On August 28, 2019, the 20th anniversary to the day of the premiere of Philip Glass’s colossal Symphony No. 5 at the Salzburg Festival, the ensembles of Trinity Church Wall Street release a live recording of the work on Glass’s Orange Mountain Music label, captured during rapturously received performances in Trinity Church in 2017. The monumental forces required to perform Glass’s symphonic magnum opus included Trinity’s in-house contemporary orchestra NOVUS NY, The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, Downtown Voices, the Trinity Youth Chorus, and soloists Heather Buck, Katherine Pracht, Vale Rideout, Stephen Salters, and David Cushing, all conducted by Trinity Music Director Julian Wachner. Characterized by Glass as “a compendium of reflection on the process of global transformation and evolution,” the symphony is a timely addition to the fast-expanding catalogue of mission-centered works Trinity’s musical forces have performed and/or helped to develop, dealing with topics from climate change and water justice to human trafficking and gender inequality. The new release includes the complete 100-minute Symphony No. 5 in studio-produced audio on two CDs, and a DVD with a live concert of the symphony performed at Trinity Church, attended by Philip Glass, as well as an interview between Glass and Wachner, and is available from Amazon and itunes/Apple Music.
As Glass says of this release: “It was my intention to provoke a flow of attention for the listener which would be based on the world's Wisdom Traditions - their commonalities, differences, and eccentricities. Now two decades after its premiere, this new recording by Trinity Wall Street and all the collected forces of orchestra, choirs and singers under Julian Wachner, make these commonalities, differences, and eccentricities appear even more pronounced than was initially imagined.”
The symphony was released on disc following its premiere, but that version was assembled from separate sessions in studios around the world. Trinity’s rendition thus marks the first “organic” recording with all the participants in one space. Originally commissioned and conceived for the Salzburg Festival celebration of the turn of the millennium, Glass’s towering work manifests Gustav Mahler’s opinion that “The symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything.” The composer drew from diverse spiritual traditions – including the Bible, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Koran, Hindu scriptures, and West African traditions – to create an epic narrative. The original texts in Greek, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and indigenous languages were all translated into English so that their parallel images and common vision were clear. At the time of the premiere in 1999, Glass explained: “Working together with the Very Reverend James Parks Morton of the Interfaith Center of New York and Professor Kusumita P. Pedersen of St. Francis College, we synthesized a vocal text that begins before the world’s creation, passes through earthly life and paradise, and closes with a future dedication. We are looking at the moment of the millennium as a bridge between the past (represented by the “Requiem” and embodying the first nine movements up to the moment of Death) the present (the “Bardo” representing the “in between”) and culminating in “Nirmanakaya” (the future manifestation of enlightened activity).”
The Trinity performance was, in fact, Wachner’s second in quick succession. The previous year, when he conducted the work at the Kennedy Center with the Washington Chorus, the Washington Post raved: “You probably haven’t heard the Fifth Symphony live. Most American orchestras wouldn’t gamble on playing an evening-length contemporary work, particularly not one by Glass, who remains one of this country’s best known, most performed and least appreciated composers. … The piece has an ideal conductor in Julian Wachner, the Washington Chorus’s colorful, talented music director. A composer himself, he’s a strong advocate for contemporary music, and his flair for the dramatic and large-scale bore fruit here.”
Glass’s Symphony No. 5 is only one of five major albums being released by Trinity this summer, with a sixth to follow in January. Trinity’s recording of Ellen Reid’s p r i s m – winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for music – came out on Decca Gold on August 23. After the Los Angeles premiere last season, Parterre Box called the opera “mesmerizingly beautiful,” and the glowing critical reception extended to Trinity’s performers as well. Praising the “lush, eerie harmonies of an invisible chorus,” the New Yorker declared the choir to be “one of the nation’s best.”
On the Acis label, The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and NOVUS NY release Epistle, a compilation featuring Wachner’s Epistle, Inverted Sky and Gaudé, along with David Little’s Am I Born and shape note selections. On August 16, Broadway Records released Edward Thomas’s new opera, Anna Christie, with NOVUS NY under Wachner’s baton. Members of The Choir of Trinity Wall Street also make up the chorus on Canteloupe Records’ recording of Acquanetta by Michael Gordon, the co-founder and co-artistic director of the Bang on a Can music collective, and librettist Deborah Artman. The work features the Bang on a Can Opera Ensemble conducted by Daniela Candillari. Finally, Wachner conducts cellist Matt Haimovitz, The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, NOVUS NY, and more on a new composer portrait of Luna Pearl Woolf, due out on the Pentatone label’s Oxingale Series in January 2020 and titled LUNA PEARL WOOLF: Fire and Flood.