Vocal Area Network logo VAN Feature

An Interview with Nicholas White
Organist and Choirmaster, St. Michael's Church
by Daniel Neer for Vocal Area Network
Posted August 6, 2002

Nicholas WhiteOn Manhattan's Upper West Side is a flourishing music program that is quickly gaining recognition and prestige with New York City music audiences. Situated snugly between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue on 99th Street is St. Michael's Church, one of the oldest Episcopal churches in the city, and home to St. Michael's Music and Arts. Since 1999, this distinctive concert series has accumulated an impressive catalogue of fine performances of large-scale choral works (in partnership with the Gotham City Baroque Orchestra) and more intimate organ recitals, chamber music and a cappella choral programs. This successful series is the brainchild of artistic director Nicholas White, Organist and Choirmaster of St. Michael's Church as well as a talented composer.

In keeping with its growing reputation, St. Michael's Music and Arts is currently preparing for its next musical offering: "Lux Aeterna, A Memorial Concert," which will take place on Wednesday, September 11, 2002 at 8:00 PM in memory of those who perished in last year's terrorist attack. Joining St. Michael's Choir will be Clare College Chapel Choir, Cambridge, under the direction of Timothy Brown. Also participating in the concert will be composer and conductor John Rutter, who will conduct his own Requiem in the second half of the program. Recently, Daniel Neer spoke with Nicholas White about this magnificent event.

Vocal Area Network: You are an alumnus of Clare College, Cambridge, so a joint concert of the Chapel Choir with your own St. Michael's Choir must be exciting for you. How did it all come together?

Nicholas White: Yes, it is going to be a very exciting event, albeit focused around the sadness of the memories of the events one year earlier. Clare College Choir tour here in the States about once every two years, and I, along with Tim Brown, have wanted to present them in concert at St. Michael's for a while. Knowing that they would be in the country during September, I suggested to Tim that we give a joint concert and, fortunately for us, the night of September 11 was available on their itinerary. In fact, it will be the first port of call for the choir. Tim and I batted around several ideas for a Memorial Concert, and finally came up with the idea of featuring John Rutter's Requiem as the main work. (Clare College have just finished recording the work for the Naxos label.) John Rutter was a student at Clare, and was also Director of Music there for a short time in the seventies. He maintains contact with the college, so Tim came up with the idea of asking him if he would come over to conduct this special performance. To our delight, he agreed.

VAN: John Rutter must have an amazingly hectic schedule as a much sought after composer, conductor and choral clinician. What an honor it must be to have him participating in this special concert.

NW: It is a great honor. John Rutter's music is known and loved all over the world, and he is no stranger to New York City, or the United States. There is nothing more meaningful to singers than to perform under the direction of the composer, and nothing more meaningful to an audience than to hear the result of that collaboration. Given the nature of the Rutter Requiem, the generations of performers associated with Clare College – composers, conductors, instrumentalists and singers – and the collaboration of performers from both sides of the Atlantic, we should have an extremely emotional musical experience.

VAN: The program for this concert is very contemporary.

NW: Indeed. Rutter's work was written in 1985, and the first half of the concert, which will be conducted by Tim Brown and me, will feature recent compositions by British musicians. James Whitbourn wrote The Voices Live for the Act of Remembrance in Westminster Abbey in November 2001, setting words by Andrew Motion (Poet Laureate). The choirs will also perform movements from Whitbourn's Son of God Mass, also written for 2001. These pieces, along with much of the music during the first half of the concert, utilize a saxophone as an obbligato instrument. The Realside by Joe Duddell (1999) and a Nunc Dimittis by Tarik O'Regan (2001) will be receiving their US premieres, and Herbert Howells' gorgeous elegy Take him, earth, for cherishing – written upon the death of President Kennedy in 1963 – has the distinction of being the earliest piece on the program.

VAN: One your compositions appears on the program – Kyrie. Tell us about this.

NW: I wrote Kyrie (2001) in response to a commission from a gentleman who specifically wanted a choral setting of the well known Adagio for Strings by Albinoni; at least, that is how it has become known. He did not specify a text, and did not have any objection to other musical material being incorporated. So, I chose the “Kyrie eleison” text for the words from the main chorus, and added the texts for three funeral anthems with original musical material, sung by a quartet of singers. The gentleman who commissioned the piece asked that it be subtitled “…for those who have died too young.” So, although it was written before the attack on the World Trade Center, it is remarkably appropriate for this occasion.

VAN: “Lux Aeterna” means “light eternal” and is the title of this concert.

NW: Yes, and the last movement of Rutter's Requiem also bears this title. A great deal of thought went into naming this concert. There are so many moods and emotions which are reflected in the musical selections, but this seems to be a phrase which might encapsulate the overall mood of the evening.

VAN: The program for the concert is very interesting and musically it will be a treat. However, it is ultimately – as we have said – a memorial concert for the victims of 9/11.

NW: It has been said many times, and more than ever during the past few months, that music is a strong healer. We hope that people experiencing this concert will be able to find healing through the beauty of the music, on whatever level they need it, and strength through gathering together to remember the victims from one year ago.

St. Michael's Music and Arts will present "Lux Aeterna, A Memorial Concert" on Wednesday, September 11, 2002 at 8:00 PM at St. Michael's Church, 225 West 99th Street at Amsterdam Avenue. Admission is $25, $15 for students and seniors. Tickets are available at the door. For more information, call 212-222-2700, ext. 24.

Daniel NeerFree-lance tenor Daniel Neer sings with the St. Michael's Choir and with Angelus, a six-voice male ensemble. In the fall, he'll be appearing on Broadway in the cast of La Bohème. This is his first article for Vocal Area Network.

Content Contact: Daniel Neer.
Revision Date: January 11, 2011.
Technical Contact: Steve Friedman.

 Vocal Area Network logo