Thank you to everyone who helped make our presentation of Haydn’s Creation at Carnegie Hall a success! Here is our recent review from The New York Times:
No Requiem for Earth, Only Celebration
By Anthony Tommasini, published Dec. 24, 2012
The world did not end on Friday as the ancient Maya calendar foretold. But if any apocalyptic forces were kicking around the planet that day, they were combated by a performance that evening at Carnegie Hall of “The Creation,” Haydn’s astonishing oratorio that depicts God’s making of the world, presented by the New York Virtuoso Singers, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and a roster of vocal soloists, conducted by Harold Rosenbaum.
Of course, as Maya experts have been saying for weeks, the doomsday talk was all a huge misreading of the Maya calendar. Friday was predicted to be just the end of a 5,125-year cycle and the start of a new one. This is certainly the view of the Society for Universal Sacred Music, which presented the performance of “The Creation” as a gesture of renewal and reverence for life.
In any event, it was an inspired idea to perform “The Creation” on 12-21-12. Any chance to hear this late-period Haydn masterpiece is welcome. Mr. Rosenbaum is best known for his work as the founding director of the New York Virtuoso Singers, an ensemble that specializes in contemporary music (celebrating its 25th anniversary this season) and also Canticum Novum Singers, devoted to early music. He had only conducted Haydn’s “Creation” two decades ago with amateur ensembles. He drew a radiant and joyous performance of this 100-minute score from the top-notch St. Luke’s players and the skilled Virtuoso Singers, which usually perform with fewer than 20 choristers but was expanded for this occasion to 62.
Mr. Rosenbaum had to contend with the unfortunate withdrawal of a soloist, the soprano Christine Brandes, who was ill and pulled out after a rehearsal on Wednesday. There are three demanding solo parts in “The Creation” for singers taking the roles of archangels. One, Gabriel, is for a soprano, though the singer usually doubles in Part III as Eve, in duets with Adam.
On Thursday Mr. Rosenbaum asked two sopranos who often perform with the Virtuoso Singers to rehearse the solos with him, giving Gabriel’s music to Katherine Wessinger and Eve’s to Marie Mascari. They are both crack sight-readers, Mr. Rosenbaum said in a phone interview. Ms. Wessinger had performed one of Gabriel’s major arias. Otherwise both artists were new to the piece. By Thursday Mr. Rosenbaum was getting replies from management agencies with a potential replacement. He stuck with the singers from his chorus with whom he had worked so well.
Ms. Wessinger’s light, clear voice was beautifully suited to Gabriel’s music. Understandably, there were some shaky moments in her singing. But she has a genuinely angelic voice and sang with charm and grace. Ms. Mascari brought rich sound and sensitive phrasing to Eve’s music. This was an admirable display of professionalism from both artists. The tenor Benjamin Butterfield was clarion-voiced and vibrant as the archangel Uriel. Nathan Berg’s muscular, earthy bass-baritone was ideal for Raphael and, in Part III, Adam.
Haydn set to work on “The Creation” in 1796, having been inspired by hearing performances of Handel’s oratorios in London. The English text, which draws from Genesis, the Psalms and Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” was given to him by the impresario Johann Peter Salomon. Haydn had it translated into German before setting it to music. Both German and English versions were published. Haydn wanted the piece performed in English for English-speaking audiences, as was done here.
The music wondrously animates the rich details of the biblical story. The orchestra overture depicts the “Representation of Chaos” in the cosmos through daring music that at times evades stable harmonic zones and is run through with passing dissonance, like stray motifs in search of cohesion. In a riveting recitative Raphael describes the Earth as being without form. The chorus, in hushed chords, sings “God said: Let there be light.” Still quietly, the chorus adds, “And there was light.” But at the word light, the choristers and orchestra burst into a C major harmony so shimmering and sunny you practically have to squint.
Yet, when called for, Haydn the musical humorist comes through, as when cooing birds are evoked with warbling trills for the soprano soloist and orchestra, and the galumphing trod of heavy beasts is illustrated with bleating low brass.
During whole stretches of this work the music comes across as agreeable and charming. But below the surface remarkably sophisticated things are happening. And in places where Haydn decides a lofty chorus is called for, this master responds with music of awesome depth and intricacy. The singing of the Virtuoso Singers under Mr. Rosenbaum was full-bodied, confident and nuanced.
Against Haydn on this night, the apocalypse did not have a chance.
Find out all of the latest news from Society for Universal Sacred Music including a wrap-up of our recent Scandinavian Tour, an introduction for our new Office Manager Melissa Arnold-Perelson and more!
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Earlier this month, Society for Universal Sacred Music took its first ever International Tour with SUSM Artistic Director and Conductor Harold Rosenbaum leading The New York Virtuoso Singers in performances in Denmark and Sweden. The program featured new American sacred works by Roger Davidson, as well as traditional American spirituals and others. While not singing, the choir and the SUSM support team had a chance to take in the sights of these beautiful countries.
For more pictures from the tour, please visit our Facebook page. The stateside reprise concert was held at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park, New York City, as part of Make Music New York’s citywide music celebration. Read what the New York Times had to say about us:
“…Harold Rosenbaum and his New York Virtuoso Singers performed “Greetings to Denmark,” a program they had sung in Denmark and Sweden a couple of weeks before, much of it skillfully composed by Roger Davidson, the founder and president of the Society for Universal Sacred Music, which presented the concert.
Here the chorus proved heroic, holding forth in direct sunlight and blistering heat…”.
This appeared in the Friday, June 22nd music review section of the New York Times.
This month, Society for Universal Sacred Music headed to Scandinavia for a tour of Denmark and Sweden to perform new American works by Roger Davidson based on Danish texts. SUSM Artistic Director and Conductor Harold Rosenbaum lead The New York Virtuoso Singers in performances of Davidson’s Hilsen Til Danmark (“Greetings to Denmark”) as well as selections from recent SUSM performances in the U.S., and a set of three classic American spirituals.
The concerts in both Denmark and Sweden were very well received. We impressed everyone with our Danish pronunciation of the Hilsen Til Danmark music!
For more information including bios and program texts, download our Danish or Swedish concert programs! (Programs include English translations.)
Click “Read More” below to see Roger Davidson’s introduction letter from the Scandinavian concert programs.
Friends and singers came together at the elegant Le Château Restaurant in South Salem, New York, on Sunday, April 15, 2012 to celebrate and support the society’s mission during our Second Annual Gala Benefit and Silent Auction! Our Honoree was Chris Farrell, the first Executive Director and current Archivist/Librarian for the society. The night was a smashing success! The warm, sunny spring evening provided a great break between bouts of bidding during the cocktail hour, and an array of entertainment which included The New York Virtuoso Singers, Harold Rosenbaum, conductor, David Finck, Pablo Aslan and Roger Davidson.
A big thank you to everyone who joined us for the evening, and for making it such a great event!
Its that time of the year again! The Society for Universal Sacred Music will have their 2nd annual Gala at the elegant Le Chateau in South Salem, NY.
April 15th, 2012 at 5 p.m.
The New York Virtuoso Singers, Harold Rosenbaum, conductor
Roger Davidson and David Finck playing romantic French film music by
Michel Legrand from their album “Umbrellas and Sunshine”.
Honorary Gala Chair: Sue Graves
Vice President of the Society’s Board of Directors and an experienced homeopathic and nutritional consultant.
Gala Honoree: Chris Farrell
The Society’s First Executive Director and current Archivist and Librarian, as well as a composer, pianist, and the founder of “Sounds of Peace”.
If you are interested in attending, please contact Edie Rosenbaum, Executive Director, at email@example.com.
We hope to see you there!
Welcome to our first newsletter of 2012!
We continue to work hard to bring works of universal sacred music to audiences far and wide, in person and through the internet, to help us all move toward unity of spirit — and therefore lasting peace.
May the unconditional love of God be with each of us as we carry on our work to create a better world through music.
- Roger Davidson
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Our Fundamental Unity:
The Meaning of Universal Sacred Music
Imagine a world in which we can travel from one country to another and encounter acceptance on the most fundamental level. Imagine a world in which no other person claims to have a superior way of being. Imagine a world in which belonging to a religious group means belonging to a community that accepts all other human beings as equal and eternal children of God. And imagine a world in which conversions are a practice of the distant past – conversions from one religion to another having become one of the ultimate absurdities; for how can one convert from being a child of God to a child of God? In that world let us imagine one universal faith – in which the spiritual knowledge of God’s universal and unconditional love – that we all carry deep within our hearts – is our guiding light.
Here are some pictures from our beautiful 5th festival. Looking forward to celebrating again with you all in 2013!