BROOKLYN YOUTH CHORUS: AMPLIFY | New York, National Sawdust

There’s little in the world more infectiously true and uncompromisingly direct than a choir of young voices. Situated in National Sawdust’s festival of untamed voices, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus set about renewing our experience and appreciation for these truths and more.

Introducing the programme of premieres, Paola Prestini (the center’s Co-Founder, Artistic Director and a featured composer) drew our attention to the momentous appearance of both the Concert (all-female) and Men’s Ensemble. The blend of voices still finding their way in the musical world was showcased in the opening Arvo Pärt (Drei Hortenkinder aus Fátima) after which the Concert Ensemble delivered David Lang’s she is called and Prestini’s Sisters. With the ‘Amplify’ collection having been contextualised by a chorus member as a programme that drew on the collective concerns of young people, these pieces fizzed with contemporary importance and social critique. Lang’s piece was a stand-out composition during the evening, the lyrics being drawn from the lines of the King James Bible beginning with ‘she’ (startlingly few) with the word itself being chanted with an ominous drum-brush-across-snare effect. Paola’s setting of Brenda Shaughnessy’s poem ‘Sisters’ also saw the introduction of tremendously effective choreography, with hands rising like corn stalks from the talented young women taking solos in the work. The variety of voice types representing different characters was a moment that a Youth Chorus lends itself so well too, and under the direction of Dianne Berkun everyone hit their mark.

Being a young man can be an awkward experience and clearly being in a choir directed by Kristopher Burke is no less challenging based on the repertoire the Men’s Ensemble had chosen for the evening. With the composer of Meditations on Raising Boys present (Daniel Bernard Roumain) the group navigated non-conventional word placements and a Radiohead-like tonality creating a beat that pulsed through the room. This comfort with syncopation along with even percussive clicks and stomps developed in Samuel Cho’s Afternoon On A Hill in a way that demonstrated that although their numbers may be fewer than the Concert Ensemble, they have voices that also deserve to be heard through the noise.

With the Concert Ensemble taking the stage once more for 5 pieces again punctuated with moments of audience address by young people they were allowed the time to build true artistic momentum. Their technique matched their subject matter for sophistication which included upholding fact-based science, dedications to those affected by Hurricane Maria, race-based privilege and immigrant solidarity. With the instrumentalists brought to the fore in Toshi Reagon’s Lovestate, the evening built to a joyful reflection on ‘love as a state of being’ with Adele-like rhythm and blues. ‘Loves lost, love needs to be found’ they sang — and during this trying time, in Brooklyn Youth Chorus there is found a dependable source of love and true artistry in New York or wherever they may be singing.

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