Local choir premieres Pulitzer winner's work in New York

by Michael Caruso
Posted 5/25/23

Donald Nally and The Crossing, the Chestnut Hill-based choir specializing in contemporary choral music, will join the New York Philharmonic June 1-3.

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Local choir premieres Pulitzer winner's work in New York


Donald Nally and The Crossing, the Chestnut Hill-based choir specializing in contemporary choral music, will join the New York Philharmonic and its music director Jaap van Sweden June 1-3 for the world premiere of “unEarth,” a work composed by Pulitzer Prize winner Julia Wolfe, a 1976 graduate of Germantown Academy in Fort Washington. The performances will take place in the Philharmonic’s home in Lincoln Center, the newly renovated David Geffen Hall. The Crossing makes its home base in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill.

Wolfe’s “unEarth” is a commissioned world premiere by the New York Philharmonic, one of America’s leading symphonic ensembles in the field of contemporary classical music. Previous music directors Leonard Bernstein and Pierre Boulez not only conducted a great deal of new music but were also major composers.

Bernstein’s influence in American classical and popular music continues to this day. His “Chichester Psalms” and “Age of Anxiety Symphony” remain in the American classical music canon while his “West Side Story” retains both its popularity and stature as one of the greatest Broadway musicals ever composed. It still holds its place among the masterpieces of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Lerner and Loewe and Stephen Sondheim.

The new “unEarth” addresses humanity's impact on the earth. Reuniting the same team that presented Wolfe’s “Fire in my mouth” in 2019, written for the women of The Crossing and which received two Grammy Award nominations, “unEarth” was written for the choir’s men and the Philharmonic. The concert will also feature soprano Else Torp and the Young People’s Chorus of New York City.    

Nally, who lives in West Mt. Airy, and The Crossing recently were awarded their third Grammy for “Born: Music of Edie Hill and Michael Gilbertson.” The album was released on the Navona Records label. For more information about The Crossing, visit

Tempesta di Mare

Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra Tempesta di Mare closed out its local 2022-23 concert season with “The Women Behind the Screen” on May 13 and 14. I caught the first performance Saturday evening in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill with a large and enthusiastic audience.

The focus of the program was music composed for the girls and women who were accommodated in the four famous “ospedale” (orphanages) in “La Serenissima” (“The Most Serene Republic of Venice”), one of the wealthiest and most powerful seafaring cities in Europe during the centuries following the Crusades.

Many of these composers are no longer well known today even though they were overwhelmingly famous in their time. The exception, of course, is Antonio Vivaldi, nicknamed the “Red Priest” because of his red hair and his having taken orders in the Roman Catholic Church. Vivaldi joins Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel in the trio of the Baroque era’s most famous composers.

The music of Johann Adolph Hasse, Nicolo Antonio Porpora, Baldassarre Galuppi and Francesco Gasparini and Giovanni Battista Ferrandini seems to have been unfairly discarded into the bin of obscurity. Based on the scores performed by Tempesta, they probably composed a great deal of beautiful music.

Most assuredly their scores, along with two by Vivaldi, were beautifully played Saturday evening by Tempesta’s expert band of period musicians. Having just scored a thrilling success supporting the Curtis Opera Theatre’s presentation of Handel’s opera, “Ariodante,” in the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater, each score here was given a stylistic, sensitive and energetic reading.

AVA ‘Farewell Recital’

 One of the most bittersweet musical events of the local season is the annual “Farewell Recital” presented by the Academy of Vocal Arts. President and Artistic Director K. James McDowell, of East Falls, has continued the school’s tradition of showcasing those students who have completed their four-year course of study at AVA and who are now moving on to professional careers.

Of the five who are graduating, four performed Friday, May 12, in the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, in Center City. They were bass-baritone Peter Barber, soprano Yihan Duan, and tenors Sahel Salam and Zachary Rioux. Accompanied by senior coach Jose Melendez at the Steinway, they sang a varied “potpourri” of operatic, light classical and popular music.

Soprano Duan, a recent finalist in the Metropolitan Opera’s annual competition, sang with dramatic flair, while the singing of tenors Salam and Rioux proved that AVA’s magical touch with that difficult vocal range continues unabated.

But it was Barber’s rendition of “Ten Thousand Miles Away” that stole the show. After just finishing up performances in the title role in Mozart’s ”Don Giovanni” at AVA and graduating a year early because he already has a string of professional engagements, Barber caught the haunting beauty of the evocatively arranged popular song, evoking the longing of true love’s melancholy unbowed by distance.

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