By Edward Kliszus
Tonight’s special program, Musica Sacra Presents SurRound, was set in the magnificent Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan, New York City. The audience was treated to a mélange of a capella music from organum of the Middle Ages to the complexity and richness of the Renaissance and seminal works of contemporary times. In addition, we were treated to a world premiere of Daniel Ficarri’s Blessed Are the Pure in Heart, which shall undoubtedly join the canon of vital choral literature.
SurRound had something for everyone, from plainsong to the rich chromaticism and exquisite harmonies of Lotti’s Cruxifixus. Then, from the discrete dissonances of Eric Whitacre’s Nox Aurumque we were led to a celebration of Americana found in the folk song Shenandoah, arranged by James Erb.
Arvo Pärt, John Tavener, and Gregg Smith
Works performed tonight were composed by William Byrd, Daniel Ficcari, Pablo Casals, Florence Price, Arvo Pärt, John Tavener, and Gregg Smith, to name a few. This article includes examples of works performed by Musica Sacra for your listening pleasure and enrichment. As you listen, close your eyes, clear your mind, and imagine the emotive, beautiful pathos expressed as you sit in one of the world’s finest Gothic cathedrals, with music performed by world-class musicians using the most intimate, expressive aural medium: song. That is what listeners experienced at this concert!
Christe, qui lux es et dies
The program opened with William Byrd’s setting of the Hymn for Compline, Christe, qui lux es et dies. Some audience members gazed upward as others sighed and smiled as they were embraced in the sonority of this sumptuous work gently emanating from invisible surroundings.
Choir members sang while gently gliding about the cathedral’s ubiquitous candlelit spaces. The audience was centrally located on and between the choir stalls, entirely enveloped in glorious, heavenly, and sonic radiance.
The setting for a choral concert in the Cathedral created unique, awe-inspiring sonic effects. The vastness of the space added to the experience as the choir’s sound resonated and echoed off the walls. The result was a stunning and mesmerizing effect. The cathedral’s high ceiling and intricate architectural details created an acoustic environment, amplifying the singers’ voices and extending their resonance. Sound waves bounced off the walls and the pillars for a rich, dynamic sound that filled every corner of the space, enveloping listeners in a sonic embrace. The reverberations created a natural echo, providing a haunting quality and enhancing the emotional impact of the texts and melodies. The music reverberated, creating a sense of awe and wonder in the listener. It was as if the space was alive with the sound of music. The effect was unforgettable; many lucky enough to experience it felt transported to other dimensions.
O Vos Omnes by Pablo Casals was ethereal and breathtakingly beautiful.
The music enveloped listeners as it emanated from around the interior spaces. With the choir divided at times, the sense of immersion through antiphonal sound and musical meaning was heightened. The sounds reverberated, amplifying and adding depth to the voices of the choir. The overall sonic effect of choirs singing from various locations created a particularly powerful and moving experience.
Transformative and Spiritual
For many listeners, SuRound was more than an astonishing, intimate, and inspiring concert. It was a transformative and spiritual experience. The soaring arches and mystical atmosphere of the cathedral, combined with the music’s emotive power and beauty, transported listeners into a state of awe, peace, and reverence.
Such events are marvelous moments in time. We were fortunate to listen to a profound, well-crafted choral work written by a living composer who attended the premiere. This was akin to Ludwig van Beethoven at the premiere of his Ninth Symphony in Vienna in 1824 or Giuseppe Verdi attending the premiere of his opera, Aida, in Cairo in 1871. Thus, the presence of a composer like the esteemed and talented Daniel Ficcari is a special event in music history and indicates the occasion’s importance. Daniel Ficcari’s Blessed Are the Pure in Heart featured fugal motifs, rich harmonies, and a double chorus divided by the audience seated in the choir stalls. The text for Ficcari’s work is from John Keble (1792-1866).
Musica Sacra performed the ancient and timeless melodies of Gregorian chant. This and more of the finest choral music resonated with a deep sense of spirituality, history, and reverence for the divine. Combining the physical setting and music derived from afflatus created a sense of connection to something larger than oneself. Offered were solace, inspiration, and a sense of inner peace.
Here’s a recording of Arvo Pärt’s The Deer’s Cry.
A Deeply Personal, Immersive Experience
Tritle’s assiduous attention to artistic detail was ubiquitous and supported his well-deserved approbations and Musica Sacra’s extended standing ovations. He created a profoundly personal, immersive experience. This finely crafted program was borne of Maestro Tritle’s informed aspirations as a master craftsman of musical arts. He ensured that each work was performed with integrity, intent, inspiration, and authority. His choice of musical selections was superb. The keepsake program book contained detailed, informative descriptions of the music, its intent, and provenance. For the audience, the text for the Latin choral works was printed with English translations.
The Program for SurRound
DANIEL FICARRI – Blessed Are the Pure in Heart (World Premiere)
ARVO PÄRT – Bogoroditsye Dyevo (Mother of God)
WILLIAM BYRD “Christie, qui lux es”
ANTONIO LOTTI “Crucifixus”
PABLO CASALS “O Vos Omnes”
FLORENCE PRICE “Resignation”
JOHN TAVENER “Funeral Ikos”
BENJAMIN BRITTEN “Hymn to the Virgin”
CARLOTTA FERRARI “Songs for Hildegard”
DAVID LANG “Make Peace”
ERIC WHITACRE “Nox Aurumque”
ROBERT A. HARRIS “How can I keep from singing? “
Trad. American folk song, arr. Erb “Shenandoah”
Musica Sacra Artists
Kent Tritle, Music Director and Conductor
Michael Sheetz, Assistant Music Director
Margaret Daley, Choral Contactor
Chloe Holgate, Linda Jones, Kathryn McCreary, Elisa Singer Strum, Elizabeth van Os
Hai-Ting Chinn, Helen Karloski, Jonathan May, Kirsten Sollek
Elliott Encarnación, Alex Guerrero, Chad Kranak, Gregório Taniguchi
Joseph Beutel, Dominic Inferrera, Thomas McCargar, Neil Netherly
Musica Sacra Presents SurRound
Kent Tritle, music director/conductor
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For info on the 23-24 season and tickets, go to https://musicasacrany.com/
Tickets $35-$75 | Students $20
The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
1047 Amsterdam Avenue (at 112th Street)
New York, NY 10025
Readers may also enjoy our reviews of Kent Tritle in Concert, Light of Paradise with Kent Tritle, the American Classical Orchestra presents Healing Bach, MasterVoices performs at Central Synagogue,