Britten's War Requiem at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine
"My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity ...
All a poet can do today is warn."
- Wilfred Owen
At first, I thought the timing of Thursday's performance of Benjamin Britten's War Reqiuem at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine - in early Spring, with the forsythia and daffodils sprouting - was a bit odd. But, as the Rev. Patrick Malloy, St. John the Divine's Canon for Liturgy & the Arts, reminded us before the performance, April 6 was the 100th anniversary of the day the United States entered into World War I - the same war that Wilfred Owen, whose poetry Britten weaves through the Latin Mass for the Dead, fought and died in. Rev. Malloy also made note of Tuesday's chemical weapons attack in Syria, emphasizing that the horrors of war are still around us. (More on that later.)
The War Requiem, as noted in several previous performances, is without question one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century: a majestic work of searing power and sublime, oracular rapture. Here, the combined choirsters of St. John the Divine, the Manhattan School of Music Choir, and the Oratorio Society of New York - all led by Director of Cathedral Music Kent Tritle - delivered a visceral performance that was done in only by the overly-reverberant acoustics of the soaring cathedral interior (which were also apparently an issue at the work's premiere in 1962.) Among the soloists, Met Soprano Susanna Phillips - who impressed in Britten's Peter Grimes in 2013 - was the clear standout; she was joined by tenor John Matthew Myers and baritone Matthew Worth.
I was grabbing a slice nearby afterwards when a TV broadcast the news that we had just launched a military strike against Syria,m; it had apparently taken place during the performance. Britten's message at that moment could not have been more resonant - or more foreboding. No matter how many times we hear it, we never seem to learn.
More pics on the photo page.