Melinda Bargreen | 10 SEP 2020
Here I Stand is the first CD from the six-year-old iSing Silicon Valley girls’ choral organization, which comprises about 200 singers in subgroups from first-graders through high school. The recording is an impressive effort, in the breadth of repertoire and the quality of the musicianship – not to mention the sound editing, buffed to a fine polish by Skywalker Sound (some of the recordings took place there, and some at the First Baptist Church of Palo Alto). Most of the 13 tracks presented here feature the older, elite singers, though some of the pieces are sung by girls 7-12. Five of the tracks are iSing commissions, heard here in their world premiere recordings.
The iSing singers are noteworthy for their strong voices, crisp and accurate in attack, smooth in blend, and clean in articulation. The voices are produced with clarity and focus, often with surprising depth; some of the altos sound positively tenorial. The well chosen soloists add expressive heft to the pieces performed here, as do the accompanying array of instruments: cymbals, bells, tambourine, and drums, as well as piano, harp, and string quartet. Sharing the conducting role are iSing artistic directors Jennah Delp-Somers and Shane Troll; the keyboard accompanists are Anny Cheng and Anna Khaydarova, with instrumentalists Emily Botel (violin), Ron Ho (violin), Lesley Robertson (viola), Warren Wu (cello), Kent Reed (percussion), and Meredith Clark (harp).
The disc’s opening selection commands instant attention: Ēriks Ešenvalds’ sumptuously scored “Only in Sleep,” in a version for treble voices with soloist.
The centerpiece of the repertoire here is Adam Schoenberg’s moving “Never Shall I Forget,” a three-part work for treble voices, string quartet, and percussion. The commission was supported by iSing’s 2018 Chorus America Dale Warland Singers Commission Award, funded by the American Composers Forum; composer Adam Schoenberg set some searing selections from Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir, “Night.” (“Never shall I forget that night, / The first night in the camp, / That turned my life into one long night, /A night seven times sealed.”)
Daniel Elder’s punchy new “365” also carries a humanitarian message, “This original poem and its musical setting seek to pay tribute to the victims of gun violence in the modern United States, specifically those targeted, directly or indirectly, in mass public incidents.”
Other composers whose works are featured here include Ola Gjeilo, Sarah Quartel, Karen Linford, Andrea Ramsey, Claude Debussy, and “PinkZebra” (whose name, the liner notes tell us, is the “pseudonym of a successful music producer and composer”). Bob Chilcott (a former King’s Singer and a fine composer) wrote the charming “Like a Singing Bird,” melding his own setting of Christina Rossetti’s poem, “A Birthday,” with an old Scottish melody setting Robert Burns famous “A Red, Red Rose.”
Bay Area composer Karen Linford’s “Here I Stand,” with words by Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, offers the hopeful promise through these empowered young singers: “We shall bring change through our voices.”
The liner notes give the months, but not the year, when the tracks were recorded: it was in 2019, not in 2020. (To be specific: the recordings were made April 26–27, 2019, in First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA, and May 17–18, 2019, at Skywalker Studios, Marin, CA). Since the COVID-19 pandemic makes choral singing particularly dangerous now, this recording is not only a souvenir of happier times, but also a sign of hope for the future, when it will be safe to gather again to sing. ■