by Michael Caruso
Fresh from a successful residency in England, the choir of the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, will sing the first Choral Evensong of their season Sunday, Oct. 1, 5 p.m. Music director Erik Meyer described it as a “Welcome Home” program of music.
“As we sang mostly American music in Britain,” he explained, “we’ll be singing all English music for this Evensong: Stanford’s ‘Magnificat’ and ‘Nunc Dimittis’ in C (bread-and-butter Anglican repertoire), ‘Responses’ by Philip Radcliffe, and ‘Sing Joyfully’ by William Byrd.”
Recalling the weeklong residency, Meyer described it as “wonderful. Bristol Cathedral was very welcoming. Every day they had a group of volunteers serve us afternoon tea just before Evensong. The staff was helpful and friendly. One of the vergers had a wicked sense of humor, which kept things light. We had seven children on the trip, six of whom were singers. They had a wonderful time, and I hope that when they are a little older, they will realize what a privilege it was for them to sing in these amazing places.
“The organ at Bristol Cathedral was a magnificent, dark romantic instrument that was a joy to play. I gave a recital on Tuesday afternoon. And there was always a congregation there to hear us. The Tuesday recital drew nearly 100 people. Our Evensong congregation always filled the chancel/quire and spilled over into the nave a bit. The Church of England might have poor attendance overall, but in their cathedrals, Evensong is alive and healthy.”
Meyer recalled that the choir’s Evensong at Westminster Abbey was a trifle stressful but still went well — with the Prince and Princess of Serbia in attendance. “The acoustic in Bristol Cathedral was absolutely ideal,” he said. “Westminster Abbey was a giant cavern and difficult to fill with sound. In Bristol, a single voice in the quire could be heard clearly throughout the building. Our choir did marvelously, and I am very proud of them.”
Meyer included several other events of the residency: for instance, visiting the burial place of William Penn’s father in nearby St. Mary Redcliffe Church. “This parish church is absolutely massive. Bristol itself is an ‘edgy’ city — a little grungy, a little anti-establishment perhaps. Friday night brought some rowdy people out into the streets. But like every English city, there was beauty and history everywhere. It was a great place, and I hope to visit it again.”
On first glance, the Pennsylvania Ballet’s 2017-18 season looks as though the local troupe is offering performances of three ballets to music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The company opens Oct. 12 in the Academy of Music with “The Sleeping Beauty,” then performs “The Nutcracker” at Christmastime and presents “Swan Lake” in March. They form the “Big Three” of romantic ballet masterpieces.
But if you stopped there, you’d be selling the Pennsylvanians short. Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations” is choreographed to Tchaikovsky’s music and will be danced in April. And to close the season, the company will perform Balanchine’s three-movement “Jewels,” in which “Diamonds” also features a score by Tchaikovsky.
So what is happening here? A “stealth” Tchaikovsky Festival? Not quite, or so said artistic director Angel Corella when I spoke with him just prior to a company rehearsal of “Sleeping Beauty.”
He explained the primary reason was the large casts “Sleeping Beauty,” “Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake” put onstage and the abundance of excellent dancers now gracing the company’s roster. “Those three are all big, grand ballets,” he pointed out, “and each one has many, many roles. They provide many of our dancers with the opportunity to shine as performers and to give our audiences the chance to get to know them.”
Corella is basing his contemporary choreography for “Swan Lake” and “Sleeping Beauty” on that of Marius Petipa, the legendary 19th/early 20th century choreographer of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theater, later the Kirov and now the Maryinsky in St. Petersburg, Russia. Petipa, along with his associate Lev Ivanov, choreographed the original production of “Nutcracker,” choreographed “Sleeping Beauty” and revived “Swan Lake” with Ivanov. Pennsylvania Ballet is one of the few companies in the world licensed to dance George Balanchine version of “The Nutcracker.”
“We also want to maintain our heritage with Balanchine,” Corella said. “Balanchine’s ‘Jewels’ is really a full-length ballet, and ‘Theme and Variations’ offers our audiences great dancing by great dancers.”
The season also doesn’t fail to hold interest for audiences curious to see new ballets. The performances of “Sleeping Beauty” will be followed by “On Edge” in November in the Merriam Theater with two world premieres. One features local favorite Matthew Neenan, and the second is by Helen Pickett plus Alexander Ekman’s “Episode 31” to music by Ane Brun, Mikael Karlsson and Erik Satie. Sandwiched in between “Swan Lake” and “Jewels,” the company will perform “Grace & Grandeur,” also in the Merriam.
Opening the program will be “Paquita” by Petipa to music by Ludwig Minkus, followed by “For Four” by Christopher Wheeldon to music by Franz Schubert, and rounded off by “Theme and Variations.” “We’re eager for our audiences to experience the diversity of the many styles our dancers can perform,” Corella said. “It’s important for our dancers to be challenged and for our audiences to see where we are as a company dancing both older repertoire and new additions to the repertoire, keeping the traditions of ballet moving forward.”