Trinity Church Wall Street’s Time’s Arrow festival (March 5-9), known for its signature combination of early and new music, focuses this spring on amplifying the voices of female artists and exploring sensitive contemporary themes. The centerpiece of the festival is a juxtaposition of two musical portraits of the biblical figure Susanna: Handel’s oratorio Susanna, and Artemisia, an opera by Laura Elise Schwendinger, with a libretto by Ginger Strand. Complementing these large-scale pieces is a concert centered on works by Barbara Strozzi, the most prolific composer of secular vocal music in Venice in the mid-17th century and a renowned poet who likely wrote many of her own texts. Performed by Trinity Choir soprano Molly Netter, the concert also features world premieres by Jessica Meyer, Doug Balliett, Alyssa Weinberg, and others (March 8). A Pipes at One concert on that same day, featuring Trinity Associate Organist Janet Yieh, will also reflect the Time’s Arrow theme, with compositions by Rachel Laurin, Florence Price, Lili Boulanger, Clara Schumann, and others. All performances take place in the intimate surroundings of St. Paul’s Chapel, a Georgian-era gem just a few blocks north of Trinity, and the oldest public building in continuous use in Manhattan.
Long celebrated for their matchless yearly performances of Handel’s Messiah, The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and The Trinity Baroque Orchestra, under the direction of Music Director Julian Wachner, are also in the midst of a long-term presentation of the composer’s entire oratorio output, including Susanna. But for Time’s Arrow what matters is the oratorio’s subject matter: a blameless young woman’s reputation is smeared by wrongful accusations. Soloists are Lauren Snouffer, John Holiday, Oliver Mercer, Christopher Burchett, and members of The Choir of Trinity Wall Street. The three-act oratorio will be heard over the course of three 1pm performances on March 5, 7 and 9.
Laura Elise Schwendinger’s Artemisia approaches the same story through the lens of a different era and culture, by means of the Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, who portrayed herself as Susanna in her famous painting Susanna and the Elders. Schwendinger, winner of the first Berlin Prize in composition, has been praised in the Chicago Tribune for “an acute sonic imagination and sure command of craft,” and in the New York Times for music that is “darkly attractive, artful and moving.” She is also a longstanding Trinity collaborator: Wachner and The Choir performed her Six Choral Settings in Zankel Hall in 2012 and have helped her develop Artemisia through workshop performances. The fully staged production of Artemisia will be directed by Christopher Alden, and features resident contemporary ensemble NOVUS NY under the direction of Lidiya Yankovskaya, with a cast comprising Heather Buck, Augusta Caso, Oliver Mercer, Christopher Burchett, and Richard Troxell. Artemisia will be performed twice, at 7pm on March 7 and 9.
A further highlight of Trinity’s “indispensable and unmissable” (New York Times) array of free, ambitious musical offerings this winter and spring will be the presentation by Wachner, The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, and NOVUS NY of the New York premiere of Daniel Schlosberg’s nightingale+rose, along with the East Coast premiere of The Faire Starre by Nico Muhly (Feb 15). The latter piece was co-commissioned by Trinity Church Wall Street, Vocal Essence Minneapolis, and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.
These programs come on the heels of a pair of critical triumphs for Trinity’s musical forces. The perennially popular Christmas Messiah performances were singled out twice by the New York Times this season. Under the headline “This Is the Best ‘Messiah’ in New York,” the first review elaborated: “If you grew up thinking of Handel’s “Messiah” as a sweet, staid pageant, a holiday ritual involving a little nap and a stand-and-deliver ‘Hallelujah’ chorus, the forces of Trinity Wall Street offer the gritty, fearless cure…with what stands apart as New York’s best.” Two weeks later a different Times critic raved: “There’s a reason Trinity’s ‘Messiah’ sits at the top of critics’ lists each year. Mr. Wachner’s take on the score is fresh and urgent, and members of the nimble professional choir step out to sing solos, creating a sense of the oratorio as town hall meeting.”
Likewise, the contributions of Wachner, The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, and NOVUS NY to the world premiere of Ellen Reid and Roxie Perkins’s new opera p r i s m, co-commissioned by Trinity Church Wall Street and Beth Morrison Projects, met with a glowing critical reception. Praising the “lush, eerie harmonies of an invisible chorus,” the New Yorker called the choir “one of the nation’s best.” The New York Times agreed: “Ellen Reid’s score is accessible in the best way, disconcertingly sweet without being syrupy, with occasional whispers of choral voices so soft they’re almost more odor than sound. The truly prismatic Choir of Trinity Wall Street is astonishing here; Trinity’s new-music ensemble, Novus NY, plays beautifully under Julian Wachner.”
The premiere of p r i s m was last November at REDCAT in Los Angeles, and the East Coast premiere of the work was at New York’s La MaMa during the Prototype Festival in January.