Nally leads The Crossing in world premiere of Lang’s ‘Poor Hymnal’

by Michael Caruso
Posted 12/14/23

Donald Nally will conduct The Crossing choir in the world premiere of a major new work.

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Nally leads The Crossing in world premiere of Lang’s ‘Poor Hymnal’


Donald Nally will conduct The Crossing choir in the world premiere of a major new work that considers the words of hymnals, which are woven into many of the world’s religions and often project a broad spectrum of ideals embraced by members of those religions.

The concert-length “Poor Hymnal,” by Donald Lang, focuses on concepts about how individual members treat and care for others, particularly those who are less fortunate. In times of want and warfare, these considerations loom large in the lives of people throughout the world. And, in our particular era of poverty and warfare, these concerns come to the fore.

In “Poor Hymnal,” Lang asks, “Are the hymns we’re singing today truly reflective of a society that feels a responsibility to care for and support each other?”

 “The Crossing @ Christmas” is set for Sunday, Dec. 17, at 5 p.m. in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The performance is also the choir’s annual “Jeffrey Dinsmore Memorial Concert” in honor of Dinsmore, co-founder of the choir and much-admired tenor who died at 42 in 2014.

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‘Lessons and Carols’

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, will present its annual “Festival of Lessons and Carols” Sunday, Dec. 17, at 5 p.m. Parish organist/choir director, Andrew Kotylo, will conduct the church’s Adult Choir in selections of works composed or arranged by Mack Wilberg, Boris Ord, Eriks Esenvalds, Zachary Wadsworth, Peter Warlock, John Rutter, Michael Head, Kenneth Leighton and George Baker.

The tradition of marking the Advent season leading into Christmas Eve and day with a ceremony of lessons foretelling the coming of the Messiah taken from scripture, anthems sung by the choir, and carols for the congregation dates to Christmas Eve in 1918, only a few weeks after the armistice that ended World War I. Its most famous celebration is that performed at King’s College, Cambridge University.

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If you’re up for an adventure into the city, Old St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, 321 Willings Alley, Society Hill, is also hosting an “Advent Lessons and Carols” Sunday, Dec. 17, at 3 p.m. Music by Reger, Brahms, Ord, Praetorius, Mathias, J.S. Bach, Rutter and Warlock will be sung by the parish’s Schola Cantorum under the direction of Mark Bani. “Old St. Joe’s” is the oldest Catholic church in Philadelphia. Bani was an organ student of Richard Alexander, the longtime, now retired, organist/choir director at St. Paul’s Church.

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Lyric Fest

Lyric Fest, the vocal/instrumental ensemble, will present its holiday concert, “Any of Those Decembers,” Saturday, Dec. 16, at 3 p.m. in the Chapel of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, and Sunday, Dec. 17, at 3 p.m. in the Academy of Vocal Arts. Chestnut Hill pianist Laura Ward will accompany a vocal quartet that includes Chestnut Hill soprano Rebecca Myers.

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Advent Music

Two of our local Episcopal churches hosted performances of music for the holiday season. The Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, was the venue for Choral Arts Philadelphia’s rendition of Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols” and “Hymn to the Virgin” Friday, Dec. 1. 

Chestnut Hill’s Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, celebrated “Advent Lessons and Carols” Sunday, Dec. 3. Choral Arts’ concert was conducted by its newly named artistic director, Donald Meineke, of Chestnut Hill, and was accompanied at the pipe organ by Andrew Kotylo, organist/choir director St. Paul’s Church. 

The concert drew an audience that virtually packed the church. Meineke elicited exemplary singing from his choir. Excellent tuning, pitch, blend, balance, diction and a broad range of dynamics characterized their interpretations, bringing to life the medieval carols on which Britten based “Ceremony” and the ancient tradition of focusing on the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, early in the Advent season.

The program’s most interesting selections were four carols by Alfred Burt, especially the heartbreaking “Some Children See Him.” If ever there was a time when we all needed to see the world through the eyes of innocent children it’s now as never before.

At St. Martin’s Church, organist/choir director Tyrone Whiting led his singers in a program of music by Poston, Byrd, Praetorius, Ledger and Manz.

New Piano Concerto

Rafael Payare guest conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in concert Dec. 1-3 featuring the United States premiere of a commissioned piano concerto by Lopez Bellido and a stunning reading of Mahler’s First Symphony. I caught the Sunday afternoon performance along with an audience that packed Verizon Hall.

Bellido’s Concerto, entitled “Ephemerae,” is a stylish assimilation of classical structure and Latin-based folk music that dazzles the ear and scintillates the senses. Even the disappointing reliance on piano soloist Javier Perianes – the interpretive void at the Steinway who unsuccessfully labored grimly to excite – didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the work.

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