Thursday, January 10, 2013

Immortal Fire – Singing Britten's Hymn to Saint Cecilia

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Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire:
Translated Daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire.
(W. H. Auden, Hymn to Saint Cecilia)

This morning, NPR aired a story about the good decision by the Washington National Cathedral to begin hosting and celebrating same-sex marriages.

By coincidence, the National Cathedral has been in my thoughts over the past several days, thanks to a favorite memory.

I’m in the midst of preparing the program notes for CONCORA’s next concert, “Modern Masters” (event details below). The program includes one of my all-time-ever-most-favorite choral works, Benjamin Britten’s Hymn to Saint Cecilia. Ethereal, exquisite – well, it’s perfect. Have a listen to the Cambridge Singers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGyB7_2RnS4

The Hymn to Saint Cecilia has thus always had a special place in my affections, not only because it is beautiful, but also because of a precious memory.

My first acquaintance with the Hymn came many years ago, when I performed it with the select choir from the college where I earned degrees in voice and music theory. The music was part of our tour repertoire – a tour that took us to the National Cathedral.

Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of music. (Her feast day is celebrated on November 22, which also happens to be Benjamin Britten’s birth date.) In the Hymn, Britten included four short solos that imitate instruments (violin, drum, flute, and trumpet). At our Cathedral performance, I sang the short “flute” solo. (The “flute” solo may be heard at 8:15 in the video linked above.) I will never forget the physical sensation of singing that brief but soaring line in the magnificent space of the National Cathedral.

Washington National Cathedral

Now, I am thrilled beyond measure that I have been assigned to sing that little solo in CONCORA’s upcoming concert. It's short, but oh so lovely .

I know that CONCORA will offer a radiant interpretation of this most amazing music. Come and hear it for yourself.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share some of the program notes for the “Modern Masters” program, along with more thoughts about his Hymn to Saint Cecilia. You can read all my posts about this concert here:

http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/search/label/CONCORA%20Modern%20Masters

CONCORA
“Modern Masters”
Monday, February 11, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
South Church, 90 Main St., New Britain, 06051
CONCORA celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Britten and the 90th birthday of Ned Rorem with a concert featuring works of these two musical masters of choral composition. Features Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia and selections from Rorem’s Seven Motets for the Church Year. Masterful works from other composers such as Eric Whitacre and John Rutter add to the celebration.
General admission $25, students $10.
(860) 293-0567
www.concora.org

Follow CONCORA on Facebook
http://www.facebook.com/events/282475385200271/

 

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