After a week on the road, the Tabernacle Choir has settled into the routine of touring - if there is such a thing. In this case, routine means getting up and singing their best no matter what circumstances have intervened since the last time.
The final concert in Auckland Tuesday proceeded as successfully as the first, allowing the singers to hit their stride.Reviews have been unanimously affirmative. Lynn Sanders of the New Zealand Herald noted the group's fine pianissimos and impressive power, saying that "the choir has indeed climbed every musical mountain to its peak."
The Wellington Dominion commended the choir's fine precision, the sweet soaring sound of the women's voices and basses able to descend to impressive depths. The choir is indeed singing at an exciting level of excellence and deserves its raves.
When this choir travels abroad, one observes again and again how greatly respected and loved it is. Waves of good will radiate toward the stage, as listeners of all persuasions who love whatever the choir sings - modern compositions of Argento, Bernstein and Rutter, the conservative prettiness of Mendelssohn, rumbling Russian works of Gretchanioff or Lvovsky. They gladly accept Robert Cundick's "Unconquerable," which is flowing more freely with added performances.
The choir met its first reverse Wednesday en route to Wellington. When the Auckland airport was fogged in for seven hours, carefully laid plans for orderly transport on four regular morning flights flew out the window. Making the best of the situation, the singers warmed up in the terminal, and startled travelers were greeted by strains of "Deep River," with conductor Jerold Ottley ensconced on top of a baggage carousel. "Now is the hour" took on new meaning when the choir sang the last line - "When you return, you'll find me waiting here!"
When the airport reopened, there were still a few planes, and New Zealand Air canceled more regular flights, bending all efforts to get the choir to Wellington and its heavy schedule there - a 5:45 concert that included taping "Music and the Spoken Word" for U.S. broadcast June 26 and an 8:30 concert.
Singers went first, and personnel in Wellington hotels applied heroic measures to handling dress bags. Even so, many ended up puffing in the door only a few minutes before concert time.
Singers on the third flight had the hardest time. Flying on a "puddle jumper" that held only 40 passengers, they no sooner boarded than the battery went dead, causing an hour's delay on the runway while it was replaced. Deplaning in Wellington, the singers were next plagued by a flat tire on the bus taking them to the hotel.
Leading into "Music and the Spoken Word," Spencer Kinard announced three firsts for the program: the first broadcast from New Zealand, the first use of two announcers - Philip Liner of Wellington assisted - and the first time the program was ever rehearsed in an airport.
In the fine halls, Wellington's Michael Fowler Center and the Christchurch Town Hall - both wood-lined and beautifully appointed, with acceptable acoustics - attendance has been excellent. Both hold close to 3,500, with Wellington nearly sold out for two concerts and Christchurch completely sold out.
Ordinarily, loud cries from the audience signal a demonstration, and those in the choir's accompanying entourage cringed to hear them until they learned they were the beginning of a Maori greeting _ a warm, spontaneous reciprocation. Here it is considered a high compliment to so respond. Twice in the Wellington concerts, big Maori elders led their people in chants and songs loud enough to fill the vast hall.
The greeting was evidence of the good will the natives bear toward Ottley, who spent his adolescent years in New Zealand, where his family is fondly remembered, and Iain McKay, a native Wellingtonian who finally brought the choir to the home folks. Soprano Heidi McKay also returned to the scene of former triumphs, singing beautifully with JoAnn Ottley Bellini's "Mira o Norma."
Disappointment was great at not being able to tour Wellington, New Zealand's beautiful capital. For most, a twilight view coming in and a predawn glimpse going out were tantalizing reminders of a missed acquaintance. But choir members greatly enjoyed Christchurch, the 330,000-population metropolis of New Zealand's South Island, which claims to be the most English of cities outside of England. Victorian squares, stone churches, pretty English gardens and parks with the River Avon flowing through have kept sightseers on the run despite the nippiest winter weather yet encountered. However, a morning drizzle with stiff breeze gave way to afternoon sunshine.
Friday the choir enters Australia via Melbourne for a Saturday night concert that will usher in a 10-concert series on the continent down under.