Yes, there was a Veteran's Day parade and official flag-waving festivities on Nov. 11, but Sarasota seems to be a town that must bring such commemorating into the concert hall. Given that Gloria Musicae's centerpiece of "Celebrating Humanity - A Tribute to Our Veterans" was only the third performance, and Florida premiere of James Grant's major choral work, "Such Was the War," we know for certain that no one else experienced this day quite like those in this audience.
Grant drew from the prose and poetry of American literary giant Walt Whitman to essentially recreate the experience the young Whitman had as a volunteer medic in the hospitals and battlefields of the Civil War.
Marcus DeLoach, a strong and gifted baritone, gave voice to Whitman's correspondence and commentary on his days and nights caring for wounded and dying soldiers. The mix of pain, horror and deeper human connection and love was sensitively treated in the vocal line as well as the color in orchestration.
The chorus, only 35 voices, was mighty enough to swell into a cry of anguish from the battle field, yet had the subtle control to weep along with the poetry of grim war memories. I haven't the heart to deconstruct what was a profoundly moving artistic creation. My heart is still pounding with the peak moment with the war-torn chorus singing "dig the trenches and gather the heaps." And with DeLoach, reaching emotionally to the top of his range for "My brave, young American soldiers," as a mournful, straight-toned violin, trumpet and pedal tone bass keened in response.
To balance the weight of "Such Was the War" was a sunny, uplifting setting of Mass for Children by Sir John Rutter, the prolific British composer whose music is exceedingly accessible to the masses. The Sarasota Young Voices joined Gloria Musicae for what felt like one long choral benediction for all its beauty. DeLoach was joined by soprano soloist Brittany Duve in this mass as well.
In less than four years, music director Holt has elevated the performance quality of this professional chorus significantly while creating programs of remarkable power, if this can be any indication. I'm looking forward to more.