“The Worship of True Art:” The Columbia Pro Cantare and Company Rock the House with Mendelssohn’s ELIJAH

October 29, 2007 at 12:58 pm (Music)

widow-z1.jpg [The Prophet Elijah and the Widow of Sarepta, by Bernardo Strozzi]

This past Saturday night (10/27), my husband and I were privileged to attend a performance Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah. The evening was a tremendous success in every way: glorious choral music supported by the outstanding Festival Orchestra and stunning vocalizing by the four principal soloists.

April-Joy Gutierrez mccormickcolor_final.jpg geer-todd_web.jpg lynch_final1.jpg

[From left to right: April-Joy Gutierrez, Mary Ann McCormick, Todd Geer, Lester Lynch]

Although I love choral music, this is not a work with which I was familiar. Our understanding and enjoyment of it were greatly facilitated by the pre-concert lecture, given by David Smooke of the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.

In the program notes, we learn that Elijah was originally commissioned by the Birmingham (England) Choral Festival and first performed there in 1846. It was an instant hit. The following year the oratorio was performed for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The latter was moved to write a letter to the composer in which he averred that Mendelssohn “…has been able, by his genius and science, to preserve faithfully, like another Elijah, the worship of true art, and once more to accustom our ear, amid the whirl of empty, frivolous sounds, to the pure tones of sympathetic feeling and legitimate harmony: to the Great Master, who makes us conscious of the unity of his conception, through the whole maze of his creation, from the soft whispering to the mighty raging of the elements.”

mendelssohn.jpg Only a few months later, in 1847, Felix Mendelssohn was dead. He was 38 years old.

Special mention must be made of the baritone who sang the role of Elijah. Lester Lynch conveyed tremendous feeling in softer passages, but he really wowed the audience in the more forceful ones. His voice so filled the auditorium that it seemed too big for the space. I wouldn’t be surprised if he could be heard in the parking lot! I was touched at the end of the performance when the other soloists – soprano April-Joy Gutierrez, mezzo-soprano Mary Ann McCormick, and tenor Todd Geer – turned to Lynch and applauded his performance along with the audience. Lynch accepted this tribute with the modesty of a true artist.

dawson2.jpg As for the Columbia Pro Cantare, one can but express delight and gratitude that this home grown organization has achieved such distinction – and right here in our own backyard! Assuredly, we can thank the artistry and hard work of founder and artistic director Frances Motyca Dawson [pictured above] for this happy state of affairs.

Not to go too swiftly from the sublime to the prosaic, but usually when we want to attend this kind of event, we have to travel to Baltimore or Washington and take the risk of getting mired in sludge-like traffic. Instead, it took us fifteen minutes to drive to the high school auditorium (with an exceptionally good acoustic) that was the venue for this performance. And when we got there, we were treated to world class music-making.


  1. Elladean Brigham said,

    Thanks so much for such a great unsolicited review of our concert on Saturday night. It was an exciting and fulfilling experience to sing such a magnificent work, and every chorus member was delighted to be a part of it and for the privilege to sing with these four wonderful soloists. For those of us who have sung with Columbia Pro Cantare for many years, it is always a true blessing to sing inspiring music under the baton of Frances Motyca Dawson. She is truly amazing in her ability to become one with the music and pull the best out of the chorus!

    We are grateful that you enjoyed it, too!

    Elladean Brigham, CPC Executive Director

  2. Stars and Stripes Forever! The United States Army Field Band « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] October’s powerhouse performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah, this concert was presented at the Rouse Theater, which is about fifteen minutes from our house. […]

  3. The Columbia Pro Cantare greatly dares – and greatly triumphs « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] I’ve had the pleasure of hearing them perform the Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, the oratorio Elijah by Mendelssohn, and Requiem masses by Faure, Verdi, and […]

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