“The world is so strange,” says Lauren Kinhan, the “new girl” of New York Voices who has been with the quartet for 18 of its 22 years.
Kinhan and the other three members have almost called it quits more than once since the group’s inception in 1987. But then, she says, “There will be a call shortly after [the decision to break up], and it’s, say, the Boston Pops calling: ‘We’d like to set a whole Christmas program, and we’re going to do a 26-day tour and pay all your arrangements.’ And we go, ‘Crap. Maybe we’re not done.’ ”
Along the way, performing opportunities just keep coming up. “The next thing you know,” says Darmon Meader, the group’s musical director, “two more years have gone by.”
One of the secrets to the longevity of New York Voices, says the group, is balance. Each member has his or her own solo projects and other musical endeavors, and each member has to leave enough room for the work they do together.
“When [New York Voices] was the sole focus of most of our lives, early on,” says Kinhan, “any outside endeavor shook the fabric of the group.”
On Friday, April 9, New York Voices performed a Winter Pops Concert with the San Diego Symphony at Copley Symphony Hall.
The audience arrived in a mix of San Diego casual and symphony sophisticate, from suit jackets to polo shirts on the men and dresses to jeans on the women. The average age of the audience would have been considerably higher without the attendance of three groups of high school choirs from Arizona, including students from Tucson, Mesa, and Yuma. An usher estimated the hall at 70 percent of its 2248-person capacity.
The bright white shirts and jackets of the orchestra members shone in the overhead light, contrasting with the black music stands and the reddish-brown Brazilian cherry wood of the stage. The ornate carvings around the 31-foot proscenium opening framed the scene with a theatrical flair.
The New York–themed concert began with an orchestra-only set conducted by the San Diego Symphony’s principal pops conductor, Marvin Hamlisch. The set included “42nd Street Overture,” “Three Dance Episodes” from On the Town, “A Symphonic Story of Jerome Kern,” and “New York, New York.”
The animated, silver-haired Hamlisch entertained the audience with humor and improvised jokes. At one point, when the mike echoed his voice back to him, he said, “There are two of me.” Then he shrugged, adding, “Well, I am a Gemini.” Later, just before he introduced the set’s final piece, “New York, New York,” Hamlisch said, “If you’re doing a show about New York, you’ve gotta play ‘Georgia on My Mind.’ ”
While audience laughter showed appreciation for Hamlisch’s humor and conversational tone, not everyone cared for his conducting technique.
“If you watch Hamlisch, he’s just conducting the beat mostly,” said one audience member. “He’s not a particularly good conductor. He does some cues, but he also looks at the score, so that means he hasn’t memorized it. Many of the great conductors memorize the pieces.”
After intermission, New York Voices took the stage. The ladies were resplendent in long gowns — Kinhan’s green with layers of ruffles and Kim Nazarian’s brown with a bejeweled neckline.
They began their set with the peppy sounds of “Sing, Sing, Sing” (also the title of their sixth CD) and the Jobim classic “Desafinado,” both backed by the orchestra. Next they performed an a cappella version of “Almost Like Being in Love” from the 1947 musical Brigadoon. Then, with Peter Eldrige on piano, the quartet sang two Paul Simon songs, “Mother and Child Reunion” and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.” The rest of the set included an a cappella version of 1968’s “Stoned Soul Picnic,” “Stardust,” and a Beatles medley that inspired Nazarian to dance and rock out while she sang. For an encore — after a tease that they might perform “Bohemian Rhapsody,” eliciting a gasp from the audience — the group performed the Beatles’ “In My Life.”
Audience member Suzy Gilleon says that the performance brought back memories of her youth. “In my age group, early 40s, when I was watching cartoons or seeing TV shows or movies, I got to hear a lot of this music. The symphony sounds are familiar to me. But then I thought about my son,” she says, gesturing to the ten-year-old next to her, “and I thought, ‘Gosh, I don’t think he gets that experience.’ For me, the symphony is so familiar and yet, the youth today, I don’t think they’ll have that. Unless they have this privilege.”
This performance was 18-year-old Nick Klakulak’s third visit to the San Diego Symphony with his school choir. He says that this year he especially loved New York Voices. “I was completely in awe by the passion in the music,” said Nick. “It seriously changed my life.”
“This is why I bring them,” said Kenna Tanaka, Klakulak’s music director from Kofa High School in Yuma, Arizona. She explained that Yuma does not have the kind of musical diversity that she finds here in San Diego.
The only trouble with the show, added Tanaka, was that “the orchestra overpowered [the quartet] a lot. Four against sixty is not a fair fight.”
Klakulak’s only complaint: “I was really looking forward to hearing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ ”
Maybe next time.