By Lawrence Budmen 

William Billings (1746-1800) was an American original, a pioneering colonial composer and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The text of the Billings hymn Invocation gave Seraphic Fire its name. To celebrate its fifth anniversary, Miami’s stellar chamber choir opened a wide ranging program with two inspiring examples of Billings’s hymnal on September 24 at Miami Beach Community Church.

The group’s new venue proved ideal. Intimate and resonate, the sanctuary provided a welcoming environment for Patrick Dupree Quigley’s eclectic programming. Under Quigley’s superb direction, the 16 member choir turned from the iconoclasm of Billings’s sacred anthems to the ethereal vocal imagery of I Have Had Singing by Sam Sametz. 

Quigley’s dedication to new music is visionary. Several seasons ago the Vespertine Symphony by Kevin Puts was given an impressive premiere by the New World Symphony. This young American composer’s craftsmanship and gift for melody were equally evident in the Southeastern premiere of his choral work Knowledge. Written in Puts’s trademark combination of impressionistic influences and Aaron Copland style Americana, the score was trance-like in its spacious lyricism. 

Ingram Marshall is one of America’s new breed of cutting edge creative artists. Marshall’s music frequently combines instrumental, vocal, electronic, and even turntable elements – a 21st century brew indeed! Hymnodic Delays was originally composed for four voices and electronically manipulated loops (and delays). Seraphic Fire soprano Suzanne Hatcher brilliantly transcribed the piece for acappella chorus. 

Marshall’s four movement score is rich, harmonically complex, and hypnotic – the artistic personification of originality and genius. Swept Away is a searing, dissonant portrait of death. Low Dutch, the work’s reverent conclusion, is an uplifting reinvention of the 23rd Psalm. 

Renaissance composer Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Officium Defunctorum, (a 1605 requiem mass for the Dowager Empress of Spain) received its South Florida premiere. Victoria’s powerful, deeply spiritual work engulfs the listener in its sheer beauty. This boldly original music is at once ancient, remarkably modern, and timeless. Under Quigley’s magnificent direction, the choir produced a multitude of exquisite choral vibrations. 

Orlando Gibbon’s rousing O Clap Your Hands concluded an afternoon of choral transcendence.

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