Pequot Chapel, New London, CT
- Introit: Ned Rorem – “Sing, my soul, his wondrous love”
Preces: Bruce Neswick
Psalm 34, Benedicam Domino chant: Thomas Norris
Canticles: David Hogan “Washington”
Anthem: Robert J. Powell – Benedictus es, Domine
The Anglican Singers, home again following a week in July as choir-in-residence at St. Mary Redcliffe Church and Bristol Cathedral in Bristol, England, are honored to open their 2012-2013 season at Pequot Chapel. Today marks the ensemble’s 16th year of leading evensong in this historic place.
With the exception of the appointed psalm (#34), all the music performed this evening is reprised from a portion of the Bristol residency. It is principally American choral music that the Singers brought to England to introduce to British audiences.
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Among contemporary American composers, Ned Rorem (b. 1923) is one of the most prolific in a number of genres ranging from symphonies to operas, choral works to song-cycles. He also enjoys a reputation as a gifted and eclectic essayist. Among Rorem’s musical acquaintances were Leonard Bernstein, Virgil Thomsen, and Samuel Barber; and he studied with Leo Sowerby and Aaron Copland.
“Sing my soul” is one of Ned Rorem’s many unaccompanied motets for chorus, composed in 1955 while he was living in Paris. Many will recognize the text, which appears in the 1940 Hymnal, set to the beloved tune St. Bees. Rorem’s charming arrangement, seemingly simple, is rich in harmonic and dynamic structure.
(As well as performing “Sing my soul” at two services in Bristol, the Singers staged impromptu performances of it while touring through the west-English and Welsh countryside: amidst the ruins of Tintern Abbey in the fabled Wye Valley, in the Great Hall of Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, and in the opulent Abbot’s Kitchen at Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset.)
Bruce Neswick’s Preces and Responses have long been a part of the Anglican Singers’ repertoire. Neswick (b. 1956) is considered one of the leading young American composers of church music. Nationally and internationally acclaimed, Mr. Neswick is a graduate of the Yale School of Music and Institute of Sacred Music; he holds a Fellowship diploma from the prestigious Royal School of Church Music; and he has directed a number of choral groups in the United States and throughout England. Additionally, he is considered one of this country’s foremost improvisational musicians – the recipient of many awards in this area.
Neswick’s vivid setting of the Preces and Responses showcases his skill at interweaving jazz motifs within a liturgical setting.
British composer Thomas Norris (1741-1790) set to music the text of Psalm 34 (Benedicam Domino), a joyous acclamation of God’s saving grace towards all who trust in him. Little is known about the composer other than that he served as organist and choirmaster at both Cambridge and Oxford Universities and wrote a number of Anglican-chant psalm settings.
It is tantalizing to try to imagine how much more music might have come forth from the prominent American composer David Hogan (1949-1996), who died in the crash of TWA Flight 800 that was en route from New York to Paris and Rome on the evening of July 17th, 1996. His innumerable gifts of musicianship were matched only by the unfailing generosity of his time and talents to young musicians.
Hogan’s Washington Service, one of two Services commissioned for the completion of the National Cathedral in Washington in 1989, continues to be a favorite of the Anglican Singers and one that they performed at several services in Bristol this past summer.
There are two heartwarming anecdotes connected with the distinguished American composer Robert Powell’s canticle, Benedictus es, Domine (this evening’s anthem), and both relate to the group’s founding director, Marianna Wilcox. First, in 2007 Mr. Powell (b. 1932) was commissioned by the Singers to compose a work as a tribute to Ms. Wilcox on the occasion of her retirement that year. The finished product, Benedictus es, Domine, was premiered at a concert at St. James Church in November of 2008. Four years later, on Sunday, July 29th of this year, the Singers prepared to perform it again at historic St. Mary Redcliffe Church in Bristol. When the officiant for that evensong service, Mr. Bryan Anderson (a former regional director of the RSCM), announced the title of the anthem, he made special note, for the benefit of his British congregation, of the eminence of the composer and the significance of the piece and the person whom it honored. It was a poignant and memorable moment for the Singers, and for their beloved former director, who was in attendance.
Many Episcopal churchgoers are familiar with Robert Powell’s Eucharistic service music, which appears in the 1982 Hymnal.
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The import of the Singers’ sojourn in England this summer cannot be overstated. To be in the “mother country” where Anglican music, particularly as an expression of the liturgy of evening prayer, was born evoked lasting memories and a renewed sense of responsibility. Because this group is part of something far greater than itself, it reverently carries on a sacred and venerable tradition in the New World, and in so doing links not only one people to another but past to present.
Anne Carr Bingham