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.


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.   

Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia is a Recommended Recording on MusicWeb International

MusicWeb International critic John Quinn has made Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia one of his Recommended Recordings!

The music itself is astonishing. … I was struck at once by the wonderful overlapping sonorities of the choir. There’s a real depth and richness to the choral sound and here, as elsewhere, the fabulously deep and resonant basses anchor the choir’s sound superbly. Despite the resonance, the singers still achieve clarity.

… The members of Cappella Romana bring terrific fervour to both the solo sections and the choral passages in the Small litany and Old Kalophonic Antiphon. They move seamlessly into the Stichologia, one of several instances in which female voices are included. The Ode 4 of the Canon of the Precious Cross brings this sub-section of the programme to a remarkable conclusion. Verses are sung alternately by two choirs against a deep bass drone; the chant is purposeful and declamatory. The sound that the choir makes within the simulated acoustic is absolutely compelling and this is one of several occasions where, at the very end of the piece, the listener gets a real appreciation of the reverberation of the Hagia Sophia acoustic. …

The Cherubic Hymn, which concludes the CD, is superb. Listen in particular to the way the music gradually ascends until it reaches the tenor register (track 12, 6:09) at which point the higher pitch adds even more to the fervour of the music and performance. I’m inclined to think that this piece, and the performance it receives, has more impact than anything else on the disc; it certainly grabbed my attention.

… this is a careful and respectful example of musicological and acoustical practical research but the project is anything but a dry exercise. Cappella Romana and the Stanford acousticians have brought this music vividly to life and we hear it, as it wore, resounding across the centuries.

… a magnificent production. The singing of Cappella Romana is superb from start to finish – the choir comprises 14 voices but often they make a huge sound, albeit without any suggestion of forcing the tone. The demonstration-class recorded sound enhances their performances greatly. I can honestly say I’ve never experienced a disc like this but it’s a real ear-opener and a formidable achievement.”

—John Quinn, MusicWeb International

See the full review on MusicWeb-International.com

Bissera Pentcheva Interview on Hagia Sophia in Kathimerini

Greek news outlet Kathimerini has published a new interview with Stanford University’s Bissera Pencheva who has worked with Cappella Romana as part of our Hagia Sophia project and recording. Read the interview in the original Greek at Kathimerini.gr and see the translation below:

What distinguishes Hagia Sofia from other churches and monuments of the Christian world? 

Hagia Sophia is the largest domed interior from the Middle Ages; its cupola rises over 50 meters above the floor, and no other Western medieval cathedral has achieved the same feat. The interior also preserves its authentic sixth-century marble floor, revetments, and gold mosaics. This material fabric has a chameleonic presence––poikilia––that changes appearance from gleam to incandescence by the shifts of sunrays and light moving in the space in the course of the diurnal cycle. Thus Hagia Sophia shows to this day how divine presence is manifested in the phenomenality of gold and marble, beyond anthropomorphic figuration. Sunrays penetrating the interior create paradoxical effects; the beams appear like columns of light, while the actual marble columns seem to dissolve in shadow. The book-matched Proconnesian slabs further display in their veins an uninterrupted pattern of waves that suggests the image of the lapping water of the sea. The interior with is temporal play of light mobilizes the mytho-poetic power of architecture to conjure the image of the Genesis, of the Spirit hovering over the primordial ocean. As a museum, Hagia Sophia could still be experienced as this temporal eikōn poikilē of the Holy Spirit. In winter, when the sun sets earlier in the day, the marmarygma of marble and gold becomes alive and enacts the Spirit entering matter; a body that becomes empnous. The space continues to mesmerize with its partial views, and this is what stirs the visitors to be continuously in motion, to explore by walking unhindered in the space. So even when no liturgical services are performed in this space, its form and material flux, communicate the presence of the metaphysical in the phenomenal.

As a noted international scholar on Hagia Sofia, what is your own opinion regarding Turkey’s government plans to assess whether the church becomes a mosque? 

Hagia Sophia is a powerful political symbol. It anchors the modern secular identity of the Republic of Turkey as established by its founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, in 1923. He encouraged the historical study of the space and already in 1931 he supported the survey of Thomas Whittemore and the Byzantine Institute of America. Based on the results of this initial study, the plan for the secularization of Hagia Sophia progressed and on November 24, 1934 the decree for the conversion of the building into a museum was announced by the Turkish Council of Ministers, the Vekiller Heyeti. The main ground for this conversion was the plan to modernize and secularize: two pillars on which the new republic’s image was built and set in contrast to the Ottoman past. The Vekiller Heyeti stated: “Owing to its historical significance, the conversion of the Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul––a unique architectural monument––into a museum will gratify the entire Eastern World and will cause humanity to gain a new institution of knowledge.” What is emphasized as the reason behind this conversion into a museum is the universal, historical value of the monument and its being an “institution of knowledge.” We can hear the reverberation of this idea in the media. On March 25, 1935 an article in the newspaper “Milliyet” declared: “The conversion of Hagia Sophia to a museum, socially speaking, is a very significant event, not only in our history but also in the history of humanity. There are other examples where a shrine is assigned for another programme in history. However, all those examples––as far as we can remember–were converted after battles amongst nations. Whereas Hagia Sophia is converted from a shrine into a museum of science almost in one day in complete quietness.”

It is these concepts of universalism, respect, peace, and science that have been challenged in the recent political developments regarding the fate of the Hagia Sophia and the drive to change its jurisdiction from the control of the Ministry of Culture to that of Evkaf Umum Müdürlüğü (General Directorate of Pious Institutions). 

The quotes come from Ceren Katipoğlu and Çağla Caner-Yüksel, “Hagia Sophia ‘Museum’: A Humanist Project of the Turkish Republic,” in Constructing Cultural Identity, Representing Social Power, edited by Cânâ Bilsel, Kim Esmark et al. (Pisa: Pisa University Press, 2010), 205–224.

Hagia Sofia had been a mosque for almost 5 centuries – until 1935. Did this change of religious use caused damage or affected the character of the monument? 

Yes, of course there were changes, but there was also a very careful husbandry. Up until 1462 Hagia Sophia was the only Friday mosque in Istanbul. Among the immediate changes introduced in the space were the additions of mihrab, minbar, the first two minarets, and the establishment of a medrese in the grounds. The Byzantine figural mosaics were white-washed only in the second half of the seventeenth century, and this coincides with the drive to imbricate the building even further in the Ottoman sultanic ceremony and memory. This period witnesses the rise and agglomeration of royal tombs around the building: those of sultans Selim II (1566-1574), Murad III (1574-1595), Mehmed III (1595–1603). This evidence suggests that when the empire was advancing and conquering in the first century of Ottoman rule, the building was left with minimal changes. But after the end of great age of Süleyman I (1520-1566), the beginning of political stagnation led to a significant intervention in the fabric of Hagia Sophia. 

This tide was reversed during the reign of Abdülmecid (1839–1862) who promoted  a policy towards modernization and westernization. He invited the Swiss Fossati brothers to restore and structurally re-enforce the building. During this campaign 1847–1849, the building was first studied by Western scholars. The Fossati discovered Byzantine mosaics. When sultan Abdülmecid, saw them he was so impressed that he exclaimed: “Elles sont belles, cachez-les pourtant puisque notre religion les defend: cachez les bien, mais ne les déstruisez pas; car qui sait ce qui peut arriver?” He was right, and a new age came with Kemal Atatürk, which made the unveiling of the Byzantine fabric and study of Hagia Sophia possible. 

Erdogan is challenging the legacy of the forefathers of the Turkish Republic, whose goals were respect, peace, and participation in international efforts for the preservation of the universal value of historical monuments. Erdogan rallies his Islamicist base, pushing it to the limelight and using it to eradicate the legacy of Kemal Atatürk. The Turkish people stand before a difficult choice and they have to make this decision under oppression of free speech and freedom.

If Erdogan finally turns Hagia Sofia into a mosque, would that signify a more firm distancing of Turkey from Europe and the West, a possible repositioning of Turkey as a power antagonistic to Europe? And how the Western political and academic should react to such a major decision? 

I think we need to distinguish Erdogan and his Islamicist base from the rest of Turkish society. His actions go at the heart of modern, secular Turkish identity and bring pain and suffering first and foremost in the democratic spheres of that society. These are the people who challenged Erdogan and elected the democratic mayor of Istanbul: Ekrem İmamoğlu. It is their democratic voice that Europe should support and find effective ways how to do that rather than condemning Turkey as a monolith.

Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia: More Relevant Than Ever

This week media outlets across the world thrust Hagia Sophia into the limelight, reporting the action by current authorities to clear the way for the UNESCO World Heritage Site to be changed from a museum to a mosque.

Cappella Romana’s Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia is more relevant than ever: to shine a light on Hagia Sophia’s first nine centuries as a cathedral, before it was made a mosque after Constantinople fell to Ottoman forces in 1453.

Alexander Lingas and I, and all of us at Cappella Romana, are profoundly grateful to you, for buying the recording and sharing it with your friends and family, and for your financial contributions and moral support.

Your belief in us and in the importance of Hagia Sophia is an inspiration. Thank you.

We are also grateful to the Turkish authorities who ten years ago granted access to Stanford’s team to take the acoustic measurements that made this project possible at all. We still hope that kind of openness can continue, to recognize and explore the full cultural, musical, and spiritual history—including that after 1453—of this globally important site.

We are considering future recordings of ancient Byzantine chant—again performed in the virtual acoustics of Hagia Sophia—that would have been sung there for other great feasts such as Christmas and Pascha (Easter), when funding is secured and it is safe to do so in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Again thank you for your support of Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia and of Cappella Romana.

Mark Powell
Executive Director

National Endowment for the Humanities awards major grant to Cappella Romana


In tandem with unprecedented support for Cappella Romana from individual donors this spring, the National Endowment for the Humanities has announced a $67,951 grant to support Cappella Romana’s essential operations during the COVID pandemic.

The award is one of 317 grants made out of over 2,300 applications, and only one of six made in the discipline of music.

“We are so honored to be selected for funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities,” says Mark Powell, executive director. “This award—our first from the NEH—shines a light on Cappella Romana’s essential role as a unique contributor to the humanities and to our cultural life.”

The grant will first support the work of Cappella Romana’s music director and founder, Dr. Alexander Lingas. He will lead a team of scholars to produce a volume of medieval Byzantine chants from the Greek monastery of Grottaferrata near Rome, a community founded by St. Neilos of Calabria in 1004. It will contain the first musical edition of a Greek office honoring St. Benedict of Nursia that St. Neilos composed for celebration at the Benedictine abbey of Montecassino.

Dr. Lingas will also conduct research to create “Christmas 1400: A Byzantine Emperor in King Henry’s Court,” a new concert program of Byzantine and Latin music, slated to be performed in 2021.

“I am very grateful to the NEH,” said Lingas, “for enabling Cappella Romana during this time of crisis to extend its work in significant ways. Thanks to its support we can begin the vital task of disseminating widely our vast treasury of original musical scholarship, material previously available only through our concerts and sound recordings.”

The grant will also support associate music director John Michael Boyer to complete and publish a textbook on singing from traditional Byzantine chant notation. This textbook in English is designed, lesson by lesson, to guide students toward full command and understanding of the practical skills and theoretical knowledge of the Byzantine melodic tradition.

Notice from the National Endowment for the Humanities