Historic, sacred places make for ‘incredible’ tour abroad

The Westminster Kantorei choir poses at King’s College in Cambridge, England after touring the chapel.
The Westminster Kantorei choir poses at King’s College in Cambridge, England after touring the chapel.

By Rena Carman 

This past summer, Westminster Choir College’s Kantorei choir went on a tour in France and England. They performed in Paris and Chartres, France; and London, Windsor, Ely and Cambridge, England from June 22 to June 30.

The Kantorei, an award-winning early and contemporary music ensemble, has collaborated with some of the country’s leading Baroque specialists, such as Owen Dalby, Nancy Wilson, the Dark Horse Consort and Juillard 415.

Amanda Quist, the department chair of conducting, organ and sacred music, led the choir through works such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Herbert Norman Howells, William Byrd and more.

Most of the venues the Kantorei performed in were churches, while only one, still considered a sacred place, was not a church.

“What makes these churches different is that they were created for the music we sang,” Lauren Lazzari, ’16, the Kantorei blog-runner, said. “The original function of the majority of the music we sang is for a sacred purpose, namely worship, so the acoustics are well-suited for these early choral masterpieces.”

While the Kantorei was in Windsor, they were invited to tour the Eton College Library and view the Eton Choir Book, an early 16th century manuscript.

In Quist’s words, the tour was “incredible” and the book was “set with stunning illuminations.”

“They only bring the book out once or twice a year,” Quist said. “To be able to view it in person and with a library guide was truly remarkable.”

“The Eton College Library Tour was a real privilege,” Lazzari said. “Several choir members cried at the sight of the Eton Choir Book. Eton was a small college, but we were warmly welcomed. Eton College Chapel was our last performance location, so that was both bittersweet and extremely special.”

Other performances were conducted in the Chartres Cathedral and The Lady Chapel or Ely Cathedral.

“These are very old spaces and, due to their design, are perfect spots for choral singing,” Quist said. “We have a few true cathedral spaces in the United States, but none carry the kind of history and gravity that these spaces offer.

“To think that we were standing where the likes of Thomas Tallies or William Byrd might have stood is rather sobering.”

Tallies and Byrd were both 16th century composers whose music was performed by the Kantorei during the tour.

The Chartres Cathedral was described by Lazzari as “old and dark” but with “otherworldly acoustics.” In Saint Louis en I’lle, the Kantorei sang for a national music festival.

“The church was in the Baroque style, which I find to be the most beautiful,” Lazzari said.

Both Quist and Lazzari agree ­— Paris was one of the best cities to perform in.

“Paris was magnificent for the food and culture,” Quist said. “It was also a lot of fun to perform for their appreciative audiences.”

“Paris was probably the best city to perform and reside in,” Lazzari said. “Cambridge was wonderful to visit, although we only ‘performed’ on a street corner. But we got to visit King’s College, and we toured the chapel with a previous choral scholar.”

One thing the Kantorei choir had to keep in mind was the difference between European and American audiences.

“Audiences tended to react with great energy to the music of Bach, and more reverence to Charpentier, whose entire litanies we performed, and tended to really enjoy our more contemporary pieces,” said Quist.

“You never know what European audiences actually think about the performance while it’s going on,” Lazzari added. “Because a majority of the English and French audience members show emotions much more subdued, several choir members and our conductor shared that audience members would smile at them, say the kindest words ever spoken with an emotionless face, shake the respective person’s hand, and walk away as if it was no big deal. Some of these kind words included, ‘I was moved so deeply hearing you all sing’ and ‘Your choir changed my life tonight.’”

Even though the Kantorei did not receive the usual responses from their performances, they were still shown how much music meant to the audience.

“When we perform on campus at Westminster Choir College or in the surrounding area, the audiences are very vocal and appreciative. The European audiences are appreciative, but they show their appreciation in the things they say after the performance, not through clapping and cheering.”

The Kantorei hopes to continue tours like these in the future, exploring different places and more sacred music.

“I think the next places we should go include Germany and Italy,” said Quist. “There is so much music to explore in those areas and so many great acoustics and sacred spaces.”


Printed in the 9/07/16 issue. 

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