The Ragazzi Boys Chorus came back from the pandemic with a roar for a concert on Saturday, March 26. This Peninsula-based organization offers comprehensive training and performance opportunities in choral singing for boys up to age 18.
Ragazzi had been waiting for approval of the COVID vaccine for its members under 12 before launching this full-scale performance. It was well worth going down to the Santa Clara Mission, on the Santa Clara University campus, for the 75-minute concert. All the choristers wore masks except the soloists, with little interference with the sound quality.
Ragazzi includes several ensembles. This event featured its top three groups, all of them fully professional in performance quality, a stunning treat to hear. The concert was divided into two major parts: The Young Men’s Ensemble, the older tenors and basses, conducted by Travis Rogers; and the Concert Group, the younger treble voices, supplemented in some works by the Choral Scholars, who are selected members of the Young Men’s Ensemble. This grouping was conducted by Ragazzi’s artistic director, Kent Jue.
Unquestionably, the Concert Group was the star ensemble of the afternoon. Some of its members have been waiting over two years to perform, a particularly long span for young people. The high clear voices were accurate and highly polished in the complex counterpoint of Sarah Quartel’s arrangement of the Robert Lowry hymn “How Can I Keep from Singing?” and the antiphonal calls of the Laudamus Te from Vivaldi’s “Gloria.” They also particularly shone in the upper parts of Bruckner’s great motet “Locus Iste,” a treat worth attending the concert for all by itself. A few of the pieces, including the Vivaldi, were accompanied on piano by Yongyu Gao but most were unaccompanied. Nancy Whitecar also accompanied in other parts of the program.
Jue’s conducting, emphasizing emotional expressiveness in the music, was a major contribution to the impressive result.
A couple items featured soloists from the Choral Scholars, Lincoln Mendenhall in “How Can I Keep from Singing?” and Luca Lit in “You Will Reap What You Sow” by hymnist Pepper Choplin. They sang their solos without masks into microphones, which outbalanced them somewhat against the choir. But the singing, as always, was very fine. So was Choral Scholars member Nicholas Hu performing Schubert’s song “Im Frühling.”
The Young Men’s Ensemble, larger and more powerful than the Choral Scholars drawn from it, gave a rich and deep sound to “Ubi Caritas” by Ola Gjeilo, their most effective piece. A hymn by Troy D. Robertson, “In Meeting We Are Blessed,” bore a folkish chantlike air, especially as accompanied by ensemble member Ben Carlson on an African hand drum, the djembe. A rather elaborate arrangement by Nick Johnson of Stephen Foster’s song “Hard Times Come Again No More” featured several soloists and a restrained quintet of instrumentalists.
At the end, the entire singing body combined to sing Kevin Memley’s “Ave Maria” under Jue’s direction.
The concert also featured a couple of instrumental pieces by singers with those other skills in their repertoires. These were competently played but the performers’ creativity and talent were much better shown in their singing. The complex, elaborate choral pieces are what Ragazzi does best and what the audience should expect to hear.
The next Ragazzi concert will feature the Young Men’s Ensemble paired with the Peninsula Girls Chorus Ensemble at Burlingame United Methodist Church on Sunday, May 1.