MacMillan choral work premiered at Rockefeller Chapel

Sun Jun 05, 2011 at 8:39 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

James MacMillan’s “Alpha and Omega” was premiered Saturday afternoon at Rockefeller Chapel in Hyde Park.

Compared to the performance of Bach’s epic St. Matthew Passion that drew a thousand people to a Lincoln Park church in April, the second event offered in Chicago by Soli Deo Gloria was a relatively intimate affair.

The Glen Ellyn-based organization presented the premiere of James MacMillan’s new choral work, Alpha and Omega Saturday afternoon at Rockefeller Chapel. The Soli Deo Gloria commission was heard as part of the annual “Best of Rockefeller” concerts, presented in collaboration with Crossway publications and the University of Chicago.

Alpha and Omega is a concise setting for a cappella choir on a text from Revelations (21:1-6). It begins fortissimo with a high statement by the full choir (“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth”), followed by a decrescendo as the notes likewise cascade downward. In the middle section, the choir sections are divided with just the women’s voices in “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with Man.” The male voices return, and as the work reaches its climax with “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end,” the choir ascends to a full volume, coming full circle to where it began.

Though brief at just six minutes, Alpha and Omega is a lovely miniature surely crafted and distinctive in the vein of MacMillan’s music. Under the direction of James Kallembach, the University of Chicago Motet Choir and Rockefeller Chapel Choir gave a rich and polished performance and the Scottish composer was on hand to share in the warm applause.

The concert also featured two other MacMillan works. Changed, to a text by Wallace Stevens, is a plaintive setting, atmospherically sung from the choir loft at the back of the church. In Heycoka Te Deum, MacMillan mixes the traditional Latin text with an English translation of a Lakota Indian chant. Here the women choir members handled the leaping vocal lines and high tessitura admirably, though enunciation was less distinct.

Britten’s Antiphon was also performed, and along with the MacMillan premiere, received the finest performance of the afternoon. Britten’s artful setting of lines from George Herbert’s The Temple was given an inspired, crisply enunciated rendering under the direction of Michael Oriatti, with effective use of the antiphonal exchanges, the choir at the front of the church and the three sopranos representing angels placed in the loft.

The vocal selections were interspersed by Thomas Weisflog performing organ works on Rockefeller’s restored 8,565-pipe Skinner monster. The hourlong program was framed by music played on the chapel’s carillon by Wylie Crawford and James Fackenthal.

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment