by Michael Caruso
Advent and Christmas are always exciting seasons for Chestnut Hill congregations. But for parishioners of the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Advent and Christmas of 2011 should be especially memorable since they will mark the parish’s first celebration of the season in 25 years without Ken Lovett at the organ and directing the choir.
Lovett led his final services at St. Martin’s six months ago. He is now the organist at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, working under Donald Nally, the congregation’s interim music director. Nally followed Mark Anderson, who departed Chestnut Hill for Pittsburgh, while Lovett’s successor at St. Martin’s Church is Erik Meyers.
Meyers grew up in Collingswood, New Jersey. He comes to Chestnut Hill from Erie, Pennsylvania, where he was the music director of a Lutheran church, the denomination in which he grew up. Meyers, his wife Anna and their two children, Lydia and Lucas, now live in Willow Grove.
“We all wanted to move here,” he answered when I asked him what brought him to Chestnut Hill. “We wanted to come back to Philadelphia because it’s a great place to live and it’s a great place to be a church musician. We really didn’t want to live anywhere else.”
Meyers explained that the professional church musical community is quite small, with almost every church organist and choir director knowing every other church organist and choir director.
“The number really is no more than in the thousands,” he explained, “so there are never more than a few positions opening up at any given time. It’s unusual that here in Philadelphia — and Chestnut Hill in particular — you’ve seen several long-tenured music directors retire or move on.” Meyers pointed to Richard Alexander’s retirement from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill, as well as that of Lovett at St. Martin’s Church and Anderson’s move from Chestnut Hill Presbyterian.
Although he was raised Lutheran, Meyers said that he now identifies himself as an Episcopalian. “There’s an authentic tradition of great music here. Ken left me a music program that’s in tremendous shape. Sometimes I find it difficult believing that I have this wonderful choir to work with, a wonderful organ and a wonderful congregation.”
Meyers said that his choir is 38-members strong at its fullest complement, but he is hoping to build a choir from within the parishioners who attend the earlier 9 a.m. Sunday service.
St. Martin’s Church will present a Choral Evensong this Sunday, Dec. 4, 5 p.m. The service will include an Advent Procession as well as lessons and Carols. Meyers is also planning a solo organ recital in January of 2012 that will feature the music of Max Reger. And two days prior to the Sunday afternoon Choral Evensong at St. Martin’s, the church will be the site of “Renaissance Noel,” performed in costume by Vox Renaissance Consort. The event is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 2, 8 p.m. Call 610-688-2800 or visit www.VoxAmaDeus.org.
Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, will present “Coming Together in Light” Saturday, Dec. 3, in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill at 8 p.m. The music to be highlighted by Piffaro has a long and fascinating history. A bold innovator in the field of instrumental music, Salamone Rossi was a singer, violinist and composer who worked as resident musician at the court of Mantua, Italy from 1587 until 1628. A descendant of the illustrious Italian-Jewish family “de Rossi,” (the Italian translation of the Hebrew family name, “Me-Ha’Adumim”), which included the controversial Bible scholar, Azariyah de Rossi and could trace its ancestry back to the Jerusalem exile to Rome by the Emperor Titus in the year 70, Rossi was one of the first composers to apply the principles of monodic song, in which one melody dominates over secondary accompanying parts.
A collaborator with such giants of the era as Monteverdi and Gastoldi, Rossi wrote songs, dances and concert music for his Christian patrons during his time at court (who, in gratitude, exempted him from wearing the mandated Jewish badge of shame — later revived by Nazi Germany), and successfully united the arts of poetry and music. But it was his innovations in synagogue music that formed his most significant legacy. Call 215-235-8469 or visit www.piffaro.com.
Rounding out the weekend, Tempesta di Mare, Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra, will perform “Leipzig Shortlist” Sunday, Dec. 4, 4 p.m., in Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church. Call 215-755-8776 or visit www.tempestadimare.org.
Former music director Christoph Eschenbach returned to the podium of the Philadelphia Orchestra to lead the ensemble in two Beethoven symphonies and one Bruch violin concerto Saturday night in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. The two masterpieces were Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major” and “Symphony No. 8 in F major.” The not-so-masterful Bruch was his “Violin Concerto No. 1 in G major,” and its solo part received a truly lackluster rendition from Jennifer Koh, who substituted physical histrionics for interpretive musicality.
In both symphonies, Eschenbach elicited excellent playing from the Philadelphians. Although I found his overall textures a trifle thick — they lacked either the silken sheen of Ormandy or the rhythmic precision of Muti, the two conductors with whom the orchestra has recorded both scores — they nonetheless worked for Eschenbach’s intellectually probing interpretations of each.