Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation – World Premiere Performances

Cappella Romana - Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation

Photos from our World Premiere Weekend for “Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation” in Seattle and Portland!

KING FM Northwest Focus features Heaven and Earth: The Song of Creation

Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation

Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation
In the lead up to our Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation series, Seattle’s KING FM will be previewing the performance on the Northwest Focus program on Wednesday and Thursday of this week (10/10-11/2018).




Wednesday, October 10
Tikey Zes: Cherubic Hymn (from The Divine Liturgy)


Thursday, October 11
Tikey Zes: Communion Verse for Sundays (from The Divine Liturgy)


Notes on Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation

Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation

Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation

Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation

Dedicated to Richard Toensing (+2014) and Archimandrite Ephrem Lash (+2016) of blessed memory

Program Notes by Richard Barrett, Artistic Director, The Saint John of Damascus Society

The Saint John of Damascus Society is a sacred arts nonprofit that seeks to raise general awareness of the rich, diverse heritage of Orthodox sacred music. In 2012, our founding board president, Dr. Harold (“Hal”) Sabbagh, was inspired by the European Organization for Nuclear Research’s 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson, the subatomic particle that enables objects to have mass. Dr. Sabbagh wanted to celebrate this achievement through the music of Orthodox Christianity, and we hit upon Psalm 103 (LXX numbering), sung or read at every Orthodox Vespers service, as the concept’s vehicle. The psalmist here praises the divinely created order from the very large to the very small, from the seas to the heavens, exclaiming, “How magnified are your works, O Lord, in wisdom have You made them all, and the earth has been filled with your creation.”

We decided that the psalmist’s text lent itself to the idea of “unity in diversity,” which parallels the richness of Orthodoxy’s sung worship, whether we are speaking of Russian choral music, Byzantine chant, Georgian polyphony, or some of the American expressions that are emerging influenced by elements of all of those things. With this in mind, we approached six very different Orthodox composers with a challenge: collaborate on a setting of Psalm 103 intended for concert performance, in which each of you will set a section of the psalm in your own musical voice, while still finding a way to make it sound like a cohesive, unified piece of music.

The six composers we approached, Matthew Arndt, John Michael Boyer, Alexander Khalil, Kurt Sander, Richard Toensing, and Tikey Zes, all looked at us like we were out of our minds; then they all said “Yes, of course.”

We also conceived of a film project as the project’s final phase. Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos TV series (1980), a masterpiece of public engagement, served as a touchstone here, particularly in the way that it juxtaposed images of the macroscopic, such as galaxies, quasars, and the like, and the microscopic, such as DNA and subatomic particles, with music – Bach, Mozart, Vangelis, and beyond. Inspired by Sagan’s work, we planned it out so that once we had the music recorded, we would collaborate creatively with a filmmaker to produce a film project that would be a cinematic meditation on science and faith from a uniquely Eastern Orthodox perspective, using the music as the jumping-off point.

In October 2013, we brought all of our composers together for a working weekend. They needed to wrestle with the new translation of the psalm that Archimandrite Ephrem Lash of blessed memory (+2016) had produced for us, and they needed to figure out how their own musical idioms ought to be integrated with one another. There was some trepidation in the air; they were having to trust a vision they did not fully understand initially, and nobody knew exactly how this collaboration between the six of them was going to work. Thankfully, the common language the composers had as practicing liturgical musicians in the Orthodox Church emerged very early in the process. As they discussed the psalm’s context in the Vespers service and demonstrated to each other different ways to sing it in different repertories, the uncertainties lifted quite suddenly. Two days after this “aha!” moment propelled the idea into a more concrete reality for the composers, they had come up with a schema for the work, and they all went home to compose.

Richard Toensing was the first one to submit a completed score, sending it along in the early spring of 2014. It is a tremendous and ambitious piece of work, scored for an eight part double choir. In May of that year, as we were trying to coordinate a follow-up composers’ meeting, he emailed me saying, “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to make it.” By July 2014 Richard had left us; may his memory be eternal.

In June of 2015, the last sections were turned in, and we set about to bringing it to life. The piece was always intended for Cappella Romana and was tailored to their manifold strengths, and they graciously agreed to take it on. Following these concerts, we will begin planning the recording in earnest, as we will also start to consider the film project.

I am indebted of course to our composers, Matthew, John, Alexander, Kurt, Tikey, and of course our absent friend Richard, who are the co-creators of this vision’s centerpiece. I have no adequate means to thank another absent friend, Fr. Ephrem, whose translation for us determined to a large degree the work’s character, in no small part because it was the common ground that every composer shared.

I must also offer my gratitude to His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople for his blessing of the The Psalm 103 Project. His leadership with respect to the dialogue between the religious and scientific communities has been a major influence for us, and his interest, prayers, and encouragement have been a humbling gift.

It has been our objective to ensure that the whole of The Psalm 103 Project stands on the own merits of its individual parts; that is to say, that Heaven and Earth be a piece of sacred music worthy of a life beyond the premiere performances, and that regardless of it being the basis of a film that is yet to be made, it is not heard as merely a movie score. And also, yes, that the film, when it is produced, will also be seen as a good film, and not merely a vehicle for the music. My hope is that these premiere performances will inspire in its own way, and that audiences will discover in it, not just musical beauty, but serious spiritual reflection about the nature of God’s Creation and how He reveals it to us.

Τῷ Θεῷ δόξα. How magnified are your works, O Lord, in wisdom have You made them all, and the earth has been filled with your creation.


The Psalm 103 Project

Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation

Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation

Cappella Romana’s Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation Series (October 12-14, 2018) is a collaboration with the Saint John of Damascus Society. A musical meditation on Psalm 103 (“Bless the Lord, O my soul”), the Orthodox Vesperal Psalm, the program premieres a new setting of the Psalm by six Orthodox composers. The Saint John of Damascus Society’s Artistic Director, Richard Barrett, gives some background information on how the project and collaboration came to be:

“Hal Sabbagh, the president of the Saint John of Damascus Society’s Executive Board, is an electrical engineer with a PhD. He’s a scientist by any definition of the word; he’s also, I can tell you, a very faithful man. For Hal, there is no inherent conflict in being a scientist of faith; “When I’m working out an equation,” he’s told me before, “I’m talking to God in His own language.”

In July of 2012, Hal was very excited about CERN’s discovery of the Higgs boson, the “God particle”. We were having one of those conversations that was about everything all at once, including things like what he wanted inscribed on his casket (which I won’t say, specifically, but it’s very much in keeping with the kind of man he is; I just told him, “Hal, as far as I’m concerned, you’re going to live forever, but I’ll make sure that it happens”), when he brought up the Higgs report. “You see,” he said, very intently, “I think Orthodoxy has something to say about this through our liturgical music. What would be the hymn that could be relevant to this kind of thing?”

I thought about it, and what I came up with was the Vesperal psalm, Psalm 103 (104), with all of its language of God’s glory being revealed in Creation. There are many different musical versions of Psalm 103 used in the Orthodox Churches of North America, with Fr. Sergei Glagolev’s setting certainly being an old favorite for a lot of people (and rightfully so!).

I had also been listening a lot to the Cappella Romana disc Mt. Sinai: Frontier of Byzantium, which starts off with a haunting reconstruction of how Psalm 103 would have been sung in Palestinian practice, followed by the current Byzantine practice of singing the Anoixantaria, the verses starting with “When you open your hand all things will be filled with goodness…”, in a slow, melismatic texture.

I mentioned some of the verses from the psalm, and Hal got very excited. “Yes,” he said, “that’s exactly what we’re looking for. Could we commission a setting of it? And if we did, how could we use it as a way to talk about science and faith?”

Well, sure, we could, I said… but as I thought about it more, I realized that if we were interested in using such a piece to reach a wider audience on a theme of contemporary significance, there was something that we could do that might be more intriguing.…

Continue Reading on the Psalm 103 Project website

Oregon ArtsWatch Review for The Vigil

The Vigil

The Vigil

Oregon ArtsWatch contributor Friderike Heuer shares a review from our Sunday performance of The Vigil at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland:

“I cannot even remember the last time I had goosebumps like this while listening to live music.…I sat on a Sunday afternoon in a church attempting to hold back tears and racking my brain trying to remember what I knew about Sergei Rachmaninov, about his choral work All-Night Vigil, op.37 just so the emotions wouldn’t overwhelm me. … Cappella Romana was joined by a basso profundo, Glenn Miller, whose voice and ability to project were marvels. Soloist Joseph Muir sang lyrically without giving in to the tenor’s temptation to emote – it was a masterfully restrained performance fitting the sacral setting. And Benedict Sheehan, the conductor, managed to keep all the interlocking parts beautifully transparent, and balanced”

Friderike Heuer, Oregon ArtsWatch

Full review on OrArtsWatch.org and see photos on Friderike Heuer’s blog.

One performance remaining – Saturday, September 29, 8pm in San Francisco!


KING FM Northwest Focus features The Vigil

In the lead-up to The Vigil series, Seattle’s KING FM will be previewing the performance on the Northwest Focus program on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday of this week (9/17,18,20/2018). See when to tune in to hear recordings from the Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil!

When To Listen





Monday, September 17
Rachmaninoff: Vespers – Kontakion of the Mother of God


Tuesday, September 18
Rachmaninoff: Vespers – Ave Maria


Thursday, September 20
Rachmaninoff: Vespers – Nunc dimittis

The Vigil

21-29 Sept, 2018


Cappella Romana Welcomes Superstar Basso Profundo Glenn Miller for “The Vigil”

Glenn Miller

Among singers, they’re known as basso profundos. In Russian Orthodox music, they are referred to as oktavists. Whatever you call them, they are one of the rarest – and lowest – voice parts, often singing a full octave below the normal bass range, adding new dimension and depth to the sound of an ensemble.

To open the 2018-19 season, Cappella Romana is thrilled to welcome one of North America’s best basso profundos, Grammy Award-winner Glenn Miller. Miller is sought after not only for his distinctive deep voice, but for his abilities as an interpreter of Russian choral repertoire. (Read his bio here.) Cappella Romana audiences may remember Miller from his performances of Rautavaara’s Vigil with the ensemble in 2017.

He is a natural fit for The Vigil, a program that centers around Sergei Rachmaninoff’s great masterpiece, the All-Night Vigil (also known as the “Vespers”). Rachmaninoff’s Vigil explores the depths of spiritual devotion – and human voices – and has remained one of the most popular choral works in the repertoire since its composition in 1915.

Cappella Romana’s dedication to authenticity and world-class musicianship informs their unique take on this perennial favorite. Under the direction of guest conductor Benedict Sheehan (St. Tikhon’s Seminary, Pennsylvania), the concert will place Rachmaninoff’s music in the context of a more complete Orthodox Vigil, with the addition psalms and hymn settings by Russian composers including Nikolai Danilin and Alexander Gretchaninoff.

Blending the passionate harmonies of Rachmaninoff’s music with some of the Northwest’s finest acoustic spaces, The Vigil will resonate with you long after Glenn Miller’s final low B-flat.

The Vigil

21-23 Sept, 2018


Alexander Lingas Receives New Title

Cappella Romana artistic director Alexander Lingas has received the title of Archon Mousikodidaskalos (Music Teacher) of the Great Church of Christ on behalf of His All-Holiness, Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch.

Dr. Lingas said “I am humbled to receive this title from His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. I am also deeply grateful to His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios for his thoughtfulness and kind support of my scholarly, professional and pastoral musical work in the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain.”

The title of Mousikodidaskalos was created in modern times primarily to honour individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the teaching and academic study of Byzantine chant. In ancient times, such titles were bestowed by the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire to officials of the imperial court.

This is Dr. Lingas’s second major award for musical service to the Orthodox Church. In 2010, the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese awarded him the St Romanos the Melodist Medallion

Dr. Lingas was awarded his new title at a service officiated by Archbishop Gregorios Theocharous, the leader of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain. It took place at the chapel of the Archdiocese, at Thyateira House in London.

(Announcement adapted from the City, University of London Press Release)

Cappella Romana Videos from IBMF!

Doxologia has a new series of videos from Cappella Romana’s performances at the Iași Byzantine Music Festival in 2017:

Alexander Lingas Interviewed at IBMF

Doxologia has published a new video “In Dialogue” with Alexander Lingas from Cappella Romana’s time at the Iași Byzantine Music Festival in 2017: