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Review: Jenkins celebration on target

By: David Sckolnik Special to The Gazette
April 15, 2014 Updated: April 15, 2014 at 7:00 am
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photo - Don Jenkins receives the accolades of the audience after Saturday night's performance. Photo credit: David R Hughes III.
Don Jenkins receives the accolades of the audience after Saturday night's performance. Photo credit: David R Hughes III. 

Everything on Saturday night at Pikes Peak Center focused on one goal: celebrating the career and artistry of Donald P. Jenkins. While this was accomplished, the ultimate impact of this Colorado Springs Philharmonic concert was far more general in its scope: a celebration of the choral art.

For those who know Jenkins, this was no surprise. Through more than five decades of engineering the choral programs at Colorado College and the Colorado Springs Chorale, he always has eschewed the spotlight in favor of an egalitarian artistic process and musical excellence.

At 78, he seemed more than able to carry on his cause. In his opening remarks, Jenkins boiled down his decision to retire to being "tired of the deadlines." His last deadline was met with grace and beauty.

The biggest question of the night - what was philharmonic associate conductor Thomas Wilson doing leading Beethoven's "Symphony No. 1" in the concert's first half? The second half was given over to Jenkins and the chorale for a pastiche of choral gems. This generated another question: Why not send Jenkins off in a blaze of glory that only a concert-length choral masterpiece could provide?

The good news is that the performance of Beethoven was light, witty and well-played, acting more like a 25-minute appetizer than a main course. The space was there for Jenkins to serve up a feast.

Before the chorale members even had the chance to open their voices, it was obvious what we were in for. As they focused on their revered maestro, love and intensity came pouring out toward the podium. This translated to a rich and infectious majesty for Handel's "Zadok the Priest: Coronation Anthem." The sound was just what we've grown to expect from the Jenkins-led ensemble: clear and rhythmically precise along with impeccable diction. The only thing lacking was fullness at the bottom range of the bass section.

There was no drop-off of any kind through the next five pieces. Haydn's rarely heard "Der Sturm" ("The Storm") was beautifully and powerfully painted by chorus and orchestra; Bruckner's setting of "Psalm 150" was almost overwhelming in its beauty and spirituality; the ever-popular "Triumphal Chorus" from Verdi's "Aida" was given a generously layered presentation that no opera production could have achieved.

Jenkins brought the evening back to earth in sublime fashion with a chorale-only encore of Joseph Clokey's precious "Mary Wore Three Links of Chain." It was rendered with beauty and humility.

In the middle of this inspired journey through choral literature was Brahms' "N?ie" - a performance that reached greater depths than all else. After a less-than-seamless introduction by the orchestra, a baton-less Jenkins poured his heart out to the chorale, who responded with one of the better single performances ever heard in the Pikes Peak region.

Its text from a poem by Friedrich Schiller laments the inevitable death of all things beautiful on this planet. Jenkins still will be with us. But his days of bringing us musical bliss sadly have come to an end.

Up next: '"La Mer": a Beyond the Score Vanguard Performance

Who: The Colorado Springs Philharmonic, with conductor Josep Caball?Domench, narrator Mare Trevathan, actors Cajardo Lindsey and Allison Watrous

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.

Tickets: $12-$59, 520-7469, pikespeakcenter.com

Something else: "Don Jenkins Tribute Gala," 6 p.m. May 18, Antler's Hilton hotel, 4 S. Cascade Ave.; 634-3737

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