by Michael Caruso
And the winner is…Erik Meyer! The music director of the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, won a competition to compose a new college song for Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Meyer is a 2002/2004 graduate of the Peabody Conservatory of Music, a part of Johns Hopkins. He majored in organ for both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, studying organ with Donald Sutherland, piano with Nancy Roldan and voice with Susan Harwood.
Explaining the competition and his winning entry, Meyer said, “I’m always keeping my eyes peeled for composition contests in general. The Alumni Association publicized this contest electronically.” Meyer has composed several works of sacred choral music that are performed at St. Martin’s Church, including a setting of Christ’s Passion according to the Gospel of St. John that was sung on Good Friday. He pointed out that Johns Hopkins already had a school song but that it was from the late 19th century and sounded dated.
“They asked for submissions. I recorded myself singing the song and playing the piano and then had my wonderful staff quartet at St. Martin’s sing the song between services last December. I took the original Johns Hopkins Ode and trimmed the original three verses down to one. The school’s motto is ‘Veritas liberabit vos’ from the Gospel of St. John – ‘The truth shall set you free.’ In my adapted version, it appears twice.”
Meyer recalled that once the text was chosen, he began working on setting it to music, relying on his experience as a church musician to know what could easily be sung and what could not. Both melody and harmony are traditional, with the highest note appearing once at the climax of the final phrase. “I tried to make it sound collegiate,” he said, “and I can’t deny that I tried to give it a sound of pride and also some sentimentality – emotions that I think regularly accompany the feelings we have about our alma maters.”
Meyer was informed of his victory in mid-April. “I had thought that I hadn’t won,” he recalled, “because there was a long time during which I heard nothing from them. The official announcement was made May 11 and the school’s choir recorded the song and set it to a video. The first public performance was at University graduation, May 21.”
Chestnut Hill Maestro Cristian Macelaru, conductor-in-residence of the Philadelphia Orchestra, led the ensemble in a trio of concerts May 7-9 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. The program consisted of four works, the finest of which struck me as oddly out of place. Violinist Sarah Chang was the guest soloist.
That “odd man out” score was Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 1 in C major,” a seminal work in which the 30-year-old composer began bidding farewell to the Classical era while ushering in the Romantic. Beethoven maintained the structural strengths of the former while virtually creating the expressive idiom of the latter.
But it didn’t fit well with the program’s three other pieces of music, all of which were from either Central or Eastern Europe: Gyorgy Ligeti’s “Romanian Concerto,” Antonin Dvorak’s “Violin Concerto” and Georges Enescu’s “Romanian Rhapsody in A major.” The Ligeti and the Enescu are among those works not performed by the Orchestra during the past 40 seasons and that have been highlighted this season as music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin celebrated his 40th birthday.
Both the Ligeti, an early work, and the Enescu flow with Magyar (Hungarian) and Romanian folk melodies, course with tart modal harmonies and pulse with dynamic and energetic rhythms. The Romanian-born Macelaru displayed an organic understanding of the very essence of both scores Saturday evening and thus never had to push his interpretation of them beyond what came naturally. He elicited the kind of engaging and persuasive playing from the Philadelphians in this repertoire that was one of the hallmarks of the Hungarian-born Eugene Ormandy’s 44-year tenure as the Orchestra’s music director.
Try as he might, though, Macelaru was unable to overcome Chang’s rhythmically lethargic and tonally muffled rendition of the solo violin part in Dvorak’s “Violin Concerto” to lift the overall performance above the mediocre.
Music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin brought the season to a close with concerts May 13, 15 & 16 in which the major work was Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Symphony No. 3.” Premiered in 1936 by the Philadelphians with Leopold Stokowski on the podium, it’s the second of the Russian master’s final four major scores.
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