A stirring New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, featured remarkable performances including Judy Collins, filling the immense hall with her angelic voice, and the world premier of a stunning work, composed to honor the nine massacred in Charleston, “Prelude and Spiritual for Mother Emanuel” by composer Robert Sirota and librettist Victoria R. Sirota with Jamet Pittman as soloist.
The Cathedral Choir, Orchestra, led by Kent Tritle, and soloist Jamet Pittman were joined by guests Judy Collins, giving an angelic rendition of “Amazing Grace,” and host Harry Smith of NBC News for this year’s New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace.
For more than 25 years, the event has brought people of all backgrounds together to bring in the New Year with peace. This year’s concert featured Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms (hear a portion). Bernstein himself helped found the event. Bernstein’s Postlude to Act I of his opera Quiet Place received its New York premiere at the 1985 concert. The 1990 concert was a tribute to Bernstein himself, who had died two months earlier on October 14.
A line stretched down the block to take advantage of the limited number of free general admission tickets and people lined the sides of the cathedral when all seats were filled. While most of the seats are reserved (ticket prices are $40, $100, $150), and even though the people standing in the side alcoves off the nave were unable to see the performers, the sound was heavenly.
In introducing the world premiere of the “Prelude and Spiritual for Mother Emanuel,” Harry Smith, the well-respected NBC News correspondent who served as the evening’s host, said, “I covered the mass shooting in Charleston, the cradle of the Confederacy, which got its wealth from import and selling of slaves. The family members of the 9 massacred while in Bible study at Mother Emanuel Church looked at the shooter in the eye and forgave him. “I’ve never seen such faith or courage.”
“Prelude and Spiritual for Mother Emanuel” by Victoria R. Sirota (librettist) and Robert Sirota (composer), with soprano Jamet Pittman and Cathedral Orchestra and Choir led by Kent Tritle, is a stunning work (hear portion).
Judy Collins also referenced Charleston, noting that she had just finished a world tour, and performed the last, the 129th show, in Charleston. It hadn’t been planned, she said. Her voice ringing with such purity through the enormous Cathedral nave, Collins led a rendition of “Amazing Grace” and “Turn, Turn Turn, To Everything There is a Season”.
In his message of greeting, Reverend James A. Kowalski, dean of the Cathedral, said, “Each New Year offers new beginnings and fresh starts while also affording us opportunities to reflect upon the year we’ve completed – and to assess prospective turning points in our lives and calls to action in the months ahead.”
“It has been another year of unspeakable violence and death – some of it caused by natural disasters and too much of it caused by hatred and prejudice.
“Abuses of power by police, poverty, racism and mental illness undergird the narratives of turmoil and destruction. *It becomes easy to question whether or not it is simply human nature to tear things down rather than to build things up, to distrust and segregate rather than to respect the dignity we share with all.
“That is why tonight is so important, as we pray for peace and renew our commitment to goodwill and hopefulness. We dare to invite the Spirit of Light to empower and embolden us, especially if we have been ravaged by despair and cynicism.
“As global citizens, we pray that the world will be drawn to that light. We acknowledge that we must do our part – as we become and faithfully represent that light – and as we recommit ourselves to working across faiths, cultures and geographies to build more just societies.
“May this Concert for Peace celebrate our respect for the dignity of every human being and our stewardship of Creation.”
In his reflection, Smith said, “We grieve for the poor, for refugees, for communities wracked by violence… for loss of common purpose. We don’t recognize our place in the world, what we continue to do to this planet.”
Smith proceeded to compile a list of grievances – or sins: “Because racism is real… because wars we thought were over are not and wars don’t end the ways we expect, because the distances between haves and have nots have only gotten greater and our personal compass have lost true North. Hope is hard to come by and we feel deflated. So what do we do? We come to a place like this because we are the light. Give peace a chance.”
Candles were lit and filled the Cathedral with light and warmth and peace, as the congregation sang, “This Little Light of Mine.”
Saint John the Divine rivals St. Patrick’s cathedral for its awesome Gothic Revival architecture, majesty and scale, towering over Amsterdam Avenue and extending a full square block. Construction began 1892, yet the building, despite its size (it boasts being the largest Anglican cathedral in the world) amazingly is actually still unfinished. Inside, the cathedral community displays its ecumenism and its progressivism, showcasing contemporary issues like climate change, the need for sustainability.
The Cathedral also houses The Textile Conservation Laboratory, familiarly known as “the Lab.” Founded in 1981, it has become one of the world’s foremost centers for restoration. At the heart of its mission is the ongoing care and conservation of the Cathedral’s treasured Barberini and Mortlake tapestry sets. World-renowned museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Wadsworth Athenaeum, have entrusted the Lab with the conservation of valuable works in their own collections.
The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine offers tours, concerts and events throughout the year, in addition to doing important work for the community
St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street, New York, NY 10025, 212-316-7540, firstname.lastname@example.org, stjohndivine.org.
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