S&H Concert Review
David Conte: Elegy for Matthew St Bartholomew's Church, New York City
To a musical British visitor to New York, St Bartholomew's Church on Park Avenue and 51st Street is still, quite simply, Stokowski's church. Although that association, which first brought the great conductor, then as organist, from London to New York before the First World War is nearly ninety years away, St Bartholomew's rich musical tradition goes on. During Choral Eucharist on the morning of Sunday 17 September it brought a truly distinguished world premiere performance.
The service was dominated by Lou Harrison's Mass to St Anthony which, with orchestral accompaniment, was sung liturgically throughout the proceedings. However, the musical focus of the morning was the first performance of the orchestral version of David Conte's two movement Elegy for Matthew, a direct and touching ten minute choral work, first performed by the New York City Gay Men's Chorus in Carnegie Hall in June 1999, then with only piano accompaniment. Its reappearance in orchestral dress, set for mixed choir, has given it a glow and resonance which will surely attract a wide audience. Its appeal was immediate; its burning emotion all the more powerful for its restraint, articulated by its haunting orchestral colour. St Bartholomew's Choir and Chamber Orchestra conducted by William Trafka were committed and poised. For me this was a classic in the making.
The music was written in memory of Matthew Shephard, the young victim of a horrific and senseless murder case a couple of years ago, setting a specially written poem by John Stirling Walker. Yet so eloquent is Conte's setting of these sensitive words that I can imagine this work transcending its terrible inspiration to become a poignant and familiar setting at times of mourning or memorial. The vocal score is published by Schirmer (catalogue no 5470).
I had not come across the composer, David Conte, before; a composition pupil of Nadia Boulanger, he teaches composition and theory at the San Francisco Conservatory. We are told he has received many commissions most notably from Chanticleer, the San Francisco Symphony and the New Haven Symphony, and I shall certainly look out for his music in future. Good to know he is writing a new organ work for William Trafka, organist and musical director at St Bartholomew's, for New Year's Eve.
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