A sanctuary in the East Bay Hills with a Kensington framing, greeted me Sunday. Word leaked out that UUCB, a Unitarian Universalist Church in paradise with a sky-lit atrium and full-blossoming indoor trees, was a divinely inspired music-making repository. And in the words of Shakespeare, “Music” was “the Food of Love,” and it “played on.”
The service at 11:00 a.m. proceeded with the music of Brahms, Lehar, interspersed by contemporary popular servings. (The total space houses three pianos, a Yamaha, Chickering and Baldwin grand, not to mention, a double-manual harpsichord)
An awesome Aeolian Skinner Pipe organ resonates to the heavens in a divine acoustical setting. Its planned re-leathering has launched a full-scale fund-raising campaign–no doubt a tribute to the church’s fine instrumental maintenance. (A rare occurrence these days)
Not to upstage the uplifting opening service draped in the poetry of Minister Barbara Hamilton-Holway, but “LOVE Songs and Chocolate,” was for me, the afternoon tour de force!
Bryan Baker, music/artistic director led an extremely gifted troupe through several choral works and solos. A fine pianist and conductor, he sculpted phrases, baton-less with a poetic sweep of his hands and arms.
It evoked my sojourn to the Dimitri Metropoulos Conducting Competition in New York City, where I’d observed a very young, graceful Sejii Ozawa sway on the podium to the swells of Brahms Symphony no. 4. The deft Japanese talent prevailed!
Fast forward to the rustic East Bay hills–
“Love Songs” bridged decades–a “delectable Valentine’s Feast” served for well over an hour that offered something for everyone: straight Classical, Broadway theater, opera, instrumental ensembles, duos, trios, etc. and full-blown choral splendor.
“My White Knight” from The Music Man; “A Heart Full of Love” from Les Miserables, “Per me Giunto”– Don Carlo (Guiseppe Verdi) “Believe a Man” from Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte; Brahms “Liebeslieder” Waltzes 8, 9, 14, 15 and 3.
I watched Brian rehearse two players at one piano for the Romantic era performance. The pianistic collaborators were at opposite ends of the age spectrum producing a duo ensemble of priceless, balanced music-making.
Throw into the mix, a nykelharpa and violin duet; drama-infused musical renditions from Guys and Dolls, Neptune’s Daughter (Frank Loesser) and the cabaret-like atmosphere was complete.
Intermission brought a buffet interlude of tasty chocolate goodies before the program resumed.
A gamelan ensemble inspired an innovative orchestration, while soloists and duo voice collaborators followed. Selections by Kurt Weill, Frank Loesser, Richard Rogers, and Bellini resonated to the rafters, as a culminating choral arrangement of “Glocca Morra” from Finian’s Rainbow and “Seasons of Love” from Rent brought an earth-shaking finale!
My inclination was to jump up and shout “BRAVO” in a chorus of approval, but the UUCB church audience best expressed its appreciation in a sit-down round of enthusiastic applause!
(Preceding service etiquette in the sanctuary had included a hand tremolo in lieu of clapping)
In summary, The Universalist Unitarian Church of Berkeley, NOT to be confused with Fellowship of Berkeley Unitarian Universalists, FBUU is a notch up in the spiritual music arena.
With its glowing ambiance and musical wealth, congregants are drawn back week after week for a potpourri of incomparable artistic expression.