by Michael Caruso
I’m tempted to subtitle this column a “Downton Abbey Alert” for Chestnut Hillers. And not just because a feature film continuing the saga of the aristocratic Crawley family is set for a fall, 2019, release.
Closer to home, yet in the stylistic line of “Downton Abbey,” will be a summer Choral Evensong hosted by the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, Sunday, Aug. 11, at 4 p.m. Conducting the service’s musical performances will be Andrew Kotylo, the newly appointed director of music at neighboring St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill. Singers from both parish choirs will comprise the chorus. Even more extraordinarily, the guest preacher will be Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II.
The Episcopal Church in the United States is the American province of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It is the third largest body of Christians, behind the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. All its provinces derive their traditions of Christianity from the Church of England. Queen Elizabeth is the titular head of that Church, with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York its spiritual leaders. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the symbolic head of the Anglican Communion just as Her Majesty the Queen is the head of the British Commonwealth of Nations, the successor of the British Empire.
“This will be a very ‘English’ Choral Evensong,” Erik Meyer told me Friday morning. Meyer, who has been the music director of St. Martin’s Church since 2011, explained that he will be in Vermont with family getting together with his brother, who lives in Japan and who visits America only every other year. “The involvement in the Choral Evensong of the Queen’s chaplain is the result of the efforts of several societies that maintain the connection between our parish and England. Plus our associate rector, the Rev. Anne Thatcher, is very much an Anglophile.”
The principal works in the musical program are the settings of the traditional texts taken from the Gospel of St. Luke in the New Testament, the “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis” composed by Charles Villiers Stanford. The anthem at the Offertory will be “Save us, O Lord” by Edward Bairstow.
Looking back over the liturgical year just completed, Meyer enumerated several important milestones.
“We reduced the number of Eucharistic services with music from two to one. Prior to 2018-19, both the services at 9 & 11:15 a.m. had music with choir. Starting in the fall of 2018, only the 10:30 service has music with choir. The transition went smoothly and I feel that it helps unify the congregation. Plus the combined choir has grown in size to an average of about 36 every Sunday.”
Meyer pointed to two other musical events of importance: the November performance of W.A. Mozart’s “Requiem Mass” that involved singers and instrumentalists from the community alongside the parish’s own musicians; and the performance of Joel Thompson’s “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” in the spring.
Speaking of the latter, Meyer said, “The Thompson touched the core of the parish. It resonated with members of the congregation. When I considered performing it, I approached the choir about it because we were aware that there might be some who were offended by it and that there might even be the potential for protests. But I felt strongly that the music humanized the victims and that it was important for us to perform it and for the members of the parish to hear it because it touches on what is basically an abuse of power.”
I recall approaching the performance of “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” with a slight dose of apprehension only to be mightily moved by the composer’s expert handling of each victim’s individual story set within the context of the broader narrative of the questionable use of fatal force.
The 2019-20 musical season at St. Martin’s Church opens Sunday, Sept. 15, at 5 p.m. with a concert given by the Caius College Choir of England’s legendary Cambridge University. “The program will feature some Tudor ‘chestnuts’ as well as some modern works,” Meyer explained.
Music by parishioner Scott Robinson will be performed Saturday, Sept. 21, at 7 p.m. “He’s a longtime Chestnut Hill resident,” Meyer added, “and his music is beautiful.”
Meyer and his wife, flutist Anna Meyer, will be joined in concert by Parker Kitterman, local composer Kile Smith, Till Meyn and Carsen Cooman for a program of world premieres Friday, Oct. 4, at 7 p.m. in Old Christ Church, 20 N. American St., in the Old City section of Philadelphia. The roster of pieces will be taken from a recently recorded CD, the first made using Christ Church’s Fisk pipe organ. Admission is free and the concert is open to the public.
Kitterman is the music director at Old Christ Church. It is the oldest Anglican parish in the city, the building is an architectural masterpiece of the early 18th-century, and a photograph its 2018 Fisk pipe organ graces the inside cover of this month’s BBC Music Magazine. Kitterman has composed countless exquisite examples of Anglican Church music for the liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer. His “Requiem Mass” will be performed Sunday, Nov. 4, at 5 p.m. as part of the parish’s marking of All Souls Day, Nov. 2.
The annual Advent Procession is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 8, at 5 p.m. The Epiphany Lessons & Carols Evensong is set for Sunday, Jan. 5, also at 5 p.m.
The Choir School of Delaware will grace the Choral Evensong of Jan. 26 and the Choir of the College of William and Mary will sing in late March of 2020. The College dates back to 1693. Its charter was issued by England’s King William III and Queen Mary II. They ascended the throne jointly as a result of the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 and the overthrow of King James II. It is the second oldest college in the United States. Only Harvard University (established in 1636) is older.