Devotees of fine choral music are in for a special treat this evening, Friday, March 20 through a rare performance at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul of “To Be Certain of the Dawn,” an oratorio written in 2005 by Stephen Paulus (1949-2014.)
The 8 p.m. performance (see ticket information here), with about 150 voices, will combine the talents of the Cathedral Choir, the Archdiocesan Children’s Choir and the Choir of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, backed by the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. The performance will be reprised on March 22 at 4 p.m. at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church.
“To Be Certain of the Dawn,” which covers the horrific events of the Holocaust and its aftermath, was originally commissioned by the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis as a gift to the Jewish community in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Holocaust and also the 40th anniversary of the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate (“The Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”), which forcefully denounced all forms of anti-Semitism.
Although a recording of the very complex oratorio was released in 2009, there have been only two previous live performances of the oratorio in full — the premier in Minneapolis and another performance in New York, according to John Romeri, the director of liturgical music for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The present collaboration not only includes the singers from Bryn Mawr Presbyterian and the cathedral choirs but also the Jewish community. It was originally proposed by Bryn Mawr’s music director, Jeffrey Brillhart, Romeri explained. He readily agreed although it is easily the most expensive and difficult work they have attempted, with singing in Hebrew, German and English.
“The Paulus piece is a work of mammoth proportions,” Romeri said. “I am extremely proud of our Cathedral Choir and the Archdiocesan Children’s Choir. Our singers have mastered it and brought great compassion to the work.”
Other upcoming Cathedral concerts include a May 10 Mother’s Day Concert and also a Voices of Ascension Concert.
“Voices of Ascension is from New York and is the most beloved choir in America,” Romeri said. “They will celebrate their 25th anniversary concert here in Philadelphia at the Cathedral Basilica on Tuesday, May 19 at 7 p.m. and later that week in New York. It will be the choral event of the year, right here in our cathedral.”
For more information on cathedral concerts see the website cathedralphilaconcerts.org