My Psalm 100 setting is being premiered on Saturday, March 9 by Manhattan Choral Ensemble on a program of “New York Psalms.” To learn more about the interesting program that MCE has prepared, I asked one of its members, Sacha Evans, to supply a guest post for File Under ?.
A Century of New York Psalms
by Sacha Evans
The Hebrew psalms are inextricably linked to music. King David is said to have composed nearly half of the 150 psalms we know today, to serve as songs of praise accompanied by his harp. This link is apparent even in the etymology of the word “psalms,” which derives from the Greek term psalmos, meaning “songs sung to a harp.”
The psalm texts have captivated the likes of Bach, Stravinsky, Brubeck, and so many other brilliant musical minds that it is difficult to think of a major classical composer who has not set a psalm to music. And, over the past century, New Yorkers have contributed in no small measure to this tradition. The Manhattan Choral Ensemble (MCE) has arranged a new program highlighting these local contributions, titled A Century of New York Psalms, which will be performed this Saturday, March 9 at The Church of the Holy Trinity (316 East 88th Street, NYC).
Through seven works—three of them world premieres—the MCE has selected musical settings of psalms that express themes of unity, refuge, humility, and jubilation. The familiar Chichester Psalms by Leonard Bernstein is paired with lesser-known psalm-inspired works by New Yorkers John Corigliano, Virgil Thomson, and Bobby McFerrin. Jim Bassi, Martha Sullivan, and Christian Carey will add their voices to the genre with three new works that were composed especially for this event (settings of Psalm 117, Psalms 121, and Psalms 100, respectively). As an added visual component, illustrations by New York artist Brett Helquist (best known for the children’s book cycle Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) will be premiered as stage projections during each of the three new commissions, harkening back to a rich history of psalm illustration.
The concert is part of the MCE’s extensive new music program, through which the ensemble has commissioned more than 30 new works from established and up-and-coming local composers. An active and ambitious avocational choir, the MCE presents engaging, historically-varied repertoire, with a particular commitment to fostering new choral works by New York City-based composers.
For more information about this program, tickets, and the Manhattan Choral Ensemble’s commissioning programs, visit ManahattanChoralEnsemble.org.