by Michael Caruso
Zachary Fritsch-Hemenway, 44 members of the choir of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill and 21 relatives and friends are set to depart for London Friday, July 21. They will spend the next 10 days singing and sight-seeing in one of the world’s greatest cathedrals located in one of the world’s greatest cities.
The choir’s principal residency will be at St. Paul’s Cathedral, a late 17th century masterpiece designed by Sir Christopher Wren after the previous structure was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. St. Paul’s is the seat of the Bishop of London.
Although Canterbury Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primate of All England and the head of the Church of England, St. Paul’s is often called the “Mother Church of the Anglican Communion.” It was under the direction of the Bishop of London that Anglican missionaries were sent out across the British Empire. At its height in the early decades of the 20th century, the British Empire claimed one-fourth of the world’s population spread out over one-fourth of its land mass.
Fritsch-Hemenway explained that the choir’s residency actually begins Sunday, July 23, not at St. Paul’s Cathedral but at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, which is almost as famous and is the inspiration for Chestnut Hill’s own Episcopal Church of the same name. It’s also the site name of one of the most famous classical music ensembles in the world: the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Fritsch-Hemenway said that the choir, accompanied by the parish’s organ scholar, Joseph Russell, is scheduled to sing Choral Evensong at the St. Martin’s that first Sunday afternoon.
The choir then moves over to St. Paul’s Cathedral for Choral Evensong Monday through Sunday, with a day off on Wednesday. It will be doing “triple duty” that final Sunday: Morning Prayer, Holy Eucharist and Choral Evensong. The week’s repertoire includes works by Jackson, Hogan, Howells, Byrd, Sowerby, Rheinberger, Vierne and Nestor.
Sight-seeing adventures include visits to the Tower of London, St. George’s Chapel at the 11th century Windsor Castle and a performance of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” at the playwright’s restored own Globe Theater.
Explaining the motivation for the trip, Fritsch-Hemenway said, “A pilgrimage is defined as a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. In our tradition, pilgrimages are often made to sites associated with the life of Jesus, the Saints and the Virgin Mary. Pilgrimages are also made to significant buildings of worship, connecting us to those who have offered the praises of God over the centuries. A pilgrimage can be a trip to foreign places or simply for better understanding and personal growth, with the ultimate purpose of a deeper relationship with God.
“The experience of praying together in music every day will bind us together and strengthen our community,” Fritsch-Hemenway said. “In addition to our singing, we will visit historic places, have meals and fellowship and build relationships beyond what is possible in our weekly rehearsals here. Most importantly, the choir will return to Chestnut Hill with a deepened connection to God, to our Anglican musical tradition and to all those who offer daily sung prayer. We will have a renewed sense of mission to continue this tradition in our own community at St. Paul’s.”
SAN FRANCISCO BOYS
The San Francisco Boys Chorus paid a visit to Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul Saturday, July 15. Led by its director, Ian Robertson, the choir sang at the Cathedral Basilica’s Vigil Mass and then performed a concert afterward. Accompanying the choir and congregation during Mass at the Cathedral’s huge but dilapidated pipe organ was Zachary Fritsch-Hemenway, music director of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill.
The chorus, which grew out of the San Francisco Opera, opened its concert with a lithe and lively performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Laudamus Te.” Particularly impressive was the crisp delineation of the consonants of the Latin text, the varied dynamics and the tonal balance between the higher and lower registers of the boys. The trebles and altos sang with memorable clarity while the tenors and basses offered a warmly resonant foundation for the upper lines.
In a choice of repertoire that was delightfully “déjà vu” for me, the chorus next sang John Ireland’s “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis,” the traditional settings from Anglican Choral Evensong regularly heard at both St. Paul’s and St. Martin’s Episcopal Churches in Chestnut Hill. Hearing the music performed by a boy’s choir with especially strong trebles and altos gave the reading a feeling of historical authenticity. The timbre of the singing recalled the link between Evensong and the ancient liturgies of Vespers and Compline through an interpretation of exceptional lyricism.
The program’s most unusual work was “Messe des Pecheurs de Villerville” (The Mass for the Fishermen of Villerville). The score was composed in 1881 by Gabriel Faure and his former student, Andre Messager. Faure composed the “Gloria,” “Sanctus” and “Agnus dei” while Messager wrote the opening “Kyrie” and “O Salutaris.” All five movements speak in the pastel tones of late French Romanticism, and all were sung with secure flexibility and eloquent lyricism by the chorus’ trebles and altos.
Equally fine renditions were given to Cesar Franck’s “Panis Angelicus,” a splendid antiphonal combination of the spirituals “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Deep River,” Aaron Copland’s arrangements of “Shall We Gather at the River” and “The Gift to Be Simple” and the Hebrew song, “Al Shlosha,” which brought the concert to a satisfying close.
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