Benedict Sheehan Brings the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom to Life

“While listening, I closed my eyes and just let the voices of the Saint Tikhon Choir bring the liturgy alive in music. … In all honesty, the voices of the choir performing Sheehan’s setting gave me chills. This is an album I’ll be listening to often. I highly recommend this album to those who enjoy liturgical music especially music that is rich in history and tradition. Let the voices of the Saint Tikhon’s Choir bring the liturgy to you especially during these difficult times.”

—Joe Sales

See the full review on JoeSales.Home.Blog

Blu-Ray Review of Benedict Sheehan: Liturgy

  • Available October 23, 2020.

Blu-Ray.com reviews Cappella Records’ new release of the Saint Tikhon Choir and Benedict Sheehan‘s recording, Benedict Sheehan: Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom:

“Sheehan’s approach certainly harkens back to longstanding choral traditions in Russia and environs, and as such, there’s often a dark, almost foreboding, ambience to some of the massed lower sonorities he exploits. …

If the underlying foundational element here is the shrouded somber aspect of the Russian soul, as Sheehan also gets into in his essay, he works in a number of other traditions, including minimalism and an American folksong feeling. The result is surprisingly homogeneous, with some really gorgeously burnished choral moments. …

The music on the Blu-ray disc is varied and moving, and Sheehan (who also conducts) elicits a really commendable blend, especially in some of his close harmonies. The added bonus of being able to see the accompanying ritual on the video is a nice extra…

Audio on the Blu-ray disc is top notch, and while this may in fact appeal mostly to those with an interest in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, it should still be enjoyed generally by lovers of well wrought choral music, regardless of whether or not they have this, or indeed any, religious belief. Recommended.”

—Jeffrey Kauffman, Blu-Ray.com

See the full review at blu-ray.com

AllMusic Reviews Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia

James Manheim gives 4.5 stars to Cappella Romana’s Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia recording on AllMusic:

“This release by Cappella Romana first appeared in late 2019 but acquired new relevance and promotional energy with the Islamization of the Hagia Sophia in mid-2020: the ‘lost voices’ of the title now seem to be lost permanently, although recordings in the giant sixth-century structure had long since already been banned. What’s heard here is a pioneering endeavor… Even the basic CD yields remarkable sounds, and for audiophiles with the equipment and wherewithal to go deeper, this will be an essential purchase. … Cappella Romana has a remarkable sound with lots of head tones, and even listeners with no interest in the engineering wizardry will find the singing and the music compelling. An extraordinary release.”

—James Manheim, AllMusic

See the full review on allmusic.com

Cappella Romana Awarded Major Grant

Cappella Romana is pleased to announce the award of a major grant from the State of Oregon’s Coronavirus Relief Fund Cultural Support program.

“Music Director Alexander Lingas and I are thrilled with this award,” says Executive Director Mark Powell. “We are planning in earnest to produce artistic programming that we can now consider during COVID, including full provisions for safety of all artists and production staff.”

Mark Powell continued, “Programs we couldn’t have imagined pulling off before are now far more feasible, funded in part with this grant award combined with the generous support of our loyal donors and patrons.”

See the full announcement for the award on the Oregon Cultural Trust website.

Celebrating Arvo Pärt’s 85th Birthday

Arvo Pärt at 85

Happy birthday to one of the world’s most performed composers

As we remember 9/11 today, we also note today is Arvo Pärt’s 85th Birthday. 

In 2017, Cappella Romana mounted the first festival in the US dedicated to the music of Arvo Pärt. Here’s an interview Alexander Lingas gave just before the festival.

Here, listen to Pärt’s iconic setting of the Magnificat, performed by our wonderful colleagues from the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, directed by Paul Hillier, who was an early guest conductor of Cappella Romana in the 1990s.

Theater Byte Gives Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia its Highest Recommendation

“Applying Professor Abel’s sound technology to the fifteen voices of Capella Romana creates an audio experience that few if any listeners will have ever heard. These disembodied voices, evoking the holy spirit of God, seem to come from everywhere and totally envelop the audience. … Put this Blu-ray Disc in your player, and push the Pure Audio button (if it has one). In short order, you will be transported to a literal and figurative audio heaven. Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia also will take you on a moving spiritual journey that will stay with you long after the final echoes have receded into the distance. Discs like this one that combines the very best in performance with the very best in sound are a rare source of revelation and will surely become a favorite demonstration disc at the annual audio/video trade shows. Highest recommendation.”

—Lawrence D. Devoe, TheaterByte

See the full review on TheaterByte.com

The Absolute Sound Declares Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia a Triumph

The Absolute Sound magazine’s September 2020 issue features an in-depth look at our Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia recording and declares it “A triumph of scholarship, musicianship, and technology.”

“For many critical listeners, and not just readers of this magazine, the absolute sound—the sound of live, unamplified music in a real space—is a touchstone…The venue chosen for performance or recording can support an understanding of music’s meaning in a powerful way. There is, however, one extraordinary acoustic space that for cultural and geopolitical reasons has been unheard for centuries… The sound is extraordinary…. What Icons of Sound achieved with the Hagia Sophia project leads me to expect that this singular joining of scholarship, musicianship, and advanced audio technology will continue to illuminate the significance of music from the distant past.”

—Andrew Quint

—Andrew Quint

See the full feature in the September 2020 issue of The Absolute Sound magazine.

More Praise for Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia in MusicWeb International

Mark Sealey adds his voice to the growing list of reviews of Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia on MusicWeb International:

“From the first note, we hear dedication, focus, energy, a balanced and measured concentration on – as far as is possible in our noisy world – how the monks and lay staff of the Hagia Sophia would surely have gone about their worship. Just as pleasingly, these performances gently also suggest why they did so. Cappella Romana’s understanding of – and dedication to – the idiom sees to that.

The vocal and choral declamation is metrical and for the most part monophonic with drone and polyphonic support. The singers’ emphasis is on the text: rightly there is restraint rather than spurious rhetoric. Melodic lines are clear but made to bend towards their devotional purposes. Nothing, though, in these chants is even remotely mechanical or perfunctory. Rather, Cappella Romana conveys the energy which must have imbued these ceremonies in Christianity’s first millennium in Europe with celebration, confidence and joy. Not dogma or rote. Nor a routine accompaniment to echo and incense. …

somehow you can’t help being drawn in and captivated. This is surely due to the ensemble’s awareness of and delight in the music’s architecture… rises and falls; climaxes and relaxation; leading and pausing.

Listen as closely as this music – probably new to many – ‘unfolds’ and you will detect few abrupt modulations in dynamic or tempo. The interior of the Hagia Sophia has much architectural variety. But it is in aid of a stunning whole. So it is with this music, which is sung with unity and integrity.

This is a refreshing approach and one which works well. Listen, for instance, to the almost exultant Ode of the Canon of the Precious Cross [tr.5]. The repetition is never an end in itself for these singers, nor a device. It seems an essential way of inviting us as participants or listeners to understand that for (early) Christians the Cross was self-evidently something with which to be spiritually involved – rather than for (our) passive adoration. By their insistence, the singers of Cappella Romana are intimating (to us) that such relics ‘demand’ our attention by themselves. And that the singers are committed conduits.… If you’ve never heard anything like this before, try Lost Voices of the Hagia Sophia; the CD is generous, and well-produced with sound musical premises. It is highly likely to make you at least think seriously about searching out similar music.”

—Mark Sealey, MusicWeb International

Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia Featured in The New York Times

The New York Times has a new article featuring our Icons of Sound: Hagia Sophia Re-Imagined project and Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia recording! See the article, filled with interviews with our project partners from Stanford and our own Alexander Lingas on NYTimes.com:

“The Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia,” an album that brings to life the stately mystery of Byzantine cathedral liturgy, bathed in the glittering acoustics of the space for which it was written — even though it was recorded in a studio in California. …members of Cappella Romana, a vocal ensemble based in Portland, Ore., specializing in Byzantine chant, recorded “The Lost Voices” in a space that persuasively mimicked the acoustics of Hagia Sophia — with its luscious reverberation, cross echoes and amplification of particular frequencies.

Alexander Lingas, a musicologist and the music director of Cappella Romana, said that the live virtual acoustics were transformative to his understanding of the group’s repertory. The long reverberation time dictated slower tempos. Basses singing drones made subtle pitch adjustments to match frequencies of maximum resonance.

In Greek Orthodox rites, Ms. Pentcheva argued, acoustics and chant interact in a way that “is not about sound carrying information, but sound precipitating experience. It is a fully corporeal investment.”

The recording provides a glimpse of that experience. Phrases chanted in unison leave a ghostly imprint. Rhythmic shudders and grace notes set off blurry squiggles of overlapping echoes. Chords unfurl in reverberant bloom.…

—Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, The New York Times

See the full feature on NYTimes.com

In Le Monde: Hagia Sophia: The Great Amplifier

Ece Temelkuran, Journaliste et essayiste: « Avec la transformation de la basilique Sainte-Sophie, Erdogan achève de créer une Turquie à sa main »

La basilique « a toujours été la diversion politique favorite » du président turc, relève, dans une tribune au « Monde », la journaliste exilée. Il détourne ainsi l’attention des problèmes majeurs qui minent le pays, jouant sur le nationalisme et l’islamisme de son électorat.

Ece Temelkuran, Journalist and essayist: “With the transformation of the basilica of Hagia Sophia, Erdogan completes his project to establish a Turkey under his control.”

The basilica “has always been the favorite political diversion” of the Turkish president, the exiled journalist notes here in Le Monde. He thus distracts attention from the major problems plaguing the country, playing on the nationalism and Islamism of his electorate.

https://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2020/07/18/ece-temelkuran-avec-la-transformation-de-la-basilique-sainte-sophie-erdogan-acheve-de-creer-une-turquie-a-sa-main_6046580_3232.html

Le 4 novembre 2016 s’est produit un événement absolument fascinant : le son a voyagé dans l’espace et le temps. Dans l’enceinte de l’université Stanford (Californie), le célèbre chœur Cappella Romana a donné un concert intitulé Hagia Sophia réinventée, où les spectateurs ont pu entendre les chants byzantins exactement comme ils résonnaient à l’intérieur de Sainte-Sophie au Moyen Age. Les voix du chœur étaient filtrées à travers un algorithme mis au point par le Centre de recherche informatique en musique et acoustique (CCRMA) de Stanford. Les scientifiques s’étaient rendus à Sainte-Sophie, où ils avaient procédé à plusieurs enregistrements sonores pour comprendre ce qui rendait l’acoustique de l’édifice si unique, et tenter ensuite d’appliquer le même processus acoustique à la musique de la chorale. Mais le jour du concert, Istanbul, la ville même de Sainte-Sophie, était plongée dans un tel vacarme chauviniste que ces sons tout en finesse ne pouvaient être qu’inaudibles.

Le 24 juillet, une date symbolique

Quelques mois à peine étaient passés depuis la tentative de coup d’Etat du 15 juillet 2016 et, au milieu du bruit, beaucoup fuyaient le pays en silence. Ils avaient compris que l’on n’entendrait plus désormais à Istanbul que les voix de la vulgarité et de la violence. Quand, dans la nuit où eut lieu la tentative de coup d’Etat, retentit depuis 90 000 mosquées le « sela » – une prière récitée, en général, après une mort –, il ne fit plus de doute pour eux que la Turquie qu’ils avaient connue ne serait plus.

Sainte-Sophie ouvrira officiellement ses portes comme mosquée le 24 juillet, le jour où fut signé, en 1923, le traité de Lausanne [entre la République turque et les vainqueurs de la première guerre mondiale]. Dans l’histoire politique internationale, ce traité est considéré comme le document fondateur de la République de Turquie dans ses actuelles frontières. Ainsi, pour ceux que la laïcité gênait depuis longtemps et pour ceux qui regrettent encore les territoires perdus, le choix de cette date anniversaire pour la reconversion de Sainte-Sophie en mosquée est un signe fort.Mais au cas où ce symbolisme sophistiqué vous aurait échappé, vous pouvez compter sur le régime d’Erdogan et de ses partisans pour vous le rappeler. Les cris des députés erdoganistes hurlant « Allah akbar ! » dans l’enceinte d’un Parlement supposé laïc et les déclarations des partisans du régime telles que « l’homme de pierre fond » – en référence aux statues d’Atatürk [Mustafa Kemal, fondateur de la Turquie moderne et républicaine, 1881-1938] – montrent, s’il en était encore besoin, qu’Erdogan achève de créer une Turquie à sa main.

Une stratégie qui fonctionne à merveille

Qui connaît un peu la politique internationale et la Turquie sait que Sainte-Sophie a toujours été la diversion politique favorite d’Erdogan. Au moment où tout le monde est accaparé par la question du musée qui redevient mosquée, des problèmes majeurs deviennent invisibles. Et la liste est longue : les forages de pétrole et de gaz naturel en Méditerranée, les problèmes que cela crée avec la Grèce ; la loi sur les « barreaux multiples » pour les avocats, qui ruinera définitivement un système juridique déjà sérieusement abîmé ; la détention illégale de nombreux prisonniers politiques y compris bien connus, sans parler de la crise économique massive. Jusque-là, la stratégie de diversion autour de la cathédrale semble fonctionner à merveille, pour ce qui est à la fois de la politique internationale et de la politique intérieure. Quand l’excitation et la tension seront sur le point de retomber, nul doute qu’Erdogan aura recours à une autre diversion spectaculaire.« Les aspirations politiques islamistes, que les partisans d’Erdoğan appellent “la cause”, n’ont plus aucune limite. Et le bruit amplifié de cette cause recouvre toutes les voix subtilesPour qui connaît son art magistral de la diversion, ces opérations sont devenues lassantes. En tout cas, pour le moment, ses fidèles sont tous occupés par leur chasse aux sorcières contre ceux qui s’efforcent de rappeler que la souveraineté d’un pays ne justifie pas qu’il accapare un patrimoine commun de l’humanité comme Sainte-Sophie. Les experts du régime sont allés jusqu’à dire qu’il s’agissait d’une étape importante avant de libérer la mosquée Al-Aqsa, à Jérusalem. Les aspirations politiques islamistes, que les partisans d’Erdoğan appellent « la cause », n’ont plus aucune limite. Et le bruit amplifié de cette cause recouvre toutes les voix subtiles, celles qui résonnaient à Sainte-Sophie, mais aussi partout ailleurs.A peu près au même moment où le concert Hagia Sophia réinventée fut présenté à Stanford, j’ai quitté mon pays. Depuis lors, je me débats avec le mot « exil ». Un mot lourd, qui colle à mon nom chaque fois que des gens cherchent à décrire ma situation actuelle. Je m’efforce d’expliquer que le pays d’un écrivain est le langage, et que lorsque ses mots sont étouffés par le bruit de la vulgarité, il a le droit de choisir un lieu où la finesse a encore droit de cité. N’importe quelle terre où les mots fragiles de la beauté peuvent être amplifiés est, ou peut être, la patrie d’un conteur. Crier toujours plus fort pour se faire entendre est un autre langage, que je suis incapable de parler. Et c’est, hélas, le seul langage autorisé dans mon pays à l’heure actuelle.C’est de loin que j’observe aujourd’hui les cris ardents de la victoire entonnés par les supporters du régime. Ceux-là n’ont aucun scrupule à amplifier leur rancune quand ils déclarent qu’« Istanbul est finalement et complètement reconquise ». Le regard empli de vengeance, ils passent leur temps à surveiller et traquer toute voix dissonante qui ne répéterait pas à l’unisson les mots qu’ils hurlent. Ils prétendent au monopole sur l’écho envoûtant de Sainte-Sophie. Mais l’algorithme de résonance, cette incroyable arithmétique du son, n’appartient qu’au temps. Et le temps est affaire de patience. On peut attendre longtemps que ceux qui ne connaissent d’autre langage que les cris finissent par perdre leur voix, mais je sais à présent que le son peut voyager dans le temps. Alors, avec mes mots, j’attends.

(Traduit de l’anglais par Pauline Colonna d’Istria)

Ece Temelkuran est journaliste et essayiste turque. Son dernier ouvrage, Comment conduire un pays à sa perte : du populisme à la dictature, a paru chez Stock (2019).

Ece Temelkuran (Journaliste et essayiste)

On 4th of November 2016 something truly mesmerizing happened: The sound travelled in time and space. The renowned choir Cappella Romana gave a concert in Stanford University concert Hall with the title “Hagia Sofia Reimagined” and the audience listened the Byzantine chants as they were heard in Hagia Sophia in Middle Ages. The choir’s voice was filtered through an algorithm created by Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. The scientists went to Hagia Sophia and recorded several sounds to understand how the spectacular acoustics of the building was operating and then applied the same acoustic process to the music of the choir. However, on the day of the concert, Istanbul, the city where Hagia Sophia actually is, was too noisy with sounds of jingoism that such a work of finesse went unheard. It was only a few months after the coup attempt of 15th July and amidst the noise many were leaving the country silently. They were the ones who surrendered to the fact that only the voices of vulgarity and violence would reign in Turkey. On the night of the coup attempt, the sela – a prayer usually practiced after death- called from 90 thousand mosques were making it clear that Turkey they know wouldn’t be anymore.

Hagia Sophia will be officially opened as a mosque on 24th July, the day of Lausanne Treaty that was signed in 1923. The treaty is considered as the founding document of Republic of Turkey in international political history. Therefore, for those who had a long lasting discomfort with laïcité, turning Hagia Sofia to a mosque on such an anniversary has a strong symbolism. But just in case you miss this sophisticated symbolism, Erdogan’s regime and its supporters rub it in your face anyway. The cries of Allahu Akbar in the supposedly secular parliament by the government MPs and the statements from the Erdogan supporters such as “The stone man is melting” –reference to Atatürk’s statutes- make it all clear that the founding of Erdogan’s Turkey is completed.

Those who follow international politics and Turkey know that Hagia Sofia is the biggest political distraction that Erdogan has used so far. While everyone is busy with the museum/mosque dispute a list of  the massive matters become invisible. Some of them are, natural gas and oil drilling in the South Mediterranean, the problems it creates with Greece; establishing a multiple bar system for lawyers that will ruin the already damaged justice system; many high profile political prisoners being kept in prison against the law and the massive economic crisis. So far this cathedral-size distraction seems to be working perfectly well for both the international and the domestic politics. But when in the near future the excitement and tension fail to sustain, Erdogan would sure come up with another spectacular distraction. Those who follow his masterful distraction politics are already tedious with such moves. However his devotees at the moment are all busy with witch-hunting of those who try to express the fact that the sovereignty of a country cannot monopolize the shared inheritance of humanity. The regime spin-doctors go far enough to say that this is a milestone towards Al-Aqsa. The political Islamist aspirations that Erdogan supporters call “the cause” are totally unleashed. And amplified noise of this cause does not anymore let any voice of finesse to be heard, let alone be amplified neither in Hagia Sofia nor anywhere else.

Around the date the “Hagia Sofia Reimagined” concert happened in Stanford, I left my country. Since then I am struggling with the word ‘exile’. A heavy word that is stuck to my name that people use to describe my current situation. I try to explain that the country of a writer is the language and that when her words are suppressed by the noise of vulgarity she has a right to choose the place where finesse is still present. Any land where the words of fragility of beauty still allowed to be amplified is and can be a home for the storyteller. Shouting and then shouting more to be heard is a different language that I cannot speak. And unfortunately this is the single language that is allowed in my country for the time being.

Today from afar I watch the ardent cries of victory chanted by the regime supporters. They do not hesitate to amplify their grudge when saying, “the Istanbul is finally and completely conquered”. Their resentful eyes are constantly monitoring and hunting down any other voice that do not repeat the exact words that they shout. They claim the sole monopoly of the mesmerizing echo of Hagia Sofia. But then the algorithm of resonance, that incredible arithmetic of the sound belongs only to the time. Such a patient matter is time; it can wait long enough for those who do not know any other language than shouting to eventually lose their voices. But then I know the sound can travel in time. So I wait with my words.