Choral Arts to premiere commissioned cantata March 4

by Michael Caruso
Posted 3/2/23

Matthew Glandorf will conduct Choral Arts Philadelphia on March 4.

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Choral Arts to premiere commissioned cantata March 4


Matthew Glandorf will conduct Choral Arts Philadelphia in the commissioned world premiere of Chelsea Komschlies’ “If Thou but Suffer God to Guide Thee” and J.S. Bach’s cantata: “Who knows how near my end is to me?” Saturday, March 4, at 4 p.m. in the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square.

The premiere is the result of a commission by longtime Choral Arts supporter and nationally acclaimed Roman Catholic commentator Anthony Corvaia. “I have always loved the hymn, ‘If Thou but Suffer God to Guide Thee’,” he explained. “It’s words of reassurance and resolve that have always been a spiritual restorative when confronted with obstacles and disappointments.

“The idea to compose a cantata text started as a lark – I never dreamed that it would be set to music,” he explained. “I think that the attempt sprang primarily from my love of Bach cantatas. I was introduced to them in college where I would listen to recordings of them for hours while following along with my Eulenberg miniature scores.” Corvaia added to the chorale texts with non-scriptural writings. He also inserted three of Bach’s chorale preludes.

“I wanted the voices of women to be heard,” he continued, “so I chose the poem ‘Up-Hill’ by my favorite poet, Christina Georgina Rossetti, and the admonition usually called ‘Lines from her Breviary’ by the great Carmelite reformer, Saint Teresa of Avila. Not to be overlooked is the contribution of Catherine Winkworth, whose beautifully crafted translations of German chorales have enriched the repertoire of English hymnody.”

Summing up, Corvaia said, “Another characteristic of my libretto is its ecumenical inclusiveness: Christian scripture, a Lutheran chorale, the words of an Anglican poet and of a Roman Catholic nun. This was not by design: it just happened. I frequently draw strength and wisdom from the insights provided by diverse religious traditions.”

Speaking about the music, Glandorf said, “I first worked with Chelsea on a sacred music project I oversaw with the composition students at the Curtis Institute of Music (where he teaches) in 2017. I was impressed with her original voice as a composer, so Choral Arts commissioned her to expand on her original work into a 20-minute cantata in 2019.”

For ticket information visit

Germantown maestro conducts

Richard Raub conducted the opening week of the Academy of Vocal Arts’ production of Gaetano Donizetti’s comic masterpiece, “Don Pasquale,” in the school’s Warden Theater last week. I caught the Saturday, Feb. 18, performance and came away completely convinced that nowhere on earth can opera lovers find more enjoyment and satisfaction than at AVA.

AVA, whose president/artistic director is K. James McDowell of East Falls, is the nation’s only postgraduate school devoted solely to preparing its students for professional careers as vocalists. And “prepared” Saturday evening’s cast of singers/actors definitely were. The production, stage directed by AVA alumnus, Richard Troxell, unfolded as a seamless musical narrative of comedic high jinks without a single bump along the road to its hilarious yet satisfying conclusion. It also made the seminal point – “There’s no fool like an old fool” – without degenerating into abusive slapstick.

Troxell made the daring decision to move the action from Donizetti’s own 19th century Italy to 1967 in our own South Philadelphia’s Italian neighborhoods. The result was not merely a superficial connection to the characters onstage but a miraculous revelation of just how close the music of 19th century Italian opera is to so much of the popular music of the middle of the 20th century. I certainly heard many an inspiration for Curtis Institute of Music alumnus Nino Rota’s score for “The Godfather.”

Bass-baritone Dylan Gregg was a wonderful Pasquale – totally oblivious to the ridiculous notion of his marrying the young and beautiful Norina. Soprano Loella Grahn was both spirited and sensitive as Norina – always showing remorse whenever she went at Pasquale, even in the name of true love. And she sang with sparking agility and unaffected lyricism.

Tenor Sahel Salam was splendid as Norina’s true love, Ernesto – a wannabe Frankie Avalon with stunning high notes. Baritone Titus Muzi was perfect as the nearly sleazy Dr. Malatesta. He sang with burnished resonance and acted with unstoppable energy and imagination.

But it was conductor Richard Raub who kept the whole pot boiling to its glorious conclusion. He guided his young singers with gentle firmness and elicited playing from the AVA Opera Orchestra that should be the envy of Yannick Nezet-Seguin’s work at the Metropolitan Opera.

Next on AVA’s roster is “Jubilate!” a concert of sacred music March 18 and 19. For more information, call 215-735-1685 or visit

Five Fridays

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, hosted the third in its current season of “Five Fridays” fundraising recitals Feb. 17. The featured artists were classical banjo player John Bullard and pianist Markus Compton. They proffered a program of original works for solo banjo as well as imaginative transcriptions of works by baroque composers Telemann, Bach and Marcello.

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