By Steven Orton
KENSINGTON, Maryland – Lex de Azevedo’s Easter oratorio “Hosanna” debuted at the Washington, D.C. Temple Visitor’s Center on Saturday evening to wild applause and a standing ovation from a standing-room-only audience.
This was a truly impressive work featuring two choirs, three vocalists, piano, violin, harp and assorted percussionists. All the music was set to lyrics drawn solely from the King James Version of the Bible, chronicling the last week of the Savior’s earthly ministry from His entry to Jerusalem to Golgotha and on to His triumphant resurrection.
The vocal soloists were tenor George Dyer, bass Greg Pearson, and mezzo soprano Melinda Lockwood DeBirk, all of Utah. De Azevedo, composer and musical director of the oratorio, was at the piano and provided the underlying orchestration normally supplied by multiple instruments. He played almost continuously during the hour and a half program.
The highlights were provided by the virtuoso violin playing of Jenny Oaks Baker, formerly first violin in the National Symphony Orchestra and currently a resident of Virginia.
The choral music came from the combined voices of the 33-members of the Millennium Choir and the Salt Lake Community College Chamber singers on the stage and the 100-voice Mormon Choir of Washington, D.C. in the back of the hall. These groups sang under the batons of Lyle Archibald and Gary B. Clawson, respectively.
Although this was the first time “Hosanna” was performed in the nation’s capital, the oratorio has been performed in other settings, perhaps most notably in Jerusalem in 2000 with the Jerusalem Symphony. “Hosanna” is actually the third in a series of oratorios by de Azevedo about the life of Christ.
In remarks at the beginning of the concert, de Azevedo observed how music can make words more powerful for either good or ill. In this case, it was all to the good. During the performance, the New Testament verses selected by de Azevedo were projected on a screen above the stage. Thus, the words, “crucify him, crucify him” seemed more foreboding as voiced loudly by the combined choirs and punctuated by the crashing chords of the piano and cacophony of the percussion.
Likewise, the soaring, sweet notes of the violin gave emphasis to the joy expressed by the Gospels about the resurrection.
“Profound and meditative” were the words used by Frank McLeskey of Fairfax Station, Virginia, in describing the oratorio. He said it drew him into the scenes of Christ’s journey during those last days almost as if he had been there. His wife, Karma, said the oratorio brought out the “core essence of the resurrection and atonement.”
This performance, described as world class by many attendees, was a wonderful prelude to Easter Sunday. Since the lyrics used only the words from the Gospels, it was, for many, a good review of the Easter story. But although the words were familiar, they took on additional meaning when wrapped in such a delightful musical package. It was Brother de Azevedo’s Easter gift to the world.