Sorry for being absent for the last couple of weeks, but as most of you know, Mike and I are with my Santa Barbara Choral Society European performance tour and the schedule has been nothing short of a forced march through Italy, since the group arrived on July 11.
In Rome, we had two opportunities to perform: the first, at Chiesa San Marcello al Corso, where we performed an evening concert of Josef Haydn’s Thereseinmesse and Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna for a packed house in absolutely brutal heat. The temperature in Rome during the heat of the day was between 96 and 102 degrees and it didn’t cool off all that much by 9 pm at concert time. Between the heat the church gathered during the day and the 65 singers on the altar steps and the hundreds of bodies in the audience producing plenty of BTUs, we were melting into hot, sweaty puddles inside our black concert gowns and tuxes by the end of the evening.
Despite the trying conditions, it was a glorious experience to hear the Lux Aeterna echo from the marble pillars and frescoed ceiling vaults. It was especially rewarding to introduce Italian audiences (and orchestra members) to Lauridsen, a still-active, modern American composer, whose work they were previously unfamiliar with. The members of Nova Amadeus Orchestra, who accompanied us both in Rome (where they’re based) and in Florence, were positively taken with the piece and gifted us with the loudest and most appreciative ovations and many, many personally communicated comments of Bravi! and Grazie mille!
At the conclusion as the last Alleluias still bounced around in the vaulted space and the piece had resolved itself into the final deep, quiet Amens, the audience thundered its approval and wanted more. So we complied. Our encore pieces were chosen from our repertoire of African-American Spirituals, which European audiences go absolutely nuts for. When we sang Soon Ah Will Be Done their applause shook the rafters.
The highlight in Rome, however, was singing the Friday evening mass at Basilica San Pietro.
It’s hard to imagine a more powerful setting in which to sing sacred motets. The acoustics are so lively that the harmonies echo back and back and back, even in that immense space. To sing at St. Peter’s requires application to the proper authority within the Vatican: a letter in Italian describing your requested date, who you are, a CD of your group in performance, and a ‘program’ detailing 4 or 5 motets suitable for the mass, that must be in Latin, along with the details of their composer and approximate dates of composition. We submitted the required information and received our nod of approval.
Our conductor, JoAnne Wasserman, chose as our repertoire for the mass: Sicut Cervus (Palestrina), Ubi Caritas (Durufle), O Nata Lux (Tallis), Vere Languores Nostros (Victoria), and Superflumina Babylonis (also Palestrina).
Here we are, in the choir stalls of St. Peter’s, just before the mass. When you perform renaissance music (or music written to the renaissance form) in a space like St. Peter’s, you feel somehow connected to hundreds of years of choral music history and to the monks and novices who sang the same songs in the same spaces centuries ago. There’s just no choral experience quite like it, to me. Afterward, a gentleman came up to our conductor and thanked her for including Durufle (his countryman) telling her that hearing Durufle there that day had made his trip to the Vatican special.
I wish you could have been there to hear it; fortunately, we were able to record a performance of these motets just prior to our concert in Florence a few days later, so if the recording comes out well, we’ll include it on the SB Choral Society CD of the Haydn and Lauridsen performance there and make it available to those who want to get it so you’ll be able to hear it for yourself if you choose.
Stay tuned…more on Florence, Verona, Vicenza, Asiago and Munich to follow.