ORS Proudly Presents:
Rodion Shchedrin’s Sealed Angel
and Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms
Read the OregonLive Review: Oregon Repertory Singers perform revlatory ‘Sealed Angel’
Thank you for joining us! Here are a few highlights from our performance of
The Sealed Angel on Saturday, April 25, 2015 at First United Methodist Church.
Saturday, April 25, 2015 at 3:00 pm * Sunday, April 26, 2015 at 3:00 pm
The Sealed Angel
Ethan Sperry, Conductor
Nancy Teskey, Flute
Rodion Shchedrin composed his nine-movement cantata, The Sealed Angel, to commemorate the millennium of Russia’s conversion to Christianity. Despite the official atheism of the Soviet era, Shchedrin’s family had retained its religious identity— his grandfather was an Orthodox priest, and he himself had been secretly baptized.
Grammophone Magazine says: “Profoundly moving, Rodion Shchedrin’s music drama The Sealed Angel is one of the most important Russian works of the 20th century.” Composed in 1988, right on the verge of Perestroika, this piece captures one of the most intense moments in modern history. You can hear the Sealed Angel, that was Orthodox Christianity in the Soviet Union, ready to burst free of its prison.
In an interview, Shchedrin said that he had long wanted to compose a major religious work in the Russian choral tradition, exemplified in the works of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, “but for the great composers of the time, Shostakovich and Prokofiev, for instance, this was impossible; such religious feelings could be punished very seriously. They had to write choral works called ‘Hymn to Stalin,’ ‘Hymn to Lenin,’ and such things.”
He instead titled the work The Sealed Angel after a well-known story by celebrated novelist Nicolai Leskov (1831-1895), whose works were popular with the Communist regime. Leskov’s story concerns a community of “Old Believers,” a conservative sect that sought to keep sacred icons and texts free from the influence of modern reforms. The community’s greatest treasure is an icon of an angel, believed to provide healing and guidance. Outsiders come to know of this angel, and the community is denounced by state officials, who confiscate the icon, coat it with wax, and emboss an official seal onto the angel’s face. Ultimately, a famous painter of icons named Sebastian is able to restore the icon to its full glory and power. Though Shchedrin’s cantata borrows very little from the story’s actual content, his choice of the story’s title is far from random.
The restoration of the icon, in many ways, reflects the restoration of Orthodox faith and practice during the period of the Soviet order’s disintegration. Shchedrin’s text also features liturgical texts and prayers that Leskow mentions in his book. One particular passage, “Angel of the Lord, may thy tears be poured forth wherever thou wilt,” becomes the dominant musical theme of the work, and comes directly from Leskov’s story—it is a prayer said before the icon by one of the story’s characters.
Musically, as well as religiously, Shchedrin’s work looks backward as much as it looks forward. It explores the remarkable musical flowering of Russian Orthodox liturgical music in the time of Rachmaninoff, Chesnokov, Grechaninov, and others that was halted only by the Revolution of 1917, when the composition and performance of church music was banned.
The Chichester Psalms
Ethan Sperry, Conductor
The Chancel Choir of First United Methodist Church
Members of ORS Brioso Choir
Jonas Nordwall, organ
Denise Fukogawa, harp
Florian Conzetti, percussion.
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of Chichester Psalms. Bernstein’s most famous compositions are his Broadway shows, most notably West Side Story. Chichester Psalms is Bernstein’s attempt at fusing the energy of jazz and Broadway into Jewish music. Each movement has its own dance rhythm and harmony, some of which even borrows music that Bernstein cut from West Side Story.
From the program notes at the premiere performance: “Chichester Psalms juxtaposes vocal part writing most commonly associated with Church music (including homophony and imitation), with the Judaic liturgical tradition. Bernstein specifically called for the text to be sung in Hebrew—going so far as to leave out an English translation in the score—using the melodic and rhythmic contours of the Hebrew language to dictate mood and melodic character. By combining the Hebrew with Christian choral tradition, Bernstein was implicitly issuing a plea for peace in Israel during a turbulent time in the young country’s history.”