Was it a hymn festival? Was it a concert? Last night’s presentation with the National Lutheran Choir and David Cherwien was equally both. If you have gone to a “typical” hymn festival, you know that it is usually an opportunity to hear the organist showcase his or her improvisational skills in creating interesting introductions and accompaniments to a zillion hymns with the choir throwing in a descant or two. Well, last night’s hymn festival was so much more.
The program was arranged like a mass, with choral pieces for the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei and Dona Nobis Pacem but there were also hymns in church year order. It opened with the men in the front, behind the altar and the women all the way in the back by the organ, in a piece which combined chants by Hildegard (1098-1179) with the plainsong, Corde natus ex parentis, which we know as “Of the father’s love begotten.” In the cavernous Chapel of the Resurrection, this made for some very interesting tonal overlapping.
My favorite piece of the night was The Spheres (Kyrie from “Sunrise” Mass) by Ola Gjeilo. Again the choir was spread out, this time stationed along both sides of the gallery, and the polytonal overlapping (due to the reverberant cathedral acoustics) was very appealing.
David Cherwien, whom we have known since the 1987 ALCM Conference in Seattle, outdid himself not only in improvising organ introductions and accompaniments, but in conducting the choir in a variety of styles. At one time, he played the piano in a gospel style, and other times, he made the choir sound like it was from Africa in the hymn “Mfurahini, Haleluya.” The congregational hymns ranged from the traditional, such as “Angels we have heard on high” and “O sacred head now wounded,” to newly-composed.
Susan Palo Cherwien provided commentary and reflection between the various parts of the service.
What a day it has been, starting with Morning Prayer, plenary session on the Nones, regional meet-and-greet, lunch with colleagues, Bach cantata workshop, presentation on liturgical artist Ernest Schwidder, dinner with colleagues, and ending with a hymn festival. We were too tired to go to the reception afterwards and could not have crammed one more thing in!