“… music is a spiritual food for which there is no substitute…” — Zoltán Kodály
We began our fourth season with a moving tribute to moral courage exemplified by Zoltán Kodály’s sublime masterpiece Missa Brevis, for organ and chorus. Zoltán Kodály was not only a great Hungarian composer and educator, he was also a courageous public figure of the 20th century. Indeed, courage and spiritual nourishment are at the core of his 1944 masterpiece Missa Brevis, composed for chorus and organ while he was in hiding with his Jewish wife during the Nazi occupation of Hungary in WWII. The piece was premiered in the cloakroom of the Budapest Opera House during the Russian bombardment of Nazi positions in Budapest in February of 1945. In the midst of the Holocaust, the 60 year-old Kodály sought comfort in a choral form rooted in a spiritual meal. The notion of the liturgy as a meal lies at the heart of both the Western Roman Mass and the Eastern Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. And both liturgies have their ritual roots in the Jewish tradition of the Passover meal.
The Mystical Supper: Sacred Food amid Spiritual Famine will be performed on Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 4pm in the magnificent nave of The National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. In addition to Kodály’s stirring masterpiece, the Chorale will perform a cappella motets from the Russian Orthodox tradition, including works by Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Gretchaninoff, and others. To contextualize this profound, compassionate and ultimately exultant music, a pre-concert moderated panel discussion of music scholars and historians is planned.
The Chorale will “drive the cold winter away” with a seasonal blend of reverence and merriment in two performances of Noel! Noel! The concerts will feature Stephen Paulus’s Nativity Carols, ancient carol texts set for oboe, harp, and chorus, as well as Steve Heitzig’s hauntingly evocative little tree from a text by e.e cummings. The program will include several holiday favorites and audiences can lift their voices in song with a spirited sing-along led by Maestro Colohan. The first performance of Noel! Noel! will be presented on December 16 at 4pm in the beautiful acoustic of Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church. The program will be repeated on December 23rd at 4pm in the exquisite surroundings of one of Washington’s architectural masterpieces – John Russell Pope’s National City Christian Church.
Our season will conclude on March 3, 2013 at 4pm with a return to The National Presbyterian Church. The Splendid Silent Sun, taken from a text by poet Walt Whitman, will explore the contrasting and transcendent themes of light and dark, finite and infinite, nature and man as seen through the eyes of some of America’s most celebrated poets and composers. The centerpiece will be the premiere of an exciting new work by composer and conductor Donald McCullough, commissioned by the WMC in partnership with Words&Music, Inc., a Virginia-based vocal chamber music ensemble. Other featured composers will include Daniel Pinkham, Cecil Effinger and Adolphus Hailstork.
We hope you will join us for a season of unforgettable performances that promises to affect both the head and the heart.
We began our third season with great excitement, reaching into the treasure trove of American repertoire, as we prepared for a day in celebration of the glory of the human voice with choral great, Alice Parker. On October 2, 2011, at 1:30pm, we offered a unique opportunity to “learn from the master” as we presented a Choral Workshop with Alice Parker. Leading up the to concert, Till the Vaults of Heaven Ring, at 5:00pm, Parker will also led a Community Sing for all ticket holders. The concert featured classic compositions original arrangements and by Parker, as well as arrangements created with her long time collaborator Robert Shaw. The program also included works of Ron Nelson and Moses Hogan, as well as newer arrangements by rising composer Kevin Siegfried.
On December 18 at 4:00pm, we presented our first winter holiday concert, The Pleasure of the Fleeting Year, in the beautiful acoustic of Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland. The concert featured the world premiere of Lori Laitman’s choral cycle “The Earth and I,” on poetry by Emily Dickinson. The program also included winter songs, rare and beautiful carol arrangements, and traditional holiday favorites.
In the Spring, we celebrated small masterpieces of the French choral tradition with, The Ravishing Hour, returning to The National Presbyterian Church on March 18 at 4:00pm, and at St. Luke Catholic Church in McLean, Virginia on April 22 at 4:00pm. The concerts highlighted well known and rarely heard gems of the impressionist and modern repertoire, including Lili Boulanger’s “Soir Sur La Plaine” and excerpts from Maurice Duruflé’s Quatre Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens. The programs also featured art songs by Debussy and appearances by guest artist Paul Skevington who accompaned the Chorale in dramatic works for organ and chorus.
Join us as we explore these rich traditions and pay tribute to the choral ancestry that has influenced and shaped the American music we love today.
American choral music today is deeply rooted in both the choral traditions of Europe and in music of colonial America. In particular the German Romantic choral tradition and the English Choral Revival of the late 19th century played strong roles in shaping the consciousness of American choral art.
Romantic Classics: Mendelssohn, Bruckner, Brahms
The German choral tradition was first brought to the United States by the waves of German immigrants who began coming to America in the first half of the 19th century. These groups established singing societies in major cities throughout the United States, and they sang a variety of choral music from part songs to classical masterworks. Democratic ideals were embedded in these societies in both Germany and America, and these guiding principles continue to animate independent American choruses to this day.
We celebrated this legacy October 24th at The National Presbyterian Church in Washington and October 31st at Saint Luke Catholic Church in McLean, Virginia, as we reveled in the lush choral motets and part-songs of Rheinberger, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Bruckner, and Brahms, as well as a complete performance of Brahms’s spirited Zigeunerlieder.
British Masterpieces: Jewels from the English Choral Revival
- The European choral tradition most linguistically close to our own with a concert of English choral masterpieces. English church music experienced a remarkable revival in the latter half of the 19th century. This revival extended to the United States via the Episcopal Church, the primary source of Anglican Church music in this country. The excellence and rigor of the choral training received in this tradition has been transferred through organists, choirmasters, and choristers for nearly two centuries, and it has informed choral excellence at the highest levels of music making throughout the United States.
On March 20, we paid tribute to this great tradition with a program at The National Presbyterian Church, comprised of some of the most treasured and timeless choral works of Holst, Stanford, and others, as well as lesser-known but equally exquisite secular works by the beloved English masters Benjamin Britten and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Inaugural Season: Mid-Century Modern
We launched our inaugural season with a program of remarkably beautiful middle and late 20th-century choral works in two fine examples of mid-century architecture, The National Presbyterian Church and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The sense and spirit of this music and these venues are intimately intertwined, and they are the perfect places to begin our endeavor. The second half of the 20th-century saw a great blossoming of choral music in America, from the emergence of the great choral singing schools and the appearance of graduate choral conducting programs to the overall rise in choral excellence and the founding of major professional choral groups and associations.
While we as a chorus will sing music from many backgrounds, in light of our mission of advancing American choral excellence our first two appearances will be devoted principally to American choral music. We have invited distinguished American composer Morten Lauridsen to join us for our inaugural concert to highlight both his excellent contribution to the choral art, as well as our commitment to the creation of new choral music.
As with our current season, future seasons will feature concerts in architecturally-significant settings that are historically and culturally linked to the repertoire on each program. As we explore the many beautiful concert spaces throughout the city, The National Presbyterian Church will continue to serve as our home venue.
Winter Into Spring: Choral Music for a Time of Transition
On February 28, 2010, the Washington Master Chorale presented a 20th-century program of choral works on themes of transition and transformation. The music touched on notions of both metaphoric and literal winter and spring, and the transition between the two. The program included selections from Poulenc’s Quatre Motets pour un temps de Penitence, Hindemith’s Six Chansons, as well as the music of Pablo Casals and distinguished American composers Aaron Copland, Morten Lauridsen, Adolphus Hailstork, Ross Lee Finney, and Kirke Mechem.
There was a particular emphasis on Morten Lauridsen’s remarkable early works, which are distinct in style from his later, better-known output. Alongside his first choral cycle, Mid-Winter Songs, we presented his solo vocal cycle, A Winter Come. We were honored to have Mr. Lauridsen with us for our inaugural concert.
Choral Workshop with Morten Lauridsen
Prior to the inaugural concert, distinguished composer and 2007 National Medal of Arts recipient Morten Lauridsen led an interactive workshop exploring his most well-known compositions. Singers and conductors of all levels and voice parts were in attendance while Lauridsen shared his insights on composing and singing, and discuss the inspirations behind six of his most beloved works:
- Dirait-On and Contre Qui, Rose from Les Chansons des Roses
- Se Per Havervi, Oime from Madrigali
- Agnus Dei from Lux Aeterna
- Sure on this Shining Night from Nocturnes
- O Magnum Mysterium