ST. PETERSBURG — Uplift was the order of the night for Friday's concert by the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, conducted by artistic director James K. Bass at the Palladium Theater. Billed as the Peace Project, the program of mainly spirituals, jazz and pop was intended to be a "musical celebration of human relationships and peace" in the words of narrator Kevin Beckner.
Sharon Scott, a powerful gospel singer, galvanized the performance with the restraint she brought to Gloria Gaither's I Then Shall Live, which segued into an inspired rendition of Julie Gold's From a Distance, joined by Valerie Gillespie on alto saxophone. For such a large voice, Scott displayed an uncanny security of pitch in the upper reaches of Let There Be Peace on Earth.
Gillespie, a powerhouse musician in her own right, led a jazz combo in Motet by Russell Ferrante and Dizzy Gillespie's Tanga, which was loaded with fancy fingering for sax. Lift Every Voice and Sing had more great riffing between Scott and Gillespie.
In a similar vein, Someday Is Today, a new work by Andre J. Thomas, director of choral activities at Florida State University, had a sleek pop feel, with appealing exchanges between men and women choristers.
From a purely choral standpoint, the highlights were the pairing of Craig Hella Johnson's arrangement of Eliza Gilkyson's gently rhythmic Requiem with Rachmaninoff's Vespers; and Stephen Paulus' The Road Home, full of the spacious harmonies of the classic American sound of Randall Thompson and Aaron Copland, which featured the mezzo soprano of Andrea Peacock floating above her colleagues.
In something of a departure, the 150 men and women singers were interspersed throughout the chorus, rather than in the conventional deployment of sopranos, altos, tenors and basses. Though probably not advisable positioning for Bach or Handel, this seemed to work fine for Friday's music.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.