I wonder what forces of the universe collided to see Masterwork’s last and next concert occur just after a national tragedy. First Newtown, Connecticut, and now Boston, Massachusetts weigh heavy in our hearts as we get ready for a performance.
I am thankful that I belong to a group like Masterwork, who, spontaneously and naturally, always make it a priority to share music that embodies generosity and unity. This weekend, that natural spirit will be a welcome refuge from the tragedy our sisters and brothers in Boston faced on April 15 during the Boston Marathon Bombing. Our spring concert this year is a very special collaboration between us and Cäcilien-Chor, a chorus based in Frankfurt, Germany, whose members have travelled across the Atlantic to share this performance. Called Voices Unite, the concert will represent both American and German cultures in both music and spirit.
The members of Cäcilien-Chor are our true family in more ways than one. Not only are they part of that unique group of people worldwide who make it a point, like us, to dedicate hours our of their week to sing with each other as a community; we also share a member between us. Martina Molner, a member of Masterwork for five years, joined us from Cäcilien-Chor after she moved to the United States. In fact, it was Martina who conceived the idea of a collaboration between the two choruses.
Director Andrew Megill recalled how the idea came into being:
“After her first year, Martina told me how much she loved Masterwork Chorus and how it reminded her of her home chorus in Germany,” Andrew said. “Her feeling was that it was shocking how much we had in common. We’re about the same size, we have the same repertoire, we work at the same speed, we both have the same warm friendly atmosphere. We shared a lot of values. She was so happy to find a chorus she fit into so easily and so fast. Two years after that, she approached me because Cäcilien-Chor has a tradition of doing tours outside of Germany.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
The structure of the concert will be a true joining of cultures. 20 minutes will be dedicated to American choral music directed by our own Andrew; 20 minutes will be music from Germany, conducted by the director of Cäcilien-Chor, Christian Kabitz. Then, 40 minutes of music will be sung by the two choruses together, with the conducting split in half between the two directors.
Cäcilien-Chor has a storied history. “The people sing along with so much fire and so it is a joy,” said Felix Mendelssohn about the choir. The chorus was founded in 1818, and Mendelssohn himself conducted Cäcilien-Chor for some years shortly after its birth. How cool is that?
The music Masterwork is singing was chosen very deliberately to represent the United States. Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms is sung in Hebrew, and excerpts the 108th, 23rd, 2nd, 131st and 133rd Psalms. The piece focuses on praise and peace.
Benjamin Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb has similar themes, but is based on text written by poet Christopher Smart while he was held in an insane asylum. I challenge audiences to listen to us sing about “my Cat Jeoffrey . . . a cat, surpassing in beauty, from whom I take occasion to bless Almighty God” and decide whether Smart was indeed insane or just saner than the rest of us.
November 22 this year will also mark Britten’s 100th birthday.
Andrew was able to find two pieces that are uniquely connected in ways that many audiences may not be aware of:
“The Bernstein and the Britten were both commissioned by the same person—Reverand Mark Hussey of Chichester cathedral in England. He was a strong believer that the contemporary church needed to connect to the people through the highest examples of modern art that they could. He commissioned 4 or 5 of the greatest composers of his time, great visual artists such as Henry Moore and Alexander Calder, and great Christian poets of the time.”
Though Bernstein and Britten are “accessible,” Andrew explained, to audiences who may not be highly educated in music, they are still two of the greatest composers of the 21st century.
“I think that that’s something that’s related to the basic theme of Voices Unite,” he continued. “This concert is about building community. We’re doing it between the two choirs, but there’s also a way in which without dialing down the level of accomplishemtn of the music in any way, we did want this program to be widely appealing to people who may not know anything about choral music. We’re inviting people into our world rather than saying if you love our world already, come join us—which is a valuable and important thing to do.”
Cäcilien-Chor and Masterwork will unite to sing Josef Rheinberger’s Mass in A. Rheinberger was considered the most important composer of sacred music for the Catholic church in the 19th century, and is often compared to Brahms and Mendelssohn.
Last Christmas I quoted Bernstein, who famously said “This will be our reply to violence: To make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” Bernstein also happened to be a friend of Irving Fine, a composer and native son of Boston. Bernstein once said of Fine, “he was rather a tragic person inside, but he never bothered anybody with those problems of his.” This seems to embody the gritty, hard-as-nails spirit of Boston, famous for its harsh winters and its forever-heartbroken sports fans. Voices Unite will join communities in more than a few ways this April, but most of all, we will participate in the joy of music, which has throughout human history soothed hurting hearts. Next week, we will sing for Boston and those around the world who suffer from violence.
We hope you will join us.
Sunday, April 21, 2013 · 4:00pm
Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Newark, NJ
Suggested Donation: $15.00
This concert is part of the Cathedral Basilica Concert Series
Thursday, April 25, 2013 · 7:30 pm
Calvary Episcopal Church, Summit, NJ
Individual Ticket: $30.00
Click here to purchase tickets.
Friday, April 26, 2013 · 7:30pm
Princeton University Chapel, Princeton, NJ