What a stupendous concert with Vespers and The Choristers! They are the first non-professional, non-university choir to perform the entire Vespers, and it came off brilliantly at Saturday night’s concert in the beautiful Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale, Pa.
When their artistic director David Spitko approached me about taking on Vespers, the first thing I told him was, “It’s hard, you know.” This is a bit of an irony for me, since I had spent a good bit of my career writing fairly easy choral music for small church choirs. But Piffaro, The Renaissance Band commissioned me for a work for which they would hire The Crossing, the contemporary-music choir who can sing anything with one arm tied behind their back. So I made much of it, well, hard, including polyrhythmic (and unmeasured) chanting, long swaths of unaccompanied singing, and much divisi, including a good chunk of one hymn written in 16 voices.
Piffaro and The Crossing followed up the premiere and recording with more performances a couple years later. University choirs and others took on separate parts of it, some of which used modern-instrument arrangements I made ad hoc. Donald Nally, conductor of The Crossing, took it with him for performances with Northwestern University. Seraphic Fire gave multiple performances this past spring with Piffaro, and there are future concerts in the works.
David said that, yes, he knew it was hard, but that he absolutely had fallen in love with Vespers, had already pored over the score (PDFs come with the CD), was convinced that his group could do it, and was determined to hire Piffaro for the concert. Clearly, Dave had done his homework, and very quickly made all the stars align for this to happen.
His preparation paid off. When I arrived at a rehearsal over a week ago, they had already been looking at it and rehearsing since the summer. I knew at the rehearsal that it was going to work. At the dress rehearsal Friday night, it was glorious.
They opened the concert with three Palestrina works, led by associate conductor Kelly Wyszomierski. Piffaro then performed an instrumental-only set. I talked a bit, there was a short intermission, and the second half was Spitko conducting The Choristers and Piffaro in Vespers.
They lifted the roof.
I can’t thank David enough for his love of the music and for his doggedness in willing this performance into reality. The soloists were marvelous: Malinda Hasslett, Maren Montalbano, Lawrence Jones, Frank Mitchell, and joining on the Magnificat, Rebecca Siler and Jacqueline Dunleavy. The choir of about 65 rocked! I was thrilled beyond words by their work, dedication, and beautiful sound. Many of them came up to me during rehearsals and after the concert to tell me how much this experience meant to them, and how touched they were by Vespers. This means everything.
Thank you, David, thank you, Choristers, thank you, supporters and funders, thank you, Piffaro, thank you, soloists, and thank you friends old and new who came out. It was a special experience I will never forget.