Clarion Choir Projects
Tour of Rachmaninoff's Vespers
for the 2023 Composer's Anniversary
The Clarion Choir will release its recording of Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil (Vespers) in 2022 in advance of its North American tour in celebration of the 150th Rachmaninoff Anniversary. Following the release of this recording, in the spring of 2023, the choir will embark on an international tour of the work in the United States, Europe, and Russia.
We would love a special performance of this work, one that was particularly close to the composer's heart, in celebration of this anniversary. The Vespers was one of the pieces that Rachmaninoff himself was most proud of, and it took the art of choral music to new heights. Rachmaninoff orchestrates the work with the same level of complexity he would treat one of his orchestral symphonies or tone poems. It demands virtuosic singing from the chorus, yet results in awe-inspiring colors and textures, and profound reflections on the text.
In addition to performances of the Vespers, The Clarion Choir is also offering a variety of educational residency activities.
Clarion Choir's Russian Repertoire
Since 2012, The Clarion Choir has been performing Russian choral repertoire regularly. Steven Fox has a background in the Russian language, having studied in St. Petersburg in the late 90s and early 2000s.
In 2012, The Clarion Choir began what became an annual tradition of performing Russian choral music on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. The concerts have featured a Russian Christmas program with choral works by Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Bortniansky, Kastalsky and Chesnokov; as well as multiple performances of Rachmaninoff's two large-scale a cappella works, Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and Vespers (All-Night Vigil).
In 2014, The Clarion Choir gave the New York premiere of Passion Week by Maximilian Steinberg, student and son-in-law of Rimsky-Korsakov and also a renowned teacher of composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. His students included luminaries such as Dmitri Shostakovich, who later became a champion of Steinberg's compositions. Steinberg wrote his Passion Week, a sacred work comprising Stations of the Cross and hymns appropriate to Holy Week and Easter, in 1923, just as the Bolsheviks had begun to restrict performances of religious music. It was not until 2014 that, in no other place than in the United States, the score of the work resurfaced, and two groups, Cappella Romana on the West Coast and The Clarion Choir on the East Coast, undertook to perform it for the very first time.
Clarion's performance was featured on PBS, and their recording of it, the Choir's debut recording, received a GRAMMY® nomination, as well as a nomination for BBC Music Magazine's Choral Award. James Oestreich of the New York Times praised the work as a worthy addition to the repertoire.
In October of 2016, The Clarion Choir made a special trip to Russia under the auspices of the Department of State to return this masterwork to the country where it was written. The Clarion Choir gave the Russian premiere of the work in the Grand Philharmonic Hall in St. Petersburg, and in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and Rachmaninoff Hall in Moscow. Russian television (Channel 1 & the Russian Cultural Channel) covered the performance and called it 'one of the great examples of cooperation between our countries'. The Choir then traveled to London to give the UK premiere at the Royal Academy of Music. The Times of London praised the 'beautiful premiere': ‘There’s a mystical quality, a whiff of incense, to Passion Week and, as the music ebbed and flowed, I was lulled into a wonderful, contemplative state. That was down also to the quality of the performance; expertly paced by the conductor Steven Fox, the singing was fluid and full of light and shade.'
The Choir's second recording was the world premiere of Alexander Kastalsky's Memory Eternal to the Fallen Heroes. This previously little-known Requiem was written in 1918 in honor of those who died in the First World War. Kastalsky was the founder of the Moscow Synodal School of Church Singing, which transformed the Russian choral tradition at the turn of the 20th century and ushered in a new golden period of Russian Choral Music. Kastalsky was also a mentor to Rachmaninoff, who sent Kastalsky early drafts of his choral works for his commentary. Clarion's world premiere recording of Memory Eternal was nominated for a GRAMMY® for Best Choral Performance and was 'Editor's Choice' in Gramophone.
In 2018, the Clarion Choir led a multi-faceted effort to mount the larger, choral-orchestral version of this Requiem, entitled Requiem for Fallen Brothers, for the Centenary of the Armistice to World War One. The Clarion Choir combined with the Orchestra of St. Luke's, Cathedral Choral Society, Kansas City Chorale, St. Tikhon Choir, and Maestro Leonard Slatkin to perform and record this epic, large-scale Requiem in Washington National Cathedral on October 21, 2018. The performance was one of the main tributes to the Centenary of the WWI Armistice that took place in the nation's capital. The recording of that performance was released in August 2020, and has been nominated for a GRAMMY® for Best Choral Performance.
The Clarion Choir had a residency at the University of Toronto in February of 2020 in which The Choir joined the University's Schola Cantorum and a renowned Toronto ensemble, The Theatre of Early Music, for a performance of Rachmaninoff's Vespers conducted by Steven Fox. Mr. Fox also visited vocal classes with voice students under the direction of Daniel Taylor.
The Clarion Choir and Steven Fox also took part in a residency at Dartmouth College in April of 2019 together with The English Concert. Steven Fox, a graduate of the College (Class of 2000), spoke with music majors about pursuing a life in music following Dartmouth. He also joined a pre-concert discussion on Handel's choral music and the work of Semele.
In October 2016, following their performance of Steinberg's Passion Week and selections from Rachmaninoff's Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Steven Fox and The Clarion Choir led a masterclass for Choral Conducting students of the Royal Academy of Music. The students conducted The Clarion Choir in Russian repertoire selections from the concert. Steven Fox led the master class, and members of The Clarion Choir also offered their constructive comments. Professor Patrick Russill of the RAM said it was a tremendous success.
In 2017, Clarion presented Mozart's Die Zauberflöte in a production by Alain Gauthier at the Theatre of the Museo del Barrio in Uptown Manhattan. Taking inspiration from early productions of the opera, particularly from the legendary 1815 Berlin performances designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, this production used projections to enhance the Old World atmosphere of this special theater. A stellar international cast joined The Clarion Orchestra on period instruments and The Clarion Choir amid the magical murals of the Theater at the Museo del Barrio. This 600-seat jewel box theater brings to mind some of the most charming European theaters, combining grandeur with intimacy. The production was critically-acclaimed, called 'a deft reach across two centuries' by The New York Times and 'a delight, on all fronts' by Opera (UK). The Clarion Choir & The Clarion Orchestra are planning a continuation of these productions at the Museo del Barrio, next exploring the Mozart/Da Ponte operas.
Tour with the English Concert
In 2019, The Clarion Choir toured with the renowned English Baroque orchestra, The English Concert, and their conductor, Harry Bicket, in performances of Handel's Semele. The tour included a subscription concert at Carnegie Hall as well as performances at Paris's Theatre des Champs Elysée, London's Barbican, Sage Gateshead (Newcastle, England), University of Michigan, Dartmouth College, and the Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The tour was critically acclaimed. The Clarion Choir received rave reviews in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Times (UK), Opera News, Opera (UK), and others.