by Michael Caruso
David Hayes will conduct the Philadelphia Singers in a concert entitled “Bach and MacMillan” Saturday, April 16, 8 p.m., in the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square in center city. The program features Bach’s only extant cantata for Palm Sunday, Cantata No. 182: “King of Heaven Be Welcomed,” and James MacMillan’s “Seven Last Word from the Cross.”
Several local vocalists are members of the Philadelphia Singers, America’s first all-profession chorus. They include Sandra Carney of Manayunk, Colin Dill of Manayunk, Kenneth Garner of East Falls, Alyson Harvey of West Mt. Airy (a professional member of the choir at the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Chestnut Hill), Justin Hopkins of West Mt. Airy and Jennifer Smith of Germantown.
Speaking of the MacMillan work, Hayes said, “Although it’s new to us, it was composed in 1994.” The Singers joined the Philadelphia Orchestra for the 2002 American premiere of the Scottish composer’s “Quickening.”
Hayes explained that the text for “Seven Last Words” is drawn from all four of the New Testament Gospels. The choir will be accompanied by a string ensemble. That fact pointed Hayes in the direction of his choice of the Bach as a companion for the MacMillan.
“Our concert takes place the day before the start of Holy Week,” he pointed out, “and within a week of Good Friday, so I was looking for a work by Bach that would be liturgically suitable. Cantata No. 182 is the only extant cantata by Bach intended to be sung on Palm Sunday, and it’s scored for strings and flute, which makes it a perfect match for the MacMillan.”
Tickets are priced from $22 to $42. More information at 215-751-9494 or www.philadelphiasingers.org.
Under the aegis of the Kimmel Center’s Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Pennsylvania Ballet collaborated this past weekend for the first time in their respective histories. Rossen Milanov conducted both ensembles in three performances of Igor Stravinsky’s neo-classical masterpiece, “Pulcinella.” Saturday night’s audience, which packed Verizon Hall, roared its approval — and everyone involved more than deserved the full-throated ovation the rendition received.
In the years prior to the outbreak of World War I in August of 1914, Stravinsky shook up the classical music world with his three ballet scores composed for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The first was “The Firebird,” and it magisterially combined the Slavic glitter of Stravinsky’s principal teacher, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, with the sensuality of the French Impressionists Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. The second, “Petrushka,” was more “Russian” in tone and color. Then came “The Rite of Spring,” perhaps the greatest score ever composed in the 20th century (and so far in the 21st as well) and most assuredly one of the most savage pieces of symphonic music ever written down. The work and its choreography caused a riot at its 1913 Paris premiere, as police had to be called in to break up the fighting between pro- and con- members of the audience.
West Mt. Airy’s Roy Kaiser, the Pennsylvania Ballet’s artistic director since 1995, wisely commissioned Finland’s Jorma Elo to fashion a new choreography for the company’s first collaboration with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and it proved to be a miracle of classical clarity of line paired with contemporary rhythmic panache. The dance’s muscular gestures mirrored and enhanced the music’s edgy angularity, energetically linking dancers with each other rather than pairing them romantically. All 10 of the company’s dancers performed beautifully, but some were especially praiseworthy: James Idhe for the sheer perfection of his linear projection and Martha Chamberlain and Francis Veyette for their vibrant pas de deux.
Best of all was the chance to see these wonderful dancers performing with a truly magnificent orchestra under the baton of a conductor who seemed to understand not just the superficial glitter of the score but its underlying intellectual invention, as well.
The Pennsylvania Ballet will present “Building on Balanchine” at the Merriam Theater on South Broad Street, April 14-17. Visit www.paballet.org for ticket information