It hardly seems like four years ago that Kile Smith’s Epiphany Vespers, commissioned by the early music ensemble Piffaro, made its premier in Philadelphia. Conductor Donald Nally led his own chorus The Crossing, which specializes in contemporary music, along with Piffaro in a work of singular originality.
Using the Lutheran Vespers service as the structural model, Smith fuses modern compositional techniques with time-tested musical processes for a work that displays the best of traditio and tradere. Like the Lutheran liturgy of the Renaissance era, both Latin and German languages are used. As I recall, Latin is used mainly for the Psalmody, while German is used for the chorales. (Many German chorales, I might add, are more-or-less re-worked Gregorian chant.)
One thing I have been wondering about is the liturgical role of the opening Alleluia that begins the work. Is this artistic license, or is it how the Lutheran Vespers, at least on feast days, began? Or is it representative of the Alleluia which often follows the opening sentences? I don’t know. I’m curious. I should ask him, but I never think of it when Kile is around.
A few years ago, a recording of this magnificent piece was released by Navona records. Now, Vespers is being prepared for live performance once again. The concerts are:
Saturday, January 7, 8pm: Old St. Joseph’s Church, Philadelphia
Sunday, January 8, 4pm: Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill
Monday, January 9, 7:30pm: Park Ave. Christian Church, New York
This series will include the New York premiere of the Vespers. Each concert will be preceded by a 45 minute pre-concert talk given by the composer.
For a taste, here are some relevant clips:
And a report by Philly critic David Patrick Stearns: