This Friday: Experience High “Fidelity” In DC

​If you follow me on social media, you know that I often comment on how wonderful the music is at my parish of St. Stephen Martyr here in the Nation’s Capital. The taste and talent of the musicians, as well as the superb acoustics of the building, are a combination that few churches in Washington can match. Now, those of you who might not have the time or inclination to join us on Sunday mornings, have an opportunity to hear and see what I’m talking about for yourselves.

This Friday, February 17th at 7:30 pm at St. Stephen’s, soprano Grace Srinivasan – who is also our cantor at St. Stephen’s – and harpsichordist Paula Maust will be performing a program of Baroque music entitled “In Pursuit Of Fidelity”, featuring music by Henry Purcell, Domenico Scarlatti, and others. The church is located at 2436 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 25th Streets NW, just a few blocks from the Foggy Bottom Metro station. A free will offering will be collected to support the music at St. Stephen’s.

The ladies are co-founders of Musica Spira (“Music Breathes”), an ensemble which brings music of the Baroque past to new audiences in the present, in order to show its continued relevance to today. Grace has a lovely, clear voice, as you can hear, and Paula is a sensitive, thoughtful performer, such as in this performance.  As both are Peabody Conservatory alumni with extensive experience on stage, you can be assured that this is going to be a high quality performance.

What’s more, anyone who has ever visited St. Stephen’s remarks on both the elegant, cool simplicity and amazing acoustics inside the church, thanks to the swooping parabolic arches that define the interior. So for those of you who appreciate architecture as well as music, this concert experience will be worth your time as well. I hope to see many of you there, and if you spot me in the audience, do take a moment to come over and say hello!

Thursday Night in DC: A Classical Christmas Concert

During the Advent and Christmas season, there are usually a surfeit of Christmas concerts for those who love music.  Unfortunately, many of them take place on weekends.  This makes it impossible to attend more than one or two, due to the overlapping of these events.

Fortunately for those of you in the DC area, tomorrow night – Thursday – you have the chance to attend a Christmas concert that does not take away from your already-booked weekend schedule before Christmas arrives next week, and to do so with a truly international talent.

Soprano Alina Kozinska will be celebrating the season in song, poetry, carols, and Sacred Scripture, along with Pianist Patricia McKewen Amato, Actress Renata Plecha, and a cast of soloists/musicians. The program includes works by Bach, Vivaldi, Schubert, and others.

The concert will take place at 7pm at St. Stephen Martyr Church in Foggy Bottom.  St. Stephen’s is located on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 25th Street NW, a short walk from the Foggy Bottom Metro station. There is usually plenty of street parking around the neighborhood, or in one of the garages nearby.

Ms. Kozinska teaches voice at The Peabody, and sang for Pope St. John Paul II at the Papal Mass in Camden Yards when he visited Baltimore (I was there and remember her well.) Therefore this promises to be quite the evening. And for those of you who have never visited my parish of St. Stephen’s, which seems so nondescript from the outside, don’t take my word for it: ask someone who has attended Mass or a concert there. They will tell you that the acoustics of the church are absolutely superb for performances such as this.

Hope to see many of my DC readers there, and if you spot me, do come over and say hello after the concert!

St. Stephen's at Christmastide

Eventide by Voces8: Transcendence at Twilight

EventideIn Eventide, the beautiful new album on the Decca Classics label from British choral group Voces8, the listener is asked to pause, as the lengthening shadows begin to stretch across the floor ahead of nightfall.  Through a sampling of old and new musical compositions, the men and women of Voces8 and the musicians accompanying them demonstrate considerable polish and talent.  Yet more importantly, by calling us to adopt a reflective mood as daylight departs, they evoke a sense of timeless stillness, which many of us could benefit from seeking out more often in our lives.

Beginning with the first track, a “Te Lucis Ante Terminum” by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), Voces8 make clear that this musical reverie is going to be of an echoing, ethereal quality.  “Reflexionem” by British composer Patrick Hawes (born 1958), and featuring the outstanding cellist Matthew Sharp, does exactly what its name implies.  I could easily imagine myself in the pew, after having received the Eucharist, and listening to this piece as I focus my attention on things above, while at the same time reflecting on things below.

The real standout of the entire album is “Second Eve”, by the young Norwegian composer and Julliard alum Ola Gjeilo (born 1978).  Using the Ave Maria wand references from other Marian texts, the pieces references historical singing styles but nevertheless feels contemporary, in the best sense of that word, layering melody with harmonies and counterpoint in ways that are somewhat unusual, but beautifully performed by Voces8.  There is a combination of sweetness with a sense of anxiety in the first half of the performance, which turns unexpectedly into something more triumphant and aspirational by the end.  This piece deserves to become better-known among both ecclesiastical and secular choral music directors.

Other noteworthy tracks are the deeply atmospheric, majestic, and beautifully performed “Os Justi” by Bruckner (1824-1896), Franz Beibl’s (1906-2001) well-known Camelot-era “Ave Maria”, and closing out the album, a different “Te Lucis Ante Terminum”, this time by an unknown Medieval composer.  This final track becomes more complex as it proceeds, as more voices are layered in.  The recording eventually returns to the simplicity and silence with which it and indeed the album itself began, reminding one of the instructional words in the Order of Mass for Holy Thursday, “All depart in silence.”

If you are a choral singer, choir director, or musician yourself, I suspect that several of the pieces and composers on this album will be unfamiliar to you, making this an opportunity to add to your repertoire.  For those seeking music for meditation and prayer, you will find the album very helpful, in that it is not an obtrusive work.  Rather, as the album’s title implies, there is a recognition that one needs to slow down and refocus at the end of the day.  And dare I say it, those of you who simply need something playing in the background, to study or work by, will find this recording softens an anxious mind and heart, in order to better focus on what needs doing.

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If you’re interested in the chance to win a free copy of “Eventide” by Voces8, I’m hosting a giveaway courtesy of Decca Classics.  You can enter to win by following this link, and providing me with your name and email address – one entry per reader, please.  You may enter any time between now and Midnight Eastern tomorrow.  The winner will be selected at random, and announced here on the blog this Friday, June 20th. Best of luck!

Voces8 Group Photo

The members of Voces8