Featured Performers for Milhaud's Sacred Service

On May 5, St. George’s Choral Society will perform Milhaud’s “Sacred Service,” a rarely presented setting of the Jewish liturgy for Saturday morning. This colorful, varied, and poignant work is a masterpiece of the 20th-century sacred repertoire.

The performance will feature:

Elijah Blaisdell

Elijah Blaisdell

Baritone Elijah Blaisdell performs with ensembles across the country as both a soloist and chorister. An early and new music specialist, his most recent credits include the Adams Fellowship with The Carmel Bach Festival, featured soloist with The Crossing on their Grammy Award-Winning album “Zealot Canticles,” St. Matthew Passion with Bach Society of St. Louis, and Coffee Cantata and Dido and Aeneas with Madison Bach Musicians. Elijah also performs as a chorister and soloist with The Santa Fe Desert Chorale, Grammy-nominated Ensemble True Concord, and the Grammy Award-winning Seraphic Fire. Elijah holds a Master of Music in Vocal Performance from New England Conservatory and after years of training and performing on the East Coast, is now based in Seattle.

Naomi Lewin

Naomi Lewin

Naomi Lewin is the former host of weekday afternoon music on WQXR, and of the podcast Conducting Business. Before that, she was midday host at WGUC in Cincinnati, where she created the award-winning weekly program Classics for Kids, which airs on radio stations across the country. She has produced music programs and arts reports for NPR; intermission features for Metropolitan Opera broadcasts; and podcasts on subjects ranging from the Tippet Rise Art Center, to Martin Luther in Saxony, to the bicentennial of St. George's Choral Society. Naomi is also a speaker, emcee, and media coach, and the radio voice of Arizona Opera.

Given her previous lifetime as a singer and actress, Naomi has continued to appear onstage, narrating Peter and the Wolf, Carnival of the Animals, King David, Façade, A Visit from the White Rabbit, and Four Seasons of Italian Futurist Cuisine by Aaron Jay Kernis. She can be seen as J.S. Bach in the Sunday Baroque 30th Anniversary video, and as a spitball-shooting professor in La Folía, from Filmelodic. Naomi created and hosts a new Classics for Kids Live onstage show. She has given talks on operas from Aida to Zauberflöte.

Naomi was born in Princeton, New Jersey, but received both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Yale.

Paolo Bordignon

Paolo Bordignon

Paolo Bordignon is harpsichordist of the New York Philharmonic and performs in 2018-19 with Camerata Pacifica, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, ECCO - East Coast Chamber Orchestra, the Florida Orchestra and a Trans-Siberian Arts Festival tour with the Sejong Soloists. He has appeared with the English Chamber Orchestra, American Symphony Orchestra, Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, and the Knights.

He has collaborated with Sir James Galway, Itzhak Perlman, Reinhard Goebel, Paul Hillier, Bobby McFerrin, Midori, Renée Fleming, and Wynton Marsalis. For the opening of Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, he gave the east coast première of Philip Glass’s Concerto for Harpsichord and Orchestra. Festival appearances include Aspen, Bard, Bay Chamber, Bridgehampton, Jackson Hole, Palm Beach, and Vail. He has appeared on NBC, CBS, PBS, CNN, NPR, the CBC, and on Korean and Japanese national television.

Paolo has worked with composers such as Elliott Carter (performing Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano for his 90th birthday celebration), David Conte, Jean Guillou, Stephen Hartke, Christopher Theophanides, and Melinda Wagner. With the Clarion Music Society, he gave the world première of several newly rediscovered chamber works of Felix Mendelssohn.

Paolo has performed organ recitals at venues such as St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York and St. Eustache in Paris, and he has been a regular organ recitalist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, including a 10-recital residency in 2010-11. As interim Organist and Choirmaster at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York, he helps oversee one of the nation’s pre-eminent church music programs.

Born in Toronto of Italian heritage, Paolo attended St. Michael’s Cathedral Choir School before attending the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He earned masters and doctoral degrees from the Juilliard School.

Meet our Fall 2018 Soloists

On November 18, we will present our Fall Concert with Orchestra, featuring Bach’s Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf, BWV 226 and Haydn’s Missa Cellensis, "Cecilia Mass," Hob XXII:5. These complex and beautiful pieces will feature four top-tier soloists. Tickets are now on sale.

Rebecca Farley

Rebecca Farley

Rebecca Farley, soprano, has been praised for her poise (Opera News), her "fine, flexible soprano" (Parterre Box), and her "filigree phrasing" (Scoop NZ). She received her master's degree from The Juilliard School in New York City where she was a Kovner Fellow and now as an alumna is a proud recipient of the Novick Career Advancement Grant. At Juilliard she appeared as Bubikopf in Ullman's Der Kaiser von Atlantis and as the stratospheric Controller in Jonathan Dove's Flight. She was also featured in a showcase as the title character of Manon in Massenet's sensuous St. Sulpice scene and appeared at Songfest with Brian Zeger in a recital of obscure Liszt lieder. Ms. Farley premiered Sherry Wood's Mara: A Chamber Opera at The Rubin Museum. January brought her Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra debut in a staged concert of Mozart favorites. Ms. Farley took on Fiordiligi, Countess, and Donna Anna all in one night in scenes from Così fan tutte, Le nozze di Figaro, and Don Giovanni. Just last month she made her David Geffen Hall debut with The National Chorale in Angela Rice's oratorio Thy Will Be Done. This performance included an aria written specifically for Ms. Farley and was the New York premiere of the work. Ms. Farley made her Carnegie Hall debut December 2016 singing the soprano solo in Bach's Magnificat with The Cecilia Chorus of New York. She returned with the same ensemble as the soprano soloist in Bach's Christmas Oratorio. Another Carnegie highlight from last season was Monteverdi's Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda in which she sang the role of Clorinda.

Kara Dugan

Kara Dugan

Mezzo-Soprano Kara Dugan has been praised by the New York Times for her “vocal warmth and rich character.” In the 2019/19 season, Ms. Dugan looks forward to performing Michael Tilson Thomas’ Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and again at Carnegie Hall with the New World Symphony. She has performed with major orchestras like the San Francisco Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Buffalo Philharmonic. Ms. Dugan has spent summers with the Marlboro Music Festival, Ravinia Steans Institute, Boston Early Music Festival, Wolf Trap Opera, Aspen Music Festival and School, and Mainly Mozart Music Festival. KaraDugan.com

James Reese

James Reese

James Reese is an avid ensemble, chamber, and solo musician whose singing has been praised for its “intensity and sensitivity...spirituality and eloquence.” Highlights of James' 2018–19 season include his Canadian and Austrian debuts with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and Gallicantus, and his solo debuts with TENET Vocal Artists, Bourbon Baroque Orchestra, Delaware Choral Society, St. George’s Choral Society, and the Duke Chapel Evensong Singers.  In addition this year, James will appear with The Crossing, Santa Fe Desert Chorale, True Concord, and Variant 6. Earlier this season, James sang an all-Mozart program with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, about which Michael Anthonio of Parterre wrote, “the biggest discovery of the night for me was tenor James Reese. His clear voice was so effortless.” Previously, James has appeared in concerts with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Bach Collegium Japan, the American Classical Orchestra, and at the Ad Astra Music Festival. He recently made his Carnegie Hall solo debut in Bach's B Minor Mass with the New York Choral Society, about which the New York Classical Review wrote, "the high, easy tenor of James Reese...floated beautifully on its own over the long, gentle lines of the Benedictus." An advocate for new music, James is a founding member of Philadelphia vocal sextet Variant 6. He appears on The Crossing's release of Gavin Bryars' The Fifth Century, which won a Grammy for Best Choral Performance in 2018. He is also a soloist on 2016 Grammy-Nominated Bonhoeffer, released by the Crossing. He holds degrees from Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music and the Yale School of Music.

William Guanbo Su

William Guanbo Su

New York City-based opera singer William Guanbo Su, bass, is currently pursuing his Master’s degree at The Juilliard School under the guidance of Cynthia Hoffmann. In 2018, he was a member of GYA young artists at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and a voice fellow at The Aspen Music Festival and School, where he played as the principle role of Don Basilio in Il barbiere di siviglia. Other roles that he has performed include Pluton in Hippolyte et Aricie; Herr Reich in Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor; and Seneca in L'incoronazione di Poppea. He has also concentrated on German Lieder at the Franz Schubert Institute in Vienna, where he was coached by Emmy Ameling, Helmut Deutsch, Robert Holl and others. In December, 2017, Mr. Su has made his Carnegie Hall Solo debut with The Cecilia Chorus of New York, and also the 1st prize winner for the Gerda Lissner Lieder competition the same year.

Notes on the Verdi Requiem

On April 29, we will present a joint concert of the Verdi Requiem with the Greenwich Village Orchestra, a 70-person community orchestra under the baton of Barbara Yahr.  Tickets are now on sale. Learn more about this piece of music in these program notes, by John Bawden.

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When Rossini died in 1868, Verdi proposed that a Requiem should be written in honour of the great man. Thirteen leading Italian composers, including himself, would each be invited to contribute a movement. Somewhat predictably, initial enthusiasm for the idea soon gave way to all sorts of professional rivalries, and when it also became clear that the piece would be little more than an unconvincing pot-pourri, the scheme had to be abandoned.

In 1873 the Italian poet, novelist and national hero Alessandro Manzoni died. Verdi had been a lifelong admirer and was deeply affected by his death. He decided to write a Requiem in Manzoni’s memory, and began by re-working the Libera me which he had composed five years earlier for the ill-fated Rossini project. Though it is Verdi’s only large-scale work not intended for the stage, the Requiem is unashamedly theatrical in style, with passages of great tenderness and simplicity contrasting with intensely dramatic sections. Writing at the time, the eminent conductor and pianist Hans von Bülow aptly described it as “Verdi’s latest opera, in church vestments.” 

The first performance of the Messa da Requiem took place on May 22, 1874, the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death, in St. Mark’s Church, Milan. Special permission had to be obtained from the Archbishop for the inclusion of the female choristers, who were hidden behind a screen and clad in full-length black dresses and mourning veils. Though it was a successful performance, the restrained circumstances and prohibition against applause produced a somewhat muted reaction. In contrast, the second performance three days later, at La Scala Opera House, was received by the capacity crowd with tumultuous enthusiasm. The Requiem became an overnight sensation, and was equally ecstatically received at the many European performances that soon followed. Its British premiere took place in May 1875 at the Albert Hall, conducted by Verdi himself, with a chorus of over 1000 and an orchestra of 140. One journalist described the work as “the most beautiful music for the church that has been produced since the Requiem of Mozart” – a view that was echoed by most people. However, a significant minority found it offensive that Verdi, an agnostic, should be writing a Requiem. For them the very qualities which made his music so ideally suited to the theatre made it wholly unacceptable for the church. Today this difference between traditional sacred music and Verdi’s operatic treatment of the Requiem text no longer presents a problem. 

The work begins with a hushed and solemn falling phrase on the cellos, a motif that recurs later. After the opening Requiem aeternam (Rest eternal), the Kyrie follows, introduced by the four soloists. Here the operatic nature of the piece is clearly revealed, with its expansive rising melody and wide dynamic contrast. 

The lengthy second movement, Dies irae (Day of wrath, day of judgement), is a sequence of nine widely contrasting sections containing some of Verdi’s most dramatic and emotional music, notably the terrifying Dies irae theme with doom-laden thunderclaps provided by the bass drum; the on- and off-stage trumpets representing the “last trump” of Biblical prophecy; and the tender pleading of the Salva me (Save me). The Dies irae motif is never far away, but eventually the terrors of the Last Judgement give way to the heartfelt Lacrymosa dies illa (That tearful day), and quiet final prayer, Dona eis requiem (Grant them peace).

For the Offertory Verdi adopts a much more liturgical idiom, with a predominantly four-part vocal texture over a restrained accompaniment for the soloists’ Domine Jesu. Trumpet fanfares announce the exhilarating Sanctus & Benedictus, an animated fugue for double chorus based on an inversion of the opening cello motif, with colourful, scurrying orchestral writing 

The Agnus Dei sounds at first as if it is from some remote region. After the rich romanticism of much of the earlier music, Verdi presents us with an austere, unaccompanied duet, in bare octaves. The chorus answers, also in octaves but with the addition of a small group of instruments, and then, as the second and third statements of the Agnus Dei text progress, the music grows in richness and warmth. Lux aeterna (Light eternal) is a short movement for a trio of solo voices, sometimes unaccompanied and sometimes supported by shimmering strings. 

After the chant-like opening of the final movement, Libera me (Deliver me), and a short arioso for the soprano soloist, Verdi returns to the original Dies irae and Requiem aeternam themes. The extended final section of the work is another energetic fugue, again loosely based on a version of the cello motto. After a tremendous climax the work gradually moves towards a quiet end, though the concluding prayer of supplication, surely reflecting Verdi’s own uncertainty, noticeably lacks the final serenity and assurance of salvation found in most other Requiems. 

Few choral works have captured the public imagination in the way that Verdi’s Requiem has. The uncomplicated directness of his style, his soaring, lyrical melodies which lie perfectly for the human voice, the scintillating orchestration and, most significantly, the work’s extraordinary dramatic and emotional intensity, all contribute to the Requiem’s status as one of the great icons of Western music.  -  John Bawden

Meet our Soloists for the Verdi Requiem

On April 29, we will present a joint concert of the Verdi Requiem with the Greenwich Village Orchestra, a 70-person community orchestra under the baton of Barbara Yahr. This fiery and intense, powerful and transcendent Requiem will feature a stellar line-up of soloists. Tickets are now on sale.

Rebecca Farley, Soprano

Rebecca Farley, Soprano

Soprano Rebecca Farley holds a master's degree from The Juilliard School where she appeared as the Controller in Flight, Bubikopf in Der Kaiser von Atlantis, and covered Amina in the Met+Juilliard production of La Sonnambula. She premiered the role of Mary in Angela Rice's oratorio Thy Will Be Done at David Geffen Hall and has performed as soloist with the Cecelia Chorus in Bach's Magnificat and in his Christmas Oratorio at Carnegie Hall.


Raehann Bryce-Davis, Mezzo-soprano

Raehann Bryce-Davis, Mezzo-soprano

George London award winner Raehann Bryce-Davis, hailed by the New York Times for her "striking mezzo soprano" recently sang Verdi’s Requiem with Marywood University, joined the Aspen Music Festival for John Corigliano’s Of Rage and Remembrance, and performed Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. This season she joins Theater an der Wien as Wellgunde in Wagner’s ring cycle and makes her Carnegie Hall debut with the New York Oratorio Society in the world premiere of Paul Moravec’s Sanctuary Road.


Jonathan Tetelman, Tenor

Jonathan Tetelman, Tenor

Tenor Jonathan Tetelman is also an old hand at the Verdi Requiem, having performed it with the Milan Festival Orchestra last season in Lake Como, Italy. This season he joins the Metropolitan Opera roster for Norma, makes his New Orleans Opera debut as Marco in Chadwick and Barnet’s Tobasco. Upcoming engagements include Rodolfo in La Bohème with English National Opera and Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly with Virginia Opera. He has previously performed with St. George’s Choral Society as a soloist for Dvorak’s Stabat Mater and Dvorak's Requiem.


Christian Zaremba, Bass

Christian Zaremba, Bass

Bass Christian Zaremba, described by the New York Times as "a stage animal with a big bass voice" is currently singing the role of Angelotti in Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera. This season he has also sung Sparafucile in Rigoletto at Michigan Opera Theater, and Zuniga in Carmen with Austin Opera. Recent engagements include Il Re in Aida with the National Symphony and the Bass Soloist in The Little Match Girl Passion with the Glimmerglass Festival and Portland Opera.

A New Design for Our 200th Year

Andrew Spina © 2017

Andrew Spina © 2017

We're thrilled to ring in our 200th year with an updated logo, designed by Andrew Spina. This is one of several versions of our logo we will use in 2017. Here's how Spina describes the new look:

"The design is the first in a series of compositions celebrating our bicentennial. Each will express the tone of the program using organic forms from nature. The tenderness and harmony of the fresh green foliage of tulips gives way to the joy of transfiguration."

This logo ties into our Spring 2017 concert of Dvorak's Stabat Mater on April 20. Learn more and buy tickets online.

Learning the Brahms Requiem in Two Weeks: Report from the Summer Choral Festival

DESIGN BY ANDREW SPINA © 2015

The best treat after a hard day’s work? Ice cream? Binge tv watching? Relaxing in a bath with a glass of wine? No, no, and no: Challenging ourselves with German words set to the Romantic music of Johannes Brahms. This year, the Summer Choral Festival hosted by St. George’s Choral Society will present Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem on June 18 after only two weeks of rehearsals.

Committed to this challenge, the participants of the choral festival came to the first two rehearsals this past week with their pipes in working order and phenomenal focus (there was only one “where are we?”). The chorus’ high level of engagement has allowed Artistic Director Matthew Lewis to concentrate on dynamics, phrasing, and diction, rather than on note learning.

For example, in the opening and closing movements (“Selig sind”), we used dynamics to convey the sense of peace imparted to the blessed mourners and blessed dead. Honing our German pronunciation (forte consonants, piano vowels!) brought out the hair-raising reminder of mortality found in “Denn alles Fleisch.” The joyous fugues sprinkled throughout the piece (“Der Gerechten Seelen sind in Gottes Hand,” “Herr du bist wurdig,” to name a few) elevated the phrasing and highlighted the gorgeous blend of each vocal section as the theme swept through the different parts.

Rehearsing the Brahms Requiem for the JUNE 18, 2016 Summer Choral Festival concert. Photo: Blessing Agunwamba.

By the end of the second rehearsal, we have now gone through the entire piece in depth. Exploring such a beautiful composition with a committed group of individuals is an amazing summer treat. The melodious musicality that Dr. Lewis achieved from the group during this first read augurs an excellent concert. 

If you are not singing in the festival, come be uplifted and comforted on June 18 at 7pm at the Church of the Incarnation on Madison Avenue and 35th Street. The concert is free and will be followed by a choir benefit ($25 to attend the benefit).

Hear the Brahms Requiem and Support the Choir

Please join us on June 18 at 7PM for our end-of-season concert and a benefit to kick-off our 200th Anniversary season.

Design by andrew spina © 2015

Design by andrew spina © 2015

Our concert is free, and features Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem. 

Our benefit, immediately following the concert, is $25 and will feature:

Drinks and desserts
Auctions for homemade goodies (custom cupcakes, cases, and more!)
Raffles for gift baskets
A wine pull with mystery bottles of wine worth $20 and more

Space for the benefit is limited to 70, so register today! 

Register and pay online:

Both the concert and benefit will be held at Church of the Incarnation at the corner of Madison and 35th Street.

Hear Us Perform "Sacré et Profane - Choral Music from Paris" on April 17

Artistic Director Matthew Lewis leading the choir at its April 13, 2016 rehearsal for "Sacré et Profane - Choral Music from Paris."

This Sunday, April 17, at 3 pm, St. George's Choral Society will perform "Sacré et Profane - Choral Music from Paris" at the Church of the Incarnation, 209 Madison Avenue at 35th Street.

This program features works of French song composers, performed a capella and with organ accompaniment. 

Claude Le Jeune's (c1528-1600) rhythmically vivacious Revecy venir du Printemps is a song with refrain, each verse adding voices, building momentum as the song progresses. Claude Janequin (c1485-1558) also composed Parisian chansons. Very creative and modern, even for listeners today, Le chant des Oiseaux has the singers mimic bird calls. Des pas dans l'allée is a somber setting by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) of a poem by Maurice Boukay. Saint-Saëns was an extremely popular composer, known for The Carnival of the Animals and many other works.

Among his students was Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), known primarily as a song composer. The Pavane is undoubtedly his most famous piece, originally written for piano, later scored for orchestra with optional chorus. Another composer famous for his songs is Francis Poulenc (1899-1963). The Chansons Françaises are clever, virtuoso settings of French folk songs for unaccompanied voices. The final work on the program is Jean Langlais' Messe solennelle. Blind from birth, Langlais (1907-1991) mostly wrote sacred music. His Messe solennelle, for organ and chorus, is a colorful and adventurous work, featuring advanced harmonic language combined with chant-like choral writing. It is often in the form of a dialogue between the organ and chorus.

We hope you will share this music with us on Sunday. Tickets ($30) are available online and at the door.