Meet The Tallis Scholars

Cappella Romana Presents: The Tallis Scholars

Tickets

Seattle
Saturday, 6 April, 8:00pm
St. James Cathedral

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Portland
Sunday, 7 April, 2:00pm
St. Mary’s Cathedral

TICKETS

…The rock stars of Renaissance vocal music… —The New York Times

…one of the UK’s greatest cultural exports —BBC Radio 3

The Tallis Scholars were founded in 1973 by their director, Peter Phillips. Through their recordings and concert performances, they have established themselves as the leading exponents of Renaissance sacred music throughout the world. Peter Phillips has worked with the ensemble to create, through good tuning and blend, the purity and clarity of sound which he feels best serve the Renaissance repertoire, allowing every detail of the musical lines to be heard. It is the resulting beauty of sound for which The Tallis Scholars have become so widely renowned.

The Tallis Scholars perform in both sacred and secular venues, usually giving around 70 concerts each year across the globe. In 2013 the group celebrated their 40th anniversary with a World Tour performing 99 events in 80 venues in 16 countries and travelling sufficient air-miles to circumnavigate the globe four times. They kicked off the year with a spectacular concert in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, including a performance of Thomas Tallis’ 40-part motet Spem in alium and the world premieres of works written specially for them by Gabriel Jackson and Eric Whitacre. Their recording of the Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas by John Taverner, was released on the exact anniversary of their first concert in 1973 and enjoyed six weeks at number one in the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart. On 21st September 2015 the group gave their 2000th concert at St John’s Smith Square in London.

Recordings by The Tallis Scholars have attracted many awards throughout the world. In 1987 their recording of Josquin’s Missa La sol fa re mi and Missa Pange lingua received Gramophone magazine’s Record of the Year award, the first recording of early music ever to win this coveted award. In 1989 the French magazine Diapason gave two of its Diapason d’Or de l’Année awards for the recordings of a mass and motets by Lassus and for Josquin’s two masses based on the chanson L’Homme armé. Their recording of Palestrina’s Missa Assumpta est Maria and Missa Sicut lilium was awarded Gramophone’s Early Music Award in 1991; they received the 1994 Early Music Award for their recording of music by Cipriano de Rore; and the same distinction again in 2005 for their disc of music by John Browne. The Tallis Scholars were nominated for a Grammy Award in 2001, 2009 and 2010. In November 2012 their recording of Josquin’s Missa De beata virgine and Missa Ave maris stella received a Diapason d’Or de l’Année and in their 40th anniversary year they were welcomed into the Gramophone ‘Hall of Fame’ by public vote. In a departure for the group in Spring 2015 The Tallis Scholars released a disc of music by Arvo Pärt called Tintinnabuli which has receive great praise across the board.

Cappella Romana performs before 7,000 in Pop-Up Magazine Winter Issue Experience

During our time with the Pop-Up Magazine this February, Cappella Romana performed medieval Byzantine chant from its Hagia Sophia program before a total of 7,000 people across three sold-out theaters in Oakland, Brooklyn, and Washington D.C.

The story in which we appeared was called “Sacred Sounds,” which describes how our friends at Stanford University figured out a way to synthesize the acoustical environment of one of the world’s most important buildings, the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (Istanbul). Hagia Sophia was the largest enclosed space in the world for a thousand years, and has a ring-time of over 11 seconds.

Check out some candid photos from our tour below:

Ave Maria: Program Notes

Ave Maria
Ave Maria
Feb 22-24, 2019

Josquin des Prez and Heinrich Isaac were two Renaissance composers with two quite different characters, in music and in life. We know what Isaac’s signature looked like because he dutifully signed the account books as a musical servant of the Emperor Maximilian. We know what Josquin’s signature looked like because he carved it (not at all subtly) into the wall of the choir loft in the Sistine Chapel during a youthful stint in Rome. The two men are named together in a note written to the Duke of Ferrara in 1502 during his search for a new music director for his court. One of the Duke’s singers reports that Isaac has just visited Ferrara, where he wrote an excellent motet in only two days and showed himself to be “very rapid in the art of composition” as well as being “good-natured and easy to get along with”; the singer goes on to say that “it is true that Josquin composes better, but he composes when he wants to, and not when one wants him to, and he is asking 200 ducats in salary while Isaac will come for 120 — but Your Lordship will decide.” (His Lordship decided for Josquin, who left after a year for greener pastures in France.) Great artists of this kind often seem to arrive on the scene in pairs, and it is easy to compare these two to Haydn and Mozart, the joyful craftsman and the brilliant but difficult free spirit.

Our concert today takes the form of a Mass in honor of the Virgin Mary. We have chosen to use Isaac’s music for the feast of the Annunciation, March 25th, nine months before Christmas, one of the greatest celebrations of Mary in the church calendar. These pieces are only a tiny fragment of a vast achievement by Isaac: he composed music for every single Sunday and holiday of the year, a three-volume collection known as the Choralis Constantinus. As our informant in Ferrara tells us, Isaac seems never to have run out of inspiration — unlike Josquin, who apparently had to wait for the muse to alight on his shoulder before he was willing or able to compose a new work. Music that can only be sung in church on one particular day each year is a luxury item, a piece of conspicuous consumption, and it is no surprise that Isaac’s contract to write the Choralis Constantinus included a rule that nobody could make copies of it or sing it outside the imperial cathedral. We have interspersed his music for the Annunciation with movements of Josquin’s Mass of the Blessed Virgin. This was one of Josquin’s most popular works in his own day, surviving in more than 60 different sources. Like Isaac, he uses the traditional chant melodies of the Lady Mass as a framework. He reinterprets these old tunes with stunning feats of musical imagination, and sometimes of musical mischief. (It is a very bad idea for a singer to doze off or lose concentration while singing a Mass by Josquin.) There are also delightful little additions to the Gloria in excelsis Deo in tribute to Mary — a practice that the sterner clerics at the Council of Trent, a generation later, called ineptus (the Latin word falls somewhere between “impertinent” and “tasteless”) and banned from church choirs.

The program is framed by two large motets, one by Josquin at the beginning (Praeter rerum seriem) and one by Isaac at the end (Virgo prudentissima.) Unlike the music for the Mass, these works inhabit a separate world of their own outside the strict boundaries and duties of the liturgy. This is music by and for musicians: in fact the imperial choirmaster sneaks his own name into the text of Virgo prudentissima as a personal prayer. Both Josquin and Isaac take the opportunity to let things unfold on a grand scale, weaving an intricate tapestry of musical detail. The sixteenth-century music theorist Heinrich Glarean described Isaac’s style as “tones that remain unchanged in one voice, but with the other voices in constant motion and clamoring around everywhere, just as waves moved by the wind are accustomed to play around a rock in the sea.” The reformer Martin Luther, who was an enthusiastic musician and a lifelong admirer of Josquin in particular, used a different metaphor to describe the same effect: “While one voice pursues its own course, several other voices play around it in the most marvelous manner, exulting and adorning it with the most pleasing gestures, and seeming almost to present some kind of divine dance.”

—Dr. Kerry McCarthy

Lost Treasures of Armenia Tickets

22 FEB, 8:00 PM

St. James Cathedral, Seattle

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23 FEB, 8:00 PM

St. Mary’s Cathedral, Portland

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24 FEB, 2:00 PM

St. Stepehen’s, Portland

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PROGRAM

  • Josquin DES PREZ Missa de Beata Virgine
  • Heinrich ISAAC Virgo Prudentissima, selected motets
  • Program length: 60 minutes, no intermission

Meet Blake Applegate, guest conductor of “Ave Maria”

Blake Applegate is one of Cappella Romana’s original singers, having taken part in the ensemble’s first concert in 1991.

He is Director of Cantores in Ecclesia, assuming leadership of the organization upon the retirement of his father, Dean Applegate, in the spring of 2010.  Prior to his appointment as Director, Blake served as Assistant Director, conducting the adult and children’s choirs not only locally but while on tour in Europe. 

A highly respected singer as well as choral director, he has sung widely throughout the Portland metropolitan area with groups such as Cappella Romana, the Trinity Consort and the Portland Baroque Orchestra.  For over a decade he has been a member of the Schola Cantorum at Holy Rosary Church, where he serves as principal cantor for the parish. 

He and his wife, professional musician Anna Song, are the parents of two and deeply committed to the musical education and training of children and young adults.

Hear “Virgo prudentissima” by Isaac, featured on this program. Performed here by our friends at Capella Sancti Michaelis, directed by Eric van Nevel.

Lost Treasures of Armenia Tickets

22 FEB, 8:00 PM

St. James Cathedral, Seattle

TICKETS

23 FEB, 8:00 PM

St. Mary’s Cathedral, Portland

TICKETS

24 FEB, 2:00 PM

St. Stepehen’s, Portland

TICKETS

PROGRAM

  • Josquin DES PREZ Missa de Beata Virgine
  • Heinrich ISAAC Virgo Prudentissima, selected motets
  • Program length: 60 minutes, no intermission

Cappella Romana to Perform for Pop-Up Magazine Winter Issue 2019!

LA Stage Pop-Up Magazine

You have to be there!
(Seriously, you do.)

A NIGHT OF TRUE STORIES, DOCUMENTARY FILMS, PHOTOGRAPHY, AND RADIO FROM SOME OF OUR FAVORITE WRITERS, PERFORMERS, AND MUSICIANS. UNRECORDED, LIVE ONSTAGE.

Cappella Romana, Portland’s professional vocal ensemble dedicated to ancient and modern music of the Christian East and West, will perform at Pop-Up Magazine’s Winter Issue live event.

Pop-Up Magazine is self-described as “a night of true stories, documentary films, photography, and radio from some of our favorite writers, performance, and musicians, unrecorded, live on stage.” It’s a variety show like no other, journalism and story-telling experienced in real time by audiences of thousands. 

Cappella Romana will perform at upcoming Pop-Up Magazine events on Feb. 1 in Oakland, CA, Feb. 7 in New York City, and Feb. 9 in Washington DC. The Oakland and New York City events are sold out.

Tickets & Info

Photos from Lost Treasures of Armenia

Cappella Romana performs "Lost Treasures of Armenia" with guest conductor Haig Utidjian

Bonus: Enjoy a live look from Saturday night!

Live from Lost Treasures of Armenia 🇦🇲

Posted by Cappella Romana on Saturday, January 19, 2019

Lost Treasures of Armenia

Dn. Haig Utidjian – The Program Notes

Lost Treasures of Armenia

The Holy Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church continues to embody a living tradition of primarily monodic vocal music of exceptional richness and beauty. Though its hymnography is traditionally believed to have commenced with the invention of the Armenian alphabet in the fifth century, and the Hymnal as a canonical collection was definitively closed in the fourteenth century, there is no doubt that the musical evolution of the hymns therein almost certainly continued well into the nineteenth century. In common with sister traditions such as the Byzantine, the Hymnal is categorized according to an Octoechos or eight-mode system. The modes govern not merely the various musical scales, but also standard melodic motifs, formulaic beginnings, cadences and endings. 

From the twelfth century onwards the melodies of hymns, odes and other chants were transmitted from generation to generation through a knowledge of the individual modes combined with a system of neumatic notation. Unlike the Middle Byzantine neumatic system, however, the Armenian neumes have not been deciphered, and we are consequently unable to reconstruct the original melodies. Though copyists punctiliously produced faithful copies of the notation, it is likely that the musical creativity and imagination of church musicians could not be suppressed, and thus increasingly sophisticated and melismatic melodies may have been created, causing a growing incongruity between what was sung and what was notated. Major catastrophes, entailing the destruction of the Armenian monastic tradition, and the absence of any extant manuals comparable to the Greek Papadikai, may have also contributed. The melodies available to us are transcriptions in a novel system of musical notation devised in Constantinople by the year 1815 (and thus contemporaneous with the Chrysanthine innovation in the Greek tradition), invented by Hambarjum Limōnčean (1768-1839) and Fr. Minas Bžškean (1777-1861), as well as transcriptions in Western staff notation; and the oral tradition persisted in parallel with the adoption of such systems of notation. Accordingly, this evening’s program consists of music that has reached us through one or other of the above means or through combinations thereof.  

Fr. Łewond Tayean (Léonce Dayan, 1884-1968), who enjoyed the friendship of several contemporary Italian composers (corresponding, for instance, with Gian Francesco Malipiero), meticulously transcribed, edited, and published the melodies of the entire Armenian Hymnal, in their versions as traditionally sung by the Mekhitarist Congregation of San Lazzaro in Venice. The Congregation had been founded in Constantinople in 1701 but settled on the island of San Lazzaro in 1717, where it remains today, with a further monastery in Vienna. The Penitential Pueri hymn (so named as its incipit is Psalm 113 [LXX/Arm 112]:1 – Laudate pueri, Dominum; laudate eum in excelsis) transcribed by Fr. Léonce is without doubt the most splendid version of the hymn to have reached us. Later in life, Fr. Léonce recollected singing it in Rome in 1912 as a student, earning the admiration of the Director of Music of St. Peter’s. The words are inspired by Psalm 71[LXX/Arm 70] , with the poet entreating, in successive stanzas, his God – the hope of his youth, the hope of his old age, and his hope during His second coming, not to forsake him. The verbal texts of the Armenian Penitential hymns have been traditionally ascribed to the fifth-century Archimandrite, St. Mesrop Maštoc‘, and although an attribution of such antiquity seems highly unlikely, there is an engaging simplicity about these texts that gives them a somewhat archaic feel. Sung on Friday prior to Holy Week, this hymn is all too rarely heard in any of its extant musical variants, and may well come as a surprise to most Armenian church-goers.

Haig Utidjian
Haig Utidjian

The Venetian violinist, composer, conductor, and teacher Pietro Bianchini (1828-1905), was a member of the La Fenice theatre orchestra, and composed for the Cappella di San Marco and various other ensembles. In the 1850s, however, he became enamored of the sacred music performed on the Armenian island of San Lazzaro, and spent years transcribing melodies performed by the monks there, eventually becoming Maestro di Cappella of the Mekhitarist Congregation. His meticulous transcriptions are characterized by precision, and also preserve melodies that would have otherwise been lost to us. The ode “Elect of God” is performed when the celebrant is a bishop or of higher rank. The poetry is rather beautiful, and the verbal text contains interesting theology: Christ enables the Celebrant to assume the role of Aaron, and his garments are likened to those which Moses prepared for Aaron (cf. Exodus 28, esp. 28:15). The words gain additional poignancy when one is aware of the fact that, as the ode is sung, the Celebrant simultaneously recites the prayer by St. Gregory of Narek (c. 945-1003) to the Holy Spirit (composed of two extracts from the 33rd Chapter of his magnificent Book of Lamentation), on his knees and “with overflowing tears,” and indeed Bianchini has marked the score “Modo elegiaco.” Moreover, the Celebrant has to repeat the first section of the prayer “until confidence in the upward contemplation of light be wonderfully revealed, announcing and bringing the good news of peace once more from on high,” and only then may he proceed to its second section; the singer of the ode therefore has to be prepared to fill the time available, singing as many or as few stanzas as may be required in the circumstances. The transcription must have been made by Bianchini in the late 1850s and was first published in 1862 – although there is evidence (including the manuscript of a version with orchestral accompaniment) to suggest that it preoccupied him for decades thereafter.

We follow this ode by an ode for the Holy Cross, which seems first to appear in a manuscript copied in 1466 (probably in the Crimea – Matenadaran MS 425) and is usually attributed to the 13th century Cilician composer, Kostandin Srik. This evening it will be sung to a melody recorded in Constantinople at the Church of the Holy King in Kadıköy in Istanbul, here enriched for the final stanza by recourse to a slightly different version transcribed by Deacon Edvin Galip (of the Church of the Holy Mother-of-God in Beşigtaş). Finally, the liturgical sequence is completed by a Processional for the Holy Cross, consisting of a melismatic version of the Cantemus hymn (that is, the first hymn of the Canon, commencing with Moses’ Song of Praise from Exodus 15:1 – Cantemus Domino, gloriose enim magnificatus est…) for the First Day of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, in a version I was taught by the Adana-born musician, Vahan Bedelian (1894-1990), which is closely related to the version published in Vałaršapat in 1875.

The Processional (itself a conflation of two De caelis hymns, so named after Psalm 148:1, which furnishes the incipit to this type of hymn – Laudate Dominum de caelis, laudate eum in excelsis – though the incipit is omitted when the hymns are sung at processions) – and Prandii (a hymn associated with the Synaxis and a midday meal) belong to the Armenian Third Plagal Mode. The mode is known as Vaŕ jayn – a “glowing voice” – sometimes thought to be related to the Greek barys mode (despite the divergent musical characters of either mode), but probably a reference to the slightly lowered fourth degree. They are performed on the basis of a manuscript transcription by one K. Petrosean completed in 1947 at the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia in Antelias, as sung in Cyprus by my own teacher, Abp. Zareh Aznaworean of blessed memory (1947-2004).

St. Nersēs of Lambron (1153-1198), archbishop of Tarsus 1176-1198, a zealous advocate of the union of the Greek and Armenian Churches, and a brilliant theologian (much of whose work, primarily of an exegetical nature, has been preserved through several manuscript witnesses but remains unpublished to this day) is credited with the composition of the Easter Cantemus hymn. I heard the present melody being taught by Deacon Adruşan Halacyan to his pupils, at the Church of the Vardanian Saints in Feriköy in Istanbul, on Good Friday (3 April) 2015; it is rather similar to a version published in Constantinople in Western notation by the musicologist Ełia Tntesean (1834-1881) in his short-lived musical magazine in 1879. It is modally entirely compatible with the Easter Day Introit by which it is followed.

Lost Treasures of Armenia

18-20 Jan 2019

Seattle and Portland

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Alexander Lingas recently discovered a through-composed, melismatic setting of the Armenian Easter Day Introit, in Chrysanthine notation, in a two-volume anthology of post-Byzantine chant copied in 1868 and currently held by the Firestone Library (Princeton MS Greek 15). The manuscript was copied by Diamantes M. Salgaras at the Monastery of Nea Moni on the island of Chios. The Armenian Introit is prefaced by the rubric «ἕτερον ἀργὸν ἀρμενεΐτικον. ἦχος πλάγιος πρώτος ἐκ τοῦ πα» ([A] further slow [setting, in] Armenian; plagal first mode from Pa [=D]’). Alexander Lingas and I have completed an annotated edition of this Introit with a full commentary for imminent publication. It is remarkable that an ancient Armenian chant, entirely forgotten by Armenians, was preserved within a Greek milieu and in the Chrysanthine notation; might it have been used in joint celebrations by one of several small communities of Chalcedonian Armenians (in communion with the Greek Orthodox Church), known to have existed until the beginning of the twentieth century? Be that as it may, the transcription embodies a number of “archaic” musical features, and is unique – although the existence of melismatic introits – including this one – is confirmed by the existence of densely neumated settings found in mediaeval manuscripts of the Manrusmunk‘ (“minute learning”) genre, consisting of particularly densely-notated Breviary chants.  

Archimandrite Komitas (1869-1935) was a pioneer, gathering large numbers of folk songs in manner that anticipated the endeavors of composers such as Bartók and Janáček, and producing masterly arrangements, harmonized for chorus or arranged with piano accompaniment. After initial studies with Makar Ekmalian, he was educated in Berlin and, though he belonged to the brotherhood of the Mother See of Ēǰmiacin, he settled in Constantinople, where he rapidly became associated with the Westernizing movement – dreaming of “celestial pure” melodies, “purified” of perceived “oriental” influences. Paradoxically, at the same time he sought to exploit the modality of the traditional melodies, generally preferring contrapuntal arrangements and experimenting with various tonal axes. He is generally considered to be the founder of Armenian art music, and was an iconic figure within his lifetime. However, the trauma of deportation during the Armenian Genocide tragically damaged his mental balance in 1915, and he spent the rest of his life in mental asylums in Paris thereafter. His arrangement of the Divine Liturgy may be considered a work of genius, and its history is a poignant one. It was rehearsed and first performed virtually on the eve of the Genocide, with a handful of male singers at the Armenian Church in Galata who, as deacons or church clerks, had been exempt from military service. (Situated on the northern shore of the Golden Horn, the church, dedicated to St. Gregory the Illuminator, had been built shortly before the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans; it was expropriated by the state and demolished in 1958, although a smaller church has since been built on part of the same site.) One of Komitas’ pupils, Wardan Sarxian, managed to produce a performing version based on Komitas’ autograph, rendered almost illegible by layers of revisions. Though attempts have been made at other reconstructions, Sarxian’s edition has become standard, and we draw on it this evening.

The Armenian texts of the Divine Liturgy – formed and used in different regions of historical Armenia – are deemed likely to have been based on Greek models, but no Greek original texts of these now exist. The version that came to dominate the others was subjected to the addition of hymns and litanies, and has been in general use in the Armenian Church since at least the 10th century. Certain features are deemed to reflect the Jerusalem rite (due to contacts with the Church of Antioch), and the influence of the Byzantine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom – and to a lesser degree, that of the Roman rite – may also be discerned. However, some of the excerpts from the Divine Liturgy we shall hear this evening happen to be of more recent vintage. Thus, the Hymn of Vesting, “O Mystery deep,” is attributed to Xač‘atur of Tarōn, Abbot of Hałarcin Monastery (still standing, in northern Armenia, and recently renovated), who is believed to have first sung it in an open-air service early in the 13th century. The ode “Elect of God” is of unknown authorship but the earliest manuscript known to me is from the 17th century. (The version adopted by Komitas is less melismatic than that recorded by Bianchini, though their respective modalities share common features.) The Hymns of the Kiss of Peace and of Communion have been reliably attributed to St. Nersēs the Gracious (1102-1173, in office as Catholicos 1166-1173). They are sung by the Clerks as the Celebrant recites quietly (“in secret,” according to the Missal rubric) the Prayer of the Epiclesis. St. Nersēs the Gracious was a poet, musician, and pioneering ecumenist, who corresponded with the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnēnos in a bid to achieve unity. The most modern item is the religious poem commencing with the words Tēr ołormea (“Kyrie eleison”) by Catholicos Simēōn of Erewan (in office 1763-1780), which was composed as a lengthy poem, but appears to have become so popular that it became an integral part of the preparation for Holy Communion, and its omission today would be unthinkable. For their melodies, both Komitas and Ekmalian drew from a compendium of the chants of the Armenian Divine Liturgy published in Vałaršapat in 1878.

Makar Ekmalian (1856-1905), himself a native of Vałaršapat, had assisted the Constantinopolitan Nikołayos T‘aščean (1841-1885), who had been specially invited to Ēǰmiacin by the Catholicos of All Armenians, Gēorg IV (1813-1882, in office 1866-1882), himself a Constantinopolitan. The project entailed transcribing the melodies of the Armenian Hymnal, Breviary, and Missal into the Limōnčean system of musical notation. It would seem that the melody of the ode for the Holy Resurrection, “This day the dead,” was composed in Constantinople by Gabriēl Eranean (1827?-1862), and in the oldest manuscripts seen by us, it bears the modal designation Hüzzam makam. It includes what is referred to as a kratēma – a now defunct tradition, almost certainly borrowed from Byzantine practice in Constantinople. This information is, however, unlikely to have been known to the editors of the 1878 Vałaršapat publication, where the ode was included, or indeed to Ekmalian himself, whose arrangements and harmonizations were published in Leipzig in 1896 by the house of Breitkopf und Härtel. Ekmalian’s arrangement is meticulous in its rhythms, and the accompaniment gently forms a static background to the solo tenor voice.    

© 2019 Dn. Haig Utidjian, PhD 

Lost Treasures of Armenia

18-20 Jan 2019

Seattle and Portland

MORE INFORMATION

KING FM Northwest Focus features Lost Treasures of Armenia

In the lead up to our Lost Treasures of Armenia series, Seattle’s KING FM will be previewing the performance on the Northwest Focus program Monday-Thursday this week (1/14-17/2019).

Date

Time

Music

Monday, January 14
9:19pm
Adamis: Radiant Cloud
Tuesday, January 15
8:00pm
Dufay: Lamentatio Sanctae Matris Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae
Wed, January 16
9:19pm
Zes: Cherubic Hymn
Thursday, January 17
9:10pm
Glagolev: Cherubic Hymn

Lost Treasures of Armenia

January 18-20

Seattle and Portland

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Christmas in Ukraine is “a breath of life”

Cappella Romana - Dec. 22 at St. Mary's Cathedral in Portland

Oregon ArtsWatch‘s Friderike Heuer reviewed the Portland performance of Christmas in Ukraine. See a video from the performance along with the review and get your January 5th San Francisco tickets while you can!

“The superb vocal ensemble’s ‘Christmas in Ukraine’ was ancient and modern and a breath of life… Cappella Romana opened its 2018/19 season announcement with the words, “Prepare to be engaged, moved, and inspired.” Consider it done. You could add an occasional “made breathless” by the sheer beauty of the singing. One of the main themes of the glorious vocal ensemble’s Saturday concert Christmas in Ukraine at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland was the notion of breath. Breath as the source of life handed down from above, and breath as the source of praise sent back up. … It was as exuberant as one would wish when the music demanded it. It was as solemn as one would hope when the message was grave, with precise, energetic, and fluid conducting throughout. And this is not where the dichotomies end. Kuzma devised a terrific program that included music from both pagan and sacral realms, as they both capture a typical repertoire for the Ukrainian nation of devoted (and devout) singers, carols and motets. Many of the pieces had never been published before in the United States and were transcribed by the director or provided by her colleagues in Kiev. The theme of nature as a source of inspiration and adulation at the birth of Christ ran through the concert. Added to that were occasional spoken passages, reading of prose-poetry by the singers, and childhood reminiscences by the conductor, as is Ukrainian custom. On the one hand it provided an introduction to the culture, helped us understand the value of recitation to a nation exposed to ever-changing circumstances, preserving heritage. … Harmonic simplicity and bell-like acoustic color tempted not a few listeners to chime in with soft humming on occasion. No match to the full-bodied voices and clear articulation by the choir, I hasten to add. Not a huge disturbance either, though, because it captured the communal spirit inherent to these a cappella pieces. And talking about bell-like: the chorus managed to breathe new life even into an old chestnut, Scedrik, known to us as Carol of the Bells, which is really not about bells at all, or even a Christmas carol, but a song about swallows returning and bringing good tidings for Epiphany. The most impressive bell incantation came in Yerusalimsky dzvoni, where a full range of octaves pealed and boomed across the hall in tempi that made you want to dance. That rousing carol was paired, in one of the most heartrending contrasts of the evening, with a wistful lullaby, Spi, Isuse, Spi. Call me moved!”

—Friderike Heuer, ArtsWatch

See the full review on OrArtsWatch.org

Final performance – Saturday, 5 January at St. Ignatius Parish in San Francisco! Tickets still available.

Christmas in Ukraine Opening Weekend

Cappella Romana sings "Carol of the Bells" as an encore, Dec. 22 at St. Mary's Cathedral in Portland

What a wonderful weekend celebrating “Christmas in Ukraine” with sold-out, packed halls in Seattle and Portland. ✨ Khïstos razhdayetsia! Slavite yeho!