hero_Perpetual Light

Perpetual Light

SUNDAY, MARCH 2, 2014 at 4:00 p.m.
The National Presbyterian Church

Get Tickets for Perpetual Light, March 2 at 4:00pm
Orchestra – $50 / $35 / $25
Balcony – $20
Student – $10 (balcony)

On Sunday, March 2 the Chorale returns to The National Presbyterian Church to present “Perpetual Light,” a meditation on death and eternity. Thematically, all the works presented are connected by the comforting notion of a peaceable afterlife of eternal rest. Yet the music and texts can also be understood secularly as timeless connections between music and humanity.  View program order and notes about the music »

Within the context of  20th century individualism and the search for a distinctive style, many composers sought inspiration in established, traditional forms. This is most famously demonstrated by Maurice Duruflé in his Requiem, one of the most celebrated choral works of the 20th century and the centerpiece of our concert. The elegance of the vocal line is a feature of the original Gregorian chant settings of the text, beautifully paired with an expansive organ part—the instrument on which Duruflé was most prolific and accomplished. To demonstrate the simple beauty of plainsong (Gregorian chant is but one form of this ancient liturgical style), the chorale opens the concert with the fourth century chant “In paradisum.”  Organist Paul Skevington, will accompany the Duruflé and mezzo-soprano Melissa Kornacki will be the featured soloist.

Duruflé was not the only modern composer to seek inspiration from the past. The program also features Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Blazheni, yazhe izbral (“Blessed are they, whom thou hast chosen”), and the late John Tavener’s Funeral Ikos along with a setting of “Nunc dimittis” by Herbert Murrill—all musically connecting us to past peoples through contemporary reimaginings of antiquated styles of the Russian Orthodox and Anglican churches, respectively. Early American forms will also be represented as the chorale performs Kirke Mechem’s celebrated anthem “Blow Ye the Trumpet,” written in early-American hymnodic style, and two of Kevin Siegfried’s Shaker Songs: “Peace” and “Lay Me Low.”

It is fitting that this relationship between past and present is so present in music that offers a spiritual link between those who are living and those who have departed. Music, in its grace and power, nuance and inspiration, is itself a “perpetual light” joining the living and the dead with shared beauty and hope.

Meet the Guest Artists

Paul Skevington, organ and piano

Organist Paul Skevington has been at St. Luke Parish in McLean since 1993

Organist Paul Skevington has been at St. Luke Parish in McLean since 1993

Paul Skevington is the Minister of Music and Liturgy at Saint Luke Catholic Church in McLean, Va., and was very much involved in the project to secure the highly-acclaimed 61-rank Steiner-Reck mechanical-action pipe organ, installed in the church in 1998.  In his 21st year at the church, he has developed a well-rounded sacred music program with the 35 voice Festival Choir at the center of the musical activities.  In June of 2011, he led this choir in a pilgrimage to Italy, where they sang for masses at Saint Francis in Assisi and Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  They also sang for an audience with the pope and give a concert at Saint Ignatius in Rome.  The Festival Choir will be traveling to Paris in June of 2014.

Under Mr. Skevington’s direction, Saint Luke has become renowned as a superior site for concerts, with the Saint Luke Music in McLean concert series hosting 18 musical events per year.  The church has also served as a superior site for recordings with over 50 CDs recorded in this space.

Mr. Skevington is a sought after choral accompanist in the Washington, D.C. area, and has an active schedule as a solo performer.  He can be heard on five compact disc recordings, including two with trumpeter Phil Snedecor.  He is soloist on the internationally released Organ Concertos by Joseph Rheinberger on the Naxos label.  He has been invited to play the Organ Postlude mini-recital at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on the new Casavant Organ on June 5, following the National Symphony Orchestra Concert.

Mr. Skevington  holds degrees in organ performance from Indiana University and a Doctorate degree in Liturgical Music from The Catholic University of America.  He is past dean of the Northern Virginia Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, and past chairperson for the National Association of Pastoral Musicians’ Section for Organists.

Barbara Brown, cello

Barbara Brown, cello

Barbara Brown, cello

A native Washingtonian, Barbara Brown received her Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees from the University of Maryland, where she studied with Evelyn Elsing, Oliver Edel and David Soyer. Barbara received a Guarneri String Quartet fellowship at the University of Maryland and studied with all the members of that distinguished quartet. After playing full time with the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra for seven years, she went on to become principal cellist with the Baltimore Opera for five years. Barbara has also served as principal cellist in the National Gallery of Art Orchestra, where she played for 17 years, and also with Concert Artists of Baltimore. Currently she is the principal cellist of the Alexandria Symphony.  Besides playing in many local professional orchestras Barbara plays in several chamber music groups, notably the Third Millennium Ensemble, which specializes in new music and the newly formed Washington Chamber Music Society performing more standard repertoire. Barbara can be found in many other local venues such as the Washington Cathedral, the Washington Concert Opera and Wolf Trap. She has a large teaching studio in Silver Spring, MD, and owns a company, Apprentice Music, which makes recordings and tools for student musicians.

Melissa Kornacki, contralto

Melissa Kornacki, contralto

Melissa Kornacki, contralto

A native of the Washington, D.C. area, Melissa Kornacki has performed widely across the United States and abroad. In 2007 Ms. Kornacki made her international debut in the United Arab Emirates performing the role of Dinah in Trouble in Tahiti at the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai. She then participated in two world premieres; covering the role of Orfeo in a new adaptation by Five Words in a Line entitled, Orfeo, Eurydice and The Serpent in New York City, and sang the role of Sage 2/Dr. Greene in composer Kyle Gullings’s opera, Oblivion. In 2012, she participated in the Victoria J. Mastrobuono Emerging Artist Program with Opera New Jersey. In addition to her opera experience, she has been a soloist for several oratorios including Vivaldi’s Gloria, Handel’s Messiah, Saint-Saëns’ Christmas Oratorio, Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass, Beethoven’s Mass in C Major, Bach’s Magnificat, Duruflé’s Requiem, Verdi’s Requiem, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony both at Avery Fischer Hall, New York and the Grand Auditorium in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Ms. Kornacki performs regularly with the Washington Concert Opera, The Lyric Opera of Baltimore, Baltimore Concert Opera, and the new Maryland Lyric Opera. She is also a 2013 graduate of the Edge Studio Voice Over program.

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PROGRAM ORDER

In Paradisum   (Plainsong; arr. Richard Proulx, 1937-2010)
Blow Ye the Trumpet    (Kirke Mechem, b. 1925)
Two Shaker Songs   (Kevin Siegfried, b. 1969)
Sure on This Shining Night   (Morten Lauridsen, b. 1943)
The Voices   (Dale Warland, b. 1932)
Blazheni, yazhe izbral   (Pyotr Tchaikovsky, 1840-1893)
Funeral Ikos   (John Tavener, 1944-2013)
Nunc Dimittis  (Herbert Murrill, 1909-1952)

INTERMISSION

Requiem Op. 9   (Maurice Duruflé, 1902-1986)
Paul Skevington, organ  |  Melissa Kornacki, mezzo-soprano  |  Barbara Brown, cello

ABOUT THE MUSIC

SUNDAY, MARCH 2, 2014 at 4:00 p.m.
The National Presbyterian Church

Get Tickets for Perpetual Light, March 2 at 4:00pm
Orchestra – $50 / $35 / $25
Balcony – $20
Student – $10 (balcony)

The hymns and songs sung at the end of life encourage those present to look back, both to the lives of the deceased as well as their traditions and culture. As such, the music surrounding death has always remained firmly rooted in the past, echoing with the melodies of our ancestors. It is in this spirit that the Washington Master Chorale has decided to open our concert with one of the oldest melodies of all of Christendom, the Gregorian chant In paradisum. This prayer, traditionally sung in procession to carry the body of the departed to the tomb, serves as an appropriate entrance for tonight’s meditation on the great unknown waiting for us when we finish our mortal journey.

While the history of Christianity in the Americas is only a few centuries old, it has given the United States a diverse musical tradition that has served as a muse for many contemporary composers. Kirke Mechem adapted the lyrics for Blow Ye the Trumpet from several of hymns of the same name, setting them to a newly composed melody. In the Book of Revelation, the sound of a trumpet blast heralds the end of this material world; however, the trumpet calls of Mechem’s anthem take on a very different affect. Instead, its fanfare-like melodies project an air of righteous strength and calm devoid of the terror commonly associated with the biblical judgment day. This same sense of confidence pervades the next two selections from Kevin Siegfried’s Shaker Songs. The beauty of Peace is in its simplicity, its bare textures rarely exceeding two independent lines at a time. Lay Me Low begins in a similarly transparent manner, building in intensity with each verse as new vocal lines add to the texture. Morten Lauridsen also uses additive texture to great effect in his Sure on This Shining Night, with its accumulation of effortless vocal leaps unfolding like the gradual illumination of the starry sky on a summer evening. Dale Warland’s The Voices, a joint commission by the Washington Master Chorale and several other American choruses, features similarly colorful pandiatonic harmonies in the chorus as a lyrical cello solo meanders between the voices. Its text by Michael Dennis Browne conveys a hopeful message of the sustaining power of song and faith in the face of the ‘ruins of what we had hoped for.’

Our program now turns eastward for its next two selections, both grounded in the theology and rites of Orthodox Christianity. While there is no direct parallel to the Requiem Mass in the Orthodox Rite, memorial liturgies for the deceased employ occasional prayers to mark their passing, such as the communion hymn Blazheni, yazhe izbral. Tchaikovsky’s setting opens with exclamations of ‘blazheni,’ or ‘blessed,’ which serve as the foundational musical idea for this short but moving motet. The final return of this opening material, now sung as a closing ‘Alleluia,’ quickly dissolves into a flurry of polyphonic imitation that descends to the depths of the singers’ ranges. John Tavener chooses a more reserved approach for his Funeral Ikos, a piece whose chillingly bare construction allows the listener every opportunity to explore its intense prose. The text, drawn from the service for the burial of priests, lays bare the pains of old age, the emotional trauma of separation caused by death, and the uncertainties of our knowledge of the afterlife. At the end of each stanza, the listener is encouraged by the dialoguing choruses of men and women to repeat their refrain of ‘Alleluia.’ This mantra-like response in the face of so much pain and questioning resonated strongly with the deeply mystic Tavener, who suffered for decades under multiple illnesses before passing away in November of last year. The first half of our program closes with Herbert Murrill’s Nunc Dimittis, a setting of the Song of Simeon written to close the Anglican service of Evensong. Its text presents an accepting attitude towards death after a life well lived. Soft dissonances between the men and women provide the impetus that furthers the harmonic progression, extending the listener’s attention to the end of each phrase. As the chorus sings of God’s salvation being ‘a light to lighten the gentiles,’ Murrill shocks our expectations with a sudden harmonic shift before returning to the opening key for a thrilling Trinitarian doxology.

We come full circle in the second half of our program as we explore the touching beauty of Gregorian chant found in one of the great musical meditations on the genre, the Requiem by Maurice Duruflé. Duruflé was a strict perfectionist, writing little over a dozen completed works over his long life. His Requiem, written just after the Second World War and dedicated to his recently deceased father, is the longest of these compositions, as well as one of the most celebrated. He arranged three versions for various instrumental forces – tonight, we perform the piece in its format for organ and voices. Instead of drawing inspiration from the monumentally dramatic Requiems of Berlioz or Verdi, Duruflé looked to Gabriel Fauré’s intimate setting of the text as well as the ancient chants of the Requiem Mass as a guide. Like Fauré before him, Duruflé removes the apocalyptic visions of the Dies irae text from the libretto, choosing instead to close the work with added prayers from the Burial Rite of the Roman Catholic Church. His Requiem has few sharp edges or sudden turns, instead relying on a smooth but constant ebb and flow of subtle gestures that are always sensual but rarely sentimental. These endlessly effortless waves of sound perfectly match the arrhythmic strains and delicate stepwise motion of Gregorian chant that define the character of the piece. Throughout the whole of the Requiem, these ancient church melodies take center stage. Some sections, such as in the Lux aeterna, display an incredible fidelity to the original manuscripts, with Duruflé presenting the chant without alteration over the simplest of harmonizations. Other movements, such as the grandiose Domine Jesu Christe, use only small fragments of the Gregorian melodies as a starting point for constructing a thoroughly original piece. At all times, the chant is never far behind, often traveling from the chorus to the organ as the voices provide countermelodies and harmonic support. One can hear this technique in its full splendor during the closing In Paradisum, which begins with the sopranos of the chorus singing the music from our opening procession. As the melody makes its way to the organ for the ‘Chorus Angelorum,’ the voices branch off into increasingly complex chords that transport the listener into an otherworldly cloud of rich sonorities.

Brian Bartholdus

Brian Bartoldus, Tenor, is a Washington, D.C. area choral conductor serving as the Artistic Director of Third Practice as well as Music Director and Organist of Frederick Presbyterian Church. He holds an MMA from the Yale School of music, as well as undergraduate degrees from Shenandoah Conservatory.