Everyone involved in the service, which drew an encouragingly large congregation, wore masks, even the choristers while singing.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill celebrated the end of the Christian calendar’s season of Epiphany with a Choral Evensong Sunday, Feb. 27. Parish music director Andrew Kotylo led the church’s Adult Choir, along with organ scholar and Curtis Institute of Music student Emily Amos, in a roster of music featuring works by Florence Price, Erik Myer, John Goss, Charles Villiers Stanford, Jonathan Dove and Nicholas Bruhns.
Everyone involved in the service, which drew an encouragingly large congregation, wore masks, even the choristers while singing. The parish, like others in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, is making a strenuous effort to return slowly-but-surely to life as we knew it prior to the start of 2020. I attended the Great Litany and Procession and Choral High Mass for the first Sunday in Lent, March 6, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Center City where similar COVID protocols were in place.
Of particular local interest in the musical repertoire performed at St. Paul’s were the “Preces” and “Responses” composed by Erik Meyer, former music director at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, an Episcopal parish also in Chestnut Hill. Both were supple settings of the texts in the Rite 1 liturgy for Evensong found in the Book of Common Prayer, the denomination’s liturgical foundation.
Meyer chose delicate yet efficaciously propelled harmonic progressions to support his smoothly flowing melodic lines, establishing an easy-going flow between the liturgy’s officiant and choir in all of the settings.
The service’s major choral works were the settings of the traditional texts of the “Magnificat” and “Nunc dimittis,” both taken from the “Evening Service in B-flat,” Opus 10, by Stanford (1852-1924). The music for the former is characterized by sweeping melodies, sumptuous harmonies, and propulsive rhythms. For the latter, Stanford chose a more reflective mood, which was projected by darker, more subtle harmonies, gentler rhythms and more intimate melodies. In both works, the English composer molded his music to the character, both implicit and explicit, of the text.
Kotylo conducted both works from the organ. He elicited singing from his choir that was both powerful and sensitive. The range of dynamics was impressively broad and expressively inspiring.
Jonathan Dove’s “Seek Him That Maketh the Seven Stars” was the anthem at the offertory. Set to scriptural selections taken from the Books of Amos and Psalms in the Old Testament that conjure up the image of darkness being overwhelmed by the shining light of dawn, it couldn’t have come at a more meaningful time in our world today.
Dove’s music projects those words in a cloud of choral harmonies that ebb and flow as passing clouds yet that glow as a shimmering halo. Kotylo, conducting from the organ, drew singing of exquisite transparency from his choir.
St. Paul’s next Choral Evensong is scheduled for 5 p.m., Sunday, March 27. The next “Five Fridays” fundraising recital is set for 7:30 p.m. April 27. The featured players will be violinist Hannah Tarley and pianist Hilda Huang.
Black History Celebrated on ‘The Hill’
The Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields marked Black History Month with its first-ever concert for the celebration online Sunday, Feb. 27. Parish music director Tyrone Whiting had hoped for an in-person performance, but the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rear its ugly head with occasional infections either canceling concerts altogether or forcing them to be moved online. Piffaro, The Renaissance Band, was forced to cancel its March 12 concert at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill when one of its members contracted the virus following a residency in Florida.
St. Martin’s concert combined music with readings of poetry and personal recollections detailing the experiences of Americans of African descent, stretching all the way back to the 17th century and the beginnings of slavery in the British colonies of North America.
Whiting conducted and accompanied his four professional core singers in well-known and well-loved selections such as “Teach Me to Fly,” “Free at Last,” “How Can I Keep from Singing,” “Let My People Go” and – my favorite -- “This Little Light of Mine.” One of my most cherished musical memories from childhood is of my mother singing to me about that “little light.”
Concert at Germantown Presbyterian
The First Presbyterian Church of Germantown will present Raul y su ClaveAche in concert Sunday, March 20, at 2 p.m. The Cuban music powerhouse group will perform a repertoire of Afro-Cuban, jazz, funk and blues favorites.
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