Inside the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. (Photo courtesy of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill)

Inside the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. (Photo courtesy of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill)

by Michael Caruso

Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, brings its local season to a close with a concert entitled “Celebrating a 16th Century Master: Cipriano de Rore” Saturday, May 16, 8 p.m., in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The Band will be joined by the vocal quartet, The Laughing Bird, which has sung as part of the “Five Fridays” series of recitals at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill.

“Celebrating a birthday is always a memorable affair,” said Piffaro co-artistic director Robert Wiemken, “and when the birthday in question is the 500th of one of Italy’s most famous and consequential Renaissance composers, namely Cipriano de Rore, the party should be grand, indeed! He was a luminary who set the world of composition on a new path. He pointed others, such as Claudio Monteverdi, on the way of aligning text and music so that ‘the words are mistress of the music,’ as was said at the time.” Monteverdi was the composer who bridged the change from the High Renaissance of the late 16th century to the Baroque style of the 17th and early 18th centuries.

De Rore’s origins and the details of his early life are lost, but he was born in the small town of Ronse in Flanders just west of Brussels. Although the exact date of his birth cannot be precisely fixed, it has been reasonably established that he was born in 1515.

“And yet,” Wiemken said, “the factual details of Rore’s life seem less consequential than his influence on composition as a whole and on many notable composers, mostly of Italian origin, of his own time and beyond. He has been credited with virtually creating a style of writing music that was based on the clear presentation and emotional expression of the words.”

For ticket information, call 215-235-8469 or visit

Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church will also host the season’s final “Cantatas and Chamber Music” recital Sunday, May 17, 5 p.m., preceded at 4:30 p.m. by a wine and cheese reception. The church’s music director, Daniel Spratlan, will conduct a performance of Bach’s “Coffee Cantata.”


Yannick Nezet-Seguin led the Philadelphia Orchestra and a host of singers, dancers and actors in a rare performance of Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass: A Theatre Piece” in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall April 20 and May 1, 2 & 3. I caught the Saturday evening concert and came away with both positive and negative feelings about the score.

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), who studied composition at the Curtis Institute of Music, was assuredly one of the most gifted American musicians of all times. A talented pianist, he became one of the greatest conductors ever to mount a podium. As a composer, he wrote in numerous genres, perhaps most successfully for the Broadway musical stage. His “West Side Story,” produced in collaboration with librettist Arthur Laurents, lyricist Stephen Sondheim and choreographer/director Jerome Robbins, is considered one of the greatest examples of the type ever created. As a composer of classical music, however, Bernstein was less well regarded, even though this was a genre of music he most wanted to be known for.

In honor of the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in 1971, President John Kennedy’s widow, Jacqueline, commissioned Bernstein to compose a work that would pay tribute to her assassinated husband, the first and only Roman Catholic elected to the Presidency. Bernstein responded with a work of musical theater that took the central liturgy of the Catholic Church, the Mass, as the starting point for an exploration of what happens to people when their world begins to fall apart.

Interestingly, it’s the more truly classical music Bernstein composed for “Mass” that held up most effectively in concert. Many of its movements for chorus and orchestra are hauntingly beautiful in their revelation of humanity’s need for God. It’s in the more popular styles that Bernstein’s talent failed him, sounding imitative, derivative and painfully dated.