By Nicole Cortese
Sitting a few rows away from Steve Martin and listening to master of ceremonies Cyndi Lauper during the ceremony before the 56th annual Grammy Awards broadcast, James Jordan, conductor of the Westminster Williamson Voices eagerly awaited the announcement of the winner for Best Choral Performance at the Nokia Theater on Jan. 26.
Conducted by Jordan, the ensemble’s rendition of James Whitbourn’s Annelies was the first Grammy nomination for the Westminster Williamson Voices and Jordan. They were competing against four professional European choirs.
“This is a really great honor for Westminster and Rider to have one of our ensembles recognized in this way, especially since the awards are presented by our musical peers, who really appreciate the dedication and talent that go into such a recording,” Anne Sears, director of external affairs at Westminster Choir College (WCC), said.
Placed in the classical genre, the Grammy was awarded to the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir for the recording of Arvo Pärt’s Adam’s Lament. The other nominees included the London Philharmonic Choir and the London Symphony Chorus for Berlioz: Grande Messe Des Morts; The Sixteen for Palestrina: Volume 3; and the BBC National Chorus of Wales and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for Parry: Works for Chorus and Orchestra.
Jordan, who has taught at WCC for 23 years and has been recognized on an international level on several occasions for many of his achievements, finds the entire experience surreal.
“These are rare things in the classical music world, and because of the rarity, it is quite an honor and distinction for our school and this choir,” Jordan said. “This places the choir on a world stage and is a great tribute to our university and the quality of teaching and level of performance that exists here.”
Annelies is a 60-minute work composed of texts taken directly from The Diary of Anne Frank by Melanie Challenger. It features soprano Arianna Zukerman, clarinetist Bharat Chandr and The Lincoln Trio from Chicago, which includes violinist Desiree Ruhstrat, cellist David Cunliffe and pianist Marta Aznavoorian.
Jordan explained the process that goes into the nomination.
“The record is submitted by the record label,” Jordan said. “In this, Naxos, the largest classical music label in the world, submitted the recording for consideration by the Recording Academy.”
Annelies has a special significance for Jordan, who has been living with this work for 20 years and has championed it.
“The composer is a longtime friend of the choir and WCC,” Jordan said. “The Williamson Voices had recorded a previous CD, Living Voices, of Whitbourn’s music, also on the Naxos label.”
Whitbourn – a British artist, conductor and former composer-in-residence at WCC – developed a new program at Oxford University last summer for WCC and Rider University named The Choral Music Institute at Oxford. The Williamson Voices will be the ensemble where conductors from around the world come together to conduct and attend lectures with Oxford faculty.
“Because the choir is an ensemble that sings together throughout the year, conductors can experience a level of artistry and human connection unlike any other program in the world for the training of conductors,” Jordan said.
Although this is the first nomination for the Williamson Voices, it is not WCC’s first Grammy nomination.
“The Westminster Symphonic Choir has been nominated for two Grammys: Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic [in 1977], and Berlioz’s Romeo et Juliette with Riccardo Muti and the Philharmonia Orchestra [in 1986],” Sears said. “This is the first time that a Westminster ensemble and its conductor have been nominated not as part of an orchestral recording.”
The Westminster Williamson Voices is composed of sophomores, juniors, seniors and graduate students who auditioned for a spot. Sears hopes that this experience will continue to inspire WCC students in their future endeavors.
On April 26, the Williamson Voices will perform at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center in New York. The performance will reunite everyone from the Grammy-nominated CD for one night only.
“This is an enormous honor for both Westminster Choir College and Rider University because it shows the world the quality of teaching that is done day in and day out by a deeply gifted faculty,” Jordan said. “There is reason here for us all to celebrate. This puts our school on a world stage with the finest choirs in the world — a stunning achievement by our students.”
Published in the 2/5/14 edition