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Choral

Vespers of 1610 (Handel + Haydn Society Orchestra and Chorus)

April 17, 2017

"Vespers of 1610" is a big and oddly sprawling work. It makes no liturgical sense, and, in terms of texts, has little programmatic unity beyond a consistent Marian devotion. But it is a coherent whole of musical and spiritual experience. It gives the impression of limitlessness, as though there were no end to what Monteverdi could have kept on telling us, precisely because the sacredness and meaning of God’s sacred words are infinite. [more]

World Music Institute: Salif Keita

April 9, 2017

Over the course of Salif Keita’s recent appearance at The Town Hall there was a story whose shape reflected both Keita’s identity and his music. At 7:00 p.m., there was a question-and-answer session with Keita, musician and writer Banning Eyre of www.afropop.org, and translator Isabelle Dupuis. By the end of the evening, audience and performers were inseparably merged; singing and dancing had become one, and Keita had made us all his own. Far from needing any explanation or translation, the music of Salif Keita is entirely universal. [more]

New York Polyphony: Palestrina’s “Marcellus Mass”

February 4, 2017

The second work of the evening was the world premiere of Ivan Moody’s Vespers Sequence. In careful, clear program notes, Moody described his goals in his compositions in general and in this new Vespers Sequence in particular: he seeks to “bring the concepts and principles underlying Orthodox spirituality … into dialogue with modernity” … in the “creation of a specifically Orthodox para-liturgical repertoire that brings together liturgy and concert.” Moody collaborated closely with New York Polyphony in conceiving and then finalizing this work; although the sacred texts and many of the originating aesthetic impulses of the work are ancient, the overall feel, in this premiere performance, was of something vital and contemporary. [more]

The Tallis Scholars: “A Renaissance Christmas”

December 27, 2016

It was a Tallis-perfect performance. Palestrina has long been one of the most sure-fire dazzling jewels in the Tallis Scholars' treasury. In writing sacred music, Palestrina made his particular kind of beauty – elegance, intellect, decorous sensuality – a kind of theology of mediation, a meeting place for the human and the divine. The Tallis precision of diction and tone and their ability to reveal every rhythmic and melodic nuance in the music they sing make Palestrina marvelous. The bright acoustic features of St. Mary the Virgin provide a wash of light on the singing. [more]

American Classical Orchestra: Johann Sebastian Bach

December 15, 2016

The consistency – the from-the-very-beginning wholeness – of Bach's genius was clear in this chronological arrangement. The kinds of writing techniques and subjects – the sequences and suspensions, chromaticisms and counterpoint intricacies – that Bach transformed from craft common to hundreds of composers to art unique to only a few became, over the years, Bach's vehicles for examinations of all aspects of being human. In this single program, Crawford's choice of music from almost all major liturgical seasons enabled his singers to present grief and joy, despair and hope, prayer and praise. And this they did marvelously. [more]

The Dessoff Choirs: We Remember

November 15, 2016

Performed the evening before the American election, the theme and purpose of the concert – remembrance of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., two “outstanding stewards of humanity,” in Merriweather's words, whose lives were cut short by violence – embodied for musicians and audience alike art's core purposes. Art locates, grounds and inspires us; it gives us vocabularies for understanding ourselves. In the case of the works on this program, the American music of remembrance, contained in pieces by Steven Stucky and David Hurd, reminds us that moral and political conscience transcends individual lives and is strong within us all, even when our heroes are slain; and Mozart's "Requiem" calls up the universality of hope for salvation and pleadings for peace. [more]

The Saint Thomas Choir of Men & Boys: Haydn’s The Creation

November 14, 2016

From the very first opening bars of the "Chaos" overture, Hyde set the tone for the evening: conducting with gentlemanly authoritativeness, Hyde led the Orchestra of St. Luke's – who were all in exceptionally fine form – in a performance of expansive energy and optimism. Theologically, God's working material for his creation may have been unfathomably chaotic and formless, but in this particular artistic account of creation, Haydn's description of chaos is so informed by elegance, wit and bravura that the primordial chaos seems to have been imbued with goodness. [more]

C4: Choral Composer/Conductor Collective: Organic – New Works for Choir and Organ

June 28, 2016

C4 has always been driven by certain core values and goals; the particular repertoire “cornerstones” being emphasized this season, as indicated in the concert's program notes, were important but infrequently performed works, beauty, and the nurturing of new composers' voices. This concert contained all these features in both recent works and four premieres. [more]

The Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys with Concert Royal: Music of Bach and Handel

May 31, 2016

Such feast days deserve magnificent music; Bach and Handel created it. And the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, the first rate period-instruments Concert Royal, and five marvelous soloists gave splendid performances of two Bach cantatas and a Handel psalm-setting that did both the feast days and the music proud. The first-rate concert was a particularly fine accomplishment for St. Thomas Church: rocked by the sudden death last summer of John Scott, choral director and organist, the school and the church had to both manage a top-knotch concert season without their director and perform the “director-less” concerts as suitable memorials to Scott. [more]

The Cecilia Chorus of New York with Orchestra: Ludwig van Beethoven, Missa Solemnis, Op. 123

May 25, 2016

Price, Bottoms, Richardson and Courville are all strong, clear singers; they were well matched in this performance, alert to each other's pacing and responsive to each other's sensibilities. Although any one of the four could have grabbed a center spotlight, they were unified – probably by a combination of their own individual understandings of Beethoven's purposes and by Shapiro's direction – in graceful collaborative cohesion in their singing. [more]

The Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge

April 20, 2016

Since the 1670’s, the Choir has consisted of voices ranging from bass to treble, all students at St. John's College or the College School. There are currently six basses, five tenors, four counter-tenors and seventeen trebles; of the trebles – two or three of whom are no bigger than buttons – there currently appear to be thirteen families represented. In some senses, the trebles are the stars of the show: that such young boys should demonstrate such consistently high levels of both innate musicianship and disciplined formal training is remarkable. The sweetness of tone inherent to boys' soprano voices is not like anything else: its combined ethereality of the moment and promise of future sturdiness make it a perfect instrument for the invocation of angels, heavenly beauty and divine wisdom. [more]

The Saint Thomas Church Choir of Men and Boys: Seven Last Words from the Cross

March 29, 2016

The last piece of the concert was James MacMillan's substantive and moving 1994 "Seven Last Words from the Cross," a 35 minute piece of seven different movements, varying in length from nine to one-and-a-half minutes each, for choir and orchestra. As the piece progresses through the final Passion drama, from Jesus' plea for forgiveness for his executioners to his exhausted last breath, MacMillan explores aspects of prayer and petition, anguish and fear – Jesus' and humanity's – in music that bears close allegiance to Romantic liturgies and Requiems. Here, the Choir and the orchestra were elegant, boys and men singing with superb control, lush expressivity … and their usual clear diction. [more]

C4: Unusual – Music of the strange, the absurd, and the surreal

March 24, 2016

For the winter concert of their eleventh season, the twenty-three member C4: The Choral Composer Conductor Collective – elected to honor “Unusual - music of the strange, the absurd, the surreal.” The evening included three premieres, all by current C4 composers, among the eight pieces performed. Some of the works were splendid and some weren't, but all were presented with C4's characteristic superb musicianship and artistic integrity as well as their willingness to take risks. [more]

The Tallis Scholars: “Christmas Across Centuries”

December 14, 2015

The program itself was a masterpiece of artistic and theological integrity. Pieces by three composers – contemporary Estonian Arvo Part (b.1935), and Renaissance Englishmen John Sheppard (c.1515-1558) and Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585) – carried the full chronological account of the earthly life of the Word made Flesh, from conception in the Virgin's womb to emergence as the salvation-bearing Lamb of God. The order of the program essentially replicated the Nicene Creed, each piece providing an illumination of a particular narrative or liturgical moment. [more]

The Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys with Orchestra of St. Luke’s: Mozart’s Requiem & Haydn’s Missa in Angustiis

November 18, 2015

Nethsingha's reading of Mozart's Requiem was richly nuanced and widely expressive, and the success of his reading was established within the first three movements. The opening Requiem was graceful, nearly pensive: the treble voices were sweet and pure, and soprano Katharine Dain's brief opening solo was at once eloquent and ethereal. The swift Kyrie, with its tight runs, quarter and sixteenth notes, was a completely clear, crisp introit, an urgent summons of the clergy to their sacraments. The ensuing Dies Irae – one particularly pure exemplar of Mozart's genius – made beauty and terror inseparable. [more]

American Classical Orchestra and Chorus: Georg Philipp Telemann’s “Day of Judgment”

October 20, 2015

The American Classical Orchestra and Chorus' recent performance of Georg Philipp Telemann's "Der Tag des Gerichts" (Day of Judgment) realized the very best of their original mission of “preserving and performing the repertoire of 17th to 19th century composers, playing the works on original or reproduced period instruments.” Presented in the generously resonant space of the Church of Saint Ignatius of Antioch on West 87th Street, Telemann's brilliant piece was at once accessible and intellectually elegant. [more]

Choralfest USA 2015

June 27, 2015

Over a period of six hours, on an early summer afternoon and evening at Symphony Space, twelve choruses gave “mini-concerts” of 15 – 25 minutes, following one another with little break except an emcee's brief, efficient and entirely cheerful introduction of the next choir. Each group of singers performed pieces that, in one way or another, represented that particular group's identity. Some groups, by their very nature, commit themselves to just one kind of music – music for men, or for women; Jewish music; inspirational songs; contemporary composers' works – though a closely circumscribed repertoire rarely limits the breadth and richness from which choral directors can choose works to perform. Part of Choralfest USA's purpose, in fact, is to celebrate this richness. [more]

Parthenia: The Art of Persuasion, An Afternoon and Evening of Rhetoric, Music and Poetry

May 13, 2015

In both concerts, eight artists played and performed together in the sort of flexible, happy collaboration which is possible only among colleagues of equal discipline, excellence and experience on the one hand and extended, mutually respectful friendship on the other. The Parthenia quartet members – Rosamund Morley/treble viol, Lawrence Lipnik/tenor viol, Beverly Au/bass viol and Lisa Terry/bass viol – were joined by theorbist Richard Stone, soprano Amy Burton, actor Paul Hecht and conductor Gary Thor Wedow. [more]

American Classical Orchestra: Caldara, Handel, Torelli, and Allegri

May 8, 2015

The program consisted of three fairly short works, an intermission, and then the complete, relatively unknown Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo by Venetian Baroque master Antonio Caldara (1670-1736). The Church of St. Mary the Virgin provided an especially marvelous venue for this concert: the organic warmth of the American Classical Orchestra's period instruments and the singers' felicitous precision were exceptionally clear and clean in the high, mysteriously golden American Gothic space of The Church of St. Mary the Virgin in the Times Square area. The concert suffered only one difficulty: it was too long. Some people left starting around the middle of the second half; fortunately, their furtive, tip-toed departure did not disrupt the concentration of the musicians or compromise the performance. [more]

Anna Clyne: Composer Portraits at the Miller Theatre

May 5, 2015

Clyne's music is a combination of electronic and recorded material on the one hand and live performance on the other. In both process and product, Clyne incorporates and is inspired by other creative media; her works can “stand alone” or in conjunction with their original collaborators. Two works originally conceived in collaboration were performed on April 23 “on their own.” Fits + Starts for amplified cello and tape (2003) was performed without dancers; Rapture for clarinet and tape (2005) was presented without the visual components that accompanied its original performances. [more]

New York Choral Society and The Mannes Orchestra: For Those We’ve Loved 

April 16, 2015

The Hindemith was beautifully performed and the second half of the concert was successful. But the first half, the Adams, was not a success. It was not an abject failure – Hayes wouldn't permit that – but the performance did not produce the kind of considered satisfaction that New York Choral Society concerts typically do. The reasons for this lay in the nature of Adams' piece and in particular features of the performance itself. [more]

Handel and Haydn Society Bicentennial in Boston: A Distinguished Past Inspires a Bold Future

April 14, 2015

The Handel and Haydn Society – sometimes called the H + H Society, for contemporaneity's sake – is celebrating its Bicentennial with a number of special short-term and long-term events and programs. One of these, most recently, was the sponsorship of a Music Critics Association of North America Institute, a two-day long immersion for eleven MCANA members in the current life of the H + H Society. The informative, intelligent and extremely well-organized Institute was conceived primarily by Marie-Helene Bernard, H + H's Executive Director since 2007, and administered with graceful, quietly effective attention to detail by Matthew Erikson, H + H's Public Relations and Communications Manager. The MCANA Institute provided opportunities for learning and robust exchanges of insights and ideas; it was an affirmation of the H + H Society's place in the contemporary world of classical music. Though the purposes of the MCANA Institute were primarily musical, it also provided access to information about the Society's positive, effective engagement in the cultural life of Boston as a whole. [more]

Handel and Haydn Society: Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion”

April 7, 2015

As part of their splendid yearlong Bicentennial Celebrations, the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston have been presenting major choral works that have figured prominently in the Society's long distinguished history. In March 2015, in the very depths of Lent, the featured work was Bach's extraordinary "St. Matthew Passion." Any successful performance of this monumental work demands elegant artistic discipline and a coherent intellectual and creative vision; the Handel + Haydn Society's Artistic Director and Conductor, Harry Christophers, the Handel + Haydn Society Period Instrument Orchestra and Chorus, the six wonderful soloists, and the Vocal Arts Program Young Women's Chamber Choir and Young Men's Chorus all effectively brought the necessary rigorous musicianship and artistic clarity to this performance. The result was indeed wonderful. [more]

American Classical Orchestra: “As the Masters Heard It, Music by Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert”

March 22, 2015

The pieces chosen by Crawford for this concert represented the very best of the Viennese Classical period: each piece in the evening's repertoire was a unique marriage of deep drama and expansive beauty. On this evening, the particular mission of the American Classical Orchestra – to play European masterpieces of orchestral music on period instruments – was brilliantly clear in both purpose and effect. Designed to enable audiences to hear what composers, their musicians and their audiences actually heard two or three centuries ago, this orchestra transported contemporary audiences back in time, revealing what the edginess and innovation of the past first sounded like. [more]

Stile Antico: “From the Imperial Court”

March 12, 2015

Stile Antico's February 28 concert, part of the Miller Theatre at Columbia University's Early Music series, at the Times Square Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin, was marvelous. Stile Antico sang thrillingly; their choice of repertoire – sixteenth century Renaissance a cappella music associated with the Hapsburg imperial court … the core content of the 2014 CD – was artistically exciting and intellectually rewarding. [more]

The New York Virtuoso Singers: “The Many Faces of Love”

February 22, 2015

Leading The New York Virtuoso Singers with characteristic wit, panache and artistic integrity, Harold Rosenbaum presented an a cappella evening of a songs about love – from its first beginnings to its very end, with every bit of flirtation, fun, fornication, fancy and foolishness in-between – at Merkin Concert Hall, bringing considerable warmth to a happy audience on a cold, cold February night. [more]

Voices of Ascension: Fauré Requiem and Music from the Russian Orthodox Tradition

February 20, 2015

The second half of the concert consisted of Fauré's Requiem. This familiar, deeply loved work – an examination of requiem themes that is more about interior considerations of mortality than about cosmic confrontations with hell or pleas for salvation – depends for its success on clear, clean musicianship. The shimmery delicacy and complex harmonic richness of Fauré's music were brilliantly served on this evening by the Voices of Ascension … as they always have been: the Fauré Requiem has been a signature piece of this chorus since its creation twenty-five years ago. In this performance, soprano Sarah Shafer and bass-baritone Evan Hughes both brought a deeply personal sense of prayer to their singing. Shafer's “Pie Jesu” was intimate without being sentimental, and ethereally beautiful. Hughes sang with unrestrained and eloquent passion. [more]

New York Choral Society and Orchestra: Felix Mendelssohn’s “St. Paul” 

February 3, 2015

Led by David Hayes, Music Director, the New York Choral Society and Orchestra, together with first rate soloists and the Princeton Girlchoir, presented a magnificent performance of Felix Mendelssohn's magisterial 1836 oratorio "St. Paul" on January 25, 2015 in Carnegie Hall. Mendelssohn's oratorio is a huge work; on this afternoon, the work's sweeping monumentality was fully realized without any loss of musical subtlety, nuance or detail. From beginning to end, chorus and orchestra alike presented the music they cleared loved with unflagging energy and endlessly renewed, fresh passion. [more]

The Cecilia Chorus of New York: Poulenc’s “Gloria” & Vaughan Williams’ “Hodie, A Christmas Cantata”

December 22, 2014

Singing to a happily packed Carnegie Hall, the Cecilia Chorus of New York, led by music director and conductor Mark Shapiro, presented two masterpieces of mid-twentieth century choral music. Francis Poulenc's "Gloria" (1960), though not written explicitly for the Christmas season, is a perfect celebration of it. Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Hodie, A Christmas Cantata" (1954), in contrast, is an anthology-style oratorio about Christmas itself, the very day of Jesus' birth. Different in style and national origin, the two works nonetheless complement each other, presenting Christmas joy from a variety of perspectives. [more]

American Classical Orchestra and Chorus: Mass in B Minor

November 22, 2014

One of the strengths of this performance was in fact the clarity with which the many elements of Bach's music could be heard: without any compromise to tempo and without favoring any theme, instrument or voice over any other, Bach's music was unpacked. Because of the period instruments – and the skill of the musicians – even the most densely monumental passages, including the final movements, were powerful not because they were monolithic but because they were revelatory. Subtleties were not lost but illuminated. [more]
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