March 11, 2010

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Hill singers perform ‘forgotten’ Philadelphian’s music

The Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia will perform a concert entitled “Ancient Liturgies” Saturday, March 13, 8 p.m., in Daylesford Roman Catholic Abbey at 220 S. Valley Road in Paoli, and Sunday, March 14, 6 p.m., in the Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Savior at 38th and Chestnut Streets in West Philadelphia. The program derives its title from the late Joseph Castaldo’s “Ancient Liturgy,” a work commissioned and premiered by the late Sean Deibler and The Music Group in 1990. The program also includes Arvo Part’s “Te Deum” and Eric Whitacre’s “Cloudburst.”

Among the members of the Choral Arts Society are Jean and Peter Warrington, who have lived in Chestnut Hill for the past eight years. Originally from Lansdowne, Jean is a video producer. Peter is originally from Cranford, New Jersey, and is a geriatrics physician. Both began singing in choruses when they were in high school, then jointly continuing their avocation at Swarthmore College, where they met 35 years ago.

Never soloists –“we’re just loyal troops” – Jean and Peter joined Choral Arts Society in 2005 at the suggestion of Quaker friends. Speaking of music director Matthew Glandorf (who is also the music director of the Bach Festival of Philadelphia), Jean said, “He is a passionate and absolutely incredible leader. He takes us inside the music to places so beautiful it brings us to tears.”

Born in New York City in 1927, Joseph Castaldo came to Philadelphia in 1954 to study with Roxborough’s Vincent Persichetti. He received his bachelor of music degree from the Philadelphia Musical Academy and became head of the composition and theory department there and at the Philadelphia Conservatory. He was appointed president of the Philadelphia Musical Academy in 1966, eventually transforming it into the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts and finally the University of the Arts.

“I discovered that Castaldo was basically forgotten since his death in 2000, even here in Philadelphia, where he had been an influential presence during the second half of the 20th century,” said Glandorf.


St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill will host a Choral Evensong service Sunday, March 14, at 5 p.m. The church’s organist and choirmaster, Zachary Hemenway, will conduct the parish adult choir in performances of Charles Villiers Stanford’s “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis,” E. C. Bairstow’s “I sat down under his shadow,” and Leo Nestor’s “Jesu, Dulcis Memoria.”


The weekend offered me the chance to hear and see performances in Philadelphia’s two premier performance venues. I caught the Saturday night concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. Then on Sunday afternoon, I had the chance to see the first of two programs performed by the Pennsylvania Ballet in the Academy of Music, where the orchestra previously performed for nearly a century. What a difference there was between the two events! The former managed to hold its own against mighty odds while the latter soared with inspiration.

Built in 1856 and opened in January of 1857 as an opera/ballet house, the Academy of Music was the perfect venue for the Pennsylvania Ballet’s double bill of Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments” and Matthew Neenan’s new choreography to Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.” The house has never looked more beautiful. Its surprising intimacy, despite its 2,900 seats (400 more than at Verizon Hall), welcomes the audience into the very heart of the performance. Its honest acoustics made for immaculate ensemble between the PA Ballet Orchestra in the pit and the Philadelphia Singers Chorale in the proscenium arch boxes. And its sightlines for “Temperaments” and “Carmina” were perfect.

When I first saw Neenan’s new “Carmina Burana” at its premiere in 2007, I wasn’t much taken by it. Yet on Sunday afternoon, I absolutely loved it. I felt that the company’s young resident choreographer had effectively discovered the character of the sound of the music to mirror and enhance it through the visual art of modern ballet.

Down the street in the Kimmel Center’s far less welcoming Verizon Hall, former music director Christoph Eschenbach made what was likely to be his final series of appearances on the podium of the Philadelphia Orchestra. His program consisted of three works by Robert Schumann: the Overture to “The Bride of Messina” and the Fourth and Second Symphonies. In all three scores, Eschenbach displayed both the positive and negative aspects of his conducting style, reminding one and all why his five-year tenure as music director was so short and, ultimately, so unfulfilling.

While it’s true that Eschenbach elicited some beautifully shaped phrases in both symphonies – there are no such phrases to shape in the overture – he did so at the expense of sustaining the overall arch of the musical line and maintaining the ongoing sense of rhythm and tempo within each individual movement and throughout each symphony as a whole.


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