FINE ARTS COLUMNIST
A standing room-only audience, emitting much anticipation and excitement, filled the pews and gallery of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh on Friday, Feb. 28. These patrons could have spent this 28-degree night bundled on their couches. Instead, a musical world premiere called them forth.
Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Schola Cantorum Franciscana collaborated with the St. Vincent Camerata of Latrobe, both directed by the Rev. Stephen Concordia, OSB, as well as St. Paul’s Chancel Choir for the world premiere of the “All Saints Requiem” composed by Douglas Starr, director of music and arts at St. Paul’s since 1993.
That evening, Starr displayed both his vocational dedication to sacred liturgy and himself as a musician steeped in a tradition ranging from the Renaissance to the 20th century moderns.
In a WQED radio interview, Starr said he titled this requiem “All Saints” as a way to honor and remember “the people in daily contact with us, those who are in our intimate memory, our family members, our mentors (and) teachers.”
Following a Gregorian chant and Renaissance setting of “Ave Maria” at the beginning of the concert, this remembrance was made with a brief pause to recall faithful departed loved ones; names were invoked in the darkened church and candles were lit.
Somber remembrance was succeeded with the long-awaited performance of the “All Saints Requiem.” Each part summoned forth the sorrow of death and confidence in divine mercy. Listeners were serenaded with musical moments punctuating the ghostly and ethereal, the melancholic and weeping, dramatic alarm and doom, and the celestial.
The requiem ended with fluttering angel wings carrying souls to the bosom of Lazarus, hopeful of the salvation of loved ones.
Senior Luke Ponce had a favorable first reaction and said, “My overall impression was that it was quite a fascinating work. It did an excellent job of building upon music of the past in a new and distinctly modern way without being arbitrarily obtuse or hard to listen to, which is a trap that I feel like many composers of this century and the past century fall into.”
Likewise, senior Tommy Gies said, “It was clear they put a lot of work into it. I was in the Schola last year preparing for it and it was very challenging. So I am very impressed with how it turned out.”
“(Although it is) not typically what I think of when I think of sacred music … it still had that element of transcendence,” Gies said.
The three choirs gave a second performance of the “All Saints Requiem” at St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, on the evening of Feb. 29.