Benedict Sheehan’s Vespers is one of the most remarkable meldings of liturgical tradition and contemporary music I’ve encountered. The Saint Tikhon Choir, directed by Mr. Sheehan, released the debut recording earlier this year.
Steeped in the music of the Orthodox churches of Europe and Asia, composer and choir plunge us into the worlds of ancient tradition through the living energy of an extraordinary modern creative mind. Also inspired by Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, the piece is impressive from any angle. The Saint Tikhon Choir, the professional choir of Saint Tikhon’s Monastery (founded in 1905, “the first and oldest Orthodox monastery in this land and in the western world”) offers the hourlong composition’s world premiere concert series this weekend.
The spacious Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity on Manhattan’s Upper West Side was an ideal setting for the rich choral textures and superb solo voices at last night’s debut performance. The world-class soloists include basso profundo Glenn Miller, singing what the program notes describe, surely accurately, as “some of the lowest notes ever written for a soloist”; countertenor Timothy Parsons, equally moving whether conveying strength or sensitivity; and bass-baritone Michael Hawes, whose deep ringing tones set the tone for the evening in the “Opening Psalm.”
The series continues tonight (Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022) at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Wilkes-Barre, PA and tomorrow night at First Presbyterian Church in Bethlehem, PA. If you’re anywhere accessible to those venues, my advice is to cancel whatever plans you have and get tickets. A few pieces from Vespers may, and by rights should, enter the canon of choral compositions – the “Evening Prayer” (which the St. Tikhon Choir sings un-conducted), perhaps even the glorious “Closing Psalm” – but it would be a shame to miss a chance to experience the full work live.
I strongly recommend the debut recording as well. It’s available on Spotify.
The NYC concert was part of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity’s Great Music Under a Byzantine Dome concert ministry and series. (The interior of the dome is shown below. Jesus is in the center, with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the corners.)