Kent Tritle conducting the Cathedral Choir of St. John the Divine in Venice City of Lights. Photo by Edward Kliszus

Kent Tritle conducting the Cathedral Choir of St. John the Divine. Photo by Edward Kliszus

Tonight’s program, Venice City of Lights, was set in the intimate St. James’ chapel. Furthermore, it was the artistic product of a fantastic collaboration between The Cathedral Choir of St. John the Divine and the Rose of the Compass. Moreover, a series of subsections in the program guided the path of tonight’s sojourn. It was altogether a trip through Venice’s artistic provenance, cultural dialectics, and ultimate unity. Additionally, tonight was an exquisite halcyon journey through time and space, achievable only with a coterie of accomplished artists performing effulgent musical works.

Angelic Ethereal Intones

Under the baton of Maestro Kent Tritle, Venice City of Lights began with music celebrating Saint Mark, the Patron Saint of Venice. The Cathedral Choir next performed two works in this genre, Giovanni Gabrieli’s Jubilemus Singuli, and Giovanni Bassano’s Deus, qui beatum Marcum.  Additionally, angelic ethereal intones set the stage for an extraordinary evening of magnificent music and invention from the Gregorian chant of medieval times through the 20th century.

Armenian Influences

The ensemble continued with “The Armenian Presence,” adroitly performing a second series of works exemplifying Venice’s diverse cultural and artistic influences. Music performed represented cultures from as early as 800 A.D., like Grigor Narekatsi’s Havoon, havoon. A work was next performed entitled Looyse, composed by Ara Dinkjian, Oud virtuoso and Rose of the Compass member. Visitors to Venice noticeably enjoy Armenian influences in the cuisine, stone carving, manuscripts and bookbinding, and ornamentation of Venetian architecture with floral and botanical motifs.

Claudio Monteverdi’s Al lume de le stelle, and Cipriano de Rore’s Ancor che col partire, celebrated “The Venetian Salon: Italian Madrigals” and featured vocal quartets and recorder virtuoso Nina Stern.

Center - Nina Stern recorder soloist and Tracy Dowart, mezzo soprano in Venice City of Lights. Photo by Edward Kliszus

Center – Nina Stern, recorder soloist, and Tracy Dowart, mezzo-soprano in Venice City of Lights. Photo by Edward Kliszus

Eastern Aesthetics

The Ottoman Empire brought Eastern aesthetics and elements of its art, including Islamic motifs and decorative styles seen in Venetian art and architecture. Works subsequently performed in this genre included Sultaniyegah Longa by 20th-century composer Sadi Işılay.

Celebrating San Marco, the Basilica of St. Mark, the ensemble performed Claudio Merulo’s Dominum illuminatio mea and Giovanni Gabrieli’s Deus, qui beatum Marcum.

San Marco Square in Venice at night. Photo by Valerii Tkachenko

San Marco Square in Venice at night. Photo by Valerii Tkachenko

Jewish Scholars

Jews arrived in Venice as early as the 10th century and contributed to the cultural and scholarly life of the city. Indeed, Jewish scholars and intellectuals engaged in informed dialogue with Venetian cognoscenti, fostering cultural exchange and intellectual development. While contributing to the artistic landscape of Venice City of Lights, they advanced goldsmithing, glass making, and printing, in addition to commissioning works of art and building patronage for the city’s arts. Next, the ensemble performed Mi al har Chorev by Ovadia HaGer, Falla con misuras by Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro, and Judentanz from Lautten Buch by Wolff Heckel.

The finale was Claudio Monteverdi’s polyphonic masterpiece Lauda, Jerusalem, Dominum, featuring the entire ensemble in a rapturous, joyous conclusion to the evening’s festivities.

Nuances and Subtleties

The Cathedral Choir sang with superb vocal blend, balance, intonation, diction, and expression. As has been noted, along with expressive techniques that effectively conveyed musical nuances and subtleties, we sensed the singers’ genuine passion and conviction.

Arsenale (Venice) - The Lion of Venice on the pediment of the arsenal from Venice City of Lights. Public Domain

Arsenale (Venice) – The Lion of Venice on the pediment of the arsenal. Public Domain

Passion for the Music

Maestro Kent Tritle’s conducting was precise and expressive. Indeed, the passionate and inspired Tritle displayed his mastery of the varied repertoire. Undeniably a superb choral conductor of Renaissance music and more, Tritle exhibited effective leadership, expressive interpretation, technical mastery, historical awareness, musical sensitivity, and a contagious passion for the music.


As Nina Stern performed on recorders and the chalumeau throughout the evening as she displayed sublime virtuosity. Indeed, such artistry is required for exceptional technical proficiency in navigating the intricate melodies, ornaments, and demanding passages found in tonight’s repertoire. Stern certainly commanded finger technique, articulation, breath control, and intonation. Thus, her execution of musical passages occurred with informed precision and historical accuracy.

Microtonal Intervals

From the Rose of the Compass ensemble, we enjoyed virtuosic performances all around. Hence, Ara Dinkjian demonstrated finger dexterity, precise finger placement, fluidity in picking and strumming, and control over ornamentation. Undeniably seen was Dinkjian’s flawless execution of complex and rapid passages frequently scored in unison with fellow instrumentalists. Dinkjian then navigated through microtonal intervals and employed ornaments such as meend (glissando), mordents, and trills to embellish and decorate melodic lines.

Kent Tritle and the Cathedral Choir of St. John the Divine taking bows. Photo by Edward Kliszus

Kent Tritle and the Cathedral Choir of St. John the Divine taking bows. Photo by Edward Kliszus

Subtle Embellishments

On the Kanun, Tamer Pinarbasi demonstrated extraordinary technical proficiency, interpreting and expressing the music with artistry, sensitivity, and nuance. Percussionist Glen Velez similarly demonstrated his frame drum mastery. For instance, he utilized finger rolls, finger snaps, ghost notes, and intricate finger patterns to enhance rhythmic textures and create expressive variations. He accordingly demonstrated a keen ear for subtle embellishments and ornamentation integrated seamlessly into his performance.

Transformative Musical Experience

This evening of superlatives by the Cathedral Choir and Rose of the Compass at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine offered a transformative musical experience for listeners and performers alike. Beauty and artistry were altogether utilized to guide our journey and evoke elation, wonder, and exhilaration. Onlooking participants also experienced profound tranquility, introspection, reflection and contemplation, and transcendent joy and longing.

The Cathedral Choir

Soprano  – Halley Gilbert, Linda Jones, Motomi Tanaka
Alto  – Alison Cheeseman, Tracy Cowart, Katie Geissinger
Tenor  – Austin Cody, Michael Steinberger, Jason Weisinger
Bass  – Joseph Beutel, Gregory Purnhagen, Peter Stewart

Rose of the Compass

Nina Stern – Recorders and Chalumeau
Tamer Pinarbasi  – Kanun
Arthur Fiacco, Jr.  – Cello
Ara Dinkjian  – Oud
Glen Velez  – Percussion
Daniel Ficarri  – Organ


By the Cathedral Choir of St. John The Divine & Rose of The Compass
Kent Tritle & Nina Stern, Music Directors

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
1047 Amsterdam Ave.
New York, NY 10025
(212) 316-7540

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Readers may also enjoy our reviews of ­­­the Onsite Opera presents Puccini’s Il Tabarro, The Oratorio Society of New York performs J. S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor, MasterVoices presents Iolanthe at Carnegie Hall and Musica Sacra at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine