30 March 2006

Of Pärt and Port II

As for sacred polyphony, there is no reason to be afraid of it.
~ Richard Morris

Yesterday's post about Sunday’s feast for ear and tastebuds was longer than I anticipated, so today I am posting the second half of my musings on that delightful evening: the St. Matthew’s Choir and Schola’s performance of Lenten vespers in general and Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat in particular.

Nobody else wanted to drive downtown and seeing as they were not aware of my great and grand ability for becoming hopelessly lost every time I drive there, we all piled into the Ukarist-mobile, with the CD player alternately blasting fado and Pärt selections. We had crossed the Potomac and were cruising down Constitution when I brought the flow of conversation to a halt with “Uh, people? We have a slight problem here…..I don’t know where we’re going!”

This announcement was followed by a chorus of “I don’t know either” and about 5 minutes driving in the general direction of K and M Streets. After expressing general dissatisfaction with every other driver on the road and the general low IQ of every pedestrian who waltzed and meandered and jay walked in front of me, I finally threw my cell phone at Sullivan and said “I know! Call information and ask for St. Matt’s.” Surprisingly, someone answered the phone and told us the cross streets. Halleluiah! (Oops! Not supposed to use that word for another 3 weeks!) Actually, I think I let fly a good Southern yeeha.

Anyway, after muttering prayers to St. Anthony for a really good, close parking space and being graced with one right behind the cathedral, the five of us walked in to St. Matthew’s and found a pew right near the front.

Now technically, to gain the full effect of a polyphonic performance in an acoustically ideal space, one should really sit in the middle, towards the rear. But Sunday night, sitting up front in no way detracted from the musical delight that awaited us.

The Choir and Schola, the men on the left and the women on the right, chanted the vespers as they are meant to be ~ alternating back and forth. The Latin was pronounced beautifully and the voices were clear and smooth. My companions and I sat back and let the peaceful rhythms and natural melody envelope our souls.

But as beautiful as the chant was, its elegant execution in no way prepared us for the ecstasy of hearing Pärt’s Magnificat.

Bill Culverhouse did an incredible job directing ~ the dynamics were breathtaking and perfectly matched to both the meaning of the words and the music. There is no other way to describe the experience: I closed my eyes and literally swooned in the pew. Sullivan later told me that he was equally moved ~ both by the piece itself and the near perfect performance of it. The only thing that was grating to the ears was Monsignor Jameson's butchering of the Latin texts. But even that could not hide the brilliant performance by Culverhouse and company.

The next time you’re in town and the St. Matthew’s Choir and Schola are performing (May 2006), definitely put it on your list of things to do.

Oremus pro invicem,
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