Hail, Gladdening Light: Choral Works from the British Isles
On Sunday, October 30, 2016 at the Church of the Epiphany, the chorale presented a program of sacred and secular works from the British Isles featuring Herbert Howells’ impressionistic Requiem, written in 1932. Originally intended for Boris Ord and the choir of King’s College, King’s never received it, and the piece languished until it was released for performance in 1980, three years before Howells’ death. The women’s voices were spotlighted in several works written by Howells’ close friend Gustav Holst, among them the Rigveda. Indian Sanskrit hymns translated by Holst himself, the Rigveda were likely written between c.1500–1200 BC. The men soloed on Benjamin Britten’s dramatic “Ballad of Lady Barnard and Little Musgrave,” a tale of love and murder that dates to the seventeenth century and was collected by scholar James Francis Child. Other composers on the program included Ralph Vaughan Williams, Charles Wood, James MacMillan, C. Kenneth Turner, and Thomas Tallis.
Comfort and Joy: Christmas with the Washington Master Chorale
On Sunday, December 18, 2016 at the historic Church of the Epiphany, the Washington Master Chorale presented a tasty blend of seasonal treats as we drove away the dark and prepared to usher in a promising new year. There were carols, motets, and hymns by Chorale favorites – Lauridsen, Vaughan Williams, Jacques, Tavener, MacMillan, Pärt, Purcell, Mendelssohn, Willcocks, and more. Of special interest was the Chorale’s performance of two carols by little known, post-WWII Scottish composer Ronald Center (1913-1973). An intensely shy man who lived with his wife, soprano Evelyn Morrison Center, in the rural town of Huntly, Center taught piano to local school children, directed the church choir and played the organ. He rarely allowed his music to be played and at the time of his death in 1973, many of his compositions remained unpublished. Thankfully, we have his Three Nativity Carols, two of which, “There is no Rose” and “Wither’s Rocking Hymn” were performed by the Chorale. In tribute to the late J. Reilly Lewis, the Chorale joined with other Washington-area choruses in honoring the man and his music and performed “Lobet Den Herrn Alle Heiden” by Johann Sebastian Bach. Trumpets, merry organ, high spirits, and bright voices – yours and ours – a joyful afternoon!
Time and Memory
On Sunday March 5, 2017 at the National Presbyterian Church, the Washington Master Chorale presented a meditation on the themes of nostalgia, love, and immortality expressed in both poetry and music. The centerpiece of the concert was the world premiere of Ruminations—a work for soloists, chorus, and chamber ensemble by Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Jennifer Higdon. Ruminations is based on the poetry of thirteenth-century Persian mystic and poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī. The concert will also featured John Corigliano’s Fern Hill, Dylan Thomas’s poetic evocation of his childhood in Wales; Tarik O’Regan’s Triptych, a memento mori for chorus and strings; and Imant Raminsh’s Songs of Lights, based on Native American texts. There was a 4:00 p.m. pre-concert conversation with Maestro Colohan and Dr. Higdon on the art of bringing poetry to life through music.
Somewhere I Have Never Traveled: New Directions in American Choral Music
On Sunday, October 18 at The National Presbyterian Church, the Washington Master Chorale performed “Modern Romantics,” pairing Morten Lauridsen’s choral cycle Les Chansons Des Roses based on texts of Rainer Maria Rilke with the world premiere of a new work by composer and conductor Julian Wachner. Song selections examined the shift from Romanticism to Modernism through musical settings of Rilke, Christina Rossetti and others, and revealed the connections among poetry, fine art and music.
The program opened with settings of ancient love songs “Song of Solomon” or “Song of Songs” from the Hebrew scriptures and Wachner’s “Arise My Love” for organ and chorus. Excerpts from his Rilke Songs and Jennifer Higdon’s stunning setting of e.e. cummings’s “somewhere i have never traveled” followed. The chorus closed the first half with Morten Lauridsen’s choral cycle “Les Chansons des Roses.” The second half featured settings of love poetry by Samuel Barber and Norman Dello Joio, and concluded with the premiere of the new work by Julian Wachner, a 10-15 minute multi movement choral work drawn from the secular texts of Christina Rossetti and modeled on Francis Poulenc’s chamber instrumental works.
On Sunday, December 20 at The Church of the Epiphany, we ushered in the holiday season with “Noel! Noel!” — a delightful program of seasonal classics, both old and new — including works by Heitzeg, Willan, Mathias, Rheinberger, Vaughan Williams, Howells, Lauridsen, Mechem, Paulus, Poulenc, etc. A highlight of the program was the world premiere of a new choral work by Russell Nadel on a text by Sara Teasdale. Nadel’s compositions have been premiered by a number of notable groups, including the distinguished Vancouver Chamber Choir. A spirited audience sing along with Maestro Colohan and the Chorale rounded out the festive afternoon.
On Sunday, March 6 at The National Presbyterian Church, the Chorale presented “Song of the Beloved,” featuring Gabriel Fauré’s moving Requiem, Op. 48 in its elegant original chamber orchestra instrumentation, along with the world premiere of Song of the Beloved, a choral cantata for soprano and tenor soloists, chorus, and strings, by renowned composer Robert Kyr.
Kyr’s commission was made possible by a generous gift from the Fetzer Institute whose work reflects a belief in the transformative power of love and forgiveness. Texts were drawn from such disparate sources as Sappho, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Sir Philip Sidney, Vietnamese poet Thich Nhat Hanh, East Indian Rabindranath Tagore, and others.
Robert Kyr’s music has been performed widely around the world and he has been commissioned by numerous ensembles, including Chanticleer, Cantus (Minneapolis), San Francisco Symphony Chorus, New England Philharmonic, Conspirare, Oregon Symphony, Yale Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Chamber Symphony), and the Moscow State Chamber Choir (Russia) among others.
On October 5, 2014, we opened our 5th season with a tribute to the celebrated American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. Appearing as special guests on the program were the Children’s Chorus of Washington and NPR’s Nina Totenberg.
“A Choral Tribute to Leonard Berstein” included both beloved and rarely heard choral works by Bernstein, including his 1946 Hashkiveinu for chorus and organ, the French and Latin Choruses from The Lark with narration by Ms. Totenberg, and his 1989 Missa Brevis, based on those choruses. We also presented excerpts from Candide and his Mass of 1971. In this our anniversary year, we marked the 50th Anniversary of the Chichester Psalms, Bernstein’s 1965 choral masterpiece in the setting for organ, harp, and percussion.
A pre-concert discussion was held at 3:00pm, moderated by Mark Eden Horowitz, Senior Music Specialist and Curator of the Leonard Bernstein Collection at the Library of Congress. He was joined by Norman Scribner, Founder and Artistic Conductor Emeritus of the Choral Arts Society of Washington; Michael Slon, Director of Choral Programs at the University of Virginia; and, Alicia Kopfstein-Penk, Author of “Leonard Bernstein and his Young People’s Concerts.” Reproductions of holdings from the Library’s extensive Leonard Bernstein Collection were on display, including facsimiles of original manuscripts, photographs, and letters. The concert was reviewed by Anne Midgette of The Washington Post on October 6 <read the review online>
December 11-13, 2014, marked the Chorale’s first appearance with the National Symphony as part of its Holiday Pops Concerts. Mentioned in the DC Metro Theater Arts review — “The best combination came early, when the haunting vocals of Schubert’s Ave Maria (provided by the third component of the performance, the Washington Master Chorale) were paired with aerialist Christine van Loo’s triumphant silks choreography.” <read the review online>
On December 14 and 22, 2014, the Chorale presented its winter concerts at the historic National City Christian Church. “Peace and Grace” explored the relationship between peace within oneself and the pursuit of peace in the global community. The concerts featured Kirke Mechem’s moving anthem to global peace Island in Space and the world premiere of a new Gloria by composer Scott Humburg. The programs also included time-honored carols and anthems including Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria, selections from Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Hodie and other seasonal works.
On February 19-21, 2015, the Chorale made its second appearance with the National Symphony in Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, conducted by Matthias Pintscher. The Chorale’s performance was singled out in The Washington Post review by Anne Midgette — “Deserving of praise was the Washington Master Chorale, which was only founded in 2010 and which mustered a warm sound in the choral parts that helped unify this piece and make it a highlight of the evening.” <read the review online>
On March 8 and 15, 2015, we marked the 100th Anniversary of the world premiere of the Sergei Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil, Op. 37 in a program entitled, “Rachmaninoff Vespers at 100.” The Chorale performed this luminous and spiritual sixty-five minute without intermission. A pre-concert conversation took place between Maestro Colohan and Peter Jermihov, an internationally recognized specialist in Russian music and Orthodox liturgical music prior to the March 8 concert.
The 2013-2014 concert season will begin on October 20 with a contemplative program featuring the Mass in G Minor by Ralph Vaughan Williams, along with a pioneering American masterpiece of the 20th century, Charles Ives’ Psalm 90 for organ and chorus. “Wisdom and Eternity” will also include excerpts from Heitor Villa-Lobos’ rarely performed Bendita Sabedoria, a six-movement suite for a cappella chorus, as well as Vaughan Williams’ own magnificent Psalm 90.
In December the Chorale will present works for winter and the holidays, including Poulenc’s hauntingly beautiful Soir de Neige, written in 1944, and Herbert Howells’ brilliant carol-anthem Long, Long Ago, written in 1950. “A Winter’s Night” will also feature debut performances by the Chorale’s new assistant conductors, Rachel Carlson and C. Paul Heins, our annual carol sing-along, and the world premiere of a new six-movement Christmas work for harp and chorus by composer and conductor Donald McCullough.
The Chorale returns to The National Presbyterian Church on March 2, 2014, presenting “Perpetual Light,” a meditation on death and eternity. Thematically, all works presented are connected by the comforting notion of a peaceable afterlife of eternal rest. Yet the music and texts can be also be understood secularly as timeless connections between music and humanity. The centerpiece of the concert is Maurice Duruflé’s 1948 masterpiece, Requiem Op. 9, featuring organist, Paul Skevington and mezzo-soprano soloists, Melissa Kornacki.
In June 2014, the Washington Master Chorale will be a featured performing ensemble for Voices of Our Nation — a week-long celebration of America’s choral tradition.
“Given the high level of quality of choruses to choose from in Washington and Chorus America’s rigorous standards, it is an honor to be selected as a featured ensemble for the 2014 conference. We look forward to sharing our passion for choral art with our friends and colleagues in the profession,” said Thomas Colohan, WMC’s Artistic Director.
During this festival — a partnership between Chorus America and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts—the Chorale will additionally perform in the “kick-off” event on June 9 (which will be held at a variety of venues throughout the city) and the festival’s culminating concert on June 14.
“… 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