The Choral Arts Society’s tribute to Norman Scribner went on a little long, fitting for someone who announced his retirement a full two years before stepping down. But Scribner didn’t revel in it. As CAS’s founder and D.C.’s senior choral director, he could have made his farewell all about himself. Instead, on Wednesday, he trudged to the front of the nave at National Cathedral and announced in his gentle deadpan, “My name is Norman Scribner and I’ll be your host for tonight.”
That set the tone for the rest of the show, which Scribner used to highlight other choruses, conductors, vocal soloists, and accompanists. Cathedral music director Michael McCarthy, City Choir director Robert Shafer, and Heritage Signature Chorale director Stanley Thurston all took turns at the podium. Conspicuously absent was Julian Wachner or anyone from the Washington Chorus, which along with CAS and the Cathedral Choral Society rounds out the unofficial top three choruses in the area (at least measured in budgets). But Shafer, as Wachner’s predecessor, had an ugly departure from TWC before starting his own chorus. So if it was a snub, it was apparently meant to keep the peace for the night.
Wednesday’s grab-bag program featured a bit of everything that audiences will remember from Scribner’s tenure: Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, which the Choral Arts Society performed in Moscow’s Red Square in 1993; a Verdi aria by Janice Chandler Eteme; selections from CAS’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. concert; plenty of devotional music. The evening’s apogee came halfway through with three high-energy gospel numbers by the Heritage Signature Chorale and pianist and singer Ralph Alan Herndon. After all the swaying and handclaps, Mozart’s Magic Flute was a letdown.
There were tears among his choristers by the end, but Scribner himself displayed little emotion, even when he literally passed the baton to new guy Scott Tucker. In a performing arts world where big egos are often on display, Scribner was never larger than life. He was the man who took the stage and got down to business, preferring to let the music speak for itself.