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Emmanuel Music as a Church Choir: An Appreciation


<p>John Harbison conducting congregation in opening chorale   (BMInt Staff photo)</p>
John Harbison conducting congregation in opening chorale (BMInt Staff photo)

Emmanuel Church’s Sunday morning service on March 7 was the 7,696th in their distinguished  history, according to Senior Warden, Peter Johnson. For perhaps the 1,400th time the service music was provided by the estimable Emmanuel Music, which has become renowned for including a Bach Cantata at the end of each service. In a city of great choirs, Emmanuel Music’s contingent of 15 on Sunday was doing its quotidian best to provide inspiration in a variety of idioms. That they have done so since 1970 is a cause for rejoicing and amazement, for from their ranks have issued some of the world’s most important artists, such as Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Sanford Sylvan, James Madelena, etc. The group’s versatility is one of their most notable qualities.  At home in music of perhaps a 400-year span, they perform without any agenda. Thus, their Bach Cantata no. 163 was performed at A-440 with singers unafraid of vibrato and six modern string players who might have offered a Brahms sextet at their next outing.

<p>Composer, James Primosch    (BMInt staff photo)</p>
Composer, James Primosch (BMInt staff photo)

What marked the day as special was both the conducting by Ryan Turner, newly announced successor to John Harbison as artistic director of Emmanuel Music, and the Reverend Pamel Werntz’s installation as rector after two successful years as priest in charge. For both the regular service and her installation at 3 p.m. she chose Spiralling Ecstatically, James Primosch’s motet on a poem by e.e. cummings. The piece is a favorite of the Rev. Werntz, although the text on the subject of creation and motherhood seemed unrelated to the New Testament lessons of the day.  The a capella performance was conducted by Emmanuel Music artistic-director-in-waiting, Ryan Turner, with both shapely dynamics and subtle rhythmic inflection. The effective ending, on the word “creation,” began with one voice and quickly built up incrementally with the addition of voices and volume to the forte conclusion.

Conducted by the Emmanuel Music titulaire, John Harbison, Bach Cantata number 163, Nur jedem das Seine, translated as “To Each One His Own,” had more resonance with the day’s readings, which inveighed against impropriety and offered repentance. Because it was sung in English instead of German and the soloists (Karyl Rycek, soprano; Katherine Growdon, alto; and Ryan Turner, tenor) were placed at the lectern, members of the congregation were encouraged to concentrate on the words as well as to enjoy the beauty of the arias.

The indefatigable Emmanuel Music Chorus also provided the rest of the service music including processional and recessional hymns grandly accompanied by Nancy Granert on the Rodgers organ.

Ultimately Gesamtkunst prevailed. Received with thanks!

See related article here.

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  1. We are very happy you were able to visit us at Emmanuel Church on March 7, and grateful for your vivid and informative report on what you heard, and what we’re doing.

    With the Institution of Pamela Werntz as Rector and the recent choice of Ryan Turner as Emmanuel Music’s second Artistic Director, these companion enterprises, church and musical organization are poised to move forward together.

    As the outgoing Acting Artistic Director of Emmanuel Music I am delighted that Craig Smith’s idea survives and thrives. As a longtime parishioner at Emmanuel I am pleased to observe that relations between the music program and the church are at a very high point, with an exciting effect on the integral quality of the service.

    As you accurately noted, our repertoire spans five centuries (as in this upcoming Sunday’s offering, De Profundis settings by Josquin and Schoenberg.) We hope your readers, guided by your intriguing account of March 7 at Emmanuel will decide to come to our services this spring.

    With thanks,
    John Harbison

    Comment by John Harbison — March 10, 2010 at 12:18 pm

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