News & Reviews
Boston Cecilia wraps season with a diverting program of American music
Jonathan Blumhofer, Boston Classical Review, March 25, 2019
The Boston Cecilia concluded its 143rd season Sunday afternoon in Brookline at All Saints Parish with a survey of four American choral works written in the last half-century.
The earliest selection was John Corigliano’s 1963 Dylan Thomas setting, Fern Hill, heard, on Sunday, in its arrangement for strings, piano, and voices.
Corigliano wrote Fern Hill when he was in his mid-twenties and it’s a fairly agreeable and straightforward essay, with outer thirds marked by episodes of gentle diatonicism, while the central part is lilting and warm-toned. The composer’s ear for dramatic effects is apparent, both in the discreet transitions between the work’s ensembles (full choir, semi-chorus, and mezzo-soprano soloist) and in the bittersweet dissonances of the closing pages.
Cecilia’s music director George Case led a lush, fluent performance on Sunday, one that always moved with a good sense of direction. The swelling climaxes that lead into Fern Hill’s final third were full-bodied and robust, as were the Cecilia’s accounts of the music’s unison passages. Margaret Lias brought bright tone, fresh intensity, and excellent diction to the mezzo-soprano solos.
Boston Cecilia contemplates war and peace in somber opener
Jonathan Blumhofer, Boston Classical Review, December 1, 2018
The Boston Cecilia and music director George Case welcomed the Christmas season with a program Friday night at Boston’s Church of the Advent.
The concert was built around Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna. Written in 1997, the score sets parts of various Latin texts (the Requiem liturgy, “Te Deum,” “O Nata Lux,” and “Veni, Sancte Spiritus”) in Lauridsen’s words, to “enrich and enlighten the lives of both performers and listeners in some way.”
A vague sentiment, perhaps, but Lux Aeterna has clearly found sympathy with both groups over the past two decades, and it’s not hard to see why. Lauridsen’s musical language is diatonic and lyrical, with familiar gestures and forms (canons, hymns, etc.), and his use of dissonance can be striking, but always resolves satisfyingly.
Boston Cecilia’s performance on Friday was lush and poignant. Case thoughtfully shaped each of the five connected movements, which resulted in a strong sense of direction over its half-hour duration. Organist Kevin Neel executed his complex part with vigor and sensitivity.
Boston Cecilia contemplates war and peace in somber opener
Andrew Sammut, Boston Classical Review, October 29, 2018
Far from easing into a new season with a new music director, the Boston Cecilia chorus greeted its first audience of 2018-2019 with a solemn and demanding set of seven works united by one not entirely comforting idea: peace as a product of ruin — a kind of spent retreat from the unavoidable toll of our tendency toward violence and war.
The theme, and the intense but understated performances at All Saints Parish in Brookline on Sunday afternoon, made for a timely and promising start to the tenure of newcomer George Case.
Cecilia welcomes George Case as its new Music Director
The Boston Cecilia enthusiastically welcomes Dr. George Case as its new music director. Dr. Case is the Director of Choral Activities at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, where he directs the choral ensembles and the graduate choral conducting program, and Music Director of the Newburyport Choral Society, an 83-year-old choral society on the North Shore. He holds Doctoral and Masters degrees in conducting from the University of Michigan and a Bachelors degree in vocal performance from Boston University.
Dr. Case was chosen through a competitive audition process with a deep field of talented and experienced candidates. Charlie Evett, co-chair of the search committee and incoming Cecilia president, explains the choice: “From our earliest rehearsals with George, he consistently led us to a place of joy in music making. All the work in perfecting phrasing and technique is ultimately in support of getting to that place—and sharing that joy with Boston audiences will be our joint mission in the years to come.” Dr. Case also looks to the future with excitement: "I couldn't be more thrilled to be appointed Music Director of The Boston Cecilia. Steeped in a rich and unique tradition, The Boston Cecilia will continue to deliver concerts characterized by informed and expressive performances of the great works of the choral repertoire, while also emphasizing new works by living composers who contribute to the current musical conversation. The Boston Cecilia combines the best of choral performance in the city of Boston: passionate performances, skilled singers, and relevant and exciting programming.”
With a multi-faceted background as a conductor, educator, and professional singer, Dr. Case brings a wide-ranging body of musical experience and a passionate artistic voice to his work. He is an award-winning educator of young musicians who frequently leads clinics and workshops for high school and college singers. A soloist and professional chorister himself, he has performed with major ensembles across North America and Europe, and is a regular member of and soloist with the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, Handel + Haydn Society, Skylark Vocal Ensemble, Marsh Chapel Choir, Spire Chamber Ensemble, and the Carnegie Festival Chorus.
Nicholas White to step down as Music Director at the end of 2017-2018 season
Nicholas White, Music Director of The Boston Cecilia since 2013, has decided to step down at the end of the 2017-2018 season due to the demands of his full-time position at St. Paul’s School, Concord, NH, and his increasing commitments as a composer.
A search committee has been formed and recruitment for a new music director is under way.
Since its founding in 1876, The Boston Cecilia has held a central place in the performing arts in Boston, and has enjoyed a history remarkable for its fine conductors. Nicholas White, continuing that tradition, has led the chorus in fresh new pieces, including his own compositions, and well-loved masterpieces, all to critical acclaim.
Boston Cecilia celebrates the Nativity with music old and new
Aaron Keebaugh, Boston Classical Review, December 3, 2016
For the religiously minded, the Christmas season is a time to ponder a great mystery. The centerpiece of the season is the Nativity story, an event popularly recreated in liturgical plays, miniature figurines, and frescoes that adorn church walls all around the globe. Music that explores the Nativity story is no less rich for its differences of interpretation and emotional poignancy.
That was certainly the case Friday night at the Church of the Advent, where Nicholas White and Barbara Bruns led Boston Cecilia in Nativity-themed music that spotlighted the subject’s intimacy and exuberance.
The highlight of the program was two works composed by White himself. His Alleluia! Puer Natus Est Nobis, written in 2002, is an eight-movement exploration of the Nativity with the beloved Sarum chant bookending its tender outer sections.
White’s compositional voice is ear-catching and thoroughly tuneful. The long melodies of his piece wander through a field of colorful harmonies. Icy dissonances hang in the air like light through a church window, and the recurring “Alleluias” sound out like vocal fanfares.
Boston Cecilia makes a glorious sound in music for double choir
Aaron Keebaugh, Boston Classical Review, April 10, 2016
Music for double choir grew out of a distinguished tradition. The genre is long believed to have originated in the 1580s at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, where it involved pitting one choir against another with distance in between ensembles. But music for multiple choirs dates as far back as the mid-fifteenth century, and was later perfected by the High Renaissance composer Adrian Willaert.
Composers such as Heinrich Schütz, who in Venice studied with Giovanni Gabrieli, perhaps the greatest practitioner of the style, brought polychoral music to Germany, where it survived in works by Bach and, later, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms.
Saturday night at All Saints Parish in Brookline, Boston Cecilia, led by Nicholas White, turned their attention to sacred German music for double choir.
Boston Cecilia is a storied fixture in Boston, having thrived for one hundred and forty years. At nearly sixty members strong, the choir sings with a clear, radiant tone and plush blend that is finely spread throughout all registers.
Cecilia Gives Hyphenated Tribute to Teeters
Susan Miron, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, October 21, 2014
The Boston Cecilia’s opening concert (of its 139th season) served to memorialize its revered longtime music director, Donald Teeters, who died in August. (see Barbara Bruns’s eulogy here). According to the program notes from Teeters’ successor, Nicholas White, this Czech-American Connection concert evolved from a series of conversations White had, particularly with Teeters, whom he had heard conduct Stravinsky’s Mass last June. Teeters had also spoken of visiting Dvořák’s gravesite. All Saints, Brookline was packed with people on Sunday who loved Teeters and heard heartfelt performances of some of the most beautiful Czech-related music you could ever hope to hear.
The big opening piece (clocking in at a little under an hour) was the unjustifiably neglected Dvořák Mass in D Major, Op. 86, also known as “The Luzany Mass,” accompanied by organ (Barbara Bruns) and timpani (Jonathan Hess). What a lovely introduction to this piece! In 1892 the composer came to Boston to conduct Cecilia in the Boston premiere of his Requiem, so there must have been an emotional connection that made the chorus sing so unusually well.
Boston Cecilia makes a birthday present
of the B-minor Mass
Jeffrey Gantz, The Boston Globe, March 24, 2014
Bach’s monumental Mass in B minor, a summation of his vocal mastery that he completed the year before his death, was not performed in his lifetime, but it never wants for champions in Boston. The Cantata Singers and Emmanuel Music did it in 2011; the Handel and Haydn Society offered performances last September. Friday at Jordan Hall, on the 329th anniversary of the composer’s birthday, the Boston Cecilia weighed in with a reading that deserves a place in the regular lineup.
It was clear from the reduced orchestra — 27 members — that this was going to be a modern, slimmed-down interpretation, and music director Nicholas White’s tempos turned out to be not very different from those favored by Handel and Haydn artistic director Harry Christophers. The chorus, however, numbered 62, including the eight soloists (who sang throughout), and for this performance that was ideal. I was initially alarmed at the way the singers bit off the syllables of the Kyrie, but the very precise enunciation proved a blessing, as virtually every word of the choral sections was intelligible. The “Crucifixus” was passed from one area of the chorus to another in a horrified whisper before everyone exploded into the “Et resurrexit.” The sound throughout was massive but pellucid, and White with his long-arcing phrases built a hypnotic fervor, breaking the spell only with beautifully judged cadences.
The playing of the period-instrument orchestra was a little less successful. The strings sounded scratchy and out of tune at times, despite the presence of such stellar violinists as Daniel Stepner and Danielle Maddon, the three natural trumpets squealed less than delightfully, and John Boden struggled with his natural horn when accompanying bass James Dargan in the “Quoniam.” And White seemed to revert to a choppy style when the chorus wasn’t singing. His beat looked square, and that didn’t help the soloists, who sang well but didn’t project as much feeling as the chorus.
Still, soprano Erika Vogel and alto Clare McNamara blended nicely in the “Christe eleison,” and later McNamara made a good pairing with oboist Stephen Hammer in the “Qui sedes.” In the “Domine Deus,” Christopher Krueger’s flute hovered about Vogel and tenor Marcio de Oliveira as if it were the Holy Spirit; in the “Et in unum Dominum,” soprano Sonja Tengblad and countertenor Reggie Mobley might have been Mary and Mary Magdalene relating how for our salvation Jesus came down from heaven. Bass Bradford Gleim was affecting in the “apostolicam ecclesiam” of the “Et in spiritum sanctum,” words that Bach set with unexpected ardor for a Lutheran. Tenor Stefan Reed brought his usual blessed voice to the “Benedictus”; Mobley negotiated the poignant “Agnus Dei” with no strain. Timpanist Jonathan Hess was, like Krueger and Hammer, a stalwart all evening. But it was the chorus that made this Bach birthday one to remember.
Patron Saint Reigns at Bach’s Birthday
Geoffrey Wieting, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, March 23, 2014
The Boston Cecilia decisively concluded its first season with new Music Director Nicholas White and celebrated the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach with a great performance of Bach’s monumental Mass in B Minor at Jordan Hall on Friday. The moderate-size chorus of 54 was accompanied by a period-instrument orchestra led by the redoubtable Daniel Stepner. White obtained a lean, clear choral sound from all the sections; the women used a small vibrato that achieved that elusive middle ground between the chaste sound of boys and the richer but more opaque quality of an opera chorus which would have obscured Bach’s feats of polyphony. Furthermore, painstaking intonation resulted in innumerable moments of beauty: Picardy thirds at final cadences, for instance, were frequently luminous. Diction throughout was exemplary (why should this be the exception rather than the rule in so many choral concerts?). White’s and the chorus’s careful attention to dynamics and ability to use them in both finely nuanced fashion and sudden contrasts resulted in as dramatic a reading of the Mass as I can recall. It was an early-instruments performance that avoided dogmatism, unafraid to be sometimes expressive in early-20th-century style. Another asset was a fine group of soloists: sopranos Erika Vogel and Sonja Tengblad, altos Clare McNamara and Reggie Mobley, tenors Marcio de Oliveira and Stefan Reed, and basses Bradford Gleim and James Dargan. And finally, it was a delightful surprise to see all the soloists participating in the choruses as well...
From Earth to Heaven with Cecilia
"In All Saints Parish, Brookline on Saturday night, conductor/composer Nicholas White, the Boston Cecilia, the Lydian String Quartet, Barbara Bruns (organ), and Brenna Wells (soprano), offered challenging music with great interest and excitement. White presented a compelling foretaste of his vision for the Cecilia’s future, should he be offered the job."
—Cashman Kerr Prince, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, March 19, 2013
The Miraculous Rose (2012)
"The Boston Cecilia continued their year-long examination of music director candidates last night with conductor Amy Lieberman in Christmas music organized around “Es ist ein’ Ros’ entsprungen.” The programming played to Cecilia’s strengths and captivated the audience."
—Cashman Kerr Prince, Boston Musical Intelligencer, December 15, 2012
The Miraculous Rose with The Boston Cecilia
Moving into the Future (2012)
"Choir and string quintet offered a polished reading of Jonathan Santore’s The Return (Armistice Poems) (2005). Setting texts by John Freeman, Agnes Lee, and Robert Louis Stevenson, the composer sought to re-create World War I-era parlor music, even as the settings resonate anew today. The work was lovely, and lovingly performed by all assembled."
—Cashman Kerr Prince, Boston Musical Intelligencer, October 29, 2012
Music, Poetry, & Dance with The Boston Cecilia
Bright Lights on the Horizon (2012)
"Throughout the night, Teeters led eloquent, well-prepared performances with a graceful yet completely unflashy style....A large crowd filed into First Church on Friday night, dotted with Boston music professionals, there to honor Teeters’s decades of achievement as a leading light of the city’s choral world. At the end of the evening, after these fine singers had received their due, the crowd showered Teeters with a prolonged and grateful ovation."
—Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe, May 7, 2012
After 44 years, Teeters bids farewell to Boston Cecilia
St. Matthew Passion (2011)
"Teeters’s reading proved a consolatory one, penitential rather than anguished....As sublime as the “St. Matthew Passion’’ is, performances have been known to drag. This one had angel wings."
—Jeffrey Ganz, The Boston Globe, November 8, 2011
‘St. Matthew Passion’ Soars
"Teeters drew a large, warm, disciplined sound from the chorus, weightier than the current fashion but satisfying in its expressive fullness. And there were some radiant moments at which everything came together. When the singers and orchestra arrived at that exalted closing chorus of Act II, Teeters led with particular care and commitment, drawing from his forces a beautifully integrated sound and a touching depth of feeling that made it an instant highlight of the afternoon."
—Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe, March 15, 2011
With ‘Jephtha,’ Teeters and Cecilia cap three decades of Handel
When Britten Met Haydn (2010)
"Presiding over the entire occasion was the generous spirit, intelligence and musicianship of Donald Teeters, one of Boston’s musical treasures. Because of him the music carried the evening, as indeed it always should. In this age of shallow glamor and glitzy personalities, it is a life-changing privilege to experience an evening so focused and full of integrity."
—Brian Jones, Boston Musical Intelligencer, April 18, 2010
Transcendent Evening with Boston Cecilia
A Starlit Birth (2009)
"And they [The Boston Cecilia] seemed to set the bar (as they have done for many years) for this season’s classical Christmas scene. The program was ambitious and well coordinated..."
—C.A. Gentry, Boston Musical Intelligencer, December 14, 2009
Cecilia Sets Bar with Woodman’s Music for Christmas Concerts
Rebeca Cardoso, The Gavel, December 7, 2009
Joel Brown,The Insider, November 20, 2009
Steven Ledbetter, Boston Musical Intelligencer, November 11, 2009
Bring on Brahms (2009)
"The Boston Cecilia and mezzo-soprano, Krista River, gave a wonderful performance of “nocturnal” art-songs by Brahms..."
Chamber Music Today, May 2, 2009
Boston Cecilia: The Curious Incident of Brahms in the Night-Time
Wheeler's The Construction of Boston (performed and recorded 2007)
"On the whole, an engaging one-hour work, a thoroughly original libretto, and a polished performance."
—Carlton Wilkinson, New Music Connoisseur, 2008
The Construction of Boston: Opera in One Act
American Record Guide, November 28, 2008
"Donald Teeters deftly guides both the Cecilia orchestra and chorus behind the principals."
Lloyd Schwartz, NPR, December 11, 2008
“Donald Teeters and the Boston Cecilia have returned Scott Wheeler’s enchanting, genre-bending The Construction of Boston to local circulation...I wasn’t at the premiere, but Teeters and his classy cast and players offered the first truly satisfying performance I’ve heard — and it was being recorded by Naxos...Teeters led everything with remarkable sensitivity to both text and musical architecture. And if I ever forget what a superb programmer he’s been over his 39 years of directing Boston Cecilia, remind me of this concert.”
—Lloyd Schwartz, The Boston Phoenix, April 5, 2007
(Note: Cecilia review is 2nd item in the article, titled Unmasked)
“'Construction of Boston' is a love note to the city.”
—Matthew Guerrieri, The Boston Globe, April 3, 2007
Handel's The Choice of Hercules (2005)
“Teeters planned and conducted the program with devotion and skill, and the musical level he and the performers achieved was representative of the enviable standard he and the Boston Cecilia have maintained for decades.”
—Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe, November 8, 2005
Mozart Davidde Penitente (2005)
“[Donald Teeters] is a discriminating musician, and he led a performance that was buoyantly and confidently sung by his chorus, and handsomely played by his orchestra.”
—Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe, April 15, 2005
(Note: Cecilia review is 2nd item in the article, titled Wyner resigns her post at New England String)
Brahms Requiem (2003)
“Donald Teeters's Boston Cecilia presented a moving evening of Brahms...The collaborating choruses and orchestra performed with buoyant fervor, rising to the challenge of Teeters's broad, spacious tempos, and helped immeasurably by his clarity of textures and rhythmic incisiveness.”
—Lloyd Schwarz, The Boston Phoenix, March 28, 2003
Brahms Requiem (2003)
“...lucid, transparent, flowing, and deeply felt performance”
—Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe, March 19, 2003
Brahms Requiem (2003)
“...wildly successful concert... The audience knew they had witnessed something great, and were proud, too; the performers were awarded a five minute standing ovation.”
—Stephen Marc Beaudoin, Bay Windows, March 20, 2003
Italian Handel (2002)
“Handel's influence felt by superb Cecilia”
—Ellen Pfeifer, The Boston Globe, Nov 10, 2002
“Even before the first notes sounded, the Boston Cecilia had a lot going for it Sunday afternoon.”
—Richard Buell, The Boston Globe, April 10, 2002
“[Teeters] cast all inhibition aside to explore the farthest emotional reaches of this all-embracing music.”
—Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe, 2001
“Teeters was at the top of his form, conducting the superb orchestra with unflagging energy...even a little twinkle.”
—Lloyd Schwartz, The Boston Phoenix, Oct 26, 2001
“Teeters did not shy away from blood and guts vehemence...his performance stressed the dramatic contrasts...the ensemble sang with fervor...a terrific orchestra”
—Ellen Pfeifer, The Boston Globe, 2000
“The chorus sang with impressive accuracy, confidence, enthusiasm, and imagination, and the orchestra played with stylistic assurance”
—Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe, 1998
Best Early Music Performance of 1998
Best Oratorio/Early Music Performance of 1998 - “In a city of first-class choruses it is hard to pick a single winner, but the Boston Cecilia’s performance of Handel’s Deborah under Donald Teeters was one of the proudest moments in its ongoing Handel survey...”
—Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe, 1998
Joseph and his Brethren (1997)
“The Cecilia chorus sang with fire and gusto, inspired by the stellar period-instrument orchestra... His [Teeters’] passionate advocacy animated this neglected masterpiece. This performance was a wonderful gift to us - and to Handel.” (Read full review)
—Lloyd Schwarz, The Boston Herald, 1997
“Boston is one of America’s great centers of choral music. The annual Handel oratorio performance by the Boston Cecilia under the direction of Donald Teeters, who is celebrating his 30th anniversary as music director, is one of the things that keeps it that way.”
—Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe
Joseph and his Brethren (1997)
“...the combined chorus, orchestra, and soloists gave it a distinguished performance.”
—Michael Manning, The Boston Globe, 1997
“(The performance was) remarkable for Teeters’ assured execution and profound penetration of the work, for the handsome singing of the chorus and for an ensemble of soloists, impressive for its musical, stylistic and expressive excellence.”
—Ellen Pfeifer, The Boston Herald
“It is safe to say that, during Teeters’ tenure, the Boston Cecilia has never given a careless or carelessly prepared concert.”
—Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe
“The Handel series has brought out new qualities in Cecilia music director Donald Teeters; the performance had the clarity and balance one expected, but also the weight, density and sense of destiny that suffuse this great music.”
—Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe
“Teeters conducted with magisterial authority and wonderful passion”
—Ellen Pfeifer, The Boston Herald, 1995