Friday, June 12, 2009

“Timeless, Otherworldly Beauty”

Were you one of the lucky people who managed to crowd into the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Hartford on the evening of February 27, 2004? I was there. And if you were there, too, then you remember the monumental event – a stunning, unforgettable performance of the Requiem of Maurice Duruflé – that spurred these comments which appeared in The Hartford Courant:

“The Farmington Avenue church was the place to be for seekers of an extraordinary musical experience.” (The Hartford Courant, March 3, 2004)

“They came to hear a concert whose centerpiece was the Requiem of the 20th-century French composer and organist Maurice Duruflé. I doubt if more than a few dozen of the people who turned out had ever heard that piece, or for that matter had even heard of the piece, or its composer, who wrote only a handful of works during his long life. Yet they came. So many of them came that all the pews in the huge cathedral were taken and hundreds of people had to stand (as I did) or sit on the stone floor. Hundreds more were turned away at the door. It was a fascinating crowd. Well-dressed suburbanites, humbler folks in working attire, some families with kids. And not all the faces were white. It was an unusually rapt and intense crowd, hanging on every note. What are the lessons of such a turnout, which stunned even the concert's organizers? I'm sure there are many. But one seems simple and obvious enough: People still seek that which lies outside their immediate, day-to-day lives: beauty, authenticity, mystery, timelessness. The Duruflé Requiem certainly conveys all of those. Whatever else was going on last Friday, this was a crowd clearly seeking peace. Who knows from what? … I think they found that peace, for a while anyway, in a consoling, redemptive evening of heavenly music, spent in the quiet company of like-minded fellow citizens. That kind of peace, needless to say, is still highly relevant. And if you provide it, even on a February night in an urban neighborhood, at a place where the parking is complicated and the wooden seats are a tad penitential, people will come.” (Steve Metcalf, editorial, The Hartford Courant, March 6, 2004)

“…the enthralling, jam-packed performance of Maurice Duruflé's Requiem at the Cathedral of St. Joseph…cast a spiritual spell on the area that people are still talking about.” (The Hartford Courant, March 18, 2004)

“Choral music lovers had much to be grateful for in 2004... But will anything ever top the February performance of the Duruflé Requiem at Hartford's Cathedral of St. Joseph? The sense of excitement was palpable from the start: a traffic jam of cars finding parking spaces made the urban neighborhood seem like a tailgate party, and the spacious cathedral was packed 20 minutes before the concert began. If anyone thinks that classical music is no longer relevant, try explaining that to anyone of the 2,300 people who attended the performance. ... The musicians conveyed the richness of the 20th-century French composer's work – from undulating contemplation to spine-tingling spiritual ecstasy – with amazing power and poise. .. The performance left a memory of timeless, otherworldly beauty that will not be forgotten anytime soon. (The Hartford Courant, year-end review, December 26, 2004)

It was indeed an evening of sublime music, elevated by a unique communion of spirit among the thousands (yes, 2,300) who filled the pews, stood along the walls, and sat on the floor (as I did) to hear the best-known work of French composer and organist Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986).

If you remember that ethereal night and wish to once again hear a live performance of Duruflé’s Requiem under Rick Coffey’s direction, or if you weren’t there and would like to experience the magic for yourself, then mark July 25 on your calendar. That Saturday afternoon at 4:00 p.m., the Requiem will be the centerpiece of an all-Duruflé program performed by CONCORA’s Summer Festival Choir and organist Larry Allen under the direction of CONCORA’s Artistic Director Richard Coffey. Also on the program will be the four unaccompanied motets, “Ubi caritas,” “Tota pulchra es” (for women’s voices), “Tu es Petrus,” and “Tantum Ergo.” The men of the Festival will present Duruflé’s setting, in French, of The Lord’s Prayer (Notre Père).

Larry Allen, well-known to Hartford music lovers as the former director of music at Immanuel Congregational Church in Hartford (site of this concert) and the founding accompanist for CONCORA, is well-known as an interpreter of the works of Duruflé, including the composer’s Prelude and Fugue on the Name A-L-A-I-N, which he will perform on this concert from the console of Immanuel’s Austin Organ (three manuals, 56 ranks). (More information about the organ may be found at the website of the Hartford AGO: http://www.hartfordago.org/immanuelcongregational.htm.)

“Every work on this program,” says Rick Coffey, “whether for choir, organ, or both in combination, is a masterpiece. Festival 2009 will be one of emotional, musical, and spiritual ecstasy – nothing for a lover of great choral and organ music to miss.”

Mark your calendar to be at Immanuel Congregational Church on Saturday, July 25, 2009, at 4:00 p.m. to hear this wonderful music and to be part of the magic. The church is at the corner of Woodland and Farmington Streets in Hartford. Plenty of free parking is available. Call the CONCORA office at 860-224-7500, or purchase tickets at CONCORA’s website, http://www.concora.org/. Don’t miss this special performance!

This week, I began in earnest the research for the program notes for this concert. In the weeks ahead, I’ll write here about that project and how it intersects with my participation in the Festival as a CONCORA singer.

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