Press

Wed, October 1, 2014

Julian Wachner – Works for Orchestra and Voices
WTJU

The other large work in the collection, “come, My Dark-Eyed One” was commissioned for a concert with the Brahms Requiem. For contrast, Wachner chose a secular subject, the loss of a loved one and the emotions it triggers. I found the work quite compelling as the protagonist works his way through to acceptance. To my ears, it sounded like a companion piece to Corigliano’s “Ghosts of Versailles” — and one that seems to be more successful in its evocation of atmosphere and drama.

Read Full Text

Julian Wachner – Works for Orchestra and Voices

Oct 1st, 2014 | By Ralph Graves

In the liner notes for this three-CD set, Julian Wachner writes,

“My music lives in a sound world that seeks to balance harmony and melody, movement with stasis, simplicity with chaos, and contemporary techniques with unabashed borrowing from the past.”

And for the most part, he succeeds in achieving that balance, as this new three-CD collection shows. For the most part, this release presents Wachner’s works for orchestra and voices. Wachner’s extensive background as a church musician has given him an intimate familiarity with the possibilities of the human voice, which makes his writing for it particularly effective.

Wachner’s musical style isn’t easy to pin down. Sometimes his music is aggressively atonal, sometimes tonal, but always in his own voice. The First Symphony is a good example. The way Wachner voices his chords sometimes give the orchestra a hollow and ethereal sound. And his layering of voices and cross-rhythms make the orchestra sound massive, while blurring the edges.

The other large work in the collection, “come, My Dark-Eyed One” was commissioned for a concert with the Brahms Requiem. For contrast, Wachner chose a secular subject, the loss of a loved one and the emotions it triggers. I found the work quite compelling as the protagonist works his way through to acceptance. To my ears, it sounded like a companion piece to Corigliano’s “Ghosts of Versailles” — and one that seems to be more successful in its evocation of atmosphere and drama.

And there’s much more to this collection. There are several short sacred songs that are absolute gems, as well as the duet for trumpet and organ “Blue, Green, and Red,” that takes this instrumental combination far beyond the world of Jeremiah Clarke.

Overall, this collection provides a good overview of Wachner’s style. There are large, complex works, and short ones of more modest aims. Whether you’re interested in choral music or contemporary music, this one’s highly recommended.

Julian Wachner: Symphony No. 1 and Other Works
NOVUS NY; Choir of Trinity Wall Street; Majestic Brass Quintet; Trinity Youth Choir; Jessica Muirhead, soprano; Christopher Burchett, bass-baritone; Steven Burns, trumpet
Naxos

Fri, September 12, 2014

Review: Julian Wachner, Symphony No. 1, Works for Orchestra and Voices
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

Wachner has a pronounced rhythmic sensibility and puts it to good use in movements that have shifting meters and a dynamic thrust to them. At some point you occasionally detect a Bernstein influence (the Mass sometimes comes to mind as a precursor), other times some of the voicings and counterpoints of later Reich also seem to be launching points, still other moments there is a jazziness to it all. But then there are the tender and mysterium aspects, too. None of it sounds derivative. It does seem an integral part of a developed grand tradition of sacred music, with Wachner taking his place in a potential pantheon…

Read Full Text

Friday, September 12, 2014

Julian Wachner, Symphony No. 1, Works for Orchestra and Voices

Over the centuries there have been many composers who spent a good deal of time conducting others' works and learning a great deal thereby on the specifics of orchestration and musical conception of the greats first-hand. Julian Wachner is a contemporary who has done that. He has especially done so in the context of sacred music, holding down a number of musical directorships/conducting positions at such institutions as the famous Trinity Church on Wall Street.

He comes to us today in the guise of a composer, and an excellent one he is. Specifically we have a three-CD set of his music, performed under his conductorship, in the Symphony No. 1: Incantations and Lamentations, Works for Orchestra and Voices (Musica Omnia 0604 3-CDs).

The set contains so much that is worthwhile that trying to discuss each work might get a bit tedious. Suffice to say that the 13 works proffered in the set cover a good deal of time, from the 1989 "Psalm Cycle I" to the 2014 "Blue, Red and Green". In the process the set covers a developmental traversal of musical space as well. A good bit of it is sacred music, most is very contemporary in tone, though a few channel early church music styles to their own end. Wachner has an excellent knack of getting stirring sounds from voices, both soloists and choirs. He also has mastered orchestration so that the instrumental parts work together for a lucid transparency or a rousing mass of varied voices.

Wachner has a pronounced rhythmic sensibility and puts it to good use in movements that have shifting meters and a dynamic thrust to them. At some point you occasionally detect a Bernstein influence (the Mass sometimes comes to mind as a precursor), other times some of the voicings and counterpoints of later Reich also seem to be launching points, still other moments there is a jazziness to it all. But then there are the tender and mysterium aspects, too. None of it sounds derivative. It does seem an integral part of a developed grand tradition of sacred music, with Wachner taking his place in a potential pantheon. But time will be the judge of that.

In the meantime we have this set to appreciate. The works are substantial, the performances lucid and bold in outline (listen for example to the Trinity Choirs) and the sound well-staged, spectacular.

Anyone who wants to know what's good out there in American modern sacred music must hear this. If that is not your specialization you will still be well-served by this set. The music comes from a composer who needs to be attended to, for music that holds its own in a modern contemporary tonal mode.

Very recommended.

by Grego Applegate Edwards

Fri, September 12, 2014

Julian Wachner: Symphony No. 1, “Incantations and Lamentations” and Voices
Edge

[Wachner’s] comprehension of massive orchestration shine[s] through in a vast spectrum of sound. Wachner’s work, though based in the current ideas of mixing styles, tonality and rhythmic structures, is very much a style all his own.

Read Full Text

Julian Wachner: Symphony No. 1, "Incantations and Lamentations" and Voices

by Steven Bergman
Contributor
Friday Sep 12, 2014

Musica Omnia has released an extensive, three-disc set of music by the young composer/conductor, Julian Wachner. With over three hours of music to absorb and enjoy, it is blatantly evident why Wachner is such an in-demand musician.

As many musicians worship at the altar of the composers of pre-1900, from Bach to Mozart, Wachner clearly has a strong affinity for his Bernstein, Copland, and Stravinsky. His compositions, a diverse melange of material written over the past 25 years, show a strong dedication and understanding of the more current greats, in addition to Wachner's own mentor, Lukas Foss (1922-2009).

The most impressive works adorn the first disc of this collection. Wachner's "Symphony No. 1: Incantations and Lamentations" (2001) is a tremendous piece that give us our initial listen to his own ensemble, NOVUS NY, and The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, of which Wachner has been the director since 2011. The groups display a clear appreciation of Wachner's style as both a composer and their conductor, and create a powerful sound through the polyphonic sections, as well as a soulful interpretation of his softer movements.

Soprano Jessica Muirhead exhibits a strong, resonating sound throughout her contributions to this recording, especially on Wachner's two "Psalm Cycles." A string quartet, Muirhead, and Wachner himself present the composer's "Psalm Cycle I" (1989), and the Majestic Brass Quintet accompany's the artists on "Psalm Cycle III" (2003). Both pieces are predominantly lightly orchestrated, allowing Muirhead to completely draw in the listener with the sacred texts.

Two other works were commissions, and include "Come, My Dark-Eyed One," commemorating Boston's Back Bay Chorale in 2009, and Wachner's, "Blue Green Red," written for the International Trumpet Guild, with Trumpeter Stephen Burns.

Wachner's vast experience music directing and composing for church groups from Boston to Montreal, have clearly given the musician an expansive knowledge of the sacred texts, and his comprehension of massive orchestration shine through in a vast spectrum of sound. Wachner's work, though based in the current ideas of mixing styles, tonality and rhythmic structures, is very much a style all his own.

Sat, August 30, 2014

The diverse talents of choral director and composer Julian Wachner
Classical Music Examiner

...it is hard to resist the spell of Wachner’s high-energy rhetoric, particularly when he is working with large numbers of resources…

Read Full Text

The diverse talents of choral director and composer Julian Wachner

by Stephen Smoliar

August 30, 2014

I first encountered Julian Wachner and his Choir of Trinity Wall Street in September of 2012 with their release of George Frideric Handel’s HWV 54 oratorio Israel in Egypt. That performance made a sufficiently deep and stimulating impression to be included in my “Memorable recordings for 2012” article. More significantly in the “real world,” it received a nomination for Category 74 (Best Choral Performance) in the 55th annual GRAMMY awards. I am sure I was not the only one to be highly disappointed when it did not come away with the award in that category.

Nevertheless, as I have learned more about Wachner, I have come to believe that he is more interested in building an extensive portfolio of repertoire than in garnering a shelf of awards. In 2010 he began a project with Naxos to record his own choral compositions as part of their American Classics series. The first volume in that project consisted of a single CD sampling both secular and sacred compositions. The second volume then virtually erupted with a three-CD set that Naxos produced in conjunction with Musica Omnia.

While the first volume consisted almost entirely of a cappella performances by the Elora Festival Singers conducted by Noel Edison (with organ accompaniment provided by Michael Bloss on four of the tracks), the second volume was subtitled Works for Orchestra and Voices. The Choir of Trinity Wall Street served as the primary vehicle to showcase Wachner’s compositions, joined by NOVUS NY, a contemporary music orchestra that is also affiliated with Trinity Wall Street. The third CD also features instrumental performances by the Majestic Brass Quintet. In addition, there are vocal solos by soprano Jessica Muirhead and bass-baritone Christopher Burchett, an instrumental duo for trumpet (Stephen Burns) and organ (Wachner), and the participation of the Trinity Youth Choir on several selections.

All this has the potential for a healthy abundance of spectacle, and Wachner’s rhetoric certainly does not shy away from the spectacular. His musical education began with cello and piano lessons at the University of Southern California at the age of four and continued all the way up to receiving a Doctor of Music Arts degree from Boston University’s School of the Arts, where one of his teachers was Lukas Foss. If he learned nothing else from Foss, he probably learned how to approach any compositional project, no matter how large or how intimate, with a total absence of fear.

Note that NOVUS NY is definitely not a “chamber” orchestra. It is a large-scale symphony orchestra, whose personnel are listed in the accompanying booklet. That includes six percussionists, and the album is organized in such a way that one quickly appreciates how Wachner can keep all of them busy. The first two tracks of the first CD are the two movements (which Wachner calls “parts”) of his first symphony, subtitled Incantations and Lamentations, these being the titles of those parts. In spite of its title, “Incantations” is strictly instrumental; but, if the goal of an incantation is to establish focused attention on a ritual, then this part of the symphony certainly achieves that goal, even if the nature of the ritual itself is not particularly clear. (For many of us, going to a concert hall to experience a performance is ritual enough.) The second part is divided into sections entitled “Prayer,” “Exile,” “Remembrance,” and “Reconciliation.”

At this point it is worth noting that the 36-page booklet that accompanies this recording does not include texts for any of the vocal selections. It does, however, provide a URL for finding those texts; but, as of this writing, that URL is ineffective. This is unfortunate, since it is clear from the booklet text (as well as the selections on the first volume) that Wachner has a keen sense of literature, as well as music. He has clearly given considerable attention to the relationship between words and music. However, he also tends to weave thickly-textured fabrics, whether in a cappella settings or in conjunction with instrumental accompaniment on a massive scale.

The attentive listener definitely deserves support from full knowledge of his texts, particularly when they are at their most literary. In this respect the first volume is preferable for those just beginning to know Wachner’s compositions, since the URL for the text sources is more reliable. On the other hand it is hard to resist the spell of Wachner’s high-energy rhetoric, particularly when he is working with large numbers of resources, even if one is not always exactly certain of what the words are trying to say.

It is also important to observe that Wachner is willing to engage his resources in the service of contemporary composers, rather than solely for his own music. His latest Musica Omnia recording, released a little over two weeks ago, presents a single composition, the Opus 16 of Ralf Yusuf Gawlick, entitled Missa gentis humanæ (mass for the human race). This is scored for eight voices a cappella and is dedicated to both Wachner and the “Eight Great” Trinity Wall Street vocalists participating in the recording, sopranos Sarah Brailey and Linda Lee Jones, altos Luthien Brackett and Melissa Attebury, tenors Steven Caldicott Wilson and Timothy Hodges, and basses Thomas McCargar and Jonathan Woody.

Gawlick is a German composer of Kurdish descent. Ironically, he has never lived in his native land or the town in which he was born. One result of his background, however, is a polyglot approach to text that goes beyond the Latin origins of the Mass text. Opus 16 has the subtitle “Von B-A-S-I-A beflügelt,” which basically means that the music was inspired by the letters of his wife’s name, Basia. Following the German “spelling” conventions, these provide the names of pitches as follows:

B = B-flat
A = A
S (Es) = E-flat
AS = A-flat
SI = B natural

Opus 16 begins with the vocalists humming these pitches. They then sing them to the names of the Hebrew letters, followed by singing Basia’s name. The names of the letters are then sung in Greek, followed by the Introit text sung in Latin. As the Mass itself proceeds, Gawlick interpolates texts from other sources as diverse as Virgil, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Bertolt Brecht, and Zbigniew Herbert.

One cannot help but be reminded of the relationship between sacred and secular text in Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem;” but the vocal resources are so intimate in Gawlick’s music that there is no danger of confusing the two composers. Indeed, it is because of this intimacy that Gawlick’s Opus 16 rises above the level of mere intellectual exercise. One gets a clear sense of his own religious seriousness of purpose in this music and his ability to invoke secular sources to affirm that seriousness.

Wachner thus deserves as much credit for bringing a composer like this to the attention of the listening public as he does for his efforts to record his own music.

Thu, August 28, 2014

Wachner issues Boston-born compositions on CD
The Boston Globe

Since Wachner’s work is weighted heavily toward sacred music, “Come, My Dark-Eyed One” stands somewhat apart…

...the series of moods that unfold is astonishingly clear, from yearning to playfulness to painful solitude. The third movement is an unmistakably erotic scene built around Sara Teasdale’s “Joy” and Emily Dickinson’s “Wild Nights!”

Read Full Text

Wachner issues Boston-born compositions on CD

By David Weininger | Globe Correspondent  

August 28, 2014

Julian Wachner — composer, conductor, keyboardist, teacher, and all-around musical polymath — is now best known as director of music and the arts at Trinity Wall Street, a New York church with an enviably robust music program, but he was once a prized member of Boston’s musical scene. He holds degrees from Boston University, and became the organist and choirmaster at BU’s Marsh Chapel while still an undergraduate. He directed Back Bay Chorale and the Providence Singers, and cofounded the short-lived yet valuable Boston Bach Ensemble. To every post he’s brought an ambition to expand boundaries, along with the endless energy necessary to maintain the number of simultaneous commitments he manages to juggle.

So it’s always worth keeping an eye on Wachner’s activity, which on the conducting side has included the Washington Chorus since 2008 and Trinity Wall Street since 2010, as well as guest conducting stints. On the composing side, the Musica Omnia label has just released a second volume of his choral compositions. The 3-CD set comprises works written over a 25-year period, spanning a gamut from highly specific liturgical pieces to large-scale concert works.

It’s a significant collection, and not just because of its size. “This recording completes my catalog,” Wachner said recently by phone from California. “I’m turning 45 in a couple of weeks, and now it’s possible for all my music composed up to this point to be available in recorded form. And now I’m going to go on to the next chapter in my life.”

It’s worth noting at some length the two pieces that take up the first CD: the set’s longest, most ambitious works, with particularly strong Boston connections. Wachner wrote his First Symphony, “Incantations and Lamentations,” for Back Bay Chorale, which first performed it in May 2001, just prior to the composer’s departure for a position at McGill University. “Come, My Dark-Eyed One” composed for the same ensemble, was premiered in 2009 under its current director, Scott Allen Jarrett. Both are written for chorus and orchestra; the later work adds baritone and soprano soloists.

Since Wachner’s work is weighted heavily toward sacred music, “Come, My Dark-Eyed One” stands somewhat apart. Its libretto, which was assembled by Wachner’s then-fiancee, soprano Marie-Ève Munger, weaves together a series of poems that outline what Wachner called “kind of a ghost story between two lovers. You don’t know whether one’s dead, one’s alive, what the story is.”

‘I’m turning 45 in a couple of weeks, and now it’s possible for all my music composed up to this point to be available in recorded form. And now I’m going to go on to the next chapter in my life.’

The narrative may be shadowy, but the series of moods that unfold is astonishingly clear, from yearning to playfulness to painful solitude. The third movement is an unmistakably erotic scene built around Sara Teasdale’s “Joy” and Emily Dickinson’s “Wild Nights!” Wachner recalled that after the first rehearsal of the movement, Jarrett wisecracked, “Anybody else need a cigarette?”

One eerily poignant aspect of the work is that its construction dovetailed with the dissolution of Wachner’s relationship with Munger. “Really, what the whole project becomes, for both of us, is the process of ending our relationship. It’s amazing, because our relationship ended with us just looking at each other and crying over the fact that this just could not work.” (Wachner married Emily Bloemker, a Trinity priest, in 2012.)

Where “Come, My Dark-Eyed One” is accessible enough for talented avocational choirs, the First Symphony, a series of psalm settings, is a fearsome specimen of post-expressionism, moving with hair-trigger speed between fury and uneasy stillness. The rhythms are almost feverishly violent.

The ferocity is theological as well as musical. The psalms on which the work is built span faith, anger, comfort, and suffering. Indeed, the core issue underlying the piece, so skillfully brought out by the music, is that the interleaving of all of these are necessary aspects of any true religious faith. As BU professor Wesley Wildman writes in a program note for the symphony, “Comfort in the face of suffering and loss is the hard-won fruit of a faith in God that does not shrink from welding together praise and accusation, hope and brokenness.”

For Wachner, the most difficult part of the composition was the setting of Psalm 137, a lament from the Babylonian exile. It contains a line that brings many up short: “Happy shall he be who takes your little ones/ And dashes them against the rock.” Wachner said that some of the singers at the premiere told him that they felt sick singing it.

“Most people avoid it,” he said of that line and its deep bitterness. “And I went headlong into it. Not to support its message, but to bring it to the forefront. It’s like, this is the issue we’re talking about: People who are so displaced that they can’t allow themselves into a forgiveness place.”

For all its stridency, the symphony ends in an oddly stable, if not quite serene, place. “I imagine this David figure, on the hills in this vast desert, these canons just echoing around. And the piece ends very questioningly but, to me, optimistically.”

Since the beginning of his career,
Wachner has negotiated a delicate balance between the roles of conductor and composer, fighting, much like Bernstein and Mahler did, to keep the former from overwhelming the latter. That struggle has grown more acute over the last few years, yet in the face of his demanding role at Trinity, he’s still able to compose, and will have a chamber symphony premiered next month.

“It’s just going to be the dance I have to do the rest of my life,” he said. “Because I will never be able to just sit in a room and compose. I need that activity as a conductor. Keeping the two going is important.”

David Weininger can be reached at globeclassicalnotes@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @davidgweininger.

Thu, August 21, 2014

Family-Focused Reviews: Songs Sacred and Secular
INFODAD

The pervasive religious themes do not, thankfully, mean long stretches of dully worshipful music: Wachner’s palette is comparatively extensive, and he communicates his thoughts through a highly varied set of performers.

Read Full Text

INFODAD.COM: Family-Focused Reviews

At INFODAD, we rank everything we review with plus signs, on a scale from one (+) [disappointing] to four (++++) [definitely worth considering]. Very rarely, we give an exceptional item a fifth plus. We are independent reviewers and, as parents, want to help families learn which books, music, and computer hardware and software we and our children love...or hate. INFODAD is a service of TransCentury Communications, Inc., 4386 Jib Boom Court, Unit 4-F, Fort Myers FL 33919, infodad@gmail.com.

August 21, 2014
(+++) SONGS SACRED AND SECULAR

Sing, Ye Birds, a Joyous Song—Music of the English Renaissance and 20th Century. Yale Schola Cantorum conducted by Simon Carrington. Delos. $16.99.
My Beloved’s Voice—Sacred Songs of Love. The Choir of Jesus College Cambridge conducted by Mark Williams. Signum Classics. $17.99.
Ralf Yusuf Gawlick: Missa gentis humanæ. The Choir of Trinity Wall Street conducted by Julian Wachner. Musica Omnia. $13.99.
Julian Wachner: Symphony No. 1 (“Incantations and Lamentations”) and other works for orchestra and voices. Musica Omnia. $23.99 (3 CDs).
Kenneth Fuchs: Falling Man; Movie House; Songs of Innocence and of Experience. Roderick Williams, baritone; London Symphony Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta. Naxos. $9.99.
Verdi: Lieder. Ramón Vargas, tenor; Joanna Parisi, soprano; Charles Spencer, piano. Capriccio. $16.99.
    

     Choral music is a niche product for classical-music aficionados, and religious choral music even more so – and modern choral music even more so. Yet although the result is niches within niches, there are some very fine recordings available for people whose tastes run in those directions, even if the CDs are not the sort to attract previously unconvinced listeners to the kind of music they present. Both Sing, Ye Birds, a Joyous Song and My Beloved’s Voice, for example, combine some choral music that is very old indeed with some that is quite recent. The Yale Schola Cantorum’s performance on Delos includes the Western Wind Mass by John Taverner (1490-1545), a plainly set and for that reason emotionally effective work; the moving Te lucis ante terminum by Thomas Tallis (1503-1585); and Glorious and Powerful God and Second Evening Service by Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625), with Lucas Wong on organ. To the old Latin settings the CD adds The Glory and the Dream by Richard Rodney Bennett (1936-2012) – a curious and strangely effective centerpiece of the recording, using poems by William Wordsworth that celebrate nature as well as God, and do so in musical language that differs from that of the Renaissance but complements it surprisingly well. The beautifully balanced performances led by Simon Carrington make this a very engaging disc, and Thomas Murray, organist for the Bennett work, makes a noteworthy contribution to it.
     In a similar vein, but utilizing shorter pieces, the Choir of Jesus College Cambridge under Mark Williams presents 20 different works of highly varied provenance on a Signum Records release. These range from Sicut lilium by Antoine Brumel (1460-1515) and Nigra sum by Pablo Casals (1479-1528) to four pieces based on the Song of Solomon by Howard Skempton (born 1947) and Set me as a seal by Nico Muhly (born 1981). Indeed, the Song of Solomon is the underlying unifying factor for nearly all this music, whether interpreted in its original Old Testament form as a deep and highly sensual love song or, as Christians prefer, as a parable of the “wedding” of Christ and the church. The differing exegeses of the text allow for a wide variety of approaches to music based on it, and they are what Williams explores here – sometimes in highly interesting ways, sometimes in curious ones generated by the juxtaposition of music from very different times (e.g., Clemens non Papa, 16th century, followed by Louis Vierne, 20th; and Martin de Rivafrecha, 16th century, followed by one of Edvard Grieg’s Four Psalms after Old Norwegian Church Melodies, 20th). The singing, in any case, is warm and emotionally communicative throughout the CD.
     There is warmth and beauty as well in the voices of eight members of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street in the Missa gentis humanæ (“Mass for the Human Race”) by Ralf Yusuf Gawlick (born 1969). Laid out like a traditional Latin Mass, the work is in fact a hybrid that mixes Mass elements with selections from the Gospel of John and poetry and prose by Virgil, Brecht, Plautus, Dostoevsky, Brecht, Sir Walter Scott and others. The result is a very unusual work indeed, celebrating within an entirely religious overall structure the things that make humans human and worth saving – by whom or what, when and under what circumstances, is another matter. Pagan, Christian and irreligious, the juxtaposed texts are intended to illuminate the many forms taken by faith throughout the ages, the intent being to unite all believers, and even unbelievers, under the grand umbrella of what it means to be human. A very ambitious piece that constantly seems ready to come apart at the seams – and that certainly shows those seams often enough – Missa gentis humanæ gets sensitive shaping and a high level of understanding from Julian Wachner on a Musica Omnia disc. But the work remains, when all is said (or sung) and done, a piece that strives mightily without ever managing to be as engaging or moving as Gawlick clearly wants it to be.
     Wachner does an equally effective conducting job in his own music – and is a fine organist in it, too. Musica Omnia’s three-CD compilation of Wachner’s works includes much that is jazzy and energetic as well as a good deal that is intended to be uplifting. This is a lot of Wachner, and as such is a release of even more limited appeal than is usual for a recording of contemporary music. In addition to Symphony No. 1 (“Incantations and Lamentations”) (2001), the recording includes Come, My Dark-Eyed One (2008); Regina Coeli (2002); Canticles (1990); Jubilate Deo (2006); Psalm Cycle I (1989) and Psalm Cycle III (2003); Blue Green Red (2014); Alleluias, Intercessions and Remembrances (1995); Holy, Holy, Holy (2009); Joy to the World (2004); and All Creatures of Our God and King (1992). The pervasive religious themes do not, thankfully, mean long stretches of dully worshipful music: Wachner’s palette is comparatively extensive, and he communicates his thoughts through a highly varied set of performers. These include NOVUS N.Y., a new-music orchestra; the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and the Trinity Youth Choir; the Majestic Brass Quintet; singers Jessica Muirhead (soprano), Steven Wilson (tenor) and Christopher Burchett (bass-baritone); Stephen Burns on trumpet; Caroline Cole on harp; and Janet Yieh – as well as Wachner himself – on organ. Wachner also serves as conductor, and he certainly knows how to evoke the expressiveness of his own music. But, again, there is a lot of it here, and a certain tedium does set in as the settings progress, despite Wachner’s attempts to make the material as sonically varied as it can be – consistent with its subject matter.
     The subject matter mixes the sacred and the worldly on a new Naxos CD featuring music for baritone and full orchestra or chamber ensemble by Kenneth Fuchs (born 1956). Falling Man (2009-10) is a dramatic scena based on Don DeLillo’s post-9/11 novel; here there is an attempt to find meaning in an ultimately meaningless act of vicious mass murder, with Fuchs using excerpts from DeLillo’s prose to try – as have many others – to extract something of value from an act of war perpetrated by determined killers. Roderick Williams’ singing is effective – not only here but also throughout the disc – but the subject matter has been handled so often, with much the same intent, that the work is less emotionally potent than Fuchs intends. Movie House (2007) is something quite different: a setting of seven poems by John Updike, and an altogether lighter and less-fraught work. At more than half an hour, it goes on rather too long for the quality of its material, although it does contain some well-chosen and well-set words. More moving and thoughtful, and ultimately more meaningful even than Falling Man, is Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1977), in which Fuchs sets four poems by William Blake – whose strange, sometimes mystical sensibility stays with the listener far more tellingly than does the much more straightforward and self-consciously emotive work of DeLillo and Updike. Fuchs’ setting does not compare to the far more extensive and deeper one of William Bolcom – one of the genuine masterpieces of 20th-century music. But Fuchs’ handling of the material is careful, involving and knowing, and shows his attraction to and understanding of Blake’s unusual, sometimes difficult-to-fathom visions. JoAnn Falletta leads the London Symphony Orchestra with sure-handedness and a clear comprehension of the music, giving Fuchs’ works plenty of opportunities to connect with listeners and move them.
     Vocal connection with the audience – as viscerally as possible – is what the operas of Verdi are all about. Even Verdi operatic excerpts can make a strong emotional connection with listeners, which is why there are so many CDs of them. But the new Capriccio disc featuring tenor Ramón Vargas is not just another one of these. Vargas here presents a side of Verdi that is almost as unfamiliar as his chamber music: his songs. These are works in which the opera composer experimented with the emotions he wanted to evoke and the music in which he wanted to cloak those feelings. Like the sketches of a painter, the songs of Verdi are simpler and often more-forthright, more-raw visions of what he would later do in his opera arias and ensembles. They are pale by comparison with his theatrical works for voice and orchestra, and will not be particularly gripping even for most Verdi fans; but they do provide insights into the way Verdi used music and words to characterize particular individuals and to bring forth the emotional expressions that he wanted to convey. Vargas here offers two sets of Romances, with six songs in each, plus individual tracks both secular and sacred. On the worldly side are L’esule, La seduzione, Il poveretto and Stornello; on the religious one are Tantum ergo and Ave Maria. Ably accompanied by pianist Charles Spencer on all the songs and by soprano Joanna Parisi on a few of them, Vargas evokes and emotes words by St. Thomas Aquinas, Goethe (via Luigi Balestra), poet and librettist Andrea Maffei, and others, showing that although Verdi was scarcely an expert in lieder, he was quite capable of utilizing the form of the song to explore a variety of thoughts and feelings – and later expand upon that form to produce arias with far stronger emotive qualities. Fine singing and unusual repertoire combine to make this disc an intriguing one, albeit for a decidedly limited audience.

Tue, August 12, 2014

Trinity Wall Street’s Music Director Considers Himself a ‘Composer Who Conducts’
The Wall Street Journal

“One of the difficulties of being the conductor is there’s a built-in power dynamic,” said composer Nico Muhly. “You have to exploit that and undo it, and different people have different ways of doing that, and Julian’s is a successful one. He seems to be universally beloved and make great music at the same time.”

Read Full Text

Trinity Wall Street's Music Director Considers Himself a 'Composer Who Conducts'
'I'd Never Survive as a Guy Who Sits in a Log Cabin,' Julian Wachner Says

Musica Omnia is releasing a three-disc set of works by Julian Wachner, the music director at Trinity Wall Street. Photo: Polina Yamshchikov for the Wall Street Journal

By
Corinne Ramey

If there are two types of classical composers in the world, the artist-colony type and the extroverted sort, then the composer Julian Wachner falls squarely in the second camp.

"I'd never survive as a guy who sits in a log cabin, composing," he said. "I need the energy of people. I need the energy of music-making."

In New York's classical music scene, Mr. Wachner, 44 years old, is best known as a conductor and music director at Trinity Wall Street, the downtown church where he has created an ambitious music program, focusing on early and Baroque music, new commissions and festivals of works by composers like Stravinsky and Britten.

But the problem with his success at Trinity, he has found, is that it overshadows the reason he took the job in the first place.

"I think of myself as a composer who conducts," Mr. Wachner said recently, in a hotel lobby near his Tribeca home. "I always said that everything else in life was to support that habit."

On Tuesday, the label Musica Omnia, which is distributed by Naxos, releases a three-disc set of Mr. Wachner's compositions. The album showcases a range of forms and styles, from symphony to oratorio to choral works, performed by the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and Novus NY, the Trinity-based contemporary music ensemble founded by Mr. Wachner.

Asked to describe his music, Mr. Wachner started with what it's not. "It's an American-sounding music, and it's so not the Bang-on-a-Can, post-Philip Glass world that most of my colleagues are living in right now," he said. (For the record, he has nothing against that minimalism-infused style, and loved conducting Julia Wolfe's "Anthracite Fields" at the New York Philharmonic's biennial.)

"I see his work as very Americana, firmly following in the steps of Copland and Bernstein," said the creative producer Beth Morrison, referring to the hopeful, melodic aspect of Mr. Wachner's music.

Mr. Wachner's former teacher Marjorie Merryman, who is now provost and a dean at the Manhattan School of Music, called it "modern, but not pandering," with a strong sense of motion bolstered by direct harmony.

Composing, said Mr. Wachner, comes from improvisation. "I try to improvise daily, just to get the creative juices going," he said. "But the real way I write is by someone saying, 'I want you to write this piece, and your deadline is next month.' "

Born in Hollywood, Calif., Mr. Wachner grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and New York City. He began writing music at age 4 (and has the original manuscripts), and went through a rebellious teenage phase that involved dyeing his hair and playing at the punk-rock club CBGB.

These days, Mr. Wachner maintains a schedule just short of manic, commuting regularly between New York and Washington, D.C., where he directs the Washington Chorus. (An Amtrak enthusiast, he "knows all the redcap guys.")

At Trinity, he's not only programmed challenging music rarely heard in a church setting but integrated nontraditional music with church values.

"Julian brought into the picture an opera about human trafficking," said the Trinity vicar Anne Mallonee, of Du Yun's opera "Angel's Bone." "That was a great example of social outreach and music and education coming together to make a statement that people aren't even aware of."

Today, Mr. Wachner lives in Tribeca, with his wife, Emily, and their American bulldog, Sophie. Ms. Wachner is a reverend at Trinity, and the couple met at work.

One night, while the two were backstage after a Gotham Chamber Opera production, he realized that the woman on whom he had a crush was a minor celebrity.

"All the opera singers knew her. They were like, 'You're 'What Not to Wear' Emily!'" (Ms. Wachner holds the distinction of being the only Episcopal priest to have been on the TLC makeover show.)

Knowing Trinity's strict policies on sexual harassment, the two nervously went to their boss. "We were like, 'Who's going to get fired? Who's going to quit?'" recalled Mr. Wachner. "But the rector was like, 'This is great! You're in love! We like love.'"

Colleagues and friends described Mr. Wachner as a big personality with a hearty laugh, who is loved by his musicians.

"One of the difficulties of being the conductor is there's a built-in power dynamic," said composer Nico Muhly. "You have to exploit that and undo it, and different people have different ways of doing that, and Julian's is a successful one. He seems to be universally beloved and make great music at the same time."

Thu, July 31, 2014

Multitasking Maestro
Esprit

The New York Times wrote of your Bach series at Trinity that, “no one would mistake the crowd at the free Bach at One concerts for one percenters. Many are tourists, stopped in their tracks by what they hear.” Who do you see as your audience?

“I don’t think I’m elitist in my choice of music or the way that I make music, and I think people feel that. One of my models was Leonard Bernstein (Hon.’83), who felt that music should be for everybody, and that it is a way to bring people together. At our Trinity performances, we have people who don’t know where they are going to sleep that night and people who live on the Upper East Side all in one place together, creating a community.”

Read Full Text

MULTITASKING MAESTRO

What do J. S. Bach, Leonard Bernstein, the Marsh Chapel Choir, and the Rolling Stones have in common?

By Lara Ehrlich

Composer and Grammy Award-nominated conductor Julian Wachner (’91, ’96) answers his phone at the Jacksonville Airport baggage claim. This is his only opportunity for an interview, as he is about to embark on a trip with “five priests and a theologian.” This might sound like the opening of a bad joke, but it’s actually a retreat for the senior staff of New York’s Trinity Wall Street church, where Wachner is the music and arts director. Throughout the next four days, they will discuss the programming for the coming year, which will include more than 600 events. In his spare time, Wachner is also the music director of the Kennedy Center’s Washington Chorus and serves as a guest conductor at organizations throughout the country. As he gathers his bags and traverses the airport to meet his colleagues, he keeps up his half of the interview with the dexterity of a seasoned conductor.

You’ve said you chose to attend BU to earn a well-rounded education. How did academics impact your career?

-My career is grounded in study. I didn’t jump from one huge musical success to the next; I had a long existence as a professor at BU and MIT, and then at McGill University. Now that I’m in my early 40s, I’m beginning to have the kind of success and recognition that some people have in their 20s. I’m very happy about the way it’s happened because I’m very calm and confident in my musical abilities. I feel like I have something to say on a human level, not just a musical level.

What do you want to say?

-As a composer I tackle subjects like love and loss in Come, My Dark-Eyed One, which I wrote for Scott Allen Jarrett’s (’99, ’08) Back Bay Chorale, and thorny theological issues like in my first symphony, Incantations and Lamentations, and issues of the day like in Du Yun’s opera Angel’s Bone, which is about human trafficking. I’m trying to make a difference in people’s lives, whether to give them a glimmer of hope at Christmas, to make them think seriously about an intense subject, or to touch their souls.

The New York Times wrote of your Bach series at Trinity that, “no one would mistake the crowd at the free Bach at One concerts for one percenters. Many are tourists, stopped in their tracks by what they hear.” Who do you see as your audience?

-I don’t think I’m elitist in my choice of music or the way that I make music, and I think people feel that. One of my models was Leonard Bernstein (Hon.’83), who felt that music should be for everybody, and that it is a way to bring people together. At our Trinity performances, we have people who don’t know where they are going to sleep that night and people who live on the Upper East Side all in one place together, creating a community.

The Trinity Wall Street Choir performed “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” with the Rolling Stones in December 2012. What inspired this collaboration?

-I got a Facebook message from a critic whose husband is tied into the music business and was looking for a New York-based choir. She said, “It’s a famous rock group, and I can’t tell you any more than that.”

The show at Barclays Center in Brooklyn was the first US performance of the Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary tour, and they wanted the choir to be a surprise for the audience. When I got out onstage for the sound check, Mick Jagger walked over and was like, “Hey, I’m Mick Jagger,” and I was like, “Yeah, I know who you are!”

It was the first time they had ever performed “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” with a live choir. You need a professional-level choir to sing that high C for as long as it demands; we were lucky we had three ladies who could do it. When the Stones decided to come back in June 2013, they asked me to recommend a choir, so I suggested BU’s Marsh Chapel Choir.

You were the University organist and choirmaster for Boston University’s Marsh Chapel for 11 years, and you recently invited the Choir and the Collegium Orchestra to perform at Trinity’s weekly Bach at One concert. Why did you invite the BU musicians to perform at Trinity?

-I invited them to keep the relationship going between me and Scott Allen Jarrett, who was my associate at Marsh Chapel for about five years and is now the director. Between the two of us, we have maintained an incredible musical tradition since 1990, and it was logical to return to my alma mater to activate that professional scholarship.

How do you balance all of your professional roles and maintain your sanity?

-The variety keeps my work fresh and alive, and the fact that I’ve prioritized my wife’s happiness over everything else keeps me balanced. I’ve done this enough now that I’m able to do the work without getting exhausted. In fact, the work feeds my creativity and my energy. My staff at Trinity knows that I’m studying scores at 6 in the morning and 11 at night, and conducting. Even some of the twentysomethings ask, “How do you have all this energy?”

Sat, June 7, 2014

Made in America Concert Radio Interview
WETA.org

Wednesday evening, June 11th at 7:30 pm in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, The Washington Chorus and The Choral Arts Society of Washington co-present “Made In America,” a concert celebrating the wide range of America’s choral tradition.  Classical WETA’s Deb Lamberton spoke with Choral Arts’ artistic director Scott Tucker, and The Washington Chorus’ music director Julian Wachner about this exciting and eclectic program, which also serves as the opening night concert of the annual Chorus America conference.

Fri, June 6, 2014

Choir of Trinity Wall Street Thrills
San Francisco Classical Voice

One of the joys of the performance was engaging stage presence of Julian Wachner. Many good conductors give cues and shape musical phrases. Wachner’s gestures manipulate the sound as a solid, tangible object in space. He draws sound out of the ensemble as if spinning thread at times; at others he dances with the rhythmic variations, his bold gestures amplifying the movement of the sound. Wachner also communicates a wonderful understanding of the music at hand to the audience. His clear and concise interpretation of the architectural structure of the isorhythmic motet drew a delightful comparison to classic arcade video games, in which each subsequent iteration of the rhythm becomes faster and faster until the whole thing unravels. Fortunately for us last night, the whole thing didn’t unravel, and the Nuper rosarum flores motet rose to be a highlight of the program.

Read Full Text

Choir of Trinity Wall Street Thrills

By MARGARET JONES

Something special can happen when you listen to early music — works that have survived centuries of conflict, damage, and memory loss to be heard in a modern setting. The magisterial and devout tone renaissance sets also bring certain musical clichés to mind: strict compositional rules, reverberant cathedrals, and a heavy reverence that permeates and subdues the audience into a still and reflective awe. When the heaviness prevails, it can sound stuffy; when done with passion, it can be rapturous.

Such was the task for the Trinity Wall Street choir as they opened their concert on Friday at First Congregational Church in Berkeley, singing a variety of works from the Franco-Flemish renaissance masters. The choir gave an enthralling performance to a packed house as part of the Berkeley Festival and Exhibition, a much-anticipated biennial event showcasing some of the world’s top talent in early music.

The first piece on the program was a Gregorian chant of the Salve Regina, intoned by four sopranos singing from the front of the church. The chant gave way to a Magnificat by Gilles Binchois, with the choir passing sections antiphonally back and forth from the aisles, sonically constructing the space of the church from one side to the other. For the remainder of the evening, the choir formed a simple semicircle around the small portative organ (played by recent addition to the Trinity Wall Street family Avi Stein). The choir was joined by instrumentalists — Rebecca Burrington, Bruce Chrisp, and Audrey Christensen (sackbuts), and Kate van Orden (dulcienne) — who enriched the timbre of the grander works on the program.

The group broke up the major work of the evening, Josquin’s Missa de Beata Virgine, across both halves of the program, interspersing the movements among a variety of motets from the late 15th to the turn of the 16th century. This decision showcased the diversity of textures and rhythms Josquin exploited in the mass, and the flexibility of the choir itself. The jubilant Sanctus found its home toward the end of the second half, and as a result the evening felt as if it had grown organically from its conception in the mass.

Two pieces, Nicolas Gombert’s Salve Regina “Diversi diversa orant” and Antoine Busnois’ Gaude coelestis domina showcased the power and control of the lower voices in the choir. These two pieces feature the changing styles in renaissance motets. Gombert’s later piece plunges the lowest possible notes and has a spine-tingling finish, and Busnois’ earlier work expands to the perfectly punchy and deliberate close needed for the open sonorities of high-rennaisance music. In both cases, the lower voices were eloquently rich.

One of the joys of the performance was engaging stage presence of Julian Wachner. Many good conductors give cues and shape musical phrases. Wachner’s gestures manipulate the sound as a solid, tangible object in space. He draws sound out of the ensemble as if spinning thread at times; at others he dances with the rhythmic variations, his bold gestures amplifying the movement of the sound. Wachner also communicates a wonderful understanding of the music at hand to the audience. His clear and concise interpretation of the architectural structure of the isorhythmic motet drew a delightful comparison to classic arcade video games, in which each subsequent iteration of the rhythm becomes faster and faster until the whole thing unravels. Fortunately for us last night, the whole thing didn’t unravel, and the Nuper rosarum flores motet rose to be a highlight of the program.

It is always gratifying when renowned ensembles live up to their reputation. The concert was a triumph and a delight to behold, and while there were certainly many wonderful concerts during the Berkeley Festival, this one surely stands out.

Margaret Jones is currently working on her Ph.D. in Music History and Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

Thu, June 5, 2014

NY Phil Biennial laudable, yet in need of curatorial vision
Los Angeles Times

The N.Y. Phil watered down nothing when in its Avery Fisher home at Lincoln Center, and had a triumph, a real Biennial-style tribute with the New York premiere on Saturday of Julia Wolfe’s “Anthracite Fields.” An hour-long postmodern oratorio about the plight of coal workers a century ago, it featured the Bang on a Can All-Stars and Choir of Trinity Wall Street, conducted by Julian Wachner… This is a major, profound work.

Read Full Text

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

NY Phil Biennial laudable, yet in need of curatorial vision

By Mark Swed

NEW YORK — A biennial, as practiced by the art world, is a devotion, a talking stock every other year. It is also pure catnip for a culture maven hooked on being up-to-date.

The New York Philharmonic is now the first major orchestra to emulate the Whitney Museum with a big institutional bi-yearly survey of the now. It began last week with two disappointingly insignificant operas but then exploded over the weekend with a bevy of intriguingly diverse concerts. By the time it concludes Saturday, the NY Phil Biennial will have gotten around to a Whitney-sized offering of nearly 80 works by 74 composers in venues around Manhattan.

At least part of the inspiration for the NY Phil Biennial has surely been the Los Angeles Philharmonic's high-profile new music festivals that have been changing the orchestral landscape throughout the country. But achieving a Biennial buzz in the Big Apple is a unique challenge, as was evident from the eight Biennial concerts I attended last weekend.

The Biennial is clearly a good idea for a great orchestra required to contend with the weekly parade through town of the world's other great orchestras. New music is also omnipresent in all five boroughs. It is a rare evening when there isn't something current to be heard in Brooklyn alone.

The NY Phil Biennial approach, however, seems less about making sense of a contentiously noisy environment than merely adding to it. There is no curatorial vision. No catalog with grandly conceived, fascinatingly provocative essays, but rather a collection of concerts, several handed over to other ensembles. There weren't even T-shirts.

Curiously the NY Phil turned the festival opening over to Gotham Chamber Opera, which offered Toshio Hosokawa's recent 45-minute monodrama, "The Raven," for mezzo-soprano and 12 players. What is fascinating about this score is the Japanese composer's unidiomatic setting of Poe's text, creating mystery through ethereally haunted sounds and strange accent of the poetic lines. The soloist Fredrika Brillembourg, however, went in for a more conventional operatic style. In Luca Veggetti's production she was mirrored by dancer Alessandra Ferri, doubling up on emotional overstatement. Neal Goren's conducting was not subtle.

The other opera, H.K. Gruber's "Gloria — A Pig Tale," was a collaboration by the N.Y. Phil and the Juilliard School and presented at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Alan Gilbert conducted and his frequent collaborator, Doug Fitch, was responsible for the production. It's a little hard to figure out what Gruber, an Austrian left-wing fabulist, was up to, but there was little question that the tale of a pretty pig who falls for her butcher had underlying political nastiness.

We got instead a family-friendly show with cutesy costumes and Broadway-style acting. The kids in the audience on a Sunday afternoon with glorious weather outdoors acted the restless prisoners they were. A biennial is no place for watering-down political art. Kids, at least, were far better treated in concerts featuring very young composers and an ensemble of high school students from programs that the New York Philharmonic admirably supports.

The N.Y. Phil watered down nothing when in its Avery Fisher home at Lincoln Center, and had a triumph, a real Biennial-style tribute with the New York premiere on Saturday of Julia Wolfe's "Anthracite Fields." An hour-long postmodern oratorio about the plight of coal workers a century ago, it featured the Bang on a Can All-Stars and Choir of Trinity Wall Street, conducted by Julian Wachner, and an eloquent video backdrop by Jeff Sugg.

Here Wolfe, one of the founders of Bang on a Can, captures not only the sadness of hard lives lost (it begins with a long recitation of names of men named John who had mining accidents between 1896 and 1916 in Pennsylvania's anthracite fields) but also of the sweetness and passion of a way of daily life now also lost. The music compels without overstatement. This is a major, profound work.

A late-night concert Saturday in the Museum of Modern Art lobby was part of its "Contact!" series of new music concerts that Gilbert began on the L.A. Phil Green Umbrella model. Here the players were positioned before the windows facing a sculpture garden but looking out at darkness for a long program, which went past midnight and was conducted by Matthias Pintscher, who originally conceived it for the Salzburg Festival.

Nine composers were commissioned to write pieces inspired by sculpture around the Austrian town. Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth's take on Mario Merz's "Number in the Forest" stood out for its edgy obsessiveness. Jay Schwarz's "M," based on a Mozart homage by Markus Lupertz, was a reminder of the weird, unclassifiable work of the American expat from San Diego rarely heard in this country.

Two Biennial programs turned over to the Orchestra of St. Luke's, conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado, considered the music and influence of Pierre Boulez and British composer George Benjamin. The performances were first-rate. The music was excellent but not groundbreaking. The one surprise was Heinz Holliger's "Ostinato "Funèbre," an eerie ostinato that used a water gong and the sound of tearing paper.

Both turn out to be John Cage inventions, a composer and the founder of the New York School, which the New York Philharmonic has gone out of its way to either ignore or subvert throughout its history. This may be an avenue for future biennials, especially if the orchestra hopes to keep up with museums.

MoMA, in fact, has just acquired Cage's original score for his silent piece, "4'33"," and the museum has built an exhibition around the revolutionary score, which opened the L.A. Phil season in September.

In a radio interview, Gilbert called the Biennial "an adventure without really knowing what is going to happen." The concerts I heard steered clear of unknowns. But the Biennial remains a good idea. The New York Philharmonic has invested impressive resources into it. And next time around, it may well know better wherein lies the buzz.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

Sun, June 1, 2014

For Ensembles and Singers, a Night of Backbreaking Labor
The New York Times

For “Anthracite Fields,” the meticulous Julian Wachner conducted the brilliant Bang on a Can All-Stars and his own Choir of Trinity Wall Street. Evocative, but sometimes didactic, video projections by Jeff Sugg (mostly black-and-white portraits of miners, diagrams and maps of Pennsylvania mining country) added visual interest. Occasionally, they displayed parts of the libretto, assembled from oral histories, local children’s rhymes and an index of Pennsylvania mining accidents, which provided the chillingly long litany of victims with the first name John that opened the work. Repetition is also the foundation of Ms. Wolfe’s music, which was enlivened by her subtle writing for voices and the inventive ways she used the Bang on a Can players. The cellist Ashley Bathgate’s chanting of children’s ditties had an impish ferocity to it; the electric guitarist Mark Stewart turned a speech by the miners’ leader John L. Lewis into a rock anthem.

Read Full Text

Music Review

For Ensembles and Singers, a Night of Backbreaking Labor

By CORINNA da FONSECA-WOLLHEIM

June 1, 2014

The NY Phil Biennial presented a diptych of New York premieres dedicated to manual labor on Friday evening at Avery Fisher Hall. Julia Wolfe’s “Anthracite Fields” (2014) commemorates the Pennsylvania coal miners whose work fueled the industrial revolution. Steven Mackey’s “Dreamhouse” (2003) examines the process of building a house. Both works feature singers and an ensemble mixing acoustic and amplified instruments; both express unease with the American culture of comfort and consumption.

“Anthracite Fields” contains a raw indictment of the exploitation of workers, particularly the children employed in the mines as breaker boys, sifting through coal and debris with bleeding fingers. Mr. Mackey’s work was written in the wake of Sept. 11 and hints at the hidden costs of domestic security: “I’ll build you a dream house, where you can live, where you’ll be safe,” runs one obsessively reiterated verse. “And we’ll put up the fence for nothing.”

But the many parallels only served to heighten the differences. In Ms. Wolfe’s polished and stylistically assured cantata, the overall coherence of the musical material helped her expressions of outrage to burn cleanly and brightly. But the supermarket of musical styles of “Dreamhouse” failed to deliver any emotion clearly, and Mr. Mackey’s own attitude toward his subject — the house as home as homeland — was too self-consciously muddled to make for a compelling piece.

For “Anthracite Fields,” the meticulous Julian Wachner conducted the brilliant Bang on a Can All-Stars and his own Choir of Trinity Wall Street. Evocative, but sometimes didactic, video projections by Jeff Sugg (mostly black-and-white portraits of miners, diagrams and maps of Pennsylvania mining country) added visual interest. Occasionally, they displayed parts of the libretto, assembled from oral histories, local children’s rhymes and an index of Pennsylvania mining accidents, which provided the chillingly long litany of victims with the first name John that opened the work. Repetition is also the foundation of Ms. Wolfe’s music, which was enlivened by her subtle writing for voices and the inventive ways she used the Bang on a Can players. The cellist Ashley Bathgate’s chanting of children’s ditties had an impish ferocity to it; the electric guitarist Mark Stewart turned a speech by the miners’ leader John L. Lewis into a rock anthem.

For “Dreamhouse,” the New York Philharmonic shared the stage with a fine quartet of singers from Synergy Vocals and the oddly low-key Catch Electric Guitar Quartet from the Netherlands. Jayce Ogren ably conducted the hyperactive score, which toggled between musical styles with the manic speed of a slot machine. The blend of acoustic and amplified sounds was never ideal (an issue elegantly resolved in “Anthracite Fields.”)

The much-needed focal point of the performance was the charismatic actor and vocalist Rinde Eckert, who had written the libretto with Mr. Mackey. Their text is an uninspiring collage of architectural jargon and brief instances of direct speech such as, “Hmmm the pool, so still so serene.” There were plenty of skillful touches in the orchestration: comic sound effects, vivid brass writing, a lusciously brooding orchestral interlude after the line “So draw your blinds and sleep.” But you had to rummage around to find them in this messy, crowded house.

NY Phil Biennial runs through June 7 at various locations; nyphil.org/biennial, 212-875-5656.

Sat, May 24, 2014

Big Deal
The New Yorker

If any program defines a new American tradition, it’s the one featuring New York premières by Julia Wolfe and Steven Mackey (May 30-31), two composers who have been as deeply influenced by rock and folk music as they have by Beethoven or Josquin. The Bang on a Can All-Stars and the Trinity Choir will gather to give the New York première of Wolfe’s “Anthracite Fields,” a flinty, big-boned, and appealing work, complete with video, that honors the generations of miners who toiled in the Pennsylvania coalfields; then the Philharmonic, Synergy Vocals, the actor and vocalist Rinde Eckert, and the Catch Electric Guitar Quartet will perform Mackey’s “Dreamhouse,” a post-9/11 meditation that’s almost Whitmanesque in its brashly heterogeneous congress of sounds.

Read Full Text

Classical Music
Big Deal
A first-time festival from the Philharmonic offers new music from around the world.
by Russell Platt May 26, 2014

Julia Wolfe’s “Anthracite Fields,” featuring the Trinity Choir and the Bang on a Can All-Stars, is a highlight of the upcoming “NY Phil Biennial.”

The New York Philharmonic will soon launch its inaugural “NY Phil Biennial” (May 28-June 7), a glorious, eleven-day festival of new music from around the world. Alan Gilbert’s keen interest in contemporary sounds has been a historic aspect of his term as music director: you have to go back to the days of Pierre Boulez and Leonard Bernstein to find a similar level of enthusiasm.

For whatever reason, Gilbert’s administration has always placed an intense emphasis on music by foreign composers. The programs in the orchestra’s new-music chamber series, “Contact!,” have shown a decided devotion to the current gods of high European modernism, such as Boulez and Magnus Lindberg, who was the orchestra’s composer-in-residence from 2009 to 2012. And in next season’s “Contact!” series, the vast majority of works are by non-U.S. composers. American music has hardly been ignored, but sometimes it seems as if the conductor initially marketed as “A Maestro for New York” were more interested in what’s happening in Paris or Helsinki than on the Lower East Side.

The Biennial, fortunately, is pleasantly balanced, with works from both sides of the Atlantic. European musicians, who still have a fondness for their ancient composer-apprentice tradition, will be the focus of several concerts. “Beyond Recall,” a program at MOMA conducted by Matthias Pintscher (May 29 and May 31), is a collection of pieces by such composers as Olga Neuwirth and Bruno Mantovani, each inspired by a work of contemporary public art located in the city of Salzburg. In “Circles of Influence,” two concerts at the Rose Theatre, the Phil hands the baton to the brilliant young Spanish conductor Pablo Heras-Casado, who leads the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in programs devoted not only to music by Boulez (May 31) and the English master George Benjamin (June 1) but also to those composers who surrounded them or inherited their innovations.

The predominantly American events have a more rambunctious quality. Gilbert and the full Philharmonic will give the world première of the Symphony No. 4 by its current composer-in-residence, Christopher Rouse, at Avery Fisher Hall (June 5 and June 7). But music by young composers, in that program and in another concert conducted by Pintscher (June 6), won’t be revealed until June 3, when the Philharmonic, in collaboration with the American Composers Orchestra’s “EarShot” initiative, will give a private reading of six fresh pieces. You can’t get more cutting edge than that.

If any program defines a new American tradition, it’s the one featuring New York premières by Julia Wolfe and Steven Mackey (May 30-31), two composers who have been as deeply influenced by rock and folk music as they have by Beethoven or Josquin. The Bang on a Can All-Stars and the Trinity Choir will gather to give the New York première of Wolfe’s “Anthracite Fields,” a flinty, big-boned, and appealing work, complete with video, that honors the generations of miners who toiled in the Pennsylvania coalfields; then the Philharmonic, Synergy Vocals, the actor and vocalist Rinde Eckert, and the Catch Electric Guitar Quartet will perform Mackey’s “Dreamhouse,” a post-9/11 meditation that’s almost Whitmanesque in its brashly heterogeneous congress of sounds. ♦

Sat, May 24, 2014

Sérendipité musicale
Le Devoir

Le concert débute avec un Motet à 40 voix de Striggio. Impeccable. Puis la moitié du choeur s’en va. Julian Wachner dirige l’effectif restant, dans des oeuvres totalement inconnues, dont une de lui, qui ressemble à du Whitacre ou du Lauridsen. Et là, miracle. Un fondu total, des forte nobles et égaux, une sensualité et onctuosité des lignes et des timbres, une émotion palpable. Qui sont ces gens ? Montréal a-t-il un choeur de chambre de niveau mondial, qui rappelle ceux de Bernius, Dijkstra ou Sourisse ? Vite, qu’on s’abonne…

Read Full Text

LE DEVOIR

Christophe Huss 
23 mai 2014  Culture / Musique
Sérendipité musicale

40 voix pour 40 ans
Striggio: Motet Ecce beatam lucem et Gloria de la Missa sopra Ecco si beato giorno, à 40 voix en 10 choeurs. Gabriel Jackson: Sanctum est verum lumen, à 40 voix en huit choeurs. Tallis: Spem in allium, à 40 voix en huit choeurs. Oeuvres de Charles Wood, William Henry Harris, Julian Wachner, John Taverner. Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal, Trinity Wall Street, Christopher Jackson et Julian Wachner. Église Saint-Patrick, jeudi 22 mai.

On arrive pour le 40e anniversaire du Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal (SMAM). Mario Paquet, de Radio Canada, nous présente Christopher Jackson et Julian Wachner. On ne comprend pas trop ce que Wachner, bien connu à Montréal, fait là. On va vite le savoir…

Le concert débute avec un Motet à 40 voix de Striggio. Impeccable. Puis la moitié du choeur s’en va. Julian Wachner dirige l’effectif restant, dans des oeuvres totalement inconnues, dont une de lui, qui ressemble à du Whitacre ou du Lauridsen. Et là, miracle. Un fondu total, des forte nobles et égaux, une sensualité et onctuosité des lignes et des timbres, une émotion palpable. Qui sont ces gens ? Montréal a-t-il un choeur de chambre de niveau mondial, qui rappelle ceux de Bernius, Dijkstra ou Sourisse ? Vite, qu’on s’abonne…

Alors on ouvre le programme. Snif ! Cette apparition, du nom de Trinity Wall Street, nous est venue de New York. Cas singulier de sérendipité (trouver quelque chose alors qu’on ne cherche rien…) appliquée à la musique : on est venu pour les 40 ans du SMAM et on découvre le choeur new-yorkais de Julian Wachner. Christopher Jackson n’a sans doute pas pensé au problème.

Car inévitablement, après la pause, on attend le SMAM dans le même exercice. Et là, dans Taverner, on retrouve le SMAM qui appelle de notre part les sempiternels mêmes commentaires, tant qu’on n’aura pas trouvé dans le répertoire des oeuvres pour mezzos, ténors I et basse II seuls. La passion de Christopher Jackson n’est pas en doute, mais à l’issue d’un concert choral il devrait nous être impossible de dire comment chaque choriste chante. Et que nous sommes loin d’avoir les mêmes goûts que le chef du SMAM en matière de couleurs vocales : le ténor qui trompette et perce, la couleur froide des sopranos et leur déséquilibre avec des mezzos douces et presque timides…

Christopher Jackson a savouré le 40e anniversaire du SMAM, en dirigeant son oeuvre fétiche, Spem in allium de Tallis. C’était très bien. Laissons le savourer. Il a juste trouvé des renforts qui, sans penser à mal, lui ont volé le show…

Fri, April 25, 2014

Tuvan Throat Singers, Together in Spirit With Arvo Pärt
The New York Times

Mr. Pärt’s “Passio” (1982), which Mr. Lang in that same letter called “the holiest work by the holiest of the holy Minimalists,” is the very picture of refinement and detachment: odd in that it shuns the rich vein of drama that others, mainly Bach, have exploited to the hilt in their settings of John’s text. With a sort of purposeful abstraction, Mr. Pärt divides the crucial role of the Evangelist among four vocalists, singing solo or in combinations, and they often seem, in quick upward and downward strokes, to be trying to erase their very tracks…

...The performance was excellent. The rising baritone Dashon Burton sang Jesus with proper restraint, and the tenor Nicholas Phan was as winning as a Pilate could be.

Julian Wachner conducted members of his Choir of Trinity Wall Street and a handful of fine instrumentalists, including the wonderful organist Renée Anne Louprette. A quartet from the vocal group Tenet, led by its artistic director, the soprano Jolle Greenleaf, sang the Evangelists beautifully.

Read Full Text

Music Review

Tuvan Throat Singers, Together in Spirit With Arvo Pärt

By JAMES R. OESTREICH

April 25, 2014

In a promotional letter, the composer David Lang called “collected stories,” the weeklong series of programs he is overseeing at Zankel Hall, “a little festival of odd music.” The house was full again on Wednesday, as it had been for the first concert, on Tuesday, and probably few of those present would have disputed Mr. Lang’s characterization.

The two segments of this fascinating and lovably perverse program — a set of folkish songs rendered by Huun-Huur-Tu, a quartet of Tuvan throat singers and instrumentalists, and a rare performance of “Passio,” Arvo Pärt’s spare setting of the story of Jesus’ Passion from the Gospel of John — were not only odd individually, but also befuddling in combination.

Mr. Lang’s basic idea is to show the many ways music has been used to enhance storytelling, and these were certainly disparate examples. But his further attempt to unify each concert with a thematic word or two in this case shed more mystery than light.

Spirit? True, the term applies to Mr. Pärt’s sacred work in every sense, but to the songs of Tuva (a Russian republic, along its border with Mongolia), it worked only in the general sense that all music is a function of spirit, lowercase. From what little I could glean of the commentary delivered by one of the Tuvan musicians (spoken too closely into a microphone to be heard clearly) and from the music itself, the songs were secular, related mainly to nature: birds, horses, the landscapes of the steppes and mountains.

The oddity of this music lies in the vocal production. Growls, rasps and croaks emanate from deep in the throat and typically form drone chords, with overtones somehow manipulated to produce added whistling sounds, even melodies, high above.

It takes a lot of breath to project these sounds, and the resulting style can initially strike the Western ear as brash, if not crude: at times a sort of sustained belch. But ear and sensibility can also adjust, and these musicians quickly proved themselves masters of their unusual craft, their sheer musicality carrying all before it.

Mr. Pärt’s “Passio” (1982), which Mr. Lang in that same letter called “the holiest work by the holiest of the holy Minimalists,” is the very picture of refinement and detachment: odd in that it shuns the rich vein of drama that others, mainly Bach, have exploited to the hilt in their settings of John’s text. With a sort of purposeful abstraction, Mr. Pärt divides the crucial role of the Evangelist among four vocalists, singing solo or in combinations, and they often seem, in quick upward and downward strokes, to be trying to erase their very tracks.

Only the text and its meanings count, not drummed-up drama, not personalities. Even Jesus, an almost constant presence, is limned modestly. But, oddly again, Pilate, though little more than a foil, comes closest to real melodic effusions.

The performance was excellent. The rising baritone Dashon Burton sang Jesus with proper restraint, and the tenor Nicholas Phan was as winning as a Pilate could be.

Julian Wachner conducted members of his Choir of Trinity Wall Street and a handful of fine instrumentalists, including the wonderful organist Renée Anne Louprette. A quartet from the vocal group Tenet, led by its artistic director, the soprano Jolle Greenleaf, sang the Evangelists beautifully.

Mon, April 7, 2014

When DeMain Is Away, How Does the Madison Symphony Play?
Madison Magazine

Wachner’s resume indicates he is a rising star very much risen already, particularly in the choral world, with his positions as Director of Music and the Arts at Trinity Church (the famed colonial building on Wall Street) and music director of the Washington Chorus. His performance Friday night gave more than ample evidence that his reputation should remain on the rise for some time…

...Wachner favored a big and bold canvas for [the Mozart ‘Requiem’], befitting the large chorus and modern instruments (although the clarinet players appeared to be playing basset horns—a nice touch). The famous “Dies irae” was furious, but later in the “Lacrymosa” the violins provided a haunting, suitably weeping, motif.

Read Full Text

When DeMain Is Away, How Does the Madison Symphony Play?

By Greg Hettmansberger

I hope no one is surprised to learn that, while Madison Symphony Orchestra music director John DeMain is in the midst of his twentieth season with the orchestra, he is still very much in demand in other places. So while DeMain is hopping flights to and from Virginia Opera (getting his usual strong notices for Carmen) and laying the groundwork for Madison Opera’s upcoming Dead Man Walking, Julian Wachner took his place for this past weekend’s concerts at Overture Hall (which had been the plan all along).

Wachner’s resume indicates he is a rising star very much risen already, particularly in the choral world, with his positions as Director of Music and the Arts at Trinity Church (the famed colonial building on Wall Street) and music director of the Washington Chorus. His performance Friday night gave more than ample evidence that his reputation should remain on the rise for some time.

The MSO players didn’t seem to mind that Wachner conducts without a baton, having no problem realizing a blistering “Slavonic Dance No. 1” by Dvorak. But the big number of the first half gave all concerned varied opportunities for color, nuance and expression—with no lack of the big moments.

The work was the Symphonie Concertante for Organ and Orchestra of Joseph Jongen, a piece that was given the honor of the first work performed on the Overture Hall organ in 2004. The 1926 opus is a fascinating composition, in the opening movement treating the organ mostly as a special musical spice, and not giving any clues as to stylistic influences on the composer.

But soon enough organist Nathan Laube had plenty of knuckle-busting (and ankle-wriggling) passages, beginning with the ensuing “Divertimento.” Here and later, one can hear wisps of Debussy, Respighi and other post-Romantic voices. But Jongen created a fabulous showpiece all his own, and every section of the orchestra had a chance to revel in a glorious palette of textures. The audience response was to immediately come to their feet, and in the course of three curtain calls, the applause intensified when the orchestra was asked to stand. And it must be said the performance made a strong argument for some of us (I’m first in line) to make a point of getting to next month’s last—or any of next season’s—organ performances at Overture Hall.

The second half was an opportunity to showcase the Madison Symphony Chorus and four vocalists, some of whom are already known for fine work here in town. The Requiem of Mozart is, of course, that famously unfinished work, shrouded in mystery and misinformation. But even when sorted out neatly in J. Michael Allsen’s always cogent and delightful program notes, it cannot deliver as complete a dramatic impact as some later works of the genre.

But the problems on this occasion were more pedestrian, and seemed to result from a miscalculation of the seating arrangement: With the four vocal soloists well behind Wachner, they did not always produce lines that were hand-in-glove in sync with Wachner and the other forces. This was particularly noticed in the “Recordare,” but later everyone was on the same page (even if Wachner wasn’t using a score!).

Wachner favored a big and bold canvas for the work, befitting the large chorus and modern instruments (although the clarinet players appeared to be playing basset horns—a nice touch). The famous “Dies irae” was furious, but later in the “Lacrymosa” the violins provided a haunting, suitably weeping, motif.

Soprano Emily Birsan and contralto Daniela Mack are no strangers to Madison, and it was a pleasure to hear their continued artistic growth and fine shadings of vocalism. They were joined by tenor Wesley Rogers and bass Liam Moran, and the foursome was nicely matched in timbre and balance. The MSO Chorus, expertly trained as always by Beverly Taylor, provided all the impact Wachner asked for without sacrificing clarity and beauty.

Sat, April 5, 2014

With guest conductor Wachner, MSO and Chorus bring power and precision to Mozart’s Requiem
The Daily Page

Wachner is an experienced choral conductor, and he has the advantage of very lucid textures in this score. He is thus able to draw clearly defined part lines and even good diction out of the chorus. This is, clearly, the best I have ever heard the group sing.

Read Full Text

With guest conductor Julian Wachner, Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus bring power and precision to Mozart's Requiem
John W. Barker on Saturday 04/05/2014 10:54 am

The first performance was on Friday night, and the program will be repeated on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Wachner begins strangely with a throwaway opener: Dvorák's Slavonic Dance in C, Op. 46, No. 1. Discarding any sense of its origins in dance, he seems to want it only as a four-minute noise-maker.

More serious business is the Symphonie Concertante for organ and orchestra, Op. 81, by Belgian composer and organist Joseph Jongen (1873-1953). This is one of the few widely known works of its kind, pitting the organ as a solo instrument against an orchestra. Saint-Saëns' Third Symphony is the leading example, and Poulenc's Concerto for Organ, Timpani and Strings is also in the running.

Jongen's piece is a four-movement work of symphonic proportions, full of brave sounds and music that is pleasant to listen to, though it leaves few lingering memories. The other guest of the program, young organist Nathan Laube, gives the mighty Klais organ (its console front and center) a knowing workout. The score requires the soloist to play virtually without interruption, and Laube shows himself to be tireless as well as virtuosic. But special praise is due for the house organist, Samuel Hutchison, for graciously standing by and turning pages for Laube. (Hutchison goes to the relocated organ to play continuo in the second half.)

After the intermission comes what is very much the main event: Mozart's Requiem Mass, K. 626, his final composition.

It is presented as unabashedly "big band" Mozart, aiming for a full-blooded and gutsy sound. The score was left unfinished by the composer, so the performance uses the traditional completion of it by his student Franz Xaver Süssmayr. It is now well established that Süssmayr did a less-than-ideal job in finishing the score, and there are a number of recent editions that aim to complete the work in a way that’s consistent with Mozart’s more likely intentions. But it is not a scholarly production we hear this time, and Mozart-Süssmayr remains the working standard.

There are four soloists for the quartet passages. UW alum Emily Birsan leads as soprano, with contralto Daniela Mack (another Madison veteran), tenor Wesley Rogers and bass Liam Moran. The orchestra is slightly reduced and plays clearly.

But the star is the Madison Symphony Chorus. Its work is so often compromised by the stifling acoustics that haunt the far rear of the stage. But, aided by their numbers (some 147 singers, in well-balanced section numbers), and well drilled by chorus director Beverly Taylor, the chorus is able to break out of the shadows this time.

Wachner is an experienced choral conductor, and he has the advantage of very lucid textures in this score. He is thus able to draw clearly defined part lines and even good diction out of the chorus. This is, clearly, the best I have ever heard the group sing. They made themselves the powerful engine of this performance.

Tue, March 11, 2014

Offering Choral Solace for Composers’ Laments
The New York Times

“Those of you who came to what you thought was an early-music concert, I apologize,” Julian Wachner, the music and arts director at Trinity Church, said jokingly during his welcoming remarks on Sunday. Referring to last year’s ambitious Stravinsky series at the church, he explained that Stravinsky had cited Krenek’s “Lamentatio” as an influence on his own late 12-tone compositions…

...“I wonder if I am not much more fussy about certain details in the Lamentations because I know that no living person will sing or hear them,” Krenek wrote in his journal. If only he could have heard the magnificent Trinity Choir, one that would prompt any listener to want to hear the work complete.

Read Full Text

Offering Choral Solace for Composers’ Laments
Trinity Choir Performs Works Based on the Book of Lamentations

By STEVE SMITH

MARCH 11, 2014

That Ernst Krenek, an Austrian composer of Czech descent, should be moved to write a work based on the biblical Lamentations seems entirely natural, given the personal woes and professional tribulations he faced at the time. A gifted, prolific artist who had mingled with Mahler, Berg and the French upstarts of Les Six, Krenek in 1941 was teaching at Vassar College, exiled by the rise of the Nazis, who had declared his music “degenerate,” and embattled by jealous rivals who sought his dismissal.

Small wonder that Krenek, whose journal from the period reveals contemplations of suicide, would turn to liturgy concerned with defeat, ruin, abandonment and despair. On Sunday afternoon, a performance of his “Lamentatio Jeremiae Prophetae” by the Trinity Choir was a highlight of the first event in Lamentatio, a new six-concert weekly series at Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan.

The piece also served as a cornerstone for the remainder of the program: a portion of a Requiem Mass by the 15th-century Flemish master Ockeghem, whose music Krenek studied at Vassar; and Lamentations settings by Lassus, the 16th-century Dutch composer, and Alberto Ginastera, a younger contemporary of Krenek’s.

“Those of you who came to what you thought was an early-music concert, I apologize,” Julian Wachner, the music and arts director at Trinity Church, said jokingly during his welcoming remarks on Sunday. Referring to last year’s ambitious Stravinsky series at the church, he explained that Stravinsky had cited Krenek’s “Lamentatio” as an influence on his own late 12-tone compositions.

True enough, the concert had started with a pitch-perfect account of Ginastera’s succinct, potent “Lamentaciones de Jeremias Propheta,” written in 1946 during his exile in the United States after Juan Perón assumed power in Argentina. A mix of stark harmonies, Baroque references and vibrant folk-derived rhythms, the piece emphasizes the text’s qualities of wrath and dejection. Yet each of its three movements ends with a luminous chord offering conciliatory hope.

After the Introitus and Kyrie from Ockeghem’s fragmentary Missa pro defunctis, Mr. Wachner proceeded to Krenek, interweaving three sections of the work with corresponding potions of Lassus’s “Hieremiae Prophetae Lamentationes,” from 1584.

Transitions among Krenek’s stern 12-tone plaints and Lassus’s easeful melodic effusions were jarring, yet not overly so. Krenek fashioned his rows into six-note groups meant to evoke Gregorian modes, providing a kind of structural clarity and cohesion not always readily discerned in dodecaphonic music.

“I wonder if I am not much more fussy about certain details in the Lamentations because I know that no living person will sing or hear them,” Krenek wrote in his journal. If only he could have heard the magnificent Trinity Choir, one that would prompt any listener to want to hear the work complete.

Tue, March 4, 2014

All Music is Church
The Brooklyn Rail

...A few days later, I’m downtown at St. Paul’s Chapel at Trinity Wall Street for the Sunday night service known as Compline, sung by the Choir of Trinity Wall Street under their director, Julian Wachner. With the nave lit only by candles, the choir sings a haunting mix of plainchant and improvised music, putting a modern spin on the ancient monastic service.

Compline is just one of several musical events presented by Trinity Wall Street each week: there are lunchtime concerts devoted to Bach’s cantatas on Mondays, plus organ music every Wednesday and chamber and contemporary music on Thursdays, along with regular performances of operas and other large-scale works featuring Trinity’s in-house orchestra, NOVUS NY. Almost all are free…

...Beyond the technical similarities between Renaissance and contemporary music, I wondered if the daily practice of singing sacred choral music also affected these young musicians in a metaphysical way. Almost everyone I spoke with could recall at least one instance where they were caught off guard by the emotional resonance of singing in church, be it hearing the reverberation of their voice or the spiritual content of the text. Tempting as it is to define such experiences as “Road to Damascus” moments, Wachner says that’s missing the point.

“All music is church,” he says. “All music is spirituality, whether it’s specific or whether it’s a reference.”

Read Full Text

ALL MUSIC IS CHURCH
Choral Music In New York

by Pete Matthews

Pushing past the chestnut carts, day-trippers, and Salvation Army bell-ringers that clog Fifth Avenue the week before Christmas, I climb the steps of St. Thomas Church, the imposing gothic pile on the corner of 53rd Street that abuts the Museum of Modern Art. Inside, the St. Thomas Boys Choir is standing on the altar in seasonal red vestments, singing Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols” as part of their annual holiday concert. Led by their director John Scott—formerly the organist and director of music at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London—and accompanied by harpist Anna Reinersman, the boys’ treble voices soar in the high stone nave, clear and resonant all the way to my seat in the organ loft. For an hour or so, I am transported far from the clamor outside.

A few days later, I’m downtown at St. Paul’s Chapel at Trinity Wall Street for the Sunday night service known as Compline, sung by the Choir of Trinity Wall Street under their director, Julian Wachner. With the nave lit only by candles, the choir sings a haunting mix of plainchant and improvised music, putting a modern spin on the ancient monastic service.

Compline is just one of several musical events presented by Trinity Wall Street each week: there are lunchtime concerts devoted to Bach’s cantatas on Mondays, plus organ music every Wednesday and chamber and contemporary music on Thursdays, along with regular performances of operas and other large-scale works featuring Trinity’s in-house orchestra, NOVUS NY. Almost all are free.

It is irrefutable that sacred music lies at the center of the Western classical music tradition. From Gregorian chant to Bach, Britten, and beyond, more music has been written for the church than for any other institution. But in a city with a surfeit of world-class performing arts institutions, music lovers tend to overlook the day-to-day musical offerings at places like St. Thomas or Trinity, perhaps put off by their religious underpinnings.

Sacred music has had an outsized influence on one surprising corner of the New York musical world: the post-classical scene found at places like Le Poisson Rouge or heard on the label New Amsterdam Records. Much of this is because churches offer a flexible schedule and a steady source of income for fledgling freelance musicians, as they have for centuries. But after speaking with several prominent composers, all in their early 30s, it’s clear that while singing in church may be a day job, it’s also an inspiration for their own music.

Composer and violinist Caleb Burhans spent nearly 20 years in church choirs, including seven years as a countertenor at Trinity. “Choral music is central to who I am,” Caleb says, “It informs everything I do. There’s something about the visceral experience of singing close harmonies with others that I really like.”

Caleb, who considers himself agnostic, admits to being ambivalent when it comes to the religious nature of this music. A case in point is his debut album, Evensong (Cantaloupe Music), with its ambient and post-rock settings of traditional Anglican verses.

"I guess you could say I’m on a personal quest to reconcile with Christianity through my music. Subconsciously, I’ll tweak a harmony to be subversive, or will tip my hat to the past by quoting a motif or cadence from some 16th-century hymn or motet."

Another composer strongly influenced by sacred music is Nico Muhly, whose earliest performing experience was as a boy soprano at Grace Episcopal Church in Providence, Rhode Island. In his 2005 Guardian essay “Choral Sex,” Nico said that after his voice changed, he carried his affinities for the Anglican choral tradition­—its localized repetitions, small gestures, and overall restraint—over to his own music.

“It’s become a cantus firmus through everything I do,” he said in an interview with the Metropolitan Opera last year, “not just musically, but also as a sort of philosophy of how to make music and think of yourself as a composer.”

In addition to writing large scale works like his opera Two Boys, staged earlier this season by the Met, Nico has composed a great deal of choral music, much of it for John Scott and the St. Thomas Choir. “With sacred music,” he says, “your obligation is to the bigger narrative of the fundamental story of the church. But because everybody knows the story, the composer’s job is one of shading and re-telling.”

Even for non-composers, the daily rigor of singing in a church choir can be beneficial. Soprano Mellissa Hughes, one of new music’s most sought-after and dynamic singers, says that her day job as a member of the Trinity Choir has been invaluable in honing sight-reading chops and other technical skills.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t sung in choirs,” she says. “There are these little tricks you learn that come from knowing your instrument and working in a group setting.”

Bora Yoon is an experimental composer and performer who creates surreal soundscapes by blending electronics and found objects with her own voice. Bora says that while her membership in the Voices of Ascencion choir has turned some heads among her avant-garde peers, it’s had a profound influence on how she thinks about performance, and music in general:

As a singer and composer, I get influenced just by having to sing through all of this varied repertoire week after week that I wouldn’t normally be exposed to. I have access to this great wealth of knowledge about how timbre works, how spatialization of sound works, what makes one period sound different from another.

According to Trinity's Wachner, this kind of cross-influence works both ways.  "My administrators think I’m insane, but I don’t have any regulation on attendance. First of all, it allows the singers to pay their rent, but more importantly it keeps them artistically satisfied, so that when they come back to Trinity from singing in these other groups, they come back with these experiences that increase what we do."

One of these groups is the Grammy award-winning a cappella octet Roomful of Teeth, half of whom come from the Trinity Choir (a fifth member sings with St. Thomas). The group incorporates folk-based vocal practices from all over the world, including yodeling, Korean P’ansori, and Tuvan throat singing.

“It seemed like a given to me,” says their director Brad Wells, “that composers would enjoy writing for the voice in dramatically different gears from bel canto, to throat singing, to all of these different kinds of techniques.”

One of Roomful of Teeth’s members, Caroline Shaw, used many of these techniques in her “Partita for 8 Voices,” which won last year’s Pulitzer Prize for music. Caroline, who sang in the choir of Christ Church New Haven before moving to New York in 2008, says she didn’t initially set out to write something so substantial: “I’m not sure what the impetus for it was, other than wanting a certain kind of clarity.”

As a result, “Partita” has a bold, unadorned sound that is both vividly fresh and strangely familiar—it catches you off-guard. “When we first performed “Passacaglia” (the first movement) in 2009,” Wells recalls, “there was a real power to it. People were leaning forward in their chairs; they couldn’t help but cheer right in the middle of it.”

On a snowy Saturday in December, I trekked to Brooklyn College’s Walt Whitman Hall for a holiday concert by the Grammy Award-winning Brooklyn Youth Chorus (B.Y.C.), made up of kids aged 11 to 18. After sing-alongs of “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” the B.Y.C. performed Shaw’s “Its Motion Keeps,” a mesmerizing homage to “A Ceremony of Carols,” with overlapping, antiphonal sounds marked by dissonance and decay. “Its Motion Keeps” was commissioned by the B.Y.C. last year as part of their New Voices Commissioning Project, which has yielded more than two dozen works to date.

“The existing body of music for treble-voice youth chorus is somewhat limited,” says B.Y.C. Founder and Director Dianne Berkun-Menaker.  "Commissioning music has made it possible to find and express our own unique voice. The range of composers that B.Y.C. has worked with, from John Adams to Shaw, has provided the chorus with musical challenges on every level—from vocal technique to complex harmonies and polyrhythms."

The following week, I went to hear the Sunday night meditation at the Church of the Ascension, a quiet, reflective service with a cappella music sung by Bora from the organ loft. The music all sounded like it came from the same period, though I couldn’t tell which. When I saw her afterwards, Bora said the first selection was by the medieval abbess Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 1179), but the others were by David Lang and Meredith Monk, both living New York composers.

“We’re revisiting the same side of the record, just several grooves in,” she told me.  "Hildegard’s music is nearly 1,000 years old, and it still carries the resonance it does because it has a universal nature that will never outdate itself. Classic and romantic periods are very declarative and presentational, whereas medieval and postmodern music both have an inward quality that has a glow to it, that’s very clear and transportive. It’s all cyclical."

Wachner hears a similar thread. “The choral tradition is based primarily on a modal system,” he says.  "It’s 16th century white note minstrel notation that’s based on a fixed set of constrained pitches. Which is also where contemporary music comes from. And so, I think today’s minimalism and mystic minimalism has been a return to medievalism. There’s a real affinity between those two worlds."

Beyond the technical similarities between Renaissance and contemporary music, I wondered if the daily practice of singing sacred choral music also affected these young musicians in a metaphysical way. Almost everyone I spoke with could recall at least one instance where they were caught off guard by the emotional resonance of singing in church, be it hearing the reverberation of their voice or the spiritual content of the text. Tempting as it is to define such experiences as “Road to Damascus” moments, Wachner says that’s missing the point.

“All music is church,” he says. “All music is spirituality, whether it’s specific or whether it’s a reference.”

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I made my way back to St. Thomas for Evensong, the daily choral service that has been sung in some form since the Middle Ages. Although elements of the service change depending on the day, the “Magnificat”—Mary’s song of praise when she realizes she is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies—has been sung at every Evensong for more than 1,500 years. Countless composers have set this text—on this day the music was by Francis Jackson, the former organist and director of music at York Minster Cathedral, still active at the age of 96. As the voices of the men and boys soared over the rumbling bass line of the organ, one verse resonated beyond the others:

He hath filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he hath sent away empty.

As I walked out onto Fifth Avenue, I thought about how classical music left so much of the past behind and wandered the desert of serialism for the better part of the 20th century, leaving many hungry for the familiar joys of tonality. In the early years of this century, contemporary musicians are reminding us that no matter what church we belong to, music can bring us all closer to the divine.

Tue, February 18, 2014

Gawlick’s Missa Gentis Humanae Debuts
The Boston Music Intelligencer

One knows (well before the downbeat) that, as a listener, there will be few better opportunities to appreciate a score than with this ensemble and director, and so hearing them in a world premiere is very exciting, and automatically feels like a ‘moment in history.

Read Full Text

in: Reviews
February 18, 2014
Gawlick’s Missa Gentis Humanae Debuts
by John Robinson and Emma Kerry

Julian Wachner and his stunning Choir of Trinity Wall Street delivered a sensational world premiere of Ralf Yusuf Gawlick’s Missa Gentis Humanae on Monday evening in St. Ignatius Church, Chestnut Hill.

The Choir of Trinity Wall Street is deservedly one of the most renowned choirs in the world. Julian Wachner has created an ensemble that has received rave reviews recently in London, sung with the Rolling Stones, and been nominated for a Grammy award for Israel in Egypt. They are super-stars of choral music, and having them in residence at Boston College is a major coup for that institution. One knows (well before the downbeat) that, as a listener, there will be few better opportunities to appreciate a score than with this ensemble and director, and so hearing them in a world premiere is very exciting, and automatically feels like a ‘moment in history.’

Whilst Gawlick’s new work is very much its own thing, with it he joins the handful of composers who have added additional texts to the Latin Mass, creating an interplay between the immutability of the Mass expressed in an ancient form, and the world of human affairs in time. By far the most serious essay in the genre would be Britten’s great War Requiem, but lesser works by (if we must) Karl Jenkins and John Rutter also spring to mind. From the 15th century, paraphrase Masses and parody Masses deliberately quoted from other musical sources (often secular) in a way which brought about an interaction (of sorts) between the sacred and secular musical worlds (for example, it is the Renaissance tradition of Masses on the theme of L’Homme Armé that inspired Jenkins’ pacifist chestnut!).

We know, from other works that intersperse liturgical with secular texts, that juxtaposition is not the same thing as inter-textuality. Gawlick’s work is unusual in this genre as he seems to seek to present a coherent re-presentation—maybe even “re-philosophization”—of the Work of the Mass; this aim is perhaps yet more ambitious than that of the ‘War’ Requiem’ (where Owen’s poetry stands as a reproach to undermine complacent reception of the text of the Mass; the visceral interpretation of the Owen perhaps even making the Latin sound emotionless or disinterested, or as if it were the only cool balm to sooth the fiery lament), Macmillan’s ‘Búsqueda’ (in which the text of the Latin Mass acts as a foil to the poetry of the Argentinean Mothers of the Disappeared, presenting their loss as a sin that cries out to heaven, in the context of the Mass as an expression of God’s overwhelming parental love) or, less substantially, Rutter’s Mass for the Children (where he places the poetry of Blake and Bishop Thomas Ken, putatively children’s literature, in the context of a Missa Brevis, perhaps to make a single helpful point about the necessity of Spiritual Childhood). Gawlick seemingly aims to create something more than a dialectic between secular and liturgical texts – rather, a synthesis, or humanist reinterpretation (“In my music, I wish to address issues of the human condition”); this emphasis on the incarnational theology is evident in Gawlick’s selection of canonical texts that could be seen to apply mostly only to the Second Person of the Trinity. The worth of such of an approach lies in the suggestion that the Mass is an oblation of human experience, as a ‘work of human hands’, elevated in unification with the Holy Sacrifice and dignified by the Incarnation.

Like the War Requiem, Gawlick’s work is united by a coherent musical style. However, his writing creates a sound-scape in which the different texts are presented as mutually building (an effect emphasized by the rotational scheme, and the evolutionary unfolding of the texts from closed to open mouthed delivery). The only direct precedent for Gawlick’s multi-lingual approach is Jenkins’ Armed Man, in which Jenkins tropes texts from Kipling, Tennyson, Sankichi Toge and the Mahabharata, with the Latin text. Jenkins’ work is willfully populist (an aim in which he was most successful) and very specifically pacifist. Gawlick’s work is much more complex and subtle. He chooses texts that are pithy, direct and of literary merit. One might say that, especially compared with previous works in this vein, the Missa Gentis Humanae is permeated with Love and Reconciliation (amongst humanity, and with the Divine), a theme evident in the epigraphic use of John 15:12, ‘Love one another as I have loved you’. The recurrent themes of the selections are the fallibility and fragility of humanity (‘the acts of men are worthy of neither fire nor heaven’, ‘Man is a wolf to man’, ‘keep looking at your clown’s face’), the beauty and joy of Creation, particularly of carnate life (‘see how all things rejoice’, ‘love every thing’, ‘Happy are the happy’), of humanity caught up in the Life of God as being characterized by reconciliation and unity (‘Happy is he who forgives others, and who forgives himself’, ‘Murderers and victims go hand in hand’) and the great paradox of salvation (‘you will attain the good you will not attain’, ‘I was called – weren’t there better ones than I? Be faithful Go.’). As such, Gawlick’s work is not so much interested in the Mass per se, as the way in which it might be used as an emblem for Universality.

Sometimes the sequence of texts seemed to narrativize the action of the Mass, sometimes points of harmonic consonance created an interpretative dynamic between disparate texts; these effects were supported by the razor-precision of the ensemble, and the attentive interplay between the singers. Clearly, Gawlick knows this kind of choir; it is almost as if this piece had been written with this ensemble in mind. Wachner has chosen these singers for the ravishing beauty and variety of their sounds (their virtuosic mastery of pitch and expression go without saying). Gawlick writes in a way that luxuriates in the individual voice, and yet incorporates it into a seamless whole, by way of beautifully voiced chords; a wider mouth brings out certain harmonics over a lips-closed hum, much as a great pianist will balance voices for certain pianistic effects. The performance was emotionally epic: every kaleidoscopic transition of texture and timbre was controlled perfectly, with great intelligence.

The musical style is certainly contemporary; it is at times richly dissonant, and incorporates certain rhythmic freedoms, all of which go to create a captivating collage of vertical and horizontal sonic effects. Whilst evocative of various musics of the past (notably some ‘early music’ textures and movement), with notable references to style ancien in setting of the Ordinary; there was some lively Bicinnium and Trio writing, for example in the Laudamus Te, and Qui Tolis Peccata Mundi, which were beautifully sung with attention to interplay and balance.

However, it’s clear Gawlick has his own post-20th-century sound-world, which serves a coherent sonic and interpretational project.  The score seems to gravitate towards a kind of F major, where it is at its most settled and sublime. The quote from the Gregorian Requiem Mass, which starts the Agnus Dei creates a sense of emotional ‘full cycle.’; this movement, in my view the most emotionally comforting of the whole work, echoes (in position) the In Paradisum of the War Requiem. Almost in inverse of the Britten, (which famously concludes in restful F major) what follows is much sterner, as the voices ask ‘weren’t there better ones than I’ and the answer comes (‘be faithful Go.’) ending in a much more challenging unison G sharp. If there is resolution, it is a post-modern consolation.

Whilst not overly experimental in vocal technique (some slightly varied humming effects were employed at times), the piece would be extremely challenging for singers of lesser skill. Pitch accuracy is absolutely essential, as is supreme control of tone. Wachner’s singers made light of it (making the considerable effort of rendering the music ethereally, as if it were effortless), and clearly enjoy the challenge, which is merely a mark of their own elevated abilities. This difficulty of this work, and the substitution of canonical texts, makes it hard to envisage future contexts of performance. The excellence of last night’s rendering suggests that this work will rarely be performed so expertly again, and that the forthcoming Musica Omnia recording will be the primary means of its future reception.

This is music which has taken itself beyond the ‘Holy Minimalist’ genre, and embraces counterpoint and tension in a way which sustains it in the wider scale. One was left with the impression of great richness of reference, bound together very lovingly.

 John Robinson is director of music at St. Paul’s Parish in Cambridge and his wife Emma Kerry read literature at Oxford.

Page 9 of 23 pages ‹ First  < 7 8 9 10 11 >  Last ›