Seen in all their “Glory,”
kids rise to the challenge
2006 Newsday advance
“You’re going to eat? You’re going to go outside.”
A streetwise edge cuts through Francisco Núñez’s words. The artistic director of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City is about to start rehearsal for “Transient Glory V,” Saturday’s concert by the acclaimed ensemble of New York-area schoolchildren. The offending food vanishes, and the maestro’s youthful charges snap to attention, awaiting his downbeat.
That furtive nibble was the sole breach of professional etiquette in the chorus’s two-hour run-through of “Bloom,” a new piece by singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright. “Bloom” is one of seven premieres making up “Transient Glory V,” which also includes music by Thea Musgrave, Mark Adamo and John Corigliano commissioned by and for the chorus that Núñez founded in 1988.
“One of the things I tell composers is that I do not want them to write down to the children,” Núñez said by car phone. “When it comes to children today, we need to challenge them. They want to be challenged. If you don’t give them goals to reach for, they’re bored.”
A man with a mission, Núñez speaks with wholehearted belief. His rehearsal demeanor, like his words, conveys uncompromising respect for his musicians. Amid a sea of T-shirts and baggy jeans, he is dressed formally, in a charcoal suit and silver tie.
He asks much. “This needs to be memorized by the end of the day,” he says, handing out the latest version of “Bloom.” He gives much, too. Mouthing the words along with his choristers, Núñez laughs with them when their voices fade away as they reach for the score’s extravagant heights. After a few words of encouragement, the chorus dives back in, their tones shimmering and splaying in a luminous cloud of sound, as Wainwright nods approvingly.
“The Young People’s Chorus can muster that chiming, clear-blue sound—now silk, now ice—but there’s a warmth, too, in their sustained sounds and an expressiveness in their dynamics,” wrote composer Adamo by e-mail. He chose death-drenched verse by Emily Dickinson for “Garland,” his contribution to “Transient Glory V.”
Adamo echoes Núñez’s faith in the choristers’ intelligence and ambition. “I do think that it’s naive, not to say patronizing, to think that children or adolescents don’t feel grief as keenly as adults do. I think they feel it more so, actually, because they haven’t lived through enough of these experiences to know that ‘This, too, shall pass.’”
Notions of time and change inform the concert’s title. “‘Transient Glory’ means a thing sung by children before adulthood, right before they mature, vocally as well as mentally,” Núñez noted.
Cool and impassive while Wainwright critiqued their efforts, the choristers—including youngsters from Elmont and Valley Stream—swarmed around the pop star, squealing and brandishing camera phones, when rehearsal broke. Fusing inspired musicianship with the vulnerability and enthusiasm of youth, their art shines fleetingly but unforgettably.
“Transient Glory V” by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Society for Ethical Culture, 2 W. 64th St., Manhattan. Visit www.ypc.org or call 212-415-5500.