Inaugural Music Festival

In the first of many music festivals hosted by the Duruflé Academy, the faculty showcased their musical expertise through recitals hosted in our Discord server. On Friday, Matthew Cates opened the festival with a recital, and on Saturday an evening service featuring organ and choir was followed by a piano masterclass taught by Prof. Kelsey Carlisle. This represented a major triumph of the early stages of building our Academy community.

Day 1

In the opening recital, Cates performed several masterworks for the piano:

  • Scriabin – Waltz op. 38, no. 4
  • Scriabin – Sonata no. 2
  • Chopin – Scherzo no. 3
  • Ravel – Gaspard de la Nuit
  • Liszt – Berceuse

This highly demanding program was masterfully executed to much acclaim, and West Point organist, Craig Williams, felt inspired to write a glowing review.

“Franz Liszt was a virtuoso pianist who took technique to new heights, like many other concert pianists of his day. But the message in much of his music remains vital today, because Liszt always looked beyond empty pyrotechnic display – striving to make piano technique a medium through which human beings might share transcendent spiritual, emotional, and intellectual experiences through art. It is fitting that Matthew Cates ended his recital, inaugurating the Maurice Duruflé Academy of Music, LLC, with Liszt’s “Berceuse,” a work which explored the vision of losing a great friend and exploring the impact that friend (Chopin) made through music.

“Matthew’s recital was centered around playing works with very high technical demands, but using the colors of virtuosic piano playing to convey intense impressions and experiences – almost entering the realm of the subconscious and dreams. Beginning with a Waltz and then a Sonata-Fantasy of Scriabin, Matthew began right away exploring vivid harmonic colors juxtaposed with asymmetrical rhythms and structure. His level of preparation was flawless, allowing the difficult intricacies of the music to weave their impressions without distraction.

“He followed the Scriabin with the composer who probably was the greatest influence on the entire sonority established through the concert, Chopin. The C# minor Scherzo was a perfect vehicle for the dreamscape of the recital, beginning with bold chords but shimmering in the middle chorale sections.

“Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit” is a piece where some pianists will go out of their way to accentuate the efforts taken in performing one of the most difficult works in the piano repertoire, but here Matthew again allowed Ravel’s impressionism and color to take over – fully meeting the technical demands, while not making those demands the point of the piece! The listener was allowed to get lost in Ravel’s storytelling, which is the hallmark of true mastery in presenting works like these! The concert ended with Liszt, particularly fitting in that Matthew fully rose to the idealistic true goal of Liszt’s superlative pianism.”

– Craig Williams, Organist, West Point Cadet Chapel

Day 2

The meditative evening service featured a diverse range of chants, interspersed with works by J.S. Bach. Thanks to the great capabilities afforded us by the internet, we were able to include organ performances by Matthew Cates and Dr. Timothy Olsen, as well.

The service began with Bach’s majestic and somber Prelude in E minor, BWV 548, performed by Matthew Cates at First Presbyterian Church, Greensboro, NC. Over the course of this Prelude, one of Bach’s longest, Cates established the mood that would prevail over the rest of the service: a mixture of serious and playful; always uplifting and spiritual.

This Bach was followed by a beautiful rendition of an ancient Byzantine chant. Byzantine chant combines the chant form common in western Europe with hints of eastern harmony and ornamentation. It is rarely heard nowadays, especially in America, and was a new experience for most of the members of the Discord server.

Notre-Dame-d'Auteuil - Wikidata
The Church of Notre-Dame d’Auteuil

Returning to the organ, Dr. Timothy Olsen performed Bach’s profound prelude on Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland, BWV 659. Here, Olsen’s vast knowledge of Baroque style was apparent: every phrase and gesture was placed very deliberately and the walking nature of this chorale prelude was clear and thought-provoking.

After a moment of silence, the choir sang an ancient Roman chant, the origins of which are unknown. Fascinatingly, elements from the Byzantine chant were present in this one too; a clear reminder of the ancient connection of the eastern and western Churches.

The choral centerpiece of the service was Bach’s famous Kyrie from the B Minor Mass, BWV 232. The choir and orchestra blended beautifully, and reminiscent of the Chant that preceded it, phrases were blended seamlessly, providing the feeling of constant progression even as the fugal writing was at its densest. Perhaps because of the characteristically French approach to phrasing and diction, the Kyrie took on a haunting, quality; a reminder of the desperation within the text. Kyrie Eleison. Lord have mercy.

After a silence long enough to let the Kyrie fully sink in, the choir pivoted from one master to another, this time from the late Medieval period. Hildegard von Bingen’s Chant for the Adoration of the Cross was a calm end to the choral section of the service, but the cyclical nature proved to be as moving as it was meditative.

To close the service, Matthew Cates played the Great E minor Fugue by Bach, the pairing to the Prelude at the beginning of the service. Often referred to as the “Wedge” due to the subject’s spreading melody, this fugue is one of Bach’s most demanding, and the crystal-clear sound of the Létourneau organ made for a very exciting end to a beautiful and profound service.

As the Academy’s community grows, festivals like this will be able to be even more accessible, and you can participate in events like this for free by joining our Discord server. This festival was a great success, and hopefully each successive one will be even better than the last.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s