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Monday, November 10, 2014

A postcard from 'A London Portrait' at St. John's, Lafayette Square

An 1827 woodcut of Temple Church, London/Wikipedia

With little formal musical training and scant knowledge of those skills required, I shall, nevertheless, apply my interpretation of the divine music which echoed from the chambers of St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, upon occasion of last Wednesday's noon concert

The artist was the international organist, Greg Morris, newly arrived from London less than 24 hours prior, who came not only to play at St. John's, but to join his choir from London's historic Temple Church and participate in celebrations in Washington, D.C. of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. Temple Church played a key role in the document's founding (1215), and the Library of Congress has just opened an exhibition about the Magna Carta.

Maestro Morris's program, entitled A London Portrait, began with the popular and much welcome Overture and La Rejouissance (Royal Fireworks) by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) which brought to mind the Thames and the glory of England's celebration in 2012 of their Queen's 60th anniversary of her ascent to the throne.

Mr. Morris said he chose Handel since the composer spent most of his life in London and on this day back home, November 5, it was Bonfire Night (also known as St. John's Eve), the cause for much festivity and fireworks.

Next on the program came Voluntary in D minor for Double Organ, and although the only visible organ was St. John's Lively Fuller Pipe Organ, indeed it did seem at times that the organist played with three hands. 

Between selections Mr. Morris presented historical anecdotes about Temple Church and the Magna Carta: "No man shall be imprisoned without due process of law, essentially" was the way Mr. Morris described the document, used by many nations to guarantee freedom for citizens from rulers' tyranny.  (Some could stand reminders.) Approximately one-third of the U.S.'s Bill of Rights rest upon the Magna Carta.

Mr. Morris then played Voluntary in D major, composed by a blind man, John Stanley (1712-1786), whose remarkable memory, according to Wikipedia, enabled him to compose, play, and teach. 
John Stanley (1712-1786)/Wikipedia

The first notes were rather nondescript with short pipes which soon gave way to flourishing "horns" and "bubbles" (?) in a stream, coinciding with quick movements of  the artist's hands and fingers up and down the keyboard.  (I suppose a psychologist could tell me why I often associate classical music with water.) 

After the lively music, it was time to slow down, which the organist certainly achieved with Elegy by Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918). 

The music of another blind composer, Jean Langlais (1907-1991), an anomaly among these Englishmen, brought the short concert to a close. Langlais' Triptyque (not the 2013 movie of the same name) made me recall the prolonged Halloween (indeed it was for many, suffering the pangs of the election results from the night before) with low pipes and creepy ghosts I saw floating above a cemetery, smiling broadly and dancing happily to scary music.  (Shades of Republicans Present.) And what a fit ending. The enthusiastic audience awarded Mr. Morris two encores. 

Readers are invited to St. John's First Wednesday Concerts which are free and offer, in a beautiful setting, a half-hour's tranquility amidst the rough seas of Washington's daily rush.

Next up are St. Albans & National Cathedral schools' Madrigal Singers, under the direction of organist Benjamin Hutto, who will sing seasonal music on December 3, 2014.
St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie
All concerts start at 12:10 p.m. (with an exception in April), and last about 35 minutes. Food trucks are located at Farragut Square, two blocks away.

Other dates and artists in the series are:

January 7, 2015: Iris Lan plays the Complete Sonatas of Paul Hindemith on the organ

February 4: Lena Seikaly, jazz vocalist, with the Dan Dufford Trio performing works by Duke Ellington and friends

March 4: Jared Denhard, bagpiper, assisted by Michael Lodico, St. John's organist and choirmaster, performing Pipes and More Pipes

April 19 (Sunday), 4 p.m.: Spring Concert by St. John's Choir

May 6: The U.S. Air Force Strings accompanied by Benjamin Hutto performing a Handel organ concerto and other pieces

June 3: Benjamin Straley, organist at the Washington National Cathedral

 What: The First Wednesday Concerts

When: 12:10 p.m.

Where: St. John’s, Lafayette Square, 1525 H Street, NW, at the corner of 16th, Washington, D.C. 20005

How much: No charge

Duration: About 35 minutes

Wheelchair accessible

Metro stations: McPherson Square (White House exit), Farragut North, or Farragut West

For more information: Contact Michael Lodico, St. John's associate organist and choir director, at 202-270-6265

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