Archive for the “Choral Music” Category

Mater ora fillium: Music for Epiphany

Choir of Clare College, Cambridge; Michael Papadopoulos, organ; Graham Ross, director

Harmonia Mundi CD HUM907653

On the Christian calendar, tomorrow (January 6th) is the Feast of the Epiphany. There are several aspects to Epiphany. First, it is the “Twelfth Day” after Christmas, and so ends the celebrations of that merry season. Second, it is the commemoration of Jesus the Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist. Finally, in the spirit of ending a party with a magnificent and mysterious flourish, it is also commemorates the Visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus.

It is this third aspect of Epiphany that has most often drawn composers to create music commemorating the festival. On the Harmonia Mundi CD Mater ora filium: Music for Epiphany, Graham Ross presents a program of primarily sixteenth and twentieth century selections. It is Ross’s seventh such recording for HM that is based around one of the events or seasons on the liturgical calendar. Here the interested believer may find much music that, in addition to being entertaining, informs them about the history of the liturgy. However, Christian and secularist alike can enjoy the high level of musicality and sheer beauty of the voices of the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge.

The hymn singing alone, accompanied with rousing verve by organist Michael Papadopoulos, is remarkable. It includes favorites like “As With Gladness, Men of Old” and “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed,” as well as a lovely rendition of “O worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness!” Renaissance era motets are well represented. Omnes de Saba by Orlande de Lassus is a particularly jubilant album opener. Purity of tone from sopranos and sepulchral notes from basses are on display, and carefully balanced, in Jean Mouton’s Nesciens Mater. Clarity of contrapuntal lines feature in Clemens non Papa’s Magi veniunt ab oriente and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s Tribus miraculis ornatum. The varied tone colors brought to bear in William Byrd’s Ecce advenit dominator Dominus provide a sense of mysterious grandeur appropriate to the festival. Careful tuning of cross relations, as well as seamless alternation between the rhythms of chant and polyphony, supplies listeners to John Sheppard’s Regis Tharsis with a particularly evocative glimpse into another era’s harmonic and rhythmic sensibilities.

Balancing the early music selections are a number of fine pieces from the twentieth century. A standout is Long, Long Ago by Herbert Howells; an initially tender melody gradually rises to an exciting climax, juxtaposed with a steady buildup of added note chords. Another is Benedicamus Domino by Peter Warlock, in which an intricate swath of modal melodies is set against strongly articulated tutti chords. Despite the considerable challenges it poses, Illuminare, Jerusalem, by Judith Weir, is taken at a spirited gallop. Judith Bingham’s alluring Epiphany pits a colorful organ part against sinuous vocal chromaticism. Lennox Berkeley’s I sing of a maiden is delivered with haunting delicacy. All of this is capped off by the large-scale title work, a tour de force of choral writing by Arnold Bax.

Impressive performances throughout, combined with thoughtful programming, makes Mater ora filium the ideal recording for Twelfth Night!

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Tallis Scholars at St. Mary’s: Bass Hit

Sequenza 21

By Christian Carey

 

NEW YORK – On December 10th, the Tallis Scholars found themselves in a bit of a quandary. Scheduled to give their annual Renaissance Christmas concert as part of Miller Theatre’s Early Music Series at Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the ten-voice ensemble was decimated to nine. Long-time member bass Robert Macdonald was ill and had been rendered voiceless. Peter Phillips, the Tallis Scholars’ director, quipped from onstage that unless he sang, which the rest of the singers “felt unwise,” the group’s other bass, Tim Whiteley, would have to go it alone. MacDonald did not appear to be the only member suffering. During the course of the concert, there were several sniffles onstage and far more water being chugged than is the group’s usual practice. Gamely they had decided to appear regardless.

 

There was yet another wrinkle to the story. During the first half of the concert the Tallis Scholars had planned to feature Cipriano de Rore’s Missa Praeter rerum seriem, a composition that includes many divisi, including a number of passages where each bass has his own part. A substitution was in order, and the solution was a welcome one: Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina’s Missa Assumpta est Maria. One of the composer’s last works, it demonstrates his movement from a more modal to a quasi-tonal harmonic method of organization. Although outnumbered, Whiteley never seemed vocally outgunned. Indeed, the Tallis Scholars’ long association helped them to rebalance their forces in seemingly effortless fashion. The clarity of lines and fine-tuned chords which resulted were truly remarkable sounding.

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Although the audience had been deprived of De Rore on the first half, the second provided some compensation with a sprightly, joyous rendition of his Hodie Christus natus est setting. Magnificat Primi Toni, by Tomás Luis de Victoria, features antiphonal division of the choir into two four-part units. Fortunately for this occasion it doesn’t include bass divisi, but there are some stellar passages for high sopranos that arched angelically upward, as well as sturdy tutti declamation.

 

Victoria, Palestrina, and even de Rore are familiar composers to many Renaissance listeners, but the next two selections on the program, both Salve Regina settings, were composed by figures who aren’t yet “household names.” Based on the quality of these works alone, they should be. Claudin de Sermisy’s Salve Regina was filled with imitative counterpoint, including four-voice canons and fetching duets, which were delivered with abundant precision by the Tallis Scholars. Hernando de Franco, a Spanish composer who resided in Mexico, must have enjoyed setting the Salve Regina text – or at the very least been frequently requested to do so – there are five of them attributed to him. Here, chant was weaved into the fabric of the piece, interspersing thick-voiced passages of contrapuntal activity.

 

The concert concluded with O Splendor Gloriae, a composition that appears to have been a collaboration between John Taverner and Christopher Tye. The piece never feels like a ragtag assemblage, but there are significant differences among its various sections. O Splendor has a long-ish text, describing the Creation story from the Fall to Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension. Even after such a taxing program, and under harried circumstances, the Tallis Scholars brought a warm sound to bear here. This is no mean feat, as the work contains a number of high-lying lines. In addition to the sopranos who sustained these, Whiteley must be commended for his efforts. The bass brought sonorous support to the work’s chordal passages and hardy declamation during sections for subsets of the ensemble. It was a testament to the Tallis Scholars’ consummate professionalism that, despite challenging circumstances,  they made such stirring music.  

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A new video (posted yesterday) of New York Polyphony live in midtown Manhattan at St. Mary’s. We have been playing the quartet’s latest BIS recording, Times go by Turns, in heavy rotation. The disc includes Renaissance masses by Tallis, Byrd, and Plummer as well as contemporary pieces by Gabriel Jackson, Andrew Smith, and one of the last works written by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. “A Colloquy with God”, gifted by Bennett to NYP, is, simply put, a knockout.

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The website eClassical is sharing a bonus track from the album, Tallis’s beloved motet “If Ye Love Me,” for download here.

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The New York Virtuoso Singers, Harold Rosenbum, Artistic Director and Conductor

The New York Virtuoso Singers, Harold Rosenbaum, Conductor and Artistic Director, will present the third concert of their 25th Anniversary season on Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 3:00 PM at Kaufman Center’s Merkin Concert Hall, 129 West 67th St. (btw Broadway and Amsterdam) in Manhattan. This event, co-sponsored by Merkin Concert Hall, marks NYVS’s return to the venue where they presented their first concert in 1988.

To celebrate their 25th Anniversary, Harold Rosenbaum and the NYVS asked 25 of this country’s most important composers to create new works. The March 3 concert will feature World Premieres of 13 of these commissioned works from Richard Wernick, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Aaron Jay Kernis, David Lang, Mark Adamo, Richard Danielpour, Augusta Read Thomas, Thea Musgrave, Joseph Schwantner, William Bolcom, Roger Davidson, David Felder and Joan Tower.

Read about the music and composers at http://nyvirtuosos.wordpress.com/.

Special guest will be Brent Funderburk, piano. A pre-concert discussion with several of the composers will begin at 2:15 PM. More about this concert at http://kaufman-center.org/mch/event/the-new-york-virtuoso-singers.

Tickets for the March 3 concert are $25/$15 students. For tickets or more information, call Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Center at 212-501-3330 or visit http://kaufman-center.org/mch/.

The other 12 works commissioned works, by Jennifer Higdon, George Tsontakis, John Corigliano, David Del Tredici, Shulamit Ran, John Harbison, Steven Stucky, Stephen Hartke, Fred Lerdahl, Chen Yi, Bruce Adolphe and Yehudi Wyner were premiered on October 21, 2012 at Kaufman Center’s Merkin Concert Hall. All 25 of the commissioned works will be recorded for Soundbrush Records.

More about NYVS at http://www.nyvirtuoso.org/aboutus.htm. Join their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-New-York-Virtuoso-Singers/130509011774.

This program is made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

See video of NYVS from their October 21, 2012 performance at Kaufman Center’s Merkin Concert Hall below:

Chen Yi Let’s Reach A New Height
Stephen Hartke Audistis Quia Dictum Est

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C4. Photo: Keith Goldstein.

For those of us here in New York and New Jersey, the past few weeks have been challenging. In the wake of Storm Sandy, we trust that better days are yet to come, but the present’s outlook is a bit dodgy. Some forward thinking optimism, particularly of the musical variety, is keenly welcome.

This weekend, C4 Ensemble, a collective of composers, conductors, and singers committed to new music (most wearing multiple hats in terms of their respective roles in the group), presents Music for People Who Like the Future.

Spotlighting the North American premiere of Andrew Hamilton’s Music for People Who Love the Future (hmm… I wonder if this title gave them the idea for the name of the show …), the program also features music by Chen Yi, Michael McGlynn, Sven-David Sandström, Phillipe Hersant, and Ted Hearne along with C4’s own Jonathan David, Mario Gullo, David Harris, and Karen Siegel.

Event Details 
Friday, November 16, 2012
The Church of St. Luke in the Fields
487 Hudson Street, NYC 10014
8 P.M.
$15 advance / $25 day of event/ 10 $4 “Rush” admissions 30 minutes advance at the door
Closest Subway:  1 to Christopher Street/Sheridan Square

Saturday, November 17, 2012
Mary Flagler Cary Hall at The DiMenna Center
450 W. 37th Street, NYC 10018
8 P.M.
$15 advance / $25 day of event / 10 $4 “Rush” admissions 30 minutes advance at the door
Closest Subways:  A/C/E to 34th Street/Penn Station
Reception to follow

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The New York Virtuoso Singers, Harold Rosenbaum, Conductor and Artistic Director, will present the first concert of their 25th Anniversary season on Sunday, October 21, 2012 at 3:00 PM at Kaufman Center’s Merkin Concert Hall, 129 West 67th St. (btw Broadway and Amsterdam) in Manhattan. This will mark their return to the hall where they presented their first concert in 1988.

To celebrate their 25th Anniversary, Harold Rosenbaum and the NYVS asked 25 of this country’s most important composers to create new works. The October 21 concert will feature World Premieres of 12 of these commissioned works from Jennifer Higdon, George Tsontakis, John Corigliano, David Del Tredici, Shulamit Ran, John Harbison, Steven Stucky, Stephen Hartke, Fred Lerdahl, Chen Yi, Bruce Adolphe and Yehudi Wyner.

Special guests will be Brent Funderburk, piano and the Canticum Novum Youth Choir, Edie Rosenbaum, Director. A pre-concert discussion with several of the composers will begin at 2:15 PM. More about this concert at http://kaufman-center.org/mch/event/the-new-york-virtuoso-singers.

Tickets for the October 21 concert are $25/$15 students. For tickets or more information, call Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Center at 212-501-3330 or visit http://kaufman-center.org/mch/.

The other 13 works commissioned works, by Richard Wernick, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Aaron Jay Kernis, David Lang, Mark Adamo, Richard Danielpour, Augusta Read Thomas, Thea Musgrave, Joseph Schwantner, William Bolcom, Roger Davidson, David Felder and Joan Tower, will be premiered on Sunday, March 3, 2013, again at Kaufman Center’s Merkin Concert Hall.

More about them at http://www.nyvirtuoso.org/aboutus.htm. Join their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-New-York-Virtuoso-Singers/130509011774.

These programs are made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

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If you were having a conversation with fellow music lovers about the great American composers, Carl Ruggles would not be the first person to come to mind. The “Great American Composer” honor is most often bestowed upon Copland, Ives, or even depending on the company you are with, Bernstein.

Courtesy of SONY Music & Other Minds Records

This is not to say, however, that a popularity contest equates to greatness. An equally adept and creative composer, Carl Ruggles produced a small yet intriguing output of pieces for a variety of ensemble types. It is only fair, then, that when recording the complete works of a lesser known composer such as Ruggles, top-tier musicians should be brought in to lead the process. This recording does not disappoint, and the Buffalo Philharmonic, under the leadership of Michael Tilson Thomas, have produced an earnest and committed recording of Ruggles’ entire catalogue.

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New York-based C4 Ensemble is a choir that specializes in new music. Most of its members are composers or conductors, or both!

On Thursday March 1 and Saturday March 3, the group is performing a program entitled “A Loss for Words: An Evening of New Choral Music on Alternative Texts” (info and tickets here). Since I’m away this weekend at a conference in Dayton, C4 was kind enough to let me sit in on one of their recent rehearsals.

The group’s dynamic is a lesson in exceeding expectations. The member’s take turns leading warmups and rehearsing pieces, allowing for several conductors to direct works on each concert. I was impressed that, despite the occasional oneupmanship that’s inevitable to find when having that many conductors in a room, they do quite a good job of sharing and passing authority from one person to the next. Indeed I’m so glad that C4 is around: They seem to revel in the challenges that other choirs avoid like the plague. One person to a part in polytonal divisi? No problem. Finding your pitch out of nowhere after clouds of clusters? Sure! Singing in three different meters at once? What else you got?

For music without conventional texts, these pieces have a lot to say. The program features guest soloist Toby Twining, performing with the choir in a beautiful piece of his from the late 80s, “Hee oo oom ha,” a multicultural essay featuring Twining’s flexible countertenor scatting, African polyrhythms, and sepulchral shamanic incantations from bass Hayes Biggs. A new piece by Tim Brown juxtaposes spoken word clips from adverts and news headlines that overwhelm a chorus resembling a Sondheim waltz, seeking desperately to blot out the chatter.

“The Blue of Distance,” by Zibuokle Martinaityle, is a beautiful and intricately woven score with many divisi humming lush polychords, set against keening ostinatos. I was quite taken with Martha Sullivan’swork on the program, which features earthy melismas and folk music references.In addition, C4 will be singing John Cage, Huang Ro, Thomas Stumpf, Jaako Mantyjarvi, David Harris, and Karen Siegel. If you’re in town, this promises to be an exciting and varied concert program.

Thursday, March 1, 2012 @ 8pm Church of St Luke in the Fields 487 Hudson Street (south of Christopher St.)
Saturday, March 3, 2012 @ 8pm Tenri Cultural Institute 43A West 13th Street (bet. 5th & 6th Aves)


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On Monday, January 16 at Carnegie Hall, Distinguished Concerts International New York brings together over three hundred musicians to give the world premiere of The Peacemakers by Karl Jenkins. The composer will conduct this work for choir, orchestra, and instrumental soloists. It is the first world premiere of one of his large-scale works to take place in New York.

TICKETS: www.carnegiehall.org or 212-247-7800 or in person at the Carnegie Hall Box Office.

The recording of The Peacemakers just came out this past Tuesday on EMI Classics. It  features the strings of the London Symphony Orchestra and three choirs: the City of Birmingham Youth Choir, Rundfunkchor Berlin, and the 1000-strong Really Big Chorus.

EMI is offering a free download of a track from the album here.

The label’s also been kind enough to offer us several copies of the limited edition version of The Peacemakers for a CD giveaway. Interested parties should email me here.

I’ll use a Cageian (random) method to determine the “winners.” The contest is open until Monday, 1/16 at midnight.

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Ekmeles at the Italian Academy

Last month at Columbia University’s Italian Academy, I was formidably impressed by an evening of madrigals old and new performed by the vocal ensemble Ekmeles. One of the revelations of the evening began with an idea ofensemble director Jeff Gavett. He thought that the madrigals of Carlo Gesualdo might benefit from Nichola Vicentino’s 31-tone equal tempered scale, most famously employed in the tuning of an instrument of his design, the archicembalo.

While, as Gavett admitted in the concert’s program notes, there is not direct evidence that they were ever performed this way in the presence of Gesualdo, there is some documentary evidence that Vicentino’s writings and an archicembalo were available to the composer. But here, the proof was in the singing. Gesualdo’s music sounds glorious in 31-TET. Indeed some of its idiosyncratic cross-relations and chordal voicings glisten: equally, wonderfully, strange, but somehow refocused.

Ekmeles contains several youngish singers with winsome voices: Gavett, soprano Mary Mackenzie, and countertenor Eric Brenner are notable standouts. Their interpretative maturity and skill in preparing the challenging works on the program bely the freshness of Ekmeles’ sound. The group also brought in a “ringer of ringers” for the second act. New music superstar soprano Lucy Shelton joined Ekmeles for a spirited rendition of Elliott Carter’s late Ashbery setting Mad Regales.

The program also featured several deconstructions of the madrigal aesthetic. Peter Ablinger’s Studien der Natur, in which sounds of nature and commerce alike are recreated using only voices, was a rather charming one-upping of Josquin’s El Grillo. Johannes Schöllhorn and Carl Bettendorf took the madrigal into postmodern, often craggy, territory. Martin Iddon’s hamadryads required the group to play water-filled glasses and employ headsets to grok its very expanded Pythagorean tuning that is notated down to 100ths of a cent! Incredibly challenging to perform. But then, Ekmeles revels to be challenged.

 

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This Thursday, composer Randy Gibson’s work will be in full force on the Music at First series. The concert features the world premiere of Gibson’s Circular Trance Surrounding the Second Pillar with The Highest Seventh Primal Cirrus, The Utmost Fundamental, and The Ekmeles Ending from Apparitions of The Four Pillars (fit that title on a postcard!), a concert length work in just intonation for sine wave drones and seven voices. Also on the bill is a set from Canadian harpsichordist Katelyn Clark.

Performance details

Date: Friday, November 18th 2011
Time: 7:30pm
City: Brooklyn, NY
Venue: First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn
Address: 124 Henry Street
Admission: $10

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