By Michael Caruso
The Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, celebrated its final Choral Evensong of the liturgical season Sunday, June 4, the Solemnity of Pentecost. Music director Erik Meyer led the parish choir in Edward Bairstow’s elegant setting of Psalm 104, David Hogan’s setting of the traditional “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis,” and Gerald Near’s anthem at the Offertory, “The Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole world.” The anthem, in particular, marked the coming of the Holy Spirit 50 days after Easter Sunday and the establishment of Christ’s Church in Jerusalem.
Hogan, a Virginia native and an undergraduate and graduate alumnus of my alma mater, the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, lived only from 1949 until 1996, when he died in a plane explosion off Long Island. Yet despite the shortness of his life, he had already developed a distinctive style that accurately revealed through music the meaning of the traditional texts of the “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis,” both drawn from the New Testament Gospel of St. Luke. The former seems to dance with the Virgin Mary’s joyous response to St. Elizabeth’s salutation, while the latter catches St. Simeon’s profound gratitude at God’s granting him the sight of the infant Jesus.
Meyer and his choristers gave both scores technically polished and musically compelling interpretations Sunday afternoon. Rhythms were concisely projected in the “Magnificat” while the long melodic lines of the “Nunc Dimittis” were lyrically breathed.
Near’s “The Spirit of the Lord” recalls the unbroken plainsong of Gregorian chant filtered through chromatic modern harmonies to produce a tonic window into the ancient traditions of sacred choral music. Once again, Meyer and his choristers gave the music a reading that was both moving and convincing.
Meyers opened and closed the service at the church’s superbly registered pipe organ. He delineated the mysterious aesthetic of Olivier Messiaen’s “Apparition de l’eglise eternelle” (“Apparition of the Eternal Church”) and the majesty of Louis Vierne’s “Carillon de Westminster,” the Frenchman’s salute to the “Mother of All Parliaments” in London.
Meyer and the choir of St. Martin-in-the-Fields leave for a week’s residency in mid-August at Bristol Cathedral in England. But before they do, they will perform Choral Evensong at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral at 38th & Ludlow Streets in West Philadelphia Sunday, June 11, 4 p.m. The musical program will highlight local composers and will be sung at Bristol Cathedral.
Parker Kitterman, music director at Old Christ Episcopal Church at 2nd & Market Streets, will conduct his own Evening Service, with Meyer at the organ, as well as Jennifer Higdon’s arrangement of “Amazing Grace” at the Offertory. Higdon is an alumna and faculty member of Philadelphia’s own Curtis Institute of Music. Her compositions are performed throughout the world. Kitterman will join Meyer and the choir in England.
East Falls’ K. James McDowell, president and artistic director of Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts, was given the V.E.R.A. Award by the Voice Foundation during its symposium in Philadelphia this past weekend, May 31 through June 4. The award, for Voice Education and Research Awareness, recognizes those in the profession who have contributed to the vocal well-being of singers, actors and broadcasters whose careers depend upon the good health of their vocal apparatus.
The Voice Foundation was instituted in 1969 by Dr. James Gould. Its offices were moved to Philadelphia in 1984, and its current chairman is Dr. Robert Sataloff, a longtime specialist in vocal health who has worked with AVA’s young singers for many years. The theme of this year’s symposium was “Care of the Professional Voice.”
“During the week of the symposium,” McDowell told me last week before it began, “numerous doctors and specialists will present papers on vocal research. Prior to 40 years ago or so, there was little scientific research on the human voice. Singers and actors and broadcasters often ran into vocal problems during the course of their careers, but very little was known about how it happened and what to do about it. Other than aging and losing weight, no one really knew what the reasons for vocal troubles were. And even regarding a sudden loss of weight by a singer, no one knew why that had an adverse effect on the voice.
“Nodules and hemorrhages are the most serious vocal crises a singer or actor can encounter,” McDowell continued, “but prior to 40 years ago, the only treatment was to stop singing or speaking. The Voice Foundation was created to study possible treatments because basically almost all vocal ailments are treatable.”
McDowell mentioned that all new students at AVA are sent to the Voice Foundation to spend a full day having their voices checked for any nascent problems that may afflict their singing while at America’s only full-scholarship school specializing in the training of professional singers.
McDowell reported that seven of AVA’s roster of students graduated this spring and that seven new students have been accepted for the coming term. He added that deciding upon a season of productions always has to wait until the final distribution of vocal ranges was determined at the end of auditions for new students.
Although the roster of productions has not been officially determined, McDowell said that the likely list includes Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” to open the 2017-18 season, Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” with piano accompaniment to follow, then Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos,” and Verdi’s “La Traviata” to end the season. “Ariadne” will be guest conducted by David Aronson from the Vienna State Opera.
For more information regarding the Academy of Vocal Arts, visit www.avaopera.org.
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