By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
One of my favorite ways to bid adieu to the year and begin anew is the annual Concert for Peace at the magnificent Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine,. This is a signature New Year’s Eve event that was founded by Leonard Bernstein in 1984 with the idea of bringing together New Yorkers and visitors from around the world for an evening filled with uplifting music.
This year’s concert, the 33rd Annual Concert for Peace, honored the centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth with a performance of two selections from his MASS, Almighty Father and Simple Song, sung by Jamet Pittman, and the magnificent Cathedral Choir and the Cathedral Orchestra under the direction of Kent Tritle, Director of Cathedral Music.
A highlight was the U.S. premiere of “See the Wretched Strangers” by composer Lucas Wiegerink who came up for a bow. The text, written by Shakespeare, is an impassioned commentary on immigration and refugees. “Imagine that you see the wretched strangers./Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,/Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,/And that you sit as kings in your desires…And this your mountainish inhumanity. Imagine.”
It was performed by Amit Farid, piano; Arthur Fiacco, violoncello; Jamet Pittman, soprano; Katie Geissinger, mezzo-soprano; Lee Steiner, tenor; and Enrico Lagasca, bass.
A series of choral songs about our shared Earth continued the theme that has been integral to these concerts of neighborly compassion, inspiring a renewal of hope for the coming year. “Earth teach me to remember kindness./As the dry fields weep with rain./Earth teach me.”
Jason Robert Brown, Tony Award-winning composer and lyricist, performed a new piece which he described as “disco go go girl power anthem” written for an 11-year old named Gabby, called “Invisible.” He was joined by Jesse Warren-Nager, soloist, Gary Sieger, on guitar; Randy Landau on bass; Gabe Violett and Jessica Vosk, back-up vocals.
He also performed, “Hope,” the title and the longing message of a piece he wrote the day after Election Day 2016, out of despair. “When life is crazy and impossible to bear-/It must be there./ Fear never wins./ That’s what I hope,/ See? I said “hope.” The work begins.”
That sense of despair emerged from Judy Collins, Artist in Residence at the Cathedral Church, who fought back that despair by urging “Resist. Resist. Resist. Keep resisting.” She led a mournful, “To Everything, There is a Season, Turn, Turn, Turn” and “Amazing Grace.”
The Right Reverend Clifton Daniel III, the Interim Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, urged, “Pray no one takes for granted out gifts of speech, though, art. Do not take for granted the gifts given by those who came before, or our responsibility to preserve those gifts for the next generation.”
Harry Smith, who has hosted these events for many years, contrasted the celebration of “great leaps forward, when we felt we were moving the earth and its people toward more egalitarianism,” versus other years when there was the backward movement of war and poverty. This year, he added to the list the national scourge of opioids, epic natural disasters, homelessness, refugees.” But a highlight was that women’s voices have been heard as never before, when men were held to account…” But, he said, “Workplaces may be safer, but not equal. But we made an important step forward this year.”
He added, “We fret, worry, obsess over every tweet and prevarication.” But then he described people he met in his travels who have taken matters into their own hands, who are taking action. “People of varying politics and persuasions determined to make lives better. The antidote… is action.”
The evening always concludes with an inspirational lighting of candles – it starts from the back of the enormous hall, and the firelight comes forward until the entire cavernous space glows in the warmth and light.
The Cathedral itself is a marvel. Originally designed in 1888, with construction beginning in 1892, the cathedral has undergone radical stylistic changes and the interruption of the two World Wars. It started out in Byzantine Revival-Romanesque Revival style, but the plan was changed to Gothic Revival in 1909. A major fire on December 18, 2001 caused the cathedral to be closed for repairs until 2008. It remains unfinished with construction and restoration a continuing process – which inside, only adds to the mystique of the place. It boasts being the largest Gothic cathedral, and may be the world’s largest Anglican cathedral and church; it is also the fourth largest Christian church in the world.
The cathedral houses one of the nation’s premier textile conservation laboratories to conserve the cathedral’s textiles, including the Barberini tapestries. The laboratory also conserves tapestries, needlepoint, upholstery, costumes, and other textiles for clients.
There are concerts by the Cathedral Choir and other artists and events throughout the year. Check the website for details.
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