Upcoming concerts

Radiant Dawn

by Benjamin Perry

The Boston Cecilia’s next concert, Radiant Dawn, will feature the theme of light. As we near the solstice, we will perform music about light in winter, the season of darkness. In December, the sun sets early, our stores of Vitamin D run low, and the cold weather pushes us indoors. We overcome the darkness by focusing on the qualities of light in the human sense: the warm-heartedness, the kindness, and the generosity. The darkest and coldest time of the year is a time to bring warmth with celebration - Christmas, Hanukkah, Mawlid el-Nabi, and Rohatsu (Bodhi Day). It is in this spirit of joy, hope, and reflection that we present the music of Radiant Dawn.

One of the pieces on the program will be Morton Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna. Few composers have captured the essence of radiance so fully as Lauridsen. He is the most frequently performed American composer of choral music, and light is one of his central themes, particularly in Lux Aeterna. But what is it about his music that makes us experience this aural vision of light so readily? To quote his website: “His music has an overall lyricism and is tightly constructed around melodic and harmonic motives.” Lauridsen’s choral music has an overall lushness and cinematic exquisiteness to it. It contains dense and bright harmonies and clever voicings that bring the “light” out of the sound. All of these elements combine to create music that simply wants to be sung with enthusiasm and heart.

Cecilia will also perform Serenity, Ola Gjeilo’s setting of the beloved Christmas text “O Magnum Mysterium.” Gjeilo’s piece with its overlapping layers of sonorous chords and its beautifully simple melodies paints an image of light; it creates a sound-world that resembles light passing through the prism of colorful stained-glass windows. This aural image is paired with the text, with its emphasis on mystery and blessedness, and is emphatically communicated through Gjeilo’s compositional techniques.

The holiday concert will also feature Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols, as well as a cappella pieces of Eric Whitacre, James Macmillan, and Gabriel Guillaume. Organist Kevin Neel, cellist Shay Rudolph, and baritone John Bitsas will join the Cecilia chorus to celebrate light in this holiday season with Radiant Dawn.

Benjamin Perry is the Assistant Conductor of The Boston Cecilia

“The nth Art” of Peter Torpey and "Luminosity"

On October 22nd, The Boston Cecilia will present the Boston premiere of James Whitbourn’s Luminosity as the centerpiece of a concert celebrating illumination in the time of darkness. Composed for the Westminster Choir College and the Archdream Dance Ensemble, Luminosity is scored for chorus, dancers, viola, tanpura and tam-tam. Conductor Colin Lynch had seen Peter Torpey’s elegant lighting design for the Boston Camerata’s performance of The Play of Daniel, and asked if Torpey would collaborate with Cecilia on Luminosity. I talked with Peter Torpey about his work and his plans for the concert.

AND IT WAS GOOD: Reflections on 20th Century American Choral Music in a 21st Century World

There is little doubt that the advance of technology, international communications, and access to educational opportunity has changed the complexion of musical composition during the 21st Century. There is much beautiful music being written these days. Maybe too much. And boundaries, styles and trends have been blurred more than ever before. None of this is surprising, given our 21st Century world, and it will be interesting to see what the world's 22nd Century population surmises as they reflect on the current musical landscape. As an Englishman, born in the late 1960s, my first exposure to American Choral Music was, predictably enough, hearing Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms performed at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 1973. For the decade or so after that, I was basically unaware of American Choral Music, as I became steeped in the Anglican Choral Tradition.

"This Little Babe"

My parents, immigrants fleeing the onset of World War II, came to the United States with their young family as refugees in 1940 -the year I was born. They were grateful and proud to be welcomed in America. As assimilated German Jews, their religion was German art and culture, mainly music. Christmas was celebrated in the German style, with candles (lit !) on the tree, and much music. Beginning with the First Sunday of Advent and daily in the week before Christmas, we gathered around the piano with my father atthe keyboard to sing traditional carols from the book by Henri Van Loon and Grace Castagnetti.


Because my school and college were both all-female, I have sung A Ceremony of Carols many times. Benjamin Britten originally imagined it as sung by women, but upon publication it was scored for boy trebles, with two soloists and harp. It works both ways. Learning these carols as a young teenager in high school was a challenge. I’d never encountered the shifting rhythms, clusters of dissonance, and other techniques Britten uses for expressive effect, let alone 5/4 meter! These have all become idiomatic in the language of 20th century music, but to me back then they were astonishing.


This is the first in a three part series outlining the upcoming season for The Boston Cecilia. The next two articles will focus on the December and April concerts, but we begin our 141st season with a spectacular program of Handel and Mozart in Jordan Hall at The New England Conservatory in Boston. The two works to be performed are Handel’s youthful and exuberant setting of Psalm 110, Dixit Dominus, and Mozart’s oratorio that draws on the Psalms of David…and substantial quantities of music from his Great Mass in C Minor…entitled Davide Penitente.



The late David Evett

When I first looked at the program for the 2014 Cecilia GalaI noticed Nicholas White’s auction offering:  a composition with the text of your choosing. I mused over what text I might choose. What bit of scripture or ancient poem... Hey wait a minute! I know a guy...

Dad wrote poems for most of his life. Many were for special occasions -- for a marriage, or special birthday, or notably his own 50th wedding anniversary. He did have a book of poems for the general audience published by Cleveland State University Press in 1985, though this never attracted much notice. But standing above all were the poems he wrote every year at Christmas, beginning in 1972 and continuing through 2010, before his death in 2011. They took many forms and covered all kinds of topics, though usually they blended national news, big family developments, and imagery from Advent and the Nativity.

Being on something of a deadline, they were always written in anguish and desperation. Dad might take a break from grading that term’s papers, or perhaps put aside the duty and the blank page and head out with the dog into the cold. But eventually it was always done, and it was always brilliant, and beautiful.

So, with our commission in hand, Mom and I began to go through everything, trying to settle on a poem that would work as a piece of music for a general audience. We whittled the set down to two, and, unable to decide between them,  threw ourselves on the mercy of the composer to make the final decision. He couldn't decide either, and much to our delight commenced to produce a set of the two together.

The poems are from 1976 and 1978, on either side of the great fulcrum of our family history -- the sabbatical trip to England in 1977. ‘76 was was spent planning, sending countless letters in advance to secure places to stay with friends and colleagues, and arranging access to the Elizabethan houses and artifacts that were the object of Dad’s research. The year was also spent saving every dime to finance the trip.

The Angel (1976 -- but the second in the set) seems to spring from the excitement  and optimism of those days. Big ideas come to you. They send you out into the world to seek discovery. “The Angel appears -- he says Glory!”

By 1978 we had long been back, but profoundly changed by the experience of living in England for five months. First there had been the theater, as we went to just about everything the Royal Shakespeare Company put on in Stratford and London. Helen Mirren in As You Like It! Judy Dench and Ian McKellen in Macbeth! Henry VI parts I, II, and III! Then there was the music. Evensong at Kings College and visits to almost all the great Cathedrals. We discovered that bargain tickets for the London Symphony could be had for those fifteen years old and under, and when I heard the Hungarian Dances and 1st Symphony of Brahms, I was hooked for life.

The 1978 poem, His Unresisting Love, has the ambition and expansiveness one acquires when traveling abroad and returning home; the broadening of perspective that comes from living with people of different habits and concerns. It uses the device of alternating Latin and English lines (macaronic), after the manner of In Dulce Jubilo, or even more aptly, Benjamin Britten's Hymn to the Virgin. A Hymn to the Christ Child if you will.

One of Dad's best qualities was his ability to make our little corner of the world seem so special. Whether it be an old house in Cleveland, or a parish church in Brookline, if Dave Evett is present you know you can expect the best; art and ideas worthy of anyone's attention. This place! This company! THIS NIGHT!



ust over thirty years ago, in September of 1985, I was awarded the organ scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge, which would result in my spending three years as an undergraduate at Cambridge University from 1986 to1989. The transformative experiences I gained in that position are too many to recount. However, one of the moments that stays with me from my audition and interview was when Tim Brown, the director of music at Clare, presented me with the choir’s latest recording. It was an LP of music by William Byrd, T. L. da Victoria, and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies entitled In Nativitate Domini. I remember being intrigued by the repertoire on the disc and noticed how well the two different compositional periods complemented each other.


Whether consciously or subconsciously, I followed this model when I formed Tiffany Consort in New York City. We would program concerts with music by composers of the same nationality who lived several centuries apart: Thomas Tallis and Michael Tippett, William Byrd and Benjamin Britten, Guillaume Machaut and Francis Poulenc, John Taverner and John Tavener, and so on. For this season’s Boston Cecilia December concert, I will pair the composers William Byrd and Francis Poulenc. I am returning to the William Byrd motets from his Gradualia II, which I heard on the Clare Choir recording thirty years ago. This time, the Byrd motets will alternate with Poulenc’s well-loved Quatre Motets pour le temps de Noël. Personally, I enjoy the ebb and flow this creates with regard to elements of texture, tonality and mood, as well as the more predictably contrasting—even jarring—harmonic and stylistic language of the two composers.

Also on the program is Edward Naylor’s Vox Dicentis. Naylor was organist of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and he wrote this sumptuous piece of choral music in 1911 for the choir of King’s College, Cambridge. My first memory of this piece was a performance by Clare Choir in Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge! With carols arranged and composed by two great musicians associated with Cambridge, Sir David Willcocks (King’s College), who died last month, and John Rutter (Clare College) who celebrated his 70th birthday last month, this concert could quite appropriately be titled The Cambridge Connection! However, there is more to the program than these offerings, including The Brookline Connection.

Last year, Charlie Evett, longtime member of Cecilia, commissioned me to compose music for two of his father’s poems. David Evett was deeply involved in the life of All Saints Church in Brookline, where he also sang in the choir. Charlie will write more in the next blog in this series regarding his father’s life and poetry, but I am pleased to announce that the December concerts will include first performances of both God’s Dream and His Unresisting Love, the latter being the text from which this concert takes its title. Both pieces are written for unaccompanied chorus.

This program brings together many styles and musical moods, and I hope that it does so in a way that will take the listener on a journey. Each of the texts exhibits elements of mystery, questioning, insecurity, wonder, doubt, and joy. Some of the music will be instantly appealing. Some will require further listening. My hope is that the program as a whole will capture the feelings that can only be achieved through the great mystery of musical expression.

Puer natus est nobis – William Byrd
O magnum mysterium – Francis Poulenc
Dies sanctificatus – William Byrd
Quem vidistis pastores dicite – Francis Poulenc
Tui sunt coeli – William Byrd
Videntes stellam – Francis Poulenc
O magnum mysterium: Beata Virgo – William Byrd
Hodie Christus natus est – Francis Poulenc
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing – Piae Cantiones, arr. D. Willcocks
His Unresisting Love – Nicholas White (world premiere
God’s Dream – Nicholas White (world premiere
Vox Dicentis: Clama– Edward Woodall Naylor
Good King Wenceslas – Piae Cantiones, arr. D. Willcocks
Sans Day Carol - Traditional arr., J. Rutter
What Sweeter Music - John Rutter
The Cherry Tree Carol – Nicholas White (world premiere)

You can listen to the 1985 Clare College Choir recording of the William Byrd motets here.



Developing choral programs for performances in late October and early November has always been a richly rewarding task for me. As a lifelong “church” musician, with Anglican Choral music coursing through my veins, I have found no shortage of intensely beautiful repertoire to present for concerts that reflect the passage of life. With the feast days of All Saints and All Souls in close proximity, the wealth of powerful text settings by composers who are drawn to great poetry as vehicles for their poignant melodies, and hauntingly evocative harmonies, provides an almost overwhelming palette from which to choose.

The upcoming October 18th concert of The Boston Cecilia features three composers who were writing in the early part of the last century. All three are remembered more for their choral music than for their symphonic or chamber compositions. None of them were cathedral organists toiling away in vast, stony acoustics, but all of them wrote for cathedral choirs and are, to this day, among the most highly regarded composers of cathedral repertoire. Their music, performed both in churches and concert halls all over the world, continues to influence the finest composers writing today.

The six Songs of Farewell by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918) give us a glimpse of a private man, who sensed that his own life was drawing to a close. These “motets”, as Parry referred to them, were written two years before his death in the midst of World War I, and they represent his choral masterpiece. The texts are personal; the only truly sacred one being “Lord, let me know mine end” from Psalm 39. The writing throughout, particularly in the last two pieces, is rich with varied sonorities, contrapuntal techniques and virtuoso vocal lines that test the mettle of any choral ensemble.

Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) wrote Lo, The Full Final Sacrifice in 1946 in response to a commission by the Rev. Walter Hussey for St. Matthew’s Church, Northampton. Three years prior, Benjamin Britten had received the same commission, and the result was Britten’s Rejoice In The Lamb. Finzi’s compositional style springs from that of Hubert Parry, and while his music is conservative in its tonal idiom, his sensitivity to the text of 17th century poet Richard Crashaw is achingly beautiful. The 15 minutes of syllabic text setting culminates in one of the most serene and elegantly crafted, melismatic Amen sections in choral music.

The Requiem of Herbert Howells (1892-1983) was written in 1932. Although originally intended for the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, it was not released for publication until 1980. Written three years before the death of the composer’s young son, it provided the basis for Howells’ masterpiece for choir and orchestra, Hymnus Paradisi, his response to the deepest and most profound loss of his life.

All of these pieces are intensely personal. I find them to be profoundly moving and never tire of hearing, singing or conducting them. My own compositional output has been strongly influenced by the music of these great musicians; these men who experienced profound depression, personal tragedy, or great struggle in life, and out of it created enduringly serene and beautiful music.

"So to live is heaven, To make undying music in the world,” wrote George Eliot in her poem, The Choir Invisible. I set the poem to music two years ago, in response to a commission from St. John’s Cathedral, Albuquerque. Whether consciously or subconsciously, my composition of this piece was influenced by works such as Finzi’s Lo, The Full Final Sacrifice, and his other anthems, along with the music of other Anglican masters like Stanford, Howells and even Britten. I feel a deep allegiance to composers from this Anglican music tradition. As a composer, I have been moved not so much to reinvent or create bold new statements, but rather to revel in the challenge of finding something fresh to say within that tonal palette. As I was composing The Choir Invisible, my friend and colleague, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, passed away. We had been occasional collaborators and dinner companions on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, back in the day! RRB’s sense of melody and his harmonic language has always reached me on an emotional level, so his legacy too became part of the compositional process of this piece.

The final offering in this October program will be the first performance of my setting of Thomas Hardy’s poem, Regret Not Me. John and Susanne Potts asked me to compose music for this evocative text. Rich with bucolic, pastoral imagery, the poem casts a melancholy spell as the narrator looks back over his life. In the third stanza, he breaks off from telling the reader of his heavenward journey, and ruminates quite suddenly on his surprise:

I did not know
That heydays fade and go,
But deemed that what was would be always so. 

How we wish that those heydays, those good times that we remember could always be so. However, the inevitability of change is there at every turn. For me, the comfort lies in the knowledge that this powerful music from a century ago endures. It challenges the choral artist, soothes the receptive audience member, and enriches those who--as George Eliot wrote in The Choir Invisible--“inherit that sweet purity for which we struggled, failed and agonized.”

This is powerful music. Please join us.



The German Requiem (Ein Deutsches Requiem) by Johannes Brahms is one of the most important works this composer produced. The opening three movements were first performed in Vienna during December 1867, and movements 1-3, 6 and 7 were performed in Bremen on Good Friday 1868. The first performance of the entire work took place at the Leipzig Gewandhaus on February 18th, 1869. Since then, the German Requiem has been one of the most frequently performed of all works in the oratorio repertoire. The compilation of Biblical texts on which it is based, all chosen by the composer, reflects a “sense of religiosity common to all mankind,” characteristic of the spiritual thinking of the mid 19th century. Despite certain reminiscences of earlier settings of the Requiem, Brahms’s work was viewed from the outset – quite correctly – as being entirely novel in both conception and execution.

Although the Requiem is usually performed with full orchestra, Brahms also arranged the piece for four-hand piano accompaniment. The piano version of the piece was first performed at the home of Sir Henry Livingston in 1871. On April 11th, The Boston Cecilia will present this more intimate arrangement of the Requiem.

In 1868, before the first performance of the complete work, the full score, orchestral and choral parts, and the vocal score (with the complete voice parts and piano solo reduction of the accompaniment by the composer himself) were issued by the publisher Rieter-Biedermann. This publishing house, founded in 1849, had a close association with Brahms during the 1860s and early 1870s. The musical material of the German Requiem printed by Rieter-Biedermann was augmented by the composer’s piano duet arrangement. The piano version of the German Requiem represents more than a mere arrangement of the orchestral parts for piano duet. It is a reworking of the entire score, including the vocal parts, to form an autonomous keyboard composition; this sets the accompaniment for our concert apart from a normal piano reduction intended for rehearsal purposes. In his quest for a piano duet texture which sounds well and is wholly pianistic in character, the composer proceeded in a manner which approaches creative reworking and fresh shaping of existing musical material. This applies, for example, to the many doublings by which particular melodies are brought out. In our performance, in order to preserve the luminous, transparent nature of certain solo and choral lines which would not be doubled in the orchestral version, we have made judicious cuts to the piano duet accompaniment, thereby leaving the chorus or the soloists undoubled by the piano.

By making this arrangement of the German Requiem for piano duet, Brahms was following a practice which was widely current during the 19th and early 20th centuries, of publishing symphonic works in transcriptions of this kind. Before the existence of recordings, arrangements such as this offered the public the best opportunity to become familiar with the composition in its entirety. Undoubtedly piano duet arrangements of this kind also represent a particular and once-popular class of publication for domestic music-making.

A presentation of Brahms’s well-loved masterwork in a form that is less familiar to the ear, like this one with an alternative form of accompaniment, gives us a unique opportunity as performers. In effect, as a chorus, we are able to approach the voice parts with a new perspective. Performing the piece then takes on a feeling of chamber music: a more direct, and in some cases more subtle, form of musical communication. There is a re-imagined clarity to the choral writing which, in combination with a truly pianistic accompaniment, presents the piece to the listener in a whole new way. Brahms’s masterpiece remains intact. The communication of it becomes fresh and newly invigorated.

Adapted, with additions, from Wolfgang Hochstein’s 1989 foreword to the Carus Edition.

Note: Paul Max Tipton, the baritone soloist for Cecilia’s April 11th performance, recently recorded this piano version of the Requiem for Seraphic Fire. (Listen - Clip 1) (Listen - Clip 2)



In 1982, when I was 15 years old, I first heard The Lamb by John Tavener. This second-ever performance of the carol was included in the Christmas Eve radio broadcast of Nine Lessons and Carols, live from King’s College, Cambridge. A much smaller audience had heard the very first performance of this newly-composed work at Winchester Cathedral two days earlier. I remember feeling that I had just experienced something radically different from any other carol I had heard before. The truth was that several million listeners across the world had just had the same experience, and the reputation of the composer, in the space of three minutes, had been propelled to a whole new level of renown. The music was stark, yet gentle; dissonant, yet comforting; simple, yet haunting. I think I made my decision shortly after that to pursue an organ scholarship at Cambridge University, which had me living, literally, in the shadow of King’s College Chapel for the three years of my undergraduate career. As it happens, I had followed in the footsteps of one of Tavener’s school friends and fellow composers, John Rutter, who had studied music at Clare College twenty years before me.

When John Tavener died, just a little over a year ago, I began thinking of how we might pay tribute to him with The Boston Cecilia. I had been aware of a series of commissions that Tavener had written around 2005, which resulted in a sequence of carols entitled Ex Maria Virgine.  This sequence had been recorded by Tim Brown and the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge in 2008. As I listened to the recording, made in the grand surroundings of the Chapel of St. John’s College, Cambridge, I decided that it would provide the ideal challenge for The Boston Cecilia and a great way of celebrating the life of John Tavener at our December concerts. The luxurious acoustics of The Church of the Advent and All Saints, Brookline, along with their fine organs, would create an ideal vehicle for this eccentric music.

Also on my mind at this time was Richard Rodney Bennett, whose music had captured my interest at a very early age when I learned several of his compositions for piano. Later on in life, we ended up as neighbors on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and I was fortunate in getting to know Richard, talking about his film scores, and discussing choral music, occasionally over dinner at a local restaurant. In the year 2000 I had conducted the New York premiere of his large-scale work for choir and organ, The Glory and the Dream, and the organist for the performance was none other than Barbara Bruns, for whom Richard had the highest praise. Richard died on Christmas Eve of 2012. As I had long been familiar with his Christmas carols, I instantly thought that these would provide a perfect complement to Tavener’s works, so I went about assembling the program that will be performed by The Boston Cecilia on December 5th and 7th, 2014.

According to Tavener, The Lamb was written in an afternoon and is built on a simple melodic idea and its inversion. Tavener’s tempo direction for the piece is explicit and simple: “With extreme tenderness – flexible – always guided by the words.” For those of us who are devoted to the art of choral singing, there is surely no better way of conducting ourselves.



Cecilia's intrepid and experienced bass section show off their chops at rehearsal.

If we’re not ready now, we never will be…!
— Considering an upcoming performance of Bach’s monumental Mass in B Minor

The quotation above was overheard at a church music conference several years ago, soon before a late-afternoon performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass sandwiched between workshops and plenary sessions and a boozy evening boat cruise. Ideal circumstances for a cutting edge, historically-informed performance of this two-hour masterwork, with the finest-period instrument players and a 26-voice professional choir? Maybe not! However, as the conductor responded to the concerned delegate who wondered why the performers were not busily rehearsing in the hours before the concert, “If we’re not ready now, we never will be!”

He was right, of course. Not only had the musicians been meticulously prepared, again, for this latest performance of the great work. In the director’s seemingly flippant comment was the truth that any performer must grasp when about to embark on the life-changing experience of this piece. The nitty-gritty detailed rehearsal needs to be accomplished far ahead and the big picture embraced well before concert week. Stamina, fortitude, the ability to respond in the moment, and a spark of spontaneity are among many elements that constitute a successful performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, a performance that will engage the audience and harness the emotions of all those present.

That’s why I’m glad that the dress rehearsal for the March 21st performance by The Boston Cecilia is on Wednesday, March 19th, two days prior, giving a full day for reflection before the concert itself. In every way, the final rehearsal takes on the mantle of a performance. It must do so if we are to stand any chance of being ready. That one remaining part of the equation – the audience – will then play its own role in the success of the actual concert.

That’s why I’m glad that the performance—along with Bach’s 329th birthday—comes on a Friday evening, at the end of a long work week, when spirits are sagging, the commute to Jordan Hall has been challenging, the weather is unpredictable, and energy needs to be summoned from somewhere. This is  when performers and audience members can come together, inspired by each other, to create moments of magic that transcend the real world. Yet this masterpiece is packed with humanity, almost unachievable by mere mortals, and can feed from those challenges that we, as humans, face on a daily basis.

That’s why I’m glad that Cecilia had the foresight to reserve Jordan Hall for this occasion, even before I had been hired as music director! What a gift for all of us to end the 138th season of this great organization with a performance of Bach’s masterpiece. It is very real, very relevant, and very exciting.

We will be ready! Won’t you join us?



Catch this SoundCloud preview of Take Him Earth for Cherishing by Herbert Howells, from our upcoming concert, Endlesse Perfectnesse: Music for All Souls on November 2nd, 2013.

Honoring the souls of the departed, the concert's centerpiece is the Durufle Requiem.  

Nicholas White will make his debut as Cecilia's new Music Director at this concert.  Soloists are organist Barbara Bruns, cellist Sam Ou, and contralto Emily Marvosh.

Concert is at 8PM at All Saints Parish in Brookline, MA.

Ticket information can be found here.