Much-beloved Lovett ends 25-year tenure at Hill church

Local Life July 15, 2011 0 Comments

Ken Lovett’s 25-year tenure as director of music at the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields came to a joyous conclusion Sunday, June 26, at the 10 a.m. Holy Eucharist service. Former members of his choir joined the current roster of singers to produce an ensemble nearly 60-strong that sang the traditional Anglican Sunday morning liturgy of Psalm settings, Introits, anthems and more. Lovett, who is in his late 50s, had announced his retirement, although he will remain in Chestnut Hill.

During the rehearsal before the start of the service, I saw and heard firsthand one of the secrets of Lovett’s admirable success. Relying on his flawless ear for even the smallest imperfections of pitch, balance, blend or diction, Lovett made immediate corrections — but with a perfect balance struck between a meticulous standard and a gracious, gentle touch. No wonder that choristers who sang for him at the beginning of his tenure at St. Martin’s in 1986 were only too glad to return to pay him the tribute of their continuing love of and need for choral music of the highest quality.

Lovett’s genius has been to enhance the deep Anglican repertoire with music drawn from all over the world. Sunday’s service began with Pavel Chesnokov’s “Let you good Spirit lead me on a level path,” a musical testament to the Church of England’s long-held connection with the Russian Orthodox Church. Craig Phillips’ settings of the “Lord have mercy,” “Holy, holy, holy” and “Lamb of God” were heard throughout the service, as were other pieces.

Throughout the entire service, St. Martin’s choir sang with professional-level precision and heartfelt emotion, offering a sonic testament to Lovett’s 25-year tenure as choir director and organist. I hasten to add that his organ playing of the well-chosen hymns was a model of tasteful bravura.

Ken Lovett came to St. Martin’s Church in 1986, the very year when Ruth Russell and the late Marie Jones invited me to begin writing the classical music coverage for the Chestnut Hill Local. Ken was always a delight to work with because he is, first, an exemplary musician, and, secondly, because he is the true definition of a gentleman.

PASTORIUS PARK

The second week of concerts in Pastorius Park, sponsored by the Chestnut Hill Community Association, featured the Deb Callahan Band in an expertly chosen program of blues, soul, rock and funk last Wednesday evening, June 22. Although the weather was a tad threatening throughout the region and during the span of the day, no rain fell to spoil the fun in Chestnut Hill.

The West Mt. Airyite singer’s music, whether her own original numbers or cover selections, offers a heavy yet nonetheless subtle dose of rhythm. Even in slow, soft songs, she sings over a naturally pulsating beat that propels the music along what are frequently complex melodic vocal riffs.

She was joined by Allen James on guitar, Gary Lee on bass and Doug Master on drums. Together they entertained and enthralled an audience that grew in size from song to song, making for yet another splendid evening in Chestnut Hill’s jewel of a community park.

RUSSIAN OPERA

The inaugural season of Philadelphia’s Russian Opera Workshop presented its first public concert performances Tuesday through Thursday evenings, June 21-23. The chosen opera, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” is one of the masterpieces of the repertoire, and the Russian-born Ghenady Meirson, the workshop’s music director, accompanied and conducted from the Steinway in the Warden Theater of the Academy of Vocal Arts in center city. An encouragingly large and happily supportive audience was on hand to hear the rendition Tuesday evening.

As all lovers of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, tone poems, concerti and ballet scores very well know, the romantic Russian was a master of orchestration. “Eugene Onegin,” in particular, is stunningly scored to evoke time, place, drama and the broadest range of emotions. Reducing the original orchestral score to a piano accompaniment that can actually be played in performance is no mean feat, and then actually playing it while you’re conducting is another gargantuan challenge. Meirson achieved every goal — as coach, accompanist and conductor — Tuesday night.

Equally impressive were the performances by the workshop’s young singers. Baritone Efrain Solis as Onegin and tenor John Viscardi as Lensky were definite standouts in Russian diction, interpretive sincerity and dramatic flair. July will be spent on Tchaikovsky’s “Iolanta,” which will be performed July 26, 27 and 28. Curtain is 7:30 p.m., and admission is free with no tickets required. For more information, visit www.RussianOperaWorkshop.com.

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