by Michael Caruso

Lyric Fest will present a concert entitled “Waxing Poetic” Friday, March 13, 7:30 p.m., in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill’s Widener Hall. The event will combine visual art, poetry and music.

The genesis of the concert occurred when Chestnut Hiller and Lyric Fest’s co-artistic director Laura Ward attended an art show of Laura Pritchard’s fanciful batiks and a reading of works inspired by them, written by the Chestnut Hill Musehouse poets. Both the art works and the poetry inspired Ward (an internationally acclaimed pianist and a member of Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church) to imagine the poems set to music and to then have them performed surrounded by the artworks.

“We wanted to do a new thing,” explained mezzo Suzanne DuPlantis of East Falls, Ward’s co-director at Lyric Fest. “To all of this — the shimmering energy of these batiks on silk and the staccato poems of the Muse House poets — we wanted to give vibrant musical life. And we wanted to present the entirety of this artistic unfolding to our audience.”

With the help of a grant from the Presser Foundation, Lyric Fest selected local composer Kile Smith as its first composer-in-residence this season, making this project the centerpiece of his residency. Smith explained, “The four Philadelphia poets — Julia Blumenreich, Susan Fleshman, Siobhan Lyons and Donna Wolf-Palacio — have created small dramas, each based on one of Pritchard’s haunting, edgy and personal works.

Baritone Daniel Teadt will join DuPlantis and Ward for the concert. Tickets priced at $20 are available online at


The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill continued its season of “Cantatas and Chamber Music” Sunday, Feb. 22, with a recital featuring soloists from its Gallery Choir accompanied by Chestnut Hill pianist, Laura Ward. The roster of composers spanned the generations from Richard Dering, who was born in 1580, to Benjamin Boyle, who was born in 1979 and is still alive and composing.

The most dramatic selection of the afternoon was Benjamin Britten’s “Canticle II – Abraham and Isaac.” The text is taken from the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament and details the story of God’s request of the Hebrew Patriarch Abraham that he sacrifice his son, Isaac, to prove his faithfulness to God, only to be told at the last moment that he needn’t do so. In the Christian tradition, it’s a common text during Lent as a prefiguring of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, which took place on Good Friday.

Britten cleverly sets the narrative portion of the text in neo-Gregorian chant, pairing the soprano and tenor voices in parallel intervals as though they were singing late medieval organum, then laying out the dialogue between Abraham and Isaac in question-and-answer form for tenor and soprano. Steven Williamson and Rebecca Siler maintained the liturgical solemnity of the narrative with poignant dignity and delivered the dialogue with impassioned intensity.

Siler’s singing was no less memorable in “St. Ita’s Vision” by Samuel Barber, the West Chester native who attended and then taught at the Curtis Institute of Music. Barber achieved international acclaim with works such as his Adagio for Strings and the operas “Antony and Cleopatra” and “Vanessa.” He loved the voice and the piano and composed for them with idiomatic mastery. Soprano Julie Bishop gave a splendid rendition to Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Cuatro madrigals amatorias.” Her soaring tone and full-throttled vibrato invested the music with heartfelt feeling. Tenor Kevin Radke gave “Here’s One” and “Lord, I Don’t Feel Noways Tired” superlative readings while Williamson caught the nostalgic melancholy of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Nye vyer mnye drug” and “Pakeenyem meelaya” with affecting emotion.

Throughout the entire program, Ward played with supreme technical control and a complete command over the coloristic potential of the piano, supporting her singers with a firm sonic foundation as well as engaging with them in tonal give-and-take.

The next “Cantatas & Chamber Music” recital is scheduled for Sunday, March 22, 5 p.m. Bach’s Cantata No. 12: “Weinen, Klagen, Zorgen, Sagen” will be sung. A wine-and-cheese reception at 4:40 p.m. precedes the performance.


The Academy of Vocal Arts will present “Jubilate!” a concert of sacred music, Friday, March 6, 7:30 p.m. in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill. Visit or call 215-735-1685.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church will also celebrate Choral Evensong Sunday, March 8, 5 p.m. An organ recital featuring Gregory Zelek is set for 4:30 p.m. It will raise money for the Ann Stookey Fund for Music at St. Paul’s Church, which supports the maintenance of the 114-rank Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ at the church.