Caption: From left, mezzo soloist Tracy Van Fleet, SB Choral Society conductor and artistic director Jo Anne Wasserman, composer Christopher Tim, soprano soloist Tamara Bevard, and tenor soloist Jimmer Bolden | Credit: Zach Mendez

For the finale of its milestone 75th anniversary season, the Santa Barbara Choral Society (SBCS) ended on a high note, diving into the rich folds of Mozart’s Requiem at the First Presbyterian Church. To be more precise, it ended with an integrated series of well-articulated high and low notes, and those in the middle, with the group’s trademark ensemble dedication intact.

Milestones and numbers counted at this affair. Not only not only has SBCS joined the elite 75 club of regional music organizations — close behind the Ojai Music Festival and the Music Academy. Jo Anne Wasserman is also celebrating her 30th year as director. The occasion warranted several video tributes from significant figures in the choral world, some coming to the conclusion that the SBCS is one of the finest community choruses on the West Coast.

Tributes and accolades aside, the real proof of worth came as soon as the chorus opened its collective mouth and filled the sanctuary with its glorious sound, subtly dynamic detailing and massed voices. As performed in this sacred space, flanked by looming stained glass windows, Mozart’s Requiem — a requiem for himself, in a sense, as his final and unfinished opus — achieved its proper gravitas and ultimate sense of deliverance.

Impressive soloists up front — soprano Tamara Bevard, mezzo soprano Tracy Van Fleet, tenor Benjamin Brecher and bass-baritone Dennis Rupp — also carried the mantle of having links to the lofty Los Angeles Master Chorale and, in Brecher’s case, the chair of UCSB’s Music Department. Alone and together, the singing population produced a grand and refined sound. A cathartic joy in the “Sanctus” is the gateway to the resplendent “Benedictus,” building to its thick fugal finale in “Lux Aeterna,” with all onstage fully earning the last fundamental long note.

After intermission and following a brief sojourn into the Baroque roots of Palestrina, the program contrasted Mozart’s gravity and transcendency with a lighter prevailing spirit. On all sides of the stage, we eased into the mellower temperament of works by Maurice Duruflé, Aaron Copland, Ola Gjeilo, and Morten Lauridsen — the latter two being living composers committed to carrying the choral music torch. Blithe as this music was, the sudden presence of a digital keyboard in the mix was jarring, counteracting the sonic purity and authenticity of voices and instruments.

Bringing the concert and season to a jubilant end game, we heard Christopher Tin’s African-inspired “Waloyo Yamoni (We Overcome the Wind),” part of his song cycle The Drop That Contained the Sea. Widely known tenor Jimmer Bolden was the special guest soloist for the occasion, a benevolent and rich-toned protagonist.

Tin’s winsome score is both steeped in African choral culture and, by association with The Lion King, Disney-tinged in its way. As such, it made for a sophisticated happy ending moment, to a fulfilling concert and the group’s diamond season.


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