Justin Raffa has what is sometimes called a Mana personality. Such people tend to be the keepers of our collective hopes and dreams. They are charismatic and pour themselves into their pursuits. They are rare and unmistakable in their effect.
Less than five years ago, Raffa moved to the Tri-Cities from Arizona, took over the helm of what was then called Consort Columbia, changed the name to Mid-Columbia Mastersingers and quickly turned the choir into a finely polished, stylistically gorgeous ensemble.
In other words, he and the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers are a force to be reckoned with. The Tri-Cities has long had more than its fair share of excellent amateur performance groups. But Raffa evidently has his eyes on a bigger prize.
If you want to be part of the sea-change to a vibrant, Big City-style arts scene in the Tri-Cities, you won't want to miss the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers next concert, which is Feb 9-10 in Kennewick. It is beautiful and amazingly ambitious. The program is called Double Feature because the entire concert is comprised of pieces which are sung, unaccompanied, by two choirs of 16 singers each.
To this end, the Mid Columbia Mastersingers are joined by the Spokane Choral Artists, a talented and relatively new group founded in 2009 and directed by Max Mendez of North Idaho College.
Although it is splendid, this is not an easy concert to listen to. The works are all in non-English languages, including Latin, German, French, and Italian. The text and translations appear in the program.
In addition, the concert is supertitled. In case you have not seen this technique, it means that the English translation of the sung words will be projected onto a wall or screen above the choirs. The texts to these pieces are as beautiful and ambitious as the music and must be understood as part of the enjoyment.
Much of the music, particularly Figure Humaine The Face of Man by Francis Poulenc, is complex, with odd and alluring harmonic changes that are immensely challenging to sing. The program also includes works by Palestrina, Schumann, Vaughn Williams, and Mascagni.
The works are very European, strong, and uplifting. It would be easy to sing them too loudly and overdramatically. But Raffa will have none of this. His choir has a rare mixture of passion and restraint. They sing in gorgeous waves of sound.
Their performance of Schumanns Four Songs for Double Choir is particularly lovely. Their rendering of Vaughn Williams Mass in G Minor is a little uneven but makes up for this by being hauntingly beautiful in places.
The two choirs perform Double Feature on Feb. 8 in Spokanes St. Aloysius, a Romanesque church with magnificent architectural details built during that citys Age of Elegance. The program moves to Kennewicks architecturally unique mid-century church, The Parish of the Holy Spirit, for the final concerts at 8 p.m. Feb. 9 with a 2 p.m. matinee Feb. 10.
Raffa gives a talk on music appreciation beginning about a half hour before the program starts, so arrive early if you want to include this in your concert experience.
Admission is $20 for adults and free for students K-12. Tickets are available at www.midcolumbiamastersingers.org, by calling 509-460-1766, or at the door.