Sunday afternoon the Greenville Chorale Chamber Ensemble presented its annual concert at St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral. The concert was entitled “Sacred Music for a Sacred Space” and featured sacred music by contemporary composers. The pairing of music with venue was well-planned, and somewhat modeled the liturgy that might be followed in a traditional service.
Saturday morning we had our dress rehearsal in the cathedral, and I brought along my camera to get a few shots of the interior. I started with exterior shots…
…then moved to the interior to photograph the stunning mosaics above the altar.
It’s impossible to capture all of this in one photo, but I gave it a shot. The following photo is a composite of about 16 images, showing the altar and on up to the dome.
As for the music, we started in the choir loft at the back of the church with William Matthias’s stirring “Let All the People Praise Thee, O Lord” with organ accompaniment. That was followed by a Kyrie by Vytautas Mishinis.
As we moved from the choir loft to the central platform, Father Tom Pistolis described the architecture of the church and the meaning of the mosaics. Christ is pictured on the dome, in the heavens, as it were, and the other images represent transitions from our earthly domain to heaven and Christ.
The next set included the Magnificat by Estonian composer Arvo Part, Ave Maria by Franz Biebl, O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen, Sanctus by Jan Sanstrom, and Lux Aurumque by Eric Whitacre.
For the final set we did “Through the Waters” by Furman professor Mark Kilstofte, and two selects from “Words of Paradise” by Bob Jones composer Dan Forrest. The Hosanna section of the Forrest work involves lots of intricate rhythms and foot stomping.
We ended with two classics by Alice Parker and Robert Shaw – “What Wondrous Love Is This?” and “Saints Bound for Heaven.”
As usual for one of our winter concerts, the weather was rainy and cold. It has even sleeted on our concert date in the past. Despite the weather, we had a packed house. Turnout was excellent.
The concert went well. From the start of rehearsals we had the mechanics down pat – notes, rhythms, etc. The difficulty was in turning very long, often dissonant lines into melodies, and we struggled with that up until the very concert. I think everything came together nicely, though. Any lapses on our part musically were probably not noticed by the audience unless they knew the music as intimately as we do.
Paul Hyde of the Greenville News gave us a glowing review, stating that “the Greenville Chorale’s Chamber Ensemble provided some of the most exquisite music-making we’re likely to hear this year in the Upstate.” He went on to say that “The entire program lasted a mere 70 minutes, but felt full and complete, musically and emotionally.”
What I felt afterwards was completely, musically, and emotionally drained. I was exhausted. We were treated to a wonderful reception at the home of Steve Trakas, a member at St. George, and also a member of the Chorale Board and member of the tenor section. Laura and I had a delightful conversation with former Lt. Governor Nick Theodore, also a member at St. George, who came by to congratulate us.
It was a great day, and now we have a month off before we begin rehearsals for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Greenville Symphony Orchestra. That should be fun.
I made recordings of the rehearsals with my new field recorder. Here are a couple of excerpts from those rehearsals at St. George. First up as the Magnificat by Arvo Part…
…and here is a bit of “Saints Bound for Heaven”…
UPDATE: I just realized Paul Hyde’s review is locked behind The Greenville News’s paywall. Here’s the text of the review…
In a Sunday afternoon program of sacred music, the Greenville Chorale’s Chamber Ensemble provided some of the most exquisite music-making we’re likely to hear this year in the Upstate.
The St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral proved an ideally resonant space for a dozen lyrical and refined 20th century pieces, all rendered with consummate polish and artistry by the ensemble under the direction of Bingham Vick.
In this “live” venue, the group’s 20 singers produced a full-bodied sound, the richness of the men’s voices balanced by the bright, crystalline tone of the women.
A work like American composer Morten Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium” was musically radiant against the appealing visual backdrop of the cathedral’s colorful icons and mosaics.
The choir offered a shimmering and fluidly phrased account of Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria,” with Vick reducing the ensemble’s volume to the softest of pianissimos on the third iteration of “Ave Maria.”
The effect was marvelous.
In singing this style of music, the women favored a highly focused, almost vibrato-less sonority, putting a listener in mind of such fine British chamber choirs as the Tallis Scholars and The Sixteen.
Also on the program were works by two Upstate composers.
Vick and the ensemble performed a warmly expressive “Through the Waters” by Furman University’s Mark Kilstofte.
The choir ardently embraced the complex rhythms — and exuberant foot-stamping — of the celebratory “Hosanna” by Bob Jones University’s Dan Forrest.
The ensemble’s members are accomplished vocal musicians, able to negotiate the considerable rhythmic challenges of Forrest’s “Hosanna” as well as the harmonic demands of Estonian composer Arvo Part’s haunting “Magnificat.”
Several members were featured as soloists, most impressively soprano Lisa Barksdale who in Kilstofte’s piece was called upon to sing with the choir in an entirely different key.
Toward the end of the concert, the ensemble performed the traditional folk song “Saints Bound for Heaven” with satisfying gusto.
The entire program lasted a mere 70 minutes but felt full and complete, musically and emotionally.