The Simón Bolívar Youth Choir of Venezuela was joined onstage by the Limón Dance Company at the Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall on Monday night for an impactful and exquisite performance of Kodaly’s “Missa Brevis,” which they played to a packed and diverse audience that appeared to appreciate the choir’s technical and artistic skill.
Overwhelming, intense, sacred. For moments, time seemed to play with those that were gathered on Monday night at Alice Tully Hall at New York’s Lincoln Center. Dancers, singers, and audience members alike were submerged in another frequency, one humming with hopeful promise thanks to the fervent oration contained in “Missa Brevis” by the Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly that illuminated the bodies and voices of the Limón Dance Company and the Simón Bolívar National Youth Choir of Venezuela.
The piece was created in 1957 by the legendary Mexican dancer and choreographer José Limón, a pillar of contemporary dance. Today, 55 years later, the piece appeared renewed and intact along with one of its central messages: with faith, man can persevere and survive the greatest tragedies. That was the feeling, masterfully sung under the direction of Lourdes Sánchez and accompanied by the organist Vincent Heitzer, conveyed by the Simón Bolívar Youth Choir, which earned a standing ovation and abundant applause from the audience at its U.S. debut.
Carla Maxwell, the esteemed choreographer who serves as artistic director of the Limón Dance Company, said: “As soon as we heard the first song by the Simón Bolívar Youth Choir, the dancers were just paralyzed. We have danced Missa Brevis countless times, often to a recording and we have even done it with other choirs. The beautiful and professional singing of these young people got into our bones, it moved us. Several of my dancers cried as they danced and definitely these kids brought something new to this important piece by Limón: they came to inspire us with their new, fresh blood to create pure art at the highest possible level. It’s a blessing for us.”
Venezuela Singing on High
The finale performance with the Limón Dance Company was not the only part of the evening that earned praise for the Venezuelan singers. In the first part of the program, the group got its first applause with a repertoire of sacred music through which it demonstrated its highly trained voices, beautiful colors and the intense labors of its teachers Lourdes Sánchez and Margot Parés Reyna.
During a few moments of darkness on stage, the singers donned jackets emblazoned with the yellow, blue and red colors of the Venezuelan flag to let loose some patriotic anthems by Antonio Estévez, Moisés Moleiro, Antonio Lauro, Simón Díaz, Luis Laguna and others, a set that warmed the hearts of the Latin Americans in the audience. These tunes were embellished by drums, flute and the traditional four-stringed cuatro. Among the most impactful was “El Gabán” by Rafael Suárez, a song in Venezuela’s llanera style which included a solo by the choir’s own tenor Cristo Vassilaco.
When the concert closed, praise from the audience followed immediately. The famous musician Rubén Bladés of Panama said: “my capacity to be surprised by the treasures of El Sistema is unending. I just experienced the enormous success of Maestra Vida with [Gustavo] Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Orchestra, and now I discover here in New York that they have this excellent choir. It’s just too much.”
Venezuelan fashion designer Ángel Sánchez was also overcome by excitement for the success of his countrymen. “The level that I witnessed tonight at the Lincoln Center was number one,” he said. “It’s a vocal group that on any stage in the world can demonstrate its very high level of professionalism and maturity, which is incredible when you see how young they are.”
The Venezuelan Ambassador to the United Nations Jorge Valero exclaimed happily: “it’s not just our orchestras of El Sistema that are an international success, now we’re going around the world with this Simón Bolívar Youth Choir, whose performance as well on Tuesday at the United Nations is our magnificent contribution to the events of the General Assembly. We are proud and happy as a nation to have them present on this stage.”
After the two concerts in New York, the Venezuelan singers will travel Washington to perform on the evening of Thursday, September 20, at the Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. On Friday, they conclude their short tour at the Enrique Iglesias Hall of the Inter American Development Bank, where they will again sing a wide-ranging repertoire of music from around the world as well as from Latin America and Venezuela.
This second international tour by the top vocal ensemble of Venezuela’s National System of Youth Choirs (part of the famous youth music program “El Sistema”) is made possible through sponsorship by CITGO and the Venezuelan Sounds Foundation. It is also part of the “El Sistema For Peace 2012” series being carried out in cooperation with the United Nations, UNICEF and the United Nations Development Program.