Maestro Kent Tritle opened this “Light of Paradise” program with the strings of his world-class orchestra performing George Walker’s Lyric for Strings (1946). This work set the tone for the contemplative, elegiac, spiritual, and pathos-rich musical experience about to unfold. This music performed in the magnificent Cathedral of St. John the Divine created rich, transcendent sound reverberations of grandeur and timelessness. The orchestra’s offering of the beautiful, memorable Lyric for Strings was an exquisite sonic experience of poignant and profound emotional character.
Musical world premieres at which the composer is present are incredibly significant events that offer a unique opportunity to witness the creative vision of a master musician come to life in real-time.
Tonight, we witnessed the world premiere of David Briggs’s remarkable Stabat Mater, which joins the historical compendium of premieres. We heartily ruminate as we imagine Beethoven conducting the premiere of his Ninth Symphony in Vienna in 1824, Stravinsky at the premiere of his Rite of Spring in Paris in 1913, Leonard Bernstein conducting West Side Story in 1957, and John Adams at the Houston Grand Opera for Nixon in China in 1987.
David Briggs’s Stabat Mater for choir, orchestra, and organ, with vocal soloists soprano Halley Gilbert and tenor Andrew Fuchs, captured the suffering of the Virgin Mary as she witnessed the crucifixion of her son, Jesus Christ. Briggs’s evocative musical imagery vividly portrayed the anguish and grief of the Virgin Mary while exploring themes of compassion and redemption.
Soprano Halley Gilbert displayed her agile, expressive voice and outstanding facility, conveying the music’s drama and beauty with clarity and intensity. Tenor Andrew Fuchs performed soaring passages with aplomb. He demonstrated his ability to interpret and communicate the emotional nuances of the music, bringing depth and complexity to the narrative he portrayed.
Stabat Mater was marvelous, creative, original, and unique, with opulent a capella segments. The superb, rich balance of voices, winds, organ, strings, and harp expressed complex intones and choric prisons, befitting the creative imaginings of the composer. Each element of the work was characterized by its beauty, power, and spiritual depth.
Program notes by Briggs were superb. While Stabat Mater was performed in Latin, English texts described not only the modus operandi of the composer but also the story of the Virgin Mary, the crucifixion, and, as Briggs notes, “The ultimate transformation from violence to victory, from leaping flames to resplendent glory.” Beauty, power, and emotional intensity.
Tonight, Briggs’s Stabat Mater joined the extraordinary oeuvre of inspiring, auspicious works like Poulenc’s Gloria and Stabat Mater, Olivier Messiaen’s Messe de la Pentecôte, Arvo Pärts Te Deum, Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem, and Camille Saint-Saëns’s Oratorio de Noël.
Bryan Zaros conducted tonight’s final work Lux Aeterna (1997) by Morten Lauridsen, with orchestra, choir, and children’s choir. This modern classic of the choral repertoire provided the apposite dénouement for a marvelous program.
The first movement, “Introitus,” featured a lush choral texture and set the mood for the rest of the work. The second movement, “In Te, Domine, Speravi,” featured a solo soprano and was built to a climactic finish. The third movement, “O Nata Lux,” was based on a text by St. Thomas Aquinas and is one of the most well-known movements of the work. The fourth movement, “Veni, Sancte Spiritus,” was based on the Pentecost text and featured a lively, energetic choral texture. The final movement, “Agnus Dei – Lux Aeterna,” was a peaceful, contemplative setting of the Agnus Dei text. Akin to tonight’s meditative opening Lyric for Strings by George Walker, Lux Aeterna provided de facto Concluding Rites through its orisons of peace and light eternal with lush harmonies, expressive melodies, and splendid choral writing.
Conducting tonight was characterized by precision, expressiveness, and effectiveness. Tritle and Zaros possess keen ears for intonation, blending, balance, and expression. They ensure their singers develop their voices while blending into a cohesive ensemble. We witnessed an impeccable sense of rhythm and tempo and communication of musical intentions through precise gestures and facial expressions. They lead the ensembles through complex musical structures, including key, meter, and tempo changes, while maintaining a clear sense of direction and purpose.
Runtime was 90 minutes with a brief intermission.
Light of Paradise at The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
Kent Tritle, Director of Cathedral Music and Organist
Bryan Zaros, Associate Director of Music & Choirmaster
The Cathedral Choirs and Orchestra
Halley Gilbert, soprano
Andrew Fuchs, tenor
Daniel Ficarri, organ
Daniel Ficarri, Associate Director of Music & Organist
Samuel Kuffuor-Afriyie, Organ Scholar
Ruston Ropac, Music Administrator
Jie Yi, Music Administrator
Douglass Hunt, Organ Curator
Will Best, Production Supervisor
Erick Solano, Production Staff
The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
1047 Amsterdam Avenue (at 112th Street)
New York, NY 10025
For tickets, click here or go to https://www.stjohndivine.org/calendar/42471/great-music-light-of-paradise