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'Kontakion' reflects the old, new

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  • MIGREEK@aol.com
    SEATTLE POST-INTELIGENCER Monday, January 5, 2009 http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/classical/394741_romana05q.html Kontakion reflects the old, new Last updated
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 5, 2009

      Monday, January 5, 2009


      'Kontakion' reflects the old, new
      Last updated January 4, 2009 7:23 p.m. PT
      By R.M. CAMPBELL
      It is no surprise that Cappella Romana, with its roots in Orthodox
      Christianity, should celebrate the holiday season at the very last, during the 12 days
      after Christmas. Always the concert is in early January and illuminates not
      only the actual day, but also provides a way to launch the New Year with
      first-class music but also thought.

      WHEN/WHERE: Saturday night at Town Hall
      On Saturday at Town Hall, the group of superb singers not only sang carols
      that are Orthodox in shape and spirit, but also gave the local premiere of
      Richard Toensing's "Kontakion on the Nativity of Christ," which was written with
      Cappella Romana in mind. As such, the evening was musically rewarding as well
      as a satisfying way to bring the season to a close and look forward.
      The "kontakion" is not a musical form well-known in the Western church. The
      "poetic homily," as it has been described, was introduced into Byzantine world
      in the sixth century and inaugurated a new musical sensibility in Byzantine
      culture. In the main, an introduction, or ode, is followed by stanzas --
      anywhere from a dozen to 30 -- similar in structure and often dramatic or
      rhapsodic in nature.
      Townsing's "Kontakion" is a setting of a sixth-century poem by St. Romanos
      said to be inspired by a scroll given to him by the Virgin Mary. It is written
      for unaccompanied two choirs and six soloists. To accommodate the scoring,
      Cappella Romana, usually about a dozen singers, doubled in size. The excellent
      soloists came from the ensemble.
      The composer, who lives outside Boulder, Colo., converted to the Orthodox
      church a dozen years ago from the Lutheran church in which he was reared. His
      music since reflects the traditions of his new faith. However, he does not want
      to simply repeat history in his music, regardless of how compelling it may
      be, but make it a reflection of the old and new. "Kontakion," with a text in
      English, is exactly that. About 13 stanzas were sung Saturday.
      Indeed, his work is a remarkable coupling of those two worlds. One senses its
      antiquity immediately, a feeling that is sustained throughout the work. But
      there is also a freshness of view that leavens the whole.
      Even given the somewhat rigorous structure of the "kontakion," Toensing found
      ways to provide dramatic range to his work, which gives a musical kind of
      validity that other "kontakia," designed solely for religious observances,
      might not possess.
      The first half of the program was devoted to carols and hymns of all sizes
      and attitudes. Most were written in the past century, with texts in English and
      Greek. Although they may be familiar in Orthodox circles, they are not so
      known outside that universe. They should be. The variety was admirable and the
      effect astonishing -- from music of sheer beauty to dramatic amplitude.
      None of that would have been possible without the guiding hand of Alexander
      Lingas, who founded the group in the early 1990s in Portland, then mounted a
      second season soon after in Seattle. Currently a senior lecturer in music at
      City University in London, he is a scholar with all sorts of academic studies
      at prestigious universities in the United States and England. But there is
      nothing remotely pendantic about his approach.
      It is lively and informed, often in difficult waters. The result is singing
      that is wonderfully blended, accurate in pitch and precise in ensemble. This
      is music-making on a very high order.

      P-I music critic R.M. Campbell can be reached at 206-448-8396 or
      _rmcampbell@..._ (mailto:rmcampbell@...) .
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