by Michael Caruso
The search is over! St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, has announced the hiring of a director of music to succeed Zachary Hemenway, who departed in June for Seattle. Andrew Kotylo will take over the musical reins of one of Greater Philadelphia’s leading church musical organizations effective Feb. 12, 2019.
Kotylo will be coming to St. Paul’s from St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church and School in Columbia, South Carolina, where he is currently its organist and choirmaster. Prior to that post, he was associate music director at Trinity Episcopal Church on the Green in New Haven, Connecticut. Kotylo received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in organ performance and literature from Indiana University.
His responsibilities at St. Paul’s Church will include serving as full-time organist. He will oversee the planned renovations of the church’s historic Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ. He will conduct the 45-voice adult choir, direct the youth chorister program and oversee the “Five Fridays: Concerts for the Community” fundraising chamber music recitals. He, his wife Andrea and their daughters Emily and Eleanor will soon relocate to Philadelphia.
The Roman Catholic Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul hosted the Westminster Williamson Voices in concert Sunday, Nov. 11. Conducted by its music director James Jordan, the 60-member choir sang a program entitled “The Dreams That Remain.” Its first half leaned in the direction of traditional sacred choral music while its second offered one of the finest selections of contemporary sacred choral music I’ve heard this side of a concert given by Donald Nally and The Crossing, tried-and-true experts in the repertoire of new choral music.
An interesting facet of the choir’s singing of music drawn from the Renaissance was its willingness to offer this music heard through the medium of contemporary tastes. For instance, the 17th century chant, “Adoro te devote,” (I adore you devoutly) was sung in an arrangement by choir members Ari Carrillo and Christian Koller. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s “Sircut Cervus” (As a deer desires) was enhanced by interpolations composed by Jordan. Both works came across with traditional beauty suffused with modern sensibilities.
The unadorned Gregorian plainsong, “Beatus vir” (Blessed is the man), was sung with supple beauty in a rendition that featured seven women from the choir singing from the Cathedral’s side chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The whole choir caught the heavenly peacefulness of James Whitbourn’s take on the same text.
One of the afternoon’s high points was the choir’s performance of Josef Rheinberger’s setting of the “Kyrie” movement from the Ordinary of the Latin Mass. In an odd coincidence of ecclesiastical history, the entire Mass was dedicated to Pope Leo XIII, who inopportunely declared all Anglicans orders “absolutely null and utterly void.”
And yet, while Catholics attending Mass at the Cathedral Basilica in which this excerpt was sung never hear even this single movement as part of an actual liturgy, the whole work can and often is heard just across Logan Circle in St. Clement’s Episcopal (Anglo-Catholic) Church, where a traditional liturgy is celebrated every Sunday at 11 a.m. St. Clement’s choir even made a splendid CD recording of the work several years ago.
Jordan and the Williamson Voices caught the romantic sweep of Rheinberger’s music without losing its intimacy. The warmth and power of their singing filled the Victorian expanses of the Cathedral Basilica with beguiling lyricism and textural clarity. They made its long reverberation time a virtue rather than a vice.
Choir member Sam Scheibe’s setting of the celebrated text, “O magnum mysterium” (O great mystery), brought the concert’s first half to a spiritually satisfying close.
The second half of the concert featured three works by former chorister Thomas LaVoy, one of which was a world premiere, plus Eriks Esenvalds’ “Salutation.”
The world premiere was LaVoy’s setting of “The Last Letter,” the text of which is the now famous “Last Letter” of Civil War soldier Sullivan Ballou that became a celebrated distillation of the feelings, fears and hopes of the entire nation during that most bloody of American wars. Featuring both a violin and baritone solo, LaVoy’s score catches the heartbreak of a young man robbed of the fullness of his life, here sacrificed in what was truly a noble cause. It was sung with noble simplicity.
LaVoy’s “The Dreams That Remain” and “In Silence” from “O Great Beyond” use texts by Rabindranath Tagore. Both are appealing pieces of music that would have benefitted from faster tempi and more dramatic thematic development.
Esenvalds also used a text by Tagore for his “Salutation.” It’s an unalloyed masterpiece that shimmers with the northern lights of the composer’s Latvian homeland. Throughout the concert, the Williamson Voices sang beautifully. Their breadth and depth of dynamics, texture, blend and phrasing were impressive, and they invested their interpretations with both passion and precision.
Charlene Angelini, the Cathedral Basilica’s music director, and the combined musical forces of the Cathedral and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will present “Sounds of the Seasons” Sunday, Dec. 9, 3 p.m. More information at cathedralphilaconcerts.org
GOING FOR BAROQUE
The Philadelphia Orchestra made a stab at regaining the baroque repertoire that it has mostly given over to the period instruments ensembles for its concerts Nov. 16-18 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. The Philadelphians invited Emmanuelle Haim to make her conducting debut and to lead a program of music composed by Henry Purcell and George Frideric Handel. Soprano Lenneke Ruiten also made her Orchestra debut in two of the three works.
Those two scores were selections from Purcell’s “The Fairy Queen” and Handel’s secular cantata “Il delirio amoroso” (The Delirium of Love). In between was heard the evening’s finest work, Handel’s “Music for the Royal Fireworks.” Along with his “Water Music,” these two compositions rank as the greatest orchestral pieces of the baroque era, only equalled by Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orchestral Suites and “Brandenburg” Concerti. Amazingly, both Handel and Bach were born in Germany in 1685 – a very good year, indeed.
Unlike the three suites of “Water Music,” which were composed in 1717, “Music for the Royal Fireworks” wasn’t written until 1748. As was often the case in baroque music, it exists in several versions, some with no strings and others with a full string complement. It was the arrangement with strings that Haim and the Philadelphians performed over the weekend. Saturday evening’s rendition was so polished and passionate that one can only hope Haim becomes a regular on the Orchestra’s podium and that other conductors, both music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin and guests, more regularly program these foundational works of classical music.
Unlike Bach’s music, which is often intellectual and spiritual, Handel’s music tends to be emotional and sensual. Whereas Bach’s is focused and intense, Handel’s is grand and spacious. While Bach’s is deep, Handel’s is sweeping. If Bach is truly the greatest of all classical composers and Beethoven a solid second, my money is on Handel for third place — with Mozart a very close fourth.
Haim was particularly impressive balancing the contrasting colors of Handel’s dazzling orchestration in “Music for the Royal Fireworks.” Her hand was especially deft with horns against the trumpets within the brass choir, all the brass against the woodwinds and all the winds against the strings. Her tempi for the six movements were varied yet complementary. The musicians of the Orchestra responded to her energetic conducting by offering the bracing tonal clarity baroque music requires, matching the best period instruments ensembles in the world. But they also offered a suppleness of tonal production and projection all their own.
Ruiten sang nicely in the Purcell and the Handel cantata, but wouldn’t it have been a more daring and “authentic” move to have chosen as soloist a countertenor such as Franco Fagioli?
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