Monday, May 30, 2011

Holy Toledo! High Mass & Festival Performance

Friday, May 27 was a full day for the UGA Chamber Choir and our accompanying guests. Scheduled to sing for High Mass in the Cathedral of Toledo at 10:30 AM, we were up, in concert attire, and heading to town by 9:30.

High Mass at the Primate Cathedral of St. Mary of Toledo

Javier, our city guide from yesterday, had explained to us that the term "Holy Toledo" (Toh-lee-do) originated here in Toledo because Toledo is considered the Catholic motherland of Spain. Before King Phillip II moved the royal court to Madrid in 1651, Toledo was the political and religious capital of Spain. As such, the cathedral enjoys pride of place, and religious festivals such as June's Corpus Christi, are huge affairs. The choir was thus grateful and appreciative of the
space in which they would sing for the Mass.

In a beautiful and--especially important--resonant side chapel with a high dome, the Chamber Choir split into the choir seats on either side of the main altar. For the entrance hymn, they performed the Duruflé Ubi Caritas with Joshua Elder on the incipit. The celebrant also asked for the T.L. de Victoria Kyrie, a particularly suiting piece as Victoria was one of the most famous Spanish Renaissance composers. At the offertory, the choir performed their best rendition yet of F. Guerrero's Ave, virgo sanctissima, the notes resounding off the dome and almost swirling with the cloud of incense.

To close, the Chamber Choir presented Franz Liszt's Ave Maria. After the Mass, several people approached Dr. Andaya to congratulate the choir on their performance and express their sentiments. One German couple in particular was moved by the Ubi Caritas and was visibly crying.

Following their performance at Mass, the group enjoyed the rest of the morning and afternoon at leisure in the city, using the opportunity to find tapas for lunch, wander through the streets, and pick up souvenirs of "Toledoware," knives, and ceramics. The rest of the day was not entirely free, however, as the final concert of the 2011 Tour was fast approaching.

Final Concert - Sinagoga del Tránsito, Toledo

At 8:00 PM, the UGA Chamber Choir presented their theme concert, Cantos del Corazón al Cielo (Songs from the Heart to the Heavens) at the Sinagoga del Tránsito, a 14th century synagogue which became a church, then a military barracks, and is now restored to its original architecture but designed as an important culture heritage and museum. The Sinagoga del Tránsito is not used for services.

Performing to a packed house and standing room only, the Chamber Choir took the audience on a whirlwind tour of geographical and stylistic periods: from the early Spanish and Portuguese Renaissance to fiery German and Italian pieces with Dr. Martha Thomas (bio here), accompanying; from the didgeridoo and overtone sounds of Australian composer Sarah Hopkins to Swedish and American a cappella vocal jazz (James Sewell, solo in When I Fall in Love); from the quiet and reflective That Lonesome Road (Nathan Schreer, solo) to the joyful African American spiritual ending (Kevin Wickware & Joshua Elder, soloists in Daniel, Daniel, Servant of the Lord), the Chamber Choir received a standing ovation from the very appreciative audience.

After a pre-concert introduction by Incantato Spain Concert Manager Katia Oceransky, Dr. Andaya introduced each song or theme to the audience. UGA rising senior and Spanish major David Okun translated.

Following their final performance, the Chamber Choir changed and enjoyed another night in Toledo on their own. It's hard to believe, but there's only one more full day left on the Iberian Peninsula!

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