble presents songs by composer Benjamin Britten and The Beatles at Cal Lutheran University recently. BRIAN STETHEM/Special to The Acorn Classical music aficionados know that “The Three B’s” refers to Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, but how many would link them with two other famous musical “B’s”: Benjamin Britten and the Beatles?

Wyant Morton, director of California Lutheran University’s Areté Vocal Ensemble, thought the idea was just wacky and eclectic enough to draw a crowd, and from the looks of the packed Samuelson Chapel on the CLU campus Sunday, it appears that the experiment worked.

This was actually part two of the Britten/Beatles celebration, which began with a similar concert in November.

Titled “The British Are Coming,” the two concerts commemorate Britten’s centenary (which is being celebrated throughout Los Angeles) and the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ formation (which was actually in 1960, but we won’t quibble with a good idea).

Britten and the Beatles both emanated from England and revolutionized their respective worlds; Britten, a champion of 20th century opera and choral music, and the Beatles, upending pop music conventions throughout the 1960s.

Morton started the Areté Vocal Ensemble in 2009. As director of choral and vocal activities, and chair of the music department at CLU, Morton keeps busy conducting, teaching and running clinics, but he is especially proud of the ensemble, which consists of 26 vocalists whose goal is to present as wide a range of choral music as possible.

The pieces by Britten that were performed in the first part of the concert began with the “Hymn to St. Cecilia,” composed in 1942.

St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, lived during the second century. She and Britten share a birthday: Nov. 22.

Solos were sung by Heidi Valencia Vas, Jill Walker, Dana Rouse, Sterling Koch and Kyungtae Kim.

The ensemble performed two songs adapted from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (with a solo by a winsome, flirtatious Lisa Wall-Urgero) and “Five Flower Songs,” composed in 1951.

The music of the Beatles can have no greater compliment than to be juxtaposed with a composer of Britten’s stature.

Some of the Beatles’ work features classical elements: a string octet (“Eleanor Rigby”), a Baroque piccolo trumpet (“Penny Lane”) and a French horn (“For No One”).

Of deciding which pieces to perform, Morton said, “I opened it up to the singers to see what spoke to them.”

The result was an eclectic representation of the Beatles’ myriad voices and sounds.

Tania Storrs led off with a straightforward version of “We Can Work It Out” with Joshua Banday singing harmony and playing percussion. Penny Schaeffer sang a sweet rendition of Paul McCartney’s “I Will,” which was followed by “Fool on the Hill,” in which Debbie Schaeffer, Christiana Thomas and Ronni Ashley sang the samba version made famous by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66.

Banday’s soulful version of “Eleanor Rigby” followed, inspired by Ray Charles’ cover, and had the whole audience clapping along.

Scott Brodie sang McCartney’s gentle “Blackbird,” followed by an a cappella quartet version of “All You Need Is Love.”

Michael Falcone’s quirky rendition of John Lennon’s “Come Together” came off like a prison work song, with the choir singing wordless background and beatbox vocal effects while stamping their feet in rhythm.

A medley of 16 excerpted Beatles songs, cobbled together from existing octavo arrangements, concluded the concert.

There was a certain irony in hearing John Lennon’s “Imagine” sung in a Lutheran chapel, since, at one point, it rhetorically wonders if people would still fight if there were no religion. Those specific lyrics were not used in this concert.

The medley ended with the hymn-like “Let It Be,” a more appropriate song for this venue.

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