Mon, September 12, 2011

After Rain: Series of Choral Concerts Offered Solace Beyond the Clouds of 9/11
DC Performing Arts Examiner

Some of our nation’s greatest choirs from Boston, Washington, D. C., Pennsylvania and New York City gathered at Trinity Church, Wall Street for a day of choral music, culminating in a final concert in the evening. The series of concerts at the historic church was a part of a week long observance for the tenth anniversary of 9/11 themed: “Remember to Love: Let Us Love One Another With A Sincere Heart.” The Washington Chorus began the day long event with a performance of the Rachmaninoff “Vespers.” In addition to serving as Director of Music and Arts at Trinity, Julian Wachner serves as conductor of the D. C. based Washington Chorus. Continuing with hourly choral concerts, The Bach Choir of Bethlehem under the direction of Greg Funfgeld followed with a noon concert, featuring the music of Daniel Gawthrop, Randall Thompson, Paul Sjolund and Stephen Paulus, among others. The D. C. Performing Arts Examiner was able to attend the full concerts of The Washington Chorus, The Copley Singers of Boston, MA, The Young People’s Chorus of New York City and the culminating 8:30 p.m. concert, featuring all of the choirs—The Trinity Choir, The Copley Singers, The NYC Master Chorale and The Bach Choir of Bethlehem.

Sun, September 11, 2011

A Celebration of Bach, as a Counterpoise to Painful Memories
The New York Times

Trinity Church’s weeklong series of concerts and observances of the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, Remember to Love, when I caught up with it on Wednesday, set me to thinking about incomprehensibility. This was a program of Bach at One, a permanent midday series by the Trinity Choir at St. Paul’s Chapel, Trinity’s satellite a few blocks to the north on lower Broadway and across the street from the site of the World Trade Center. Julian Wachner, Trinity’s music director, conducted, and Renée Anne Louprette, Trinity’s organist, opened with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B minor (BWV 544) on the chapel’s Schlicker instrument, which suffered damage from dust and grime in the aftermath of Sept. 11 but has been beautifully restored. (Trinity’s own organ, also damaged, was replaced with an elaborate digital apparatus in 2003, a temporary recourse still in place.)

Fri, September 9, 2011

Trinity Church Calls; Composers Respond
The New York Times

In the days leading up to the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, on Sunday, Bach, Brahms, Mahler and their ilk have once again been pressed to serve, their historically distant, emotively durable works lending voice to public expressions of grief in manners broad enough to enfold diverse beliefs and perspectives.

Some contemporary composers have expressed hesitation to tackle head-on the enormity of that day’s events: what personal gesture could give voice to so profound and raw a tragedy, or bind together the experiences of the disparate souls affected?

Still, many have felt compelled to respond; in his remarks before a concert at Trinity Church on Thursday evening, Julian Wachner, the church’s music director, said that thousands of pieces had been offered for performance during a week of memorial events there.

Thu, September 1, 2011

Remembering 9/11 With Bach and Brahms
The New York Times

Trinity, which also has a powerful and longstanding tradition as a provider of music in New York, is commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with a week of free choral concerts, many containing the music of Bach, the great comforter. They will feature the Trinity Choir, one of the best choruses in the city, and other choirs: the New York City Master Chorale; the Young People’s Chorus of New York City; the Washington Chorus; the Bach Choir of Bethlehem, Pa.; and the Copley Singers of Boston.

Groups were chosen from cities or states that were directly affected by the attacks, said Julian Wachner, a composer, conductor and Trinity’s music director. “Everybody has checked their ego at the door,” he said.

Fri, July 22, 2011

Washington Chorus Music Director Conducts at the Berkshire Choral Festival
DC Performing Arts Examiner

The singers of The Washington Chorus may be on a well-deserved break from their busy concert season of performances, but music director Julian Wachner is still in full musical swing.  Wachner has been in Sheffield, Massachussetts preparing the participants of the Berkshire Choral Festival for the Saturday, July 23 performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah.  After a series of intense rehearsals, the choristers then bask in their hard work through the culminating concert.  Founded in 1982, the Berkshire Choral Festival provide singers the opportunity to perform major works with a world-class conductor.  Julian Wachner certainly fits that mold.

Wed, June 8, 2011

A Golden Age: The Washington Chorus embraces new music
The Gazette

“In with the new” could be the motto for The Washington Chorus.

For the past few years, the typically traditional choir has ventured into contemporary music aimed at reinvigorating the concert experience. A new conductor is bringing new voices and a new look, and reaching into a more modern repertoire as well. And the choir’s 50th season is proving that the chorus may be a half-century old, but is breathing fresh air into choir music.

Music director Julian Wachner isn’t pushing the choir in a new direction. Rather, he is expanding the already long range of one of area’s most prominent collection of voices.

Fri, May 20, 2011

New Territory, With Hues of Nature
The New York Times

The Trinity Choir, the superb resident ensemble of Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan, is rightly renowned for its polished, spirited renditions of major works from the classical choral repertory. Its activities in contemporary music, though distinguished, have been emphasized less. That changed on Thursday night, when Julian Wachner, Trinity’s director of music and the arts, conducted the first formal concert by Novus NY, the church’s newly formed new-music ensemble.

Thu, May 5, 2011

And their voices rang out: Mostly Mahler program crown chorus’ 50th Anniversary
DC Performing Arts Examiner

Founded in 1961 by the late choral conductor Hugh Hayward as the Oratorio Society of Montgomery County, The Washington Chorus commemorated its rich musical tradition on Sunday evening at The Kennedy Center.  Billed as ‘Mostly Mahler’, music director Julian Wachner led the chorus and orchestra in a full-throttle, musical blowout of power movements from the symphonic choral works of Gustav Mahler, which also served as a tribute to his commemorative years, birth and death respectively.

Mon, May 2, 2011

Music review: The Washington Chorus’s all-Mahler extravaganza at Kennedy Center
The Washington Post

The Washington Chorus’s all-Mahler extravaganza at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Sunday conjured memories of “Mahler Is Heavy,” a psychedelic-art-covered 1960s compilation of the composer’s trippiest symphonic movements. There was some decidedly heavy Mahler served up on Sunday, all conducted with go-for-broke zeal — and a genuine feeling for the composer’s dramatic ebb and flow — by Julian Wachner.

Sun, May 1, 2011

Reaching Audiences from the Podium
The Voice - Chorus America

With so many music directors juggling multiple podiums, choosing repertoire that meets the specific needs of each chorus and the audience in that community takes on special significance. We spoke with Julian Wachner—music director of The Washington Chorus, principal conductor of Montreal’s Opera McGill, and director of music at Trinity Wall Street in New York—about the challenges of programming and attracting diverse audiences.

Sat, April 30, 2011

A Mahler tribute of epic proportion shakes the Kennedy Center
The Washington Examiner

To celebrate the close of its 50th anniversary season, the Washington Chorus has chosen another milestone—the 150th birthday of composer Gustav Mahler—to present an over-the-top concert of his most beloved works.

A herculean cast of performers takes to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall stage with their illustrious leader, music director Julian Wachner, in “Mostly Mahler,” the magnitude of which is not often seen in choral programming.

Tue, April 26, 2011

The Wachner Project: McCoy documents 29 hrs in the life of noted conductor
DC Performing Arts Examiner

The life of a conductor is sometimes perceived to be uneventful, conservative and perhaps by some even boring.  For Julian Wachner, life is anything but boring.  Between conducting The Washington Chorus, teaching at McGill University in Montreal and directing the Trinity Church Wall Street Choir and Baroque Orchestra, Wachner has his hands quite full.

Recently, Wachner found himself at the crossroads of three major projects:  conducting the music of Elena Ruehr in DC, conducting the monumental Bach at One series at Trinity in New York City and then having to be back in a flash to begin rehearsing Mahler for The Washington Chorus’ 50th Anniversary Gala Concert.  How would he accomplish all of these musical projects, meeting each deadline with equal excellence?

Sun, January 30, 2011

Bohème done with vitality
Montreal Gazette

The conductor was Julian Wachner, whose multiple talents no one supposed to include an aptitude for Italian opera. His beat galloped at the opening, but soon enough it settled down to a fresh allegro.  Strings had fibre in the heart-tugging interludes and woodwinds sounded sweet.

Fri, January 28, 2011

Opéra - La Bohème des comparses
Le Devoir

L’orchestre est placé derrière un dispositif astucieux et les chanteurs suivent le chef (excellent) sur des écrans de télévision.

Thu, January 27, 2011

L’Opéra à McGill : très émouvante Bohème
La Presse

Au milieu de la scène est planté l’unique et très joli décor transformable derrière lequel on aperçoit une partie de l’orchestre de 50 musiciens, le chef Julian Wachner et les chanteurs communicant par des moniteurs…le spectacle possède beaucoup d’unité aux plans musical, dramatique et scénique, les frasques des quatre artistes de la mansarde n’ont pas vieilli et, sommet de la soirée, les derniers instants de Mimi arrachent les larmes en faisant se confondre la scène presque immobile et l’orchestre presque silencieux.

Mon, December 13, 2010

A Conversation with Conductor Julian Wachner
Fanfare Magazine

It’s difficult to be a Renaissance man in American society. People who do more than one thing well are often suspected of vague alchemy. The tendency is to admire those of us who become our own logo, someone immediately identifiable and categorical. Sometimes this transformation is almost instantaneous. After all, you can be a so-called New Jersey housewife one day and a reality TV star the next, or brand yourself Lady GaGa merely by being, well, gaga. But Julian Wachner is no Johnny-come-lately and he refuses to become a brand. The only thing predictable about him is his versatility and prodigiousness as a conductor and composer. This CD, the first in a series of three CDs representing his complete choral works, demonstrates how difficult it might be to pigeonhole a man who is as comfortable writing a benediction as he is a sensual chorale.

Read Full Text

A Conversation with Conductor Julian Wachner
Contributed by David Wolman
Friday, 27 August 2010

Wachner: Complete Choral Music, Vol. 1 - Sometimes I Feel Alive; Rilke Songs; Missa Brevis


I had the opportunity to speak with Julian Wachner, the first installment of whose complete choral music has just been released by Naxos in its "American Classics" series. The composer/conductor is busy these days conducting new operas and old oratorios while simultaneously completing commissions for numerous choral works and a 50-minute organ concerto. His ambition and obvious ability make him a sought-after commodity for both the composing and the conducting worlds, though sometimes bridging the gap between the two is not so simple.

Q: Tell me about what you were doing with City Opera in New York City this week.

A: My opera, Evangeline Revisited, was being workshopped at the Vox Festival, having been chosen along with nine others from over 100 submissions. I was also conducting several of the other operas. This typifies the kind of existence I lead. I became familiar to the other composers as their conductor and they became familiar with me as one of their fellow composers.

Q: Given that your current CD includes pieces based on poetry, let me ask you how you see the relationship between the two, and how you begin to work on such a project, merging two different but often fused art forms?

A: Well, it started pretty simply when I was commissioned to write choral works based on the poetry of E.E. Cummings and Rainer Maria Rilke. The process of choosing the texts is incredibly laborious. I didn't want to just choose random poems, especially with the Rilke piece; I wanted to choose poems that related to one another so there would be a line unifying the piece. With the Cummings set, I decided to focus on the themes of love, sex, and lust in certain of his poems. The first poem inspired music indicative of youthful, frisky sexuality. The second poem seemed to portray a kind of refractory period, and the cycle culminates in music resolving into a more sophisticated, true, deep love. In that sense, I was trying to use his poetry to show the trajectory of a relationship. Once I picked the poems, the compositional process ran smoothly. After reading many Rilke poems, I settled on the poems related to animals and animals as metaphors of human behavior. Because the poems are in German, it took me a long time to taste every word and to negotiate my way through the differences in German syntax and grammar. In "The Flamingos," I tried to create a kind of feathery, flighty feeling, and for "The Black Cat," something mysterious. "The Unicorn" was more fairy-tale like, and "The Panther" evoked the heartbreak of captivity. With "The Swan," I tried to use majestic chords. Having conducted much German music including the big Bach passions, my aim with the Rilke set was to avoid clichés.

Q: Given the kind of a cappella music you write, it would seem to demand very accomplished singers.

A: The Rilke definitely requires top-notch professional singers. Those pieces therefore are for university choruses at conservatories who have three months to rehearse. The Cummings pieces can be learned rather quickly, though in the end they sound more difficult than the Rilke pieces.

Q: In the Rilke, the harmonies seem very complex and close.

A: That's the issue. If the singers are comfortable with the jazz milieu, the chords are more familiar, even though the music is not jazz. But there are 11th and 13th chords, for example.

Q: In your liner notes, you talk about the Apollonian versus the Dionysian elements that run through art. Are you referring to the fact that your CD includes the Cummings songs which, as you described, represent sexual love, and alongside this decidedly earthy text-based piece a Mass - specifically religious music?

A: Yes, on one level the CD contrasts secular music with sacred music. But keep in mind that this CD is only one of three in a series of my complete choral works. I think when the three CDs are completed the meaning of the Apollonian/Dionysian themes will be more apparent.

Q: For your age, you seem to have written a phenomenal amount of music. Are you extremely diligent, or does it come extremely easily for you?

A: It used to come fairly easily for me, and now I am very diligent. I haven't written a piece without being commissioned since I was 25. I've been very lucky to have the attention, to be performed, to be published.

Q: I would think you are very fortunate to be writing almost exclusively on commission. Many composers of new music aren't that fortunate. I can understand why someone wouldn't want to sit down and write an organ concerto just for the fun of it.

A: Yes, my organ concerto is a big piece, over 40 minutes, and it's had five performances and it will be recorded. That's unusual. The new model for younger composers is to create an ensemble dedicated to playing their music. It's almost like a rock group. It's the Steve Reich method. On the other hand, for me, the disadvantage of being commissioned all of the time is that I am forced into a particular instrumentation. This summer, I would like to work on some music that isn't commissioned, so that I can explore ensembles that I may not ordinarily be commissioned to write for.

Q: You've written that Leonard Bernstein is one of your idols. Is it his mixture of conducting and composing you identify with?

A: Absolutely. I also admired his desire to present as much music as possible to as many people as possible. But, if you look at his opus, it's difficult to find music of quality after a certain point in his career. It kind of stops at his Mass in 1970. I think he became so busy conducting that it was hard to find the downtime to compose. This is something I am very cognizant of. I need to make sure I guard my time so that I can keep up not only with the quantity, but with the quality of the music I am writing.

Q: Bernstein wrote a wide variety of music, such as Broadway, symphonic, and also some experimental music that was panned by critics. Do you feel that as a composer living today, there is more freedom to explore?

A: I do feel that, and my music is eclectic. This kind of eclecticism is still looked down upon by the academic world, but not by the public. I work at McGill University, where in the music department there are two divisions, the performance division and the research division. Composing comes under the purview of the research division, along the lines of the Princeton and Harvard model. There still is a split between the way music is viewed by academia versus the public and the industry.

Q: Another example would be Aaron Copland, who wrote, of course, very popular classical music, but also wrote 12-tone music. There was a lot of resistance to the latter. There was pressure put on him to continue writing the same popular music.

A: I would consider myself more of a Lukas Foss than a Leonard Bernstein. With Leonard Bernstein, you always know it is his music, even if he is trying to be experimental. Lukas Foss, on the other hand, was continually reinventing himself. That was one of the reasons people were confused by him. I think I am somewhere between those two.

Q: Do you receive guidelines from the people who commission you?

A: Yes. For a piece I wrote last year, they wanted something to go with the Brahms Requiem. So, I knew this was going to be a piece that had to be rehearsed along with the Brahms Requiem and performed by a good but amateur choir, and the orchestra would have only two rehearsals. There were certain things that were obvious to me about the practicality of it. And then in other situations, I've been commissioned to write orchestral pieces, where the conductor says "I'd like of this and a little of that."  It's a little bit like ordering food in a restaurant. But you trust the chef to know that you don't like chiles.

Q: Do you go ahead and write the entire piece, or do you send them a sketch first?

A: There is often a sense of a collaboration in the process. Of course, there is always the other way of doing things, the Stravinsky way: just write a piece and then find a commission for it.

Q: When you write sacred music as opposed to Cummings or Rilke, how does that affect your process and the expectations of the people commissioning you?

A: Any religious organization that would hire me to write music would know that my background would justify it. I've written a lot of Episcopalian/High Anglican music, and my reputation speaks for itself, which isn't to say that I haven't also written simple religious music, as well. I grew up with religious music, but at the same time, my stepfather was conducting the Buffalo Philharmonic and he was Michael Tilson Thomas' associate conductor for a number of years, so I had all of that concert music, and my mom was a concert pianist as well. So, it's no surprise that I have this eclectic combination of styles. Hopefully, my music will be judged not by its genre, but by its ability to supercede genre and be exceptional music that transcends other concerns.

Sometimes I Feel Alive. Rilke Songs. Introit for the Season of Epiphany. Arise, My Love. Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing. Ave, dulcissima. Missa Brevis. Aaronic Benediction. Behold the Tabernacle of God

Noel Edison, cond; Michael Bloss (org); Elora Fes Singers
NAXOS 8.559607 (60:07)

It's difficult to be a Renaissance man in American society. People who do more than one thing well are often suspected of vague alchemy. The tendency is to admire those of us who become our own logo, someone immediately identifiable and categorical. Sometimes this transformation is almost instantaneous. After all, you can be a so-called New Jersey housewife one day and a reality TV star the next, or brand yourself Lady GaGa merely by being, well, gaga. But Julian Wachner is no Johnny-come-lately and he refuses to become a brand. The only thing predictable about him is his versatility and prodigiousness as a conductor and composer. This CD, the first in a series of three CDs representing his complete choral works, demonstrates how difficult it might be to pigeonhole a man who is as comfortable writing a benediction as he is a sensual chorale.

By the latter I do not refer to something like Oh Calcutta!, but rather Wachner's settings of three E.E. Cummings poems, There Is a Moon Sole, As Is the Sea Marvelous, and Somewhere I Have Never Traveled, a compilation Wachner calls Sometimes I Feel Alive. The work is an a cappella song cycle with male-female counterexchanges with a jazzy, syncopated, somewhat tongue-in-cheek twist. This is a musical encapsulation of young love leading (after all the fireworks of sexual abandon) to resolution, commitment, and serenity. The technique is hidden behind the ingenuity and liveliness, and there is more skill here than meets the eye, since Wachner has deliberately gone about composing a piece that can be sung by an amateur group. This is no easy feat when the result is as compelling as this.

The Rilke Songs, which Wachner derived by combining several of Rilke's animal poems, is a more serious and complex piece of music reflecting the depth of Rilke while navigating the German text handily. Certainly, from a textual point of view, Cummings and Rilke are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and Wachner's music reflects this. The syntax of the Rilke music is as multileveled as the text is musical. Wachner does a phenomenal job of conveying in his close harmonies the richness of Rilke's poetry and the poignancy and humor as well.

As for the remaining selections, which constitute the bulk of the CD, I must admit, as I may have indicated in my recent review of Sir Philip Ledger, that I sometimes have difficulty evaluating religious music because of its adherence to liturgical imperatives, or to the traditions, express rules, and expectations of the church for which the music is composed. Though I particularly liked Wachner's Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, and though his sacred offerings here are well written, melodic and interesting, tonal and accessible, I'm not sure the compositions can exist in the secular world without the accoutrements of steeples, organs, oak pews, and the odor of incense. Accordingly, I should recuse myself by saying that I don't attend church and I don't tend to listen to much sacre music unless it is a few hundred years old (or maybe Britten and Fauré), and, even then, I am not particularly moved by the words of someone else's scripture, nor am I ever impressed with how the music serves the text. Church choirs, however, I know for a fact, are constantly searching for new music to sing and Wachner's music is popular among the aficionados because it is both singable and good. Perhaps the problem here, if there is one, is that the CD is weighted
too heavily toward the sacred with just a tease of Wachner's secular fare. However, judging by the Cummings and Rilke offerings, Wachner has nothing to fear from my predilection for the profane and experimental, nor do his sacred works have anything to fear from my agnosticism. And I am well aware of the fact that, though he did write secular music as well, the great Bach himself needed his church commissions, his choir conducting gigs, and his religious schoolteaching posts to foot the bill for his non-religious experiments.

Fri, June 25, 2010

On CD: Julian Wachner
The Washington Post

In his own choral music, Washington Chorus Music Director Julian Wachner draws on so many influences that his successes are a compendium of surprises, and even his less-successful works have engaging moments. Yet on the basis of this first volume of a planned Naxos series of all Wachner’s choral music, the simplest-sounding pieces can touch a listener most strongly.

The shorter religious works that use organ are particularly good (Wachner is himself an organist). Behold the Tabernacle of God (2004), to text from “Revelation,” is an especially effective combination of organ with solo and massed voices in a variety of styles and rhythms. Wachner considers his own style eclectic, but on this CD it seems more combinatorial: A little of this, a little of that, adding up at its best to something new and very personal.

Tue, June 1, 2010

Review: Julian Wachner: Complete Choral Music, Volume 1
Abeille Musique

(translated from the original French)

What arguments might I invent to incite you to acquire the first volume of the complete choral works of Julian Wachner?  Who is this – this guy?  It is true that on this side of the Atlantic his name is only known to a few aficianados or professionals, but on the other side, it’s a completely different story: Wachner is a star.  Born in 1969,  Wachner can already boast a catalogue of 80 works, published by Schirmer (free publicity), recorded prolifically, and played day after day by all of the great orchestras and choirs of North America. It is that Wachner falls under the great tradition choral society of the continent, with at the same time easy initially, but demanding works all of writing and execution.

Its style, its kind? Let us take again the terms of the North-American press: “bold and full with atmosphere” (NewYork Times), “jazzy, energetic, clever” (Boston Earth), “strongly pleasant, touching, intelligent and inspiring” (Deseret News of Salt Lake City), “removed, jazzy, brilliant, poignant” (Providence Newspaper). The pleasant reader will have included/understood it: Wachner evolves/moves in a rather North-American world, made harmonies inspired all at the same time jazz, gospel, art traditional European choral, in an alert rate/rhythm, harmonies of satiety and brilliance; but - if I then allow me a personal opinion - it carefully avoids a little vulgar harmonic facilities to which too often lends itself, for example, the British John Rutter, so that the most demanding music lovers will find their pleasure and their musical rise. No doubt Wachner is located in the Stravinski-Bernstein line, at least that developed in the music choral society of these two Masters.

Tue, June 1, 2010

Review: Julian Wachner: Complete Choral Music, Volume 1
The Whole Note

Not quite a household name, American composer/conductor Julian Wachner is now in his early 40s and has built himself a stylistic reputation for eclecticism. This recording by the Elora Festival Singers is an example of just how broad Wachner’s stylistic embrace can be. It is also another example of the artistically tenacious style that has become the hallmark of the EFS.

Because we most often associate a composer with an identifiable vocabulary or language, it’s a bit odd to find someone so stylistically diverse yet so secure in his writing. Wachner’s command of choral techniques and effects is solid and polished. The EFS’s ability to meet the exacting demands of this music makes this recording altogether remarkable. 
Wachner describes his choral writing as “text-driven”. How important and effective this is becomes evident as one plays through the 19 tracks of sacred and secular works. Poetic texts by E.E. Cummings and Rilke deliver fanciful, sensitive and experimental moments always linked to a detectably romantic undercurrent.

Mon, May 24, 2010

Washington Chorus goes for Baroque
The Washington Post

The explosion of sound on the first sung phrase of Handel’s anthem “Zadok the Priest,” which opened Friday’s concert by the Washington Chorus at National Presbyterian Church, was exhilarating. Music director Julian Wachner knows how to draw maximum drama from a score, and it didn’t hurt that his large chorus – over 180 singers were listed in the program – was set in a beefy, resonant acoustic.

Indeed, that acoustic tended to cloud such gargantuan moments as the climactic “Alleluia” section of Handel’s “The King Shall Rejoice,” but the thrill factor was worth it. This sort of Victorian-sized choral sound is less frequently applied to Baroque music in these days of historically informed performance practice. But Wachner was careful not to let the larger scale turn into bloated or lugubrious articulation. He insured that soprano tone hinted at the purity of boys’ voices, the mezzos suggested the tang of countertenors, and the male sections displayed a notable mellowness and pliancy.

Wachner’s selection of music was freshly conceived.

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