Opera star and EMU ensembles soar at 2019 gala concert

“Simply magical,” says Professor David Berry in recollection of last weekend’s Gala concert at Eastern Mennonite University. “It is rarer than rare to have a consummate artist who has graced the finest concert stages in the world not only come to a university to teach and inspire students, but then also to perform with them. The gala was a beautiful vision of what it means for us at EMU to lead together in the arts in our new era.”

Approximately 550 eager listeners packed Lehman Auditorium for the annual event, which brought in $2,800 in support of music department scholarships.

Janinah Burnett, currently starring on Broadway in Phantom of the Opera, dazzled, as did EMU’s orchestra, wind ensemble and choirs.

Host Kimberlea Daggy, public radio classical music program announcer and producer, brought both enthusiasm and joy to the evening, sharing her own delight in the performances as she introduced each selection.

Enjoy this photoessay of the evening.

A Night at the Gala: Photos by Macson McGuigan

Professor James Richardson, wearing appropriate attire, begins the celebratory evening with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Fin ch’han dal vino” from Don Giovanni.

Professor Benjamin Bergey directs the EMU University Choir and Chamber Orchestra in performing Requiem by John Rutter. The Chamber Singers also joined in this selection.

Soprano Leah Wenger, a music performance and psychology double major, sings a solo in Requiem. Cellist Patrick Bellah, an adjunct faculty member and professional musician, was the second soloist.

Isaac Andreas, principal second violin.

Benjamin Bergey conducts the EMU Chamber Orchestra. “Both the orchestra and the choirs rose to the challenge of this hauntingly beautiful masterwork,” he said.

Ben Bontrager-Singer, cello.

Janinah Burnett performed two arias, “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” from La Rondine and “Ah! fors’e lui” / Sempre libera” from La Traviata. conductor Benjamin Bergey recalled, “It was an amazing, professional-level experience for our orchestra to only briefly rehearse the evening before with a professional singer on something as difficult as an opera aria and have it go well.”

EMU’s Lehman Auditorium was filled with an eager audience, ready after intermission for more of what Benjamin Bergey described as “a wonderful evening of diverse music-making.”

Burnett performed a Joseph Joubert arrangement of the Ella Fitzgerald jazz classic”How High the Moon,” lyrics by Nancy Hamilton and music by Morgan Lewis, and “Almighty God,” one of Duke Ellington’s three Sacred Concerts, with the EMU Jazz Ensemble, directed by Robert Curry. Sarah Ressler was the clarinet soloist. 

“The selection ‘Almighty God’ is rarely performed music, so studying and performing was challenging and rewarding,” said Robert Curry, rehearsing the selection here with the jazz ensemble and Chamber Singers. “It was a thrill to perform with a talented professional like Janinah Burnett.”

Burnett shares the applause with the jazz ensemble and Chamber Singers after her last selection, “Almighty God.” Pianist and EMU music professor David Berry, who shares a friendship with Burnett going back to their days at Eastman School of Music, is at right.

Senior Robert Chaplin performs the famous solo from the beginning of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

David Berry, with Robert Curry and the EMU Jazz Ensemble, performs “Rhapsody in Blue.” Curry noted that “recreating the early 1920s sound of the original jazzy version” was a challenge. “David and I talked several times about interpretation and style, all in an effort to make the performance as much like the original as possible.”

Musicians share their mutual appreciation at the end of “Rhapsody in Blue.”

The audience gives final thanks to EMU faculty members (from left) James Richardson, David Berry, Robert Curry, Benjamin Bergey and gala host Kimberlea Daggy.

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Discussion on “Opera star and EMU ensembles soar at 2019 gala concert

  1. This was a memorable evening of music…..I would love to see/hear Ms. Burnett in Phantom on Broadway! The locals were nothing but outstanding.

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