December 14, 2010

Washington Post Review - Joy of Christmas

Tickets are on sale now for The Joy of Christmas! at the Strathmore Music Center
Monday, December 20th 8:00pm!

Review: Joy of Christmas, Joe Banno
Positive responses to music director J. Reilly Lewis's "Joy of Christmas" programs with his Cathedral Choral Society have become almost as much a tradition of the season as the concerts.But, as Saturday's annual presentation proved again, these are the smartest, least-hackneyed and most musically satisfying of the plentiful choral events on offer in the Washington area each December.The cathedral, of course, always adds powerfully to the atmospherics at work - whether wrapping an evocative halo around the divided-chorus antiphony in Elizabeth Poston's "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree" during Saturday's opening Advent wreath procession, or providing crisp reverberation to the athletically virtuosic brass-quintet playing from members of the Washington Symphonic Brass. But the fresh repertoire on offer brought comparable rewards, with a mix of rarely heard material from Felix Mendelssohn and 16th-century composer Jacob Handl, and lovely contemporary pieces by Stephen Caracciolo, Alexander L'Estrange, Frank La Rocca and Richard Wayne Dirksen.The premiere of a newly commissioned carol, "The Nine Gifts" by Robert Chilcott, revealed a warmly consonant charmer. But there was challenging pungency in the torrential onslaught of Adolphus Hailstork's Toccata on "Veni Emmanuel," played with great verve by organist Todd Fickley. Even that tired chestnut of Christmas choral concerts, the guest appearance by a high school chorus, was elevated here by the pure tone, rich blend and superior musicianship of the Maret School Concert Choir, which, under James Irwin's sensitive baton, more than held its own against the rarefied beauty of the Cathedral Choral Society.The program will be repeated in the airy, if more secular, acoustics of Strathmore Hall on Dec. 20.
- Joe Banno


December 3, 2010

Stephen Caracciolo on Joy of Christmas Program

In preparation for this season's Joy of Christmas performances, we sat down with composer and conductor, Stephen Caracciolo to get the scoop on his biggest influences and inspirations. Hear his work -"The Lamb" from Songs of Innocence - in action at this season's Joy of Christmas performances at Washington National Cathedral and the Music Center at Strathmore

How old were you when you first seriously considered making music your career?
About 12. I was singing in a men and boys choir and fell in love with the whole idea of making music with others. The Anglican liturgy was beautiful, and the way music, liturgical action, and spoken word was combined has informed the rest of my life.

Who supported and inspired you to make the choice?
First my mother, second my HS choral conductor.

Do you have a pre-composition ritual or practice that helps you get started?
Not really. Finding good texts is the hardest thing for me. I'm really selective.

Which composers most influence your style?
Almost anyone British, any era.. Also, as strange as this may sound, Alfred Burt, whose carols I sang in high school. His tonal style but with near "jazz" colorings I find creeping into my music even when I didn't intend it too. Have you ever taken a Burt Carol and added a rhythm section to it? You get something close to a jazz chart. Sometimes my scores have that same character. "The Lamb" has seventh chords, and added note chords, and twists of harmony that sound something close to jazz if you add a "beat".

In light of the recent economic downturn, what advice would you give to aspiring singers and composers?
Become very good at your craft while still diversifying. My real job is serving as a conductor and teacher, but I compose and sing on the side. Enjoy working with people. Get some business experience in while you are young, you may have the opportunity to work in arts administration to help support yourself. Get into the very best university program you can, aim high. Most importantly, after you graduate with whatever degree, do not be afraid to simply volunteer your time to other musical artists and professionals whom you respect in your community. Established mentors in the field can help you find a productive slot in the local musical scene. If I had my life to live over, that is what I would do.

Could you briefly tell us about the creation of The Lamb?
If I recall, "The Lamb" was one of those Summer Christmas itches. I settled on the text, wrote the melodic material first, then created the harmonies around that. A very simple construction. My scores tend to explore the tension between dissonance and consonance. Where is the harmony going? How tight can I twist the dissonances before I release them? That character is especially clear in this short setting; at "We are called by his name", for instance. Just weeks after completing this text, I received a new commission, so I selected three additional Blake texts and created a set, "The Songs of Innocence". Thank you for singing the setting of "The Lamb" from that set. I look forward to seeing you at next Monday's rehearsal.

Stephen Caracciolo is a choral conductor recognized for his passionate artistry, creative teaching, and is a nationally known composer and arranger whose choral works have been performed throughout the United States and Europe. Mr. Caracciolo is currently Assistant Professor of voice and conducting at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

October 8, 2010

Joyeux Anniversaire, Vierne.

October 8th marks the 140th anniversary of Louis Victor Jules Vierne, famed French organist and no stranger to tragedy. Although the dramatic extent of Vierne’s life varies among sources, one cannot deny the presence of some unfortunate circumstances appearing in his music.
Vierne was born in 1870 to doting parents in Poitiers. Facing the odds from the beginning, Vierne suffered from congenital cataracts rendering him nearly blind. Previously thought to be inoperable, his father, a journalist, facilitated an operation by the inventor of the iridectomy – the introduction of an artificial pupil to the iris. This revolutionary procedure allowed Vierne to be what we consider today, legally blind.
Although severely visually impaired, Vierne was not without tremendous talent. His musical inclination was visible at a very early age and fostered by his uncle, Charles Colin, professor of Oboe at the Paris Conservatory and winner of the Prix de Rome.  Although Colin was an accomplished oboist – his works still performed widely – he was also an organist, and first introduced his new nephew to the instrument on which he excelled.
At age 11, Vierne lost his uncle to an acute respiratory illness and found himself simultaneously devastated with grief but with a renewed fervor to pursue a career as an organ recitalist. His father continued to be supportive both emotionally and financially until the time of his death which would come prematurely. By the age of 15, Vierne had learned to read Braille as a result of partial blindness, become an organ phenomenon and lost his two strongest mentors and supporters – his uncle, and now his father.
Determined to persevere as an organist and composer, Louis Vierne became a pupil of the renowned Cesar Franck at the Paris Conservatory. One year later, no stranger to tragedy, the young man found himself another loss with which to contend. Cesar Franck was killed suddenly as the result of a tragic traffic incident. Vierne continued his studies at the conservatory haunted by the death of so many seminal figures in his life at the young age of 19.
Vierne’s career took off, and he was appointed assistant organist at Church of Saint-Sulpice. After winning a fierce competition, he was finally appointed organist of the Cathedral at Notre Dame and married soprano, Arlette Taskin. Vierne took many pupils that would later become fixed marks in music, including Nadia Boulanger and Maurice Duruflé. Things were looking up.
But tragedy has a way of following us around. Over the next decade, Louis Vierne would divorce his wife as a result of her affair with his friend, an organ-builder – oh the irony. He would lose both brothers in the battlefields of World War 1, lose a child to tuberculosis and nearly lose his own leg in an automobile accident that would come close to costing his career at the organ. This is where most people would give up and live a life of relative obscurity.
Not Vierne. He continued composing, teaching and performing. He even embarked on a North American tour to raise funds for the restoration of his beloved instrument at Notre Dame that had fallen into disrepair. The tour included a performance on the Wanamaker Organ in Philadelphia. Through the face of immense personal tragedy, Vierne’s career flourished. Music was his refuge, and he often remarked to friends that he wished his death to be in the midst of creation, to die while at the organ.
On June 2nd, 1937 with Maurice Duruflé at this side, Louis Vierne got his wish. He suffered a heart attack at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, on the bench mid-performance, at the console of his beloved instrument that never let him down. When he collapsed, his foot hit the E pedal, echoing relief and peace throughout the Nave of Notre Dame.

August 12, 2010

Hail to the Chief

In December, singers from the Cathedral Choral Society were invited to perform at the White House for the Executive Branch and Press Corps holiday parties. We graciously received a photo this week to commemorate the event and would like to share it with you all! This photo was given to us with written permission by the White House Photo Office for use on the CCS Facebook page and this blog. Any other usage will be considered unlawful. We thank you in advance for your cooperation!

Stay tuned for a very exciting season!

May 18, 2010

Anne Midgette Reviews Reilly and Friends

Review: J. Reilly Lewis 25th anniversary event at Washington National Cathedral

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On Sunday, a broad swath of Washington's music community turned out to celebrate one of its pillars, the choral conductor and organist J. Reilly Lewis, who celebrated his 25th anniversary as the head of the Cathedral Choral Society with a typically informal, personal event called "Reilly and Friends."
In the classical world, 25 years is a drop in the bucket -- Norman Scribner, founder of the Choral Arts Society, is currently wrapping up his 45th anniversary season with that group, and Lewis himself has served for more than 30 years as head of the Washington Bach Consort. But the anniversary was an excuse for many to come cheer the popular Lewis -- including Scribner himself, who conducted one of the pieces. The concert at Washington National Cathedral included everyone from the Washington Ballet (Andile Ndlovu danced an athletic if stylistically incongruous interpretation of the aria from the "Goldberg" Variations) to the Washington Symphonic Brass to the kids of the St. Albans-National Cathedral Schools Chorale, the girls in purple patterned skirts that made a funky contrast to the demure purple ruffle-necked robes sported by the smallest members of the cathedral's Choir of Men and Boys.
Lewis's musical autobiography, as presented here, was intimately bound up with the cathedral, whose difficult acoustic he made a virtue by placing choruses in different parts of the building to highlight the ways the sound ricocheted off the high pale stone. It was also bound up with a tradition of sacred music distinct from the 19th-century classical canon, and, like the cathedral itself, somewhat newer: The early 20th-century French and Belgian organ composers Lewis has loved (he played Maurice Duruflé's Toccata himself), and the living composers he has worked with. One highlight was the world premiere of Dominick Argento's "The Choir Invisible"; the composer set a thoughtful and slightly convoluted text by George Eliot with gentle declamatory grace.
A third component, inevitably, was Bach, in several incarnations, including the familiar Sinfonia melody from Cantata No. 156 played respectably on cello by the head of the Washington Performing Arts Society, Neale Perl, in the unaccustomed role of performer.
A 25th anniversary is an active thing: still in progress, not truly venerable. Rather than the hush of ancient tradition, Sunday's concert exuded the ruddy good health of the comfortably middle-aged. The choruses entered to a plump, Wagner-influenced Richard Strauss processional from 1909, and exited, at the end of a long afternoon, to the raucous mewlings of a gaggle of bagpipers and the accompanying drummers from the St. Andrew's Society. After leading the crowd outdoors, the pipers stood in a semicircle in front of the cathedral and continued to play: the focus of a community, standing around them soaking up the music, and the sun.

May 14, 2010

Reilly and Friends Concert Weekend

Join us to mark - with music, of course - J. Reilly Lewis' 25th Anniversary Season as Music Director of the Cathedral Choral Society. Among the guests will be Neale Perl, President and CEO of WPAS, the St. Andrew's Society, the Order of St. John,The Washington Ballet, the Washington Symphonic Brass, guest conductors Norman Scribner and Robert Shafer, the Washington National Cathedral Choristers, and the St. Albans-National Cathedral Schools Chorale, capped with the world premiere of a work composed especially for the occasion by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Dominick Argento.

Tickets starting at $20 (Reserved Seating)


Champagne Reception
In honor of Maestro Lewis' 25th Anniversary Season, there will be a champagne reception immediately following the concert.  Tickets to the reception are $25 a person.

Free parking in the Cathedral underground garage courtesy of the Cathedral Choral Society

May 7, 2010

The Trio of Tributes

We’ve been in a celebratory mood lately, alive with excitement and preparation for events commemorating our esteemed music director’s 25th anniversary with the Cathedral Choral Society. J. Reilly Lewis has become a mainstay on the DC choral scene and provided invaluable artistic insight and leadership to all involved with this organization. 

Reilly began his career at age 8 as a member of the Junior Boy Choir at Washington National Cathedral. We can’t think if a more fitting place to celebrate his career and contributions than right here where it all began. Next weekend will mark what we like to call The Trio of Tributes. Our annual gala will kick off the celebration right here at Washington National Cathedral under a tent on the North Lawn. This is sure to be a tasty event, catered by Ridgewells of Bethesda! Our last subscription concert entitled Reilly and Friends is a celebration featuring many beloved choral works and exciting collaborations with many of Washington’s finest performing artists on Sunday, May 16th followed by a post-concert champagne reception under the tent. 

When a career spans over 25 years, friends are bound to be made. The Reilly and Friends program will feature works from friends Reilly has acquired over the years including Wayne Dirksen, Bob Shafer and Dominick Argento. Reilly was and continues to be inspired by these pillars of choral music: 

“Wayne Dirksen was my choirmaster, organ teacher, mentor, and then esteemed colleague. It was he who opened up for me the mysteries of music in this magnificent sacred space.” -J. Reilly Lewis on Wayne Dirksen 

“Shortly after I returned from New York City, I heard a performance on my car radio that was so engaging, so captivating, and so exquisite - That performance said it all. It inspired me to drive straight to the school to introduce myself to this remarkable young conductor. Thus began our lifelong friendship.” -J. Reilly Lewis on Bob Shafer 

“No words of mine can express the love and gratitude I feel for Dominick’s generosity of spirit in setting this incredibly moving text to music. One of the joys of being music director of this venerable organization has always been the opportunity to nurture the talents of others.” J. Reilly Lewis on Dominick Argento 

We hope you will join us next weekend in celebration of 25 years with Music Director, J. Reilly Lewis, and offer a toast to 25 more. 

April 14, 2010

23rd Annual Arts Advocacy Day

"All religions, arts, and sciences are branches of the same tree" - Albert Einstein

On Monday, Americans for the Arts hosted the 23rd annual "Arts Advocacy Day." It’s the only national event that brings together a broad cross-section of America's cultural and civic organizations, along with hundreds of grassroots advocates from across the country, to underscore the importance of developing strong public policies and appropriating increased public funding for the arts.

As a forward looking organization, CCS often sends a staff representative to various seminars and workshops in the non-profit world to ensure we're always doing our best for our singers and supporters. We attended arts advocacy day and learned a great deal about the legislative process, importance of strength in numbers and facts and figures about the state of the arts in America.

NEA Chairman, Rocco Landesman addressed the advocates and armed us with three main points to help anyone seeking funding for the arts articulate their purpose.


1. The arts increase social responsibility. People involved with arts organizations or patrons of the arts are typically more involved with other local organizations and the democratic process in general.

2. The quality of life increases, particularly for children. In areas where the arts are a prevalent part of the community, truancy and delinquency are at an all time low.

3. Art is a poverty fighter and economy builder. The arts create jobs and contribute to tourism. A visitor to Washington is twice more likely to attend a performance at the Kennedy Center than a DC resident.

Our favorite Rocco anecdote: You don't think the arts create jobs? Well there are 200,000 people employed in the arts in CA, and only 125,000 lawyers. ART WORKS!

Yesterday, Rocco testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. For the full text, click HERE

April 9, 2010

Support CCS via United Way and the CFC

 CCS is part of the Combined Federal Campaign! If you are an employee expected to contributed to a charity VIA the CFC or United Way, you can now designate CCS as the beneficiary!

The mission of the CFC is to promote and support philanthropy through a program that is employee focused, cost-efficient, and effective in providing all federal employees the opportunity to improve the quality of life for all.CFC is the world's largest and most successful annual workplace charity campaign, with more than 300 CFC campaigns throughout the country and internationally to help to raise millions of dollars each year. Pledges made by Federal civilian, postal and military donors during the campaign season (September 1st to December 15th) support eligible non-profit organizations that provide health and human service benefits throughout the world. The Director of OPM has designated to the Office of CFC Operations responsibility for day-to-day management of the CFC.

To contribute to CCS through the Combined Federal Campaign, please use the following codes:
United Way number:  8638
Combined Federal Campaign:  62850

For more information, please click here.

April 7, 2010

Egg Roll

Our friends at the DC Youth Orchestra were featured performers at the White House Easter Egg Roll! 

Want to learn more about the DCYO? Become a fan on Facebook!

March 31, 2010

British Choir Festival Interview Series

"As much as it is a military and economic superpower, England has always been an artistic, even choral, superpower. You don't have to be an Anglophile to appreciate that England has produced one of the world's richest choral traditions." - Mickey Butts, San Francisco Classical Voice

To honor this tradition, the Cathedral Choral Society proudly presents an annual British Choir Festival at Washington National Cathedral. The first official festival took place in 1986, when the Laura E. Phillips endowment for the festival was created. 

This year, we are so pleased to host the Saint Thomas and New College Choirs for British Choir Festival - 2010! In the weeks leading up to the festival on April 18th, we will feature a brief interview with past and present members of each choir to discuss what the tradition means to them and where it all started.

Today's interview features Matthew Brown, a UK native. Mr. Brown has been singing in the Anglican tradition since childhood.  He now resides in New York City, and sings with the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys as a countertenor.

How/when did you begin singing?
I played violin from an early age, and could read music and hold a line, so I joined the school choir when I was ten. I joined my first church choir at Saint Margaret's, Westminster shortly thereafter (as a treble).

What does singing in this British Anglican tradition mean to you?
It means singing beautiful music with talented musicians, and giving long-dead composers eternal life through the performance of their music.

What does the choir bring to your understanding of yourself as a singer?
It helps me listen to others; to understand the importance of working in an ensemble for one's own musical development.

What are the best parts of singing with your choir?
Singing in the amazing space at Saint Thomas Church and the feeling of pride when singing to a packed crowd.

What is it like to come together with other similar choirs to sing in this Festival?
It's amazing to sing with other choirs, and to quickly adapt to new conductors. It also gives us the opportunity to sing Spem in Alium, which would be impossible with just one choir.

What is your favorite thing about Washington National Cathedral?
The sense of space, the mix of the modern and the traditional, the smell of history in the air.

March 19, 2010

Did you have your Raisin Brahms today???

The average kid is provided insufficient time to learn and experience the arts. This PSA campaign was created to increase involvement in championing arts education both in and out of school.

March 18, 2010

Final Lenten Series Concert - Washington National Cathedral

20th Century France: Durufle Requiem

Event image
Come to the Cathedral and join us for the fourth and final concert in the series of Lenten Concerts given by the National Cathedral’s concert ensemble, Cathedra. Twentieth-century France produced as rich a seam of liturgical music as has been seen in the history of western music. Arguably two of its giants were Francis Poulenc and Maurice Duruflé. In tonight’s program we hear the Four Lenten Motets of Poulenc and his unaccompanied Mass. The series closes with Durufle’s sublime Requiem, using his first edition with string orchestra and organ.
Poulenc composed music that reflects that fervent Catholicism of his paternal side and the provocative artistic heritage of his mother’s family. In the Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence, the former shines through. Although Poulenc’s inventive use of harmony and rhythm are far from conservative, his choice of texts and the intensity of their settings are unequaled. The Mass in G, on the other hand, plays more with musical texture and color, employing the singers like instruments, rather than striving toward the text painting achievements of his motets.
Duruflé’s Requiem ranks among the most beloved pieces in the Washington National Cathedral Choir’s repertoire. The precise counterpoint of the Kyrie, the ecstatic climaxes of the Domine Jesu Christe and Sanctus, and the powerful restraint of the solo Pie Jesu are a breathtaking sequence of musical events. The angelic conclusion of the In Paradisum transports the listener and singer alike into a higher realm of consciousness.

February 23, 2010

Washington Post Review

In performance: St. Matthew Passion

Web-only review:
Cathedral Choral Society: sublime Passion
by Cecelia Porter

A sublime performance of sublime music does not come along every day. But it did on Sunday at Washington National Cathedral, when J. Reilly Lewis conducted the Cathedral Choral Society and Orchestra, along with the Cathedral Choristers and stellar vocal and instrumental soloists, in J.S. Bach's epic "St. Matthew Passion." A portrayal of the impelling events leading up to the Crucifixion, the "St. Matthew" is a three-hour-long drama of realism as wrought with conflicting emotions as Shakespeare's "Macbeth" or Wagner's "Ring" cycle. The libretto combines scriptural accounts with Bach's personal choice of other texts according to the Lutheran tradition of his day.
(read more after the jump)
Bach demands impossibly Olympic standards of performers, such as assigning wind players extended melodic lines and singers never-ending solo passages on just one syllable -- without time to breathe. But in Sunday's performance, everyone met the technical challenges with seeming ease. Chorus and soloists also rendered Bach's text with German consonants and vowels unblemished by English pronunciation, intensifying the cutting edge of a story pitting violence and guilt against compassion.
Lewis's every motion drew from his forces the tumultuous scenario of individual remorse, screaming multitudes, even the thunder and lightning of nature's fury. As the Evangelist, Rufus Müller narrated the shattering story with both overwhelming vocal magnitude and telling physical bearing. Likewise, the other soloists coupled vocal excellence with dramatic gestures. Portraying their roles with deep conviction were soloists Christòpheren Nomura, Gillian Keith, Clare Wilkinson, Alan Bennett and Craig Phillips.
As Sunday's performance ended, the audience delayed applause for a few moments. That told it all.
-- Cecelia Porter
By Anne Midgette  |  February 23, 2010; 5:00 AM ET

February 20, 2010

Bach's St. Matthew Passion Concert Weekend

Johann Sebastian Bach
Sunday, February 21, 2010 at 4 pm

Tickets starting at $20

Profoundly religious yet intimate in its expression of
human feeling, the  St. Matthew Passion tells of the days
leading to the Crucifixion as the music arcs from the exultant
to the tragic, sweeping the listener into the drama.

Cathedral Choral Society
J. Reilly Lewis, conductor

Rufus Müller, Evangelist
Gillian Keith, soprano
Clare Wilkinson, mezzo-soprano
Alan Bennett, tenor
Craig Phillips, bass-baritone

Washington National Cathedral Choristers
Michael McCarthy, music director

Join us at 2:30 pm for a free pre-concert discussion in Perry Auditorium (7th Floor of the Cathedral) with Michael McCarthy, Director of Music at Washington National Cathedral.

January 25, 2010

Katherine of Tarragon Announces Retirement

Ernest Hemingway once said, "What greater gift than the love of a cat?"

Anyone who ever entered the Cathedral's greenhouse and library has experienced such love. A memorable, American Short-hair named Katherine of Tarragon has graced the lives of visitors and staff on the close for over 15 years, and at this time, announces her retirement. 

Ms. Tarragon was only a kitten when she began her work as an entry-level mouse catcher in the Cathedral Greenhouse 15 years ago. It is there, where she spent most of her career until the closing of the Greenhouse in 2008. During which time, Ms. Tarragon inspired a retail product line at the Cathedral's Museum Shop where Katherine cards can be found. She spent the remainder of her professional career in the Cathedral Library, helping CCS and Cathedral records staff with daily office activities such as chasing strings across the floor, sleeping on the outgoing mail, and basking on the warm floor in front of the copy machine. Ms. Tarragon spent most mornings outside the front door of the library greeting everyone from staff and bike messengers, to visiting dignitaries.

As her primary care taker, Tom Wright describes, "Katherine is a robust 15.5 years old." She has developed some non-threatening, age-related health issues, and following the advice of her primary feline care provider has decided to retire. Ms. Tarragon will live out her days in a posh townhome in Georgetown, with daily and loving attention - and a new feline friend!

Katherine is, and will continue to be, a part of many lives. She is a reminder that even amidst the most trying of times, we can all find a common thread in the happiness - of that which occurs in nature - can bring.

January 12, 2010

2010 Choral Space Odyssey

It is difficult to talk about the end of 2009 when our season is only at the halfway mark. The 2009-2010 season has been a series of amazing events and celebrations, and we are ready and raring for 2010. This season, we have created a wonderful new group called the "CCS Ensemble Singers." The group is comprised of a rotating handful of regular CCS members that are available for local events and parties. They have performed at our fall retail fund raising events, the New Zealand Embassy, and in December, received the ultimate invitation: To provide holiday music at The White House.

This was a wonderful honor for the singers representing CCS and was hugely successful. Their artistic interpretation of holiday favorites entertained the likes of Al Roker, Andrea Mitchell, Bill O'Reilly and Wolf Blitzer. The singers were led by chorus master, Todd Fickley, and following the performance, were all introduced to the President of the United States and the First Lady.

We on the CCS staff are so proud of all the singers who participate in the "Ensemble Singers," for representing entire chorus so beautifully.

There are several exciting things in store for this season including more Young Professionals events, a "Twitter Balcony," and our final concert, Reilly & Friends: A Celebration of Twenty-Five Years - a concert sure to be a treat you will not want to miss.

Happy New Year!