Celestial Harmonies: heavenly choral music by Rachmaninoff and Samuel Barber
We open our season with Celestial Harmonies, a concert featuring works for a cappella choir by two of the finest composers of the twentieth century. Samuel Barber composed his String Quartet in in 1936. Its celebrated Adagio movement has been called "semplice e bella" (simple and beautiful) by Italian conductor Toscanini, “full of pathos and cathartic passion.” In 1967 Barber set the music to the prayerful words of the Agnus dei to create a highly passionate and dynamic piece.
Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Vespers (properly entitled the All-night Vigil) was written and premiered on March 23, 1915 in Moscow. While he is most well-known for the virtuosic piano concertos and decadent symphonic music, I find that the beauty and power of the All-night Vigil brings us to the very heart of Rachmaninoff and the Russian musical tradition. Rachmaninoff combines the traditional Russian Orthodox chants with romantically-inflected harmonies, creating a rich color palate which at times features eleven-part harmonies! The bass parts are renowned for their depth, descending to a low B-flat in one movement. As one of Rachmaninoff’s friends commented, "Now where on earth are we to find such basses? They are as rare as asparagus at Christmas!"
Well, we will have them! Ars Musica’s 80-voice chorus together with the alto and tenor soloists will make a thrilling sound: you won’t want to miss it.