“An awe-inspiring performance.”
For two hours Friday, the performers of Conspirare Christmas with Carrie Rodriguez, filled Houston’s St. Luke’s United Methodist Church sanctuary with the glorious sounds of an improbable, genre-crossing array of compositions.
Craig Hella Johnson’s Grammy award-winning chamber choir delivered nothing remotely resembling a predictable seasonal lineup of songs, instead weaving quiet introspection, joyous gospel, Broadway and Burt Bacharach alongside holiday favorites and traditional Spanish songs.
With the inspired arrangements Johnson is known for, the chorus segued from Tom Petty lyrics to American song-writing standards, Christmas carols, sacred music and more, performing before a large, attentive crowd in the River Oaks church.
The ensemble’s Latin name means “to breathe together,” and throughout the evocative performance there was a sense of drawing a deep breath together in the midst of a busy holiday season.
Conspirare’s singers are the best of the best, internationally renowned and drawn from various parts of the country although the choir was established in Austin in 1991. Each soloist had a sublime moment and something unique to say, estimable stars in the Conspirare galaxy shining their light under the church’s soaring barrel-vaulted ceiling. The sustained emotional resonance characteristic of Conspirare concerts is all the more amazing considering the stamina and precision required for each powerful performance.
As for Rodriguez, her A la Nanita Nana was as sweet a lullaby as has ever been crooned, yet the singer’s soulful Up Above My Head set toes tapping, and her feisty fiddling on I’ll Fly Away and Down By The Riverside added just the right notes to classic up-tempo songs.
Rodriguez played homage to singer-songwriter Chip Taylor, her former performance partner, with I Cry For Love. It was one of a run of bittersweet love songs interwoven in the program that also included My Funny Valentine and My Sweet Crushed Angel.
Along the course of the evening performance, the audience was invited to sing along with holiday carols, enhancing the sense of intimacy in the seasonally decorated space.
Ultimately, Johnson’s gift for creating transcendence from disparate elements brought the audience to their feet for sustained applause at the close of the awe-inspiring performance.
Cover photo | Carrie Rodriguez by Kirk Stauffer Photography