March 2019 - A Long Dark Shadow

On March 1st and March 3rd, GCB presented their second concert of the 2018-19 Season:

 Commemorating the Centennial of the Red Summer of 1919

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And They Lynched Him On A Tree
by Composer William Grant Still (1895-1978) with text by Katharine Biddle
performed by

 Grace Chorale of Brooklyn;
Jason Asbury, Music Director
Brooklyn College Symphonic Choir and Conservatory Singers;
Malcolm J. Merriweather, Conductor  
The String Orchestra of Brooklyn;
Eli Spindel, Artistic Director
with Malcolm J. Merriweather, Guest Conductor 
George Walker’s Lyrics for Strings
Performed by The String Orchestra of Brooklyn
Eli Spindel, Artistic Director
The Premiere of a new GCB Commissioned work:
A Stone to the Head: The Death of Eugene Williams
by composers
Flannery Cunningham and Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa
Jason Asbury, Conductor

Concert Dates: Friday, March 1st at 7:00pm and Sunday, March 3rd at 3:00pm; St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church, 157 Montague St., Brooklyn

Concert Notes and Music Clips:


Grace Chorale’s 2019 spring concert, “A Long Dark shadow” brings together a diverse group of singers, composers and conductors  in a centennial musical exploration of race and the African-American experience in the United States.

The year 2019 marks the centennial of the Red Summer of 1919 when deadly racial conflicts and lynchings across the country led to the deaths of hundreds of people, mostly black. Tens of thousands of other African-Americans were forced to flee destroyed homes and businesses. The Great Migration had just begun. A seminal period in our history, it involved the relocation north and west of 6 million African-Americans from the southern United States over the next 60 years. Spurred by limited economic opportunities and segregation laws, African-Americans began finding employment in cities that were experiencing labor shortages due to World War I. However, returning white soldiers resented the African-Americans who were given the jobs they once held.  African-American soldiers, in turn, resented not receiving the same peacetime benefits as white soldiers. Tensions reached a boiling point in 1919 when the first racially-motivated attacks began. Lasting from May to October, the period of these conflicts became known as the “Red Summer.” Fast forward one hundred years - what progress have we made? The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 all led to reforms; however, many parallels remain between the race matters of 1919 and those of today.

 Our concert gives voice to the "long dark shadow" of racism in the United States. The program will consist of two parts. We will begin with the great African-American composer William Grant Still’s choral ballad, And They Lynched Him on a Tree. This ground-breaking piece of music on lynching in America was conceived by eminent members of the Harlem Renaissance, and premiered by the New York Philharmonic in 1940. The composition calls for a small orchestra and narrator along with a soloist to play the mother of the victim, a "white chorus" to depict the mob, and a "black chorus" that discovers the lynching. 

 Our partnerships with The Brooklyn College Symphonic Choir and Conservatory Singers led by Malcolm J. Merriweather, and The String Orchestra of Brooklyn led by Eli Spindel, Artistic Director will comprise choruses of 100+ voices, two conductors, and 20 instrumentalists and soloists.

 Finally, as part of the Chorale’s commitment to commissioning new works, the second part of the program will be a piece by two young composers, Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa and Flannery Cunningham whose winning composition, A Stone to the Head, The Death of Eugene Williams, examines the historical context of the Red Summer.

This program reflects Grace Chorale’s ambitions and successes over the past year. “A Long Dark Shadow” allows us and our expanding audiences to embrace this important history together, with the hope that, particularly in these times, we might all step forward with greater racial awareness.

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November 2018 - Musica Mystica

On November 9th and 11th, GCB presented their first concert of the Fall/Winter Season:

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O frondens virga by Hildegard von Bingen (1090-1179)

Requiem by Gabriel Faure (1845-1924)

Five Mystical Songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

Musica Mystica included an organist, 150 singers from both Grace Chorale of Brooklyn and the Saint Ann's School High School Chorus, and was accompanied by the Saint Ann's Consort.

Peter Kendall Clark, baritone
Morissa Pepose, soprano,
Jason Asbury, conductor

Concerts took place at 7:00pm on Friday, November 9th at St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church, 147 Montague St., Brooklyn and at 3:00pm on Sunday, November 11th at St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church, 147 Montague St., Brooklyn

Concert Overview

Religious mysticism has inspired composers, regardless of their personal faith, to create awe-inspiring works. Twelfth Century Christian mystic, abbess Hildegard Von Bingen, produced plainchants of great expression and beauty. Gabriel Fauré, an agnostic, wrote of his Requiem "Everything I managed to entertain by way of religious illusion I put into my Requiem, which moreover is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest." Vaughan Williams, an atheist who later drifted into a 'cheerful agnostic', set to music verse of overtly religious inspiration from 17th century poet and Anglican priest, George Herbert.

 Grace Chorale of Brooklyn was thrilled to be partnering with the Saint Ann’s High School Chorus and Consort to present this program.  

 O frondens virga – Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 1179) - Hildegard of Bingen is one of the earliest documented female composers of the West. Her compositions, however, were only one in the polymath’s astounding array of gifts. In addition to her duties as a Magistra of her convent, the Abbess—also a mystic and botanist—experienced her first divine visions at the age of three, as she explains in her autobiography, Vita. A person of letters in the truest sense, not only was von Bingen a confidante of Popes and magistrates, among her accomplishments is the creation of Ordo virtutum, the earliest extant morality play. By the time she had reached adolescence, either because of her unusual nature, or as an attempt to position themselves politically, von Bingen’s parents enclosed her in a nunnery. Therein, she was placed under the care of Jutta, another visionary with her own disciples, who played a pivotal role in Hildegard’s education and upbringing. Written by the Abbess to be sung by the daughters of her convent during the hours of the Office, O frondens virga finds its roots in Gregorian Chant, the wellspring of much liturgical melody. (By Andrew Morgan)

Requiem-Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) - Gabriel Fauré’s Requiemis among the most affecting musical settings of the Latin Missa pro defunctis, the Mass for the Dead, and its tone is unlike any of the compositions that may be considered its peers. The Requiems of Verdi and Berlioz are spectacular works that address the notions of death, resurrection and final judgment in grand, even theatrical, tones. Smaller in scale, Mozart’s is filled with great poignancy. Fauré, by contrast, composed a hymn of solace and supplication, music to comfort mourners rather than impress upon them the enormity of death. It is a less dramatic, though in no way less moving, setting of the text, something Fauré himself recognized when he wrote of the composition to the violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, claiming that “Elle est d’un caractère doux comme moi-meme” (“It is gentle in character, like myself”). This mildness results as much from what the work does not say as what it does. Among other things, Fauré omits entirely the Dies irae sequence, which normally follows the Kyrie, and which brought forth such terrifying music from Mozart and Verdi. Similarly, he deletes the Tuba mirum, the occasion for mighty antiphonal trumpeting in Berlioz’s Requiem. Instead, Fauré chooses those passages of the Mass for the Dead that serve as prayer and consolation. His theme is always “requiem,” the blessed rest of those whose life’s journey is over.

 It is understandable that Fauré chose to temper his work in this way. The awesome vision of the Last Judgement would have appealed little to a man whose aesthetic sensibilities were as refined as Fauré’s, and who, moreover, was not a believer. Although he served for many years as organist at the Church of the Madeleine in Paris, the composer was openly agnostic. His skepticism inclined him toward the more generally spiritual aspects of the Mass — whose expression best suited his art, in any case — rather than to suggestive rendering of its scriptural passages. So while his Requiem is certainly a composition for the Church, the spirit of humanism may be heard, at least subliminally, throughout the score.  (By Paul Schiavo)

 Five Mystical Songs -Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) – The Five Mystical Songs were written to fulfill a commission for the 1911 Worcester Festival. Vaughan Williams decided to complete work he had been doing on five poems by the gifted English metaphysical poet, George Herbert (1593-1633). Known for his gentle and saintly personality, Herbert was a musician, came from a noble family, studied at Cambridge, and was originally destined for a political career. Greatly influenced by the poet John Donne, Herbert turned to writing religious verse. He also had a deep love for the church and was ordained an Anglican priest, becoming rector at Bemerton. Beloved by his parishioners, he often took part in their musical activities. Music, which he believed was divinely inspired, was his first love, but his greatest passion was the church, his symbol of Christianity. 

 Ralph Vaughan Williams admired the visionary and metaphysical aspects of Herbert’s poetry, and was able to capture those qualities in his music, although, as his second wife, Ursula, wrote, “He was an atheist during his later years at Charterhouse and at Cambridge, though he later drifted into a cheerful agnosticism; he was never a professing Christian.” His settings mirror the love and faith expressed 16 in the poems, from the quiet passion of Easter to the gentle invitation of Love Bade Me Welcome as the chorus hums the 13th century plainchant, O sacrum convivium, and the intensity and conviction of belief in Antiphon.  (By Helene Whitson)



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May 2018 - Messiahs False and True

On May 5th and May 6th, GCB presented Messiahs False and True, three works which address the theme of charismatic leaders, religious and political, throughout history.

Music clips from the concert below:

Frères Limbourg - Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry - chute des anges.jpg

We opened the concert with a short choral proclamation by Norwegian composer Knut Nystedt (b. 1915-2014), titled "Cry Out and Shout," a powerful acapella anthem bursting with excitement. The joyful text from the Prophet Isaiah calls people to sing out to God and assures redemption: "The Lord is strength and song...with joy shall ye draw water from the wells of salvation."

The center piece of the program was “Messiahs False and True”, a choral cantata by Rex Isenberg which premiered in NYC in 2015. This is a dramatic piece, a marriage of theater and chorus, featuring narrated texts from figures as diverse as Julius Caesar, Barack Obama, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Jim Jones –  figures both heroic and villainous that by force of  “the incredible blind faith of their followers…transformed these individuals from relative unknowns to figures of messianic proportions.” The stage and film actor, Paul Hecht (see bio below) was the Narrator.

The program concluded with "Rejoice in the Lamb", a cantata for 4 soloists, choir and organ, composed by Benjamin Britten in 1943. Britten chose a poem by 18th century poet Christopher Smart whose "Jubliate Agno" was written while in a mental asylum where he was judged to be in the grips of a religious mania. The poem has great color, drama and imagery, depicting idiosyncratic praise and worship by all of God's creation. Britten captures the warmth of Smart's peculiar vision with dancing rhythms, and tender harmonies.

The concert was presented at the landmark Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn Heights, a historically significant setting where Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and other charismatic leaders were invited to deliver speeches over the course of the last 160 years!

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Paul Hecht is a stage, film and TV actor. He made his debut on Broadway as the Playerin Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, (Tony award nomination 1968). His most recent Broadway appearance was in the dual roles of John Ruskin & Jerome K. Jerome in Stoppard’s Invention of Love.  Other Broadway roles include John Dickinsonin 1776(performed at the Nixon White House), Nathanin the Bock-Harnick musical Rothschilds,Rufio in Shaw’s Caesar &Cleopatra,and Belcredi in Pirandello’s Henry IV, (both with Rex Harrison), Dick Wagnerin Tom Stoppard’s Night & Day,(with Maggie Smith). He has appeared in Movies with Jeremy Irons, Howard Stern, Sissy Spacek, Chris Rock, Jane Fonda and Kris Kristofferson. TV audiences may have recognized him over the years as Charlesin Kate and Allie, and as a variety of unsavory characters in Law & Order, Queer as Folk, and Family Re-Union(with Bette  Davis). He has recorded extensively for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation where he hosted a live radio show. He has recorded dozens of books for Recorded Books (Alexander McCall Smith, Ray Bradbury, William Safire, Thomas Mann) and performed in numerous literary/musical programs, He reads to children in deepest Brooklyn as part of NY State’s Pre K for all program and served as President of the New York Branch of SAG from 1991-1995.

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Our Venue at Plymouth Church is a historic church located at 57 Orange Street between Henry and Hicks Streets in Brooklyn Heights. Plymouth Church's first pastor was Henry Ward Beecher, who became a leading figure in the abolitionist movement. His sister was Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. The church itself became an important station on the Underground Railroad through which slaves from the South were secretly transported to Canada.

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln traveled to Brooklyn and participated in a church service. Today a plaque marks the pew where Lincoln sat. In 1867, Mark Twain joined a group from Plymouth Church traveling to Europe and the Holy Land. His satiric account of this pioneering tour group, The Innocents Abroad, was Twain's best-selling work throughout his lifetime.

In addition to Lincoln and Twain, many other famous writers and activists spoke at Plymouth. In February of 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached a sermon on "The American Dream", echoed months later in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. 
Plymouth owns one of New York City's most distinctive instruments: an Aeolian-Skinner organ known for its "American Classic" sound, installed in our Sanctuary in 1904, revised by the famed organ engineer G. Donald Harrison in 1937, and extensively restored in the 1990s.

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December 2017 - Navidad Nuestra

On December 15th and 17th 2017, GCB Presented thier Fall/Winter Concert:
Nuestra Navidad

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Bienvenido!  Music Director Jason Asbury conceived the idea for this program after discovering Conrad Susa’s Carols and Lullabies.  While he had encountered and performed many of the folksongs included in the work before, he was thrilled to find such an exquisite choral arrangement of these Spanish and Catalan cultural expressions of the Christmas season.  As he began looking for a companion piece for the program, he was immediately drawn to Ariel Ramírez’s Navidad Nuestra that is based on the wealth of folk and popular traditional music of Argentina.  What has emerged is a program that includes music-folk, fusion, concert, and popular- from the 16th century to the present that is as varied as the home countries-Spain, Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, and the United States - of the composers who created it.  In a time when some are eager to build walls to divide us, The Chorale hopes this program provides a musical bridge to people and cultures beyond our borders.

Music Included:
Riu, Riu Chiu - Anonymous, 16th century
Fuera! Fuera! Haganles lugar - Roque Jacinto de Charvarria (sung by the GCB Chamber Group)
¡Ay Andar, a Tocar, a Cantar, a Bailar! - Juan de Araujo (sung by the GCB Chamber Group)
"Carols & Lullabies: Christmas In The Southwest" - Conrad Susa
Convidando esta la noche by García de Zéspedes
O Magnum Mysterium by Tomás Luis de Victoria (sung by the GCB Chamber Group)
Navidad Nuestra by Ariel Ramirez

Performances took place at All Saint's in Park Slope on Friday, December 15th and at St. Ann's in Brooklyn Hts. on Sunday December 17th with accompanists:
Liann Cline - Harp
Carlos Cuestas - guitar
Chris Nappi - percussion
Christine Chen - xylophone
Ben Sutin - violin
.........................................................and a lively array of GCB soloists!

In the words of GCB Alto Jean Kahler:

The pieces in this program span 450 years of making the story of Christmas accessible and meaningful for people all over the world.

"Riu, Riu, Chiu" and "O Magnum Mysterium" come from 16th century Spain and grow out of a medieval tradition of Christian animal symbolism: Mary is compared to a ewe protected by God from a wolf prowling a riverbank and the humble animals of the stable watch over the birth of the incarnate God. These pieces would both have been sung in dark of night as part of Matins, a monastic service ending at dawn.

"Convidando Esta La Noche," "Ay, Andar," and "Fuera, Fuera," bring us to 17th century Mexico, Peru, and Bolivia, where European, African, and Indigenous Mexican and South American musical instruments and forms combined to create a new world of music.  Juan de Araujo, born in Spain, became in Peru the teacher of Roque Jacinto de Chavarria, a criollo composer of mixed Spanish and Native Bolivian descent.  In "Fuera," a piece recently rediscovered in storage in an old Jesuit mission in the Bolivian jungle, Chavarria dramatizes the conflict between Spaniards scoffing at the idea of Indians worshipping Jesus and the Indians' reply -- in Spanish and Quechua -- that all are sons of Adam, equally worthy to behold the lord.  The piece ends with both sides crying "achalay," an Andean word meaning both "shiver" and "rejoice."  

Argentine Ariel Ramirez wrote Navidad Nuestra in 1964, the same year he composed his well-known Misa Criolla. Both were written in response to the revolutionary Vatican II permission to perform mass in the local language of the people, rather than Latin.  Navidad Nuestra tells the story of Christmas in six parts -- the Annunciation, the pilgrimage to Bethlehem, Nativity, the arrival of the shepherds, the gifts of the three kings, and the Flight into Egypt -- in Spanish and in the rhythms of Argentine folk dances.  Conrad Susa's 1992 Carols and Lullabies knits together ten traditional Christmas songs in Spanish and Catalan, from Spain, from the Basque Country and Catalonia, from Puerto Rico and Mexico.  Imagined as a Spanish language companion to Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, this group of songs of joy and praise gathers in the way their lyrics describe the shepherds, the wise men, and the world at large walking to Bethlehem to wonder at and celebrate the newborn Christ.  Bells ring, flowers bloom, fish jump and dance, gifts are chosen, and at last Mary rocks her baby to sleep.

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April 2017 - Songs of Spring

On April 28th and 29th, GCB performed an eclectic medley of songs in celebration of the Spring season. The concerts took place at the First Unitarian in Brooklyn Hts. and at All Saints in Park Slope with the accompaniment of a jazz quartet and poetry recitations. Of particular note was the premiere of "April Song," a GCB commissioned piece by Brooklyn-based composer, Matt Podd.

Listen in.

... and the encore

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December 2016 - O Magnum Mysterium

On Friday, December 9th and Sunday, December 11th, Grace Chorale of Brooklyn performed its annual Holiday Concert at Grace Episcopal Church in Brooklyn Hts. accompanied by an eight-piece brass ensemble and organ. 
The music opened with an instrumental piece
Canzona per sonare No.2 by Giovanni Gabrieli
followed by the chorale singing:
Hope For Resolution ( A Song for Mandela and deKlerk)
arranged by Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory
Christmas Cantata
by Daniel Pinkham
O Magnum Mysterium
by Morten Lauridsen
Gloria by John Rutter
Joy (from The Preacher's Wife)
arranged by David Maddux

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April 2016 - Brooklyn Premiere of
 Duke Ellington's 'Sacred Concert'

On April 29, 30, and May 1, 2016 our Spring Concert featured Duke Ellington's 'Sacred Concert', a rarely performed but highly regarded set of improvisational music. Throughout the 1960’s and 70’s, the legendary jazz musician toured the country with his swing band, collaborating with local choirs in performances of what he called “Sacred Concerts” or “Sacred Music.” GCB was accompanied in performance by the Brooklyn Contemporary Chorus (Aaron Williams, Conductor), a 16-piece jazz band (Matt Podd, Band Leader), jazz singer Tulivu, dancers from Jamal Jackson’s nationally recognized dance company, JJDC, and up-and-coming tap dancer Dario Natarelli.  For more details on our collaborators, click here.

If you missed the Ellington Concert, you can
watch the 5/29 performance here
or listen to a few music clips below...

...and the rousing finale:

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May 2014 - Orff's Carmina Burana

In a season of polar vortexes and startling snowfall amounts, it was sometimes hard to imagine that spring would ever come again. But just as the unseen forces brought the crocuses and daffodils, the voices of Grace & Spiritus Chorale of Brooklyn burst forth on May 2 and 3 in concert performances of Carmina Burana by Carl Orff at the Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity. 

A perennial audience favorite, Orff’s masterpiece is a cantata based on 24 medieval poems in both Latin and Middle High German.  Written in 1936, the text is lusty, dealing with timeless themes of love, sex, drinking, gambling, fate and fortune. The music is, by turns, boisterous and hypnotic, and has been featured in numerous films and at least one notorious faux Super Bowl commercial.

Soloists Peter Clark (Baritone), Anthony Webb (Tenor) and Louise Sullivan (Soprano) accompanied by three percussionists and two pianists joined the chorale to standing ovations from our largest audiences yet! On Saturday night, almost three hundred music lovers filled St. Ann's (including the balconies).

Listen in below: 

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Jan 2012 - Transforming Traditions

Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674) was appointed maestro di capella at the German College in Rome at age 24, an appointment he held until his death.  Although he became famous for his vocal compositions, both liturgical and non-liturgical, he is still celebrated for his crucial work in the development of the oratorio.  The oratorio was the church’s response to the public’s growing infatuation with genre of opera, which was banned during the season of Lent.  His masterpiece, Jephte, reflects the pioneering elements of the genre, which applied operatic techniques without staging and costumes.

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