By Gayle Williams / Correspondent

Posted Dec 11, 2018 at 11:27 AMUpdated Dec 11, 2018 at 5:15 PM


Musica Sacra Cantorum performs a holiday concert at Church of the Redeemer

There is no dearth of choral music in Sarasota, particularly during the holiday season. Musica Sacra Cantorum’s “Going Baroque at Christmas Again,” presented Monday at Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota, shared a program that was a feast for ears that love the exultant music of Antonio Vivaldi, J.S. Bach and even the lesser-known Heinrich Schütz.

The performance level of Musica Sacra has improved significantly since I first heard them a few years ago. I was struck by the clean fabric sound and alignment in Vivaldi’s Gloria. To be sure, the music is in fact glorious and accompanied by a crack ensemble of Sarasota Orchestra musicians; we couldn’t help but be buoyed by the performance.

Conductor Robert Parrish pushed his singers with the more challenging contrapuntal weaving of Bach’s famous cantata, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme. Although he kept the tempos at a tasteful and gracious pace, the running lines of notes on one syllable or melismas became muddy as the music grew more complex. That is Bach for you. But still, when called upon to do so, the soprano section was able to float their halo of high notes nicely in tune. The tenors, too, were impressive in their cantus firmus chorale interjections in “Zion hört die Wächter singen.”

There were several notable soloists, including soprano Lily Wohl and bass Daniel Cartlidge, who sang two arias together accompanied by Jennifer Best Takeda’s solo obbligato violin for “Wann kommst du, mein Heil,” and Nicholas Arbolino’s solo obbligato oboe in “Mein Freund is mein.” Cartlidge has a rich, reliable voice that is well-suited for this music. Wohl had moments of a soft, yet resonant, upper voice, but was inconsistent in the rest of her range. They sang well together.

Tenor Robert Lischetti had one small recitative in the Bach that highlighted his exact diction with the German text. He was equally effective as the evangelist (and storyteller) in “The Christmas Story” by Heinrich Schütz. Not as well-known as Bach and a couple of generations older, his music is still squarely Baroque in style, and this oratorio is one of his best-known works.

The story is told by the evangelist in recitative (text sung as if spoken), and it is augmented by the character solos and small ensembles. Although it was sung in English, the varying qualities of diction made it difficult to follow completely. But we know the story and could appreciate the efforts of the singers. There was more to stumble on in this score, but the singers ended with a strong full chorus.

A holiday concert without traditional Christmas carols? Audrey Snyder penned the “Baroque Christmas Festival,” an inventive arrangement of familiar tunes and instrumental flourish that sent us all out with that extra bounce in our step.

Get your sing on this weekend

Get your sing on this weekend

By Susan Rife , Herald-Tribune

Thursday, July 16, 2015


Singers, instrumentalists and an audience are invited to participate in Musica Sacra Cantorum's first-ever Summer Festival Chorus this weekend for an afternoon of classical vocal music followed by a concert.

Saturday afternoon will be devoted to rehearsing Schubert's Mass in G, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's "Hear My Prayer," and a variety of songs from stage and screen, including the "Sabbath Prayer" from "Fiddler on the Roof," "See the Conquering Hero Comes" from "Out of Africa" and "Van Pensiero" from "Nabucco."


No need to get quite this dressed up. White shirts, black pants or skirts will do.

Music will be provided; there's a $10 fee per participant. Appropriate attire is white collared shirt with black pants for men, white top and black bottom for women. .


The rehearsed repertoire will be presented in a concert at 7:30 p.m. The event is a fund-raiser for Musica Sacra Cantorum.


Rehearsal 1 to 4:30 p.m., concert at 7:30 p.m. July 18, Church of the Redeemer, 222 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota. $10 to sing, $10 to listen.

'Deux Requiems' for remembrance



Sunday, April 12, 2015


It has been suggested that packets of Kleenex might be sold at the door of Church of the Redeemer for Monday's night's concert, "Deux Requiems: The Sleeping Children," presented by Musica Sacra Cantorum.


But, says artistic director Robert Parrish, "I think there's nothing more popular than a good requiem. It seems to be what audiences really love."


Requiems, a musical form historically set in Latin for the Catholic mass for the souls of the dead, are today more often for remembrance and reflection.


Monday's program includes one ancient and one modern requiem. Gabriel Faure's Requiem in D minor, op. 48, will be presented in its original 1887 setting. Chris Williams' Tsunami Requiem was written in response to the 2004 tsunami in South India that killed nearly a quarter million people.


"The piece by Chris Williams is one I ran into in England last summer," said Parrish, who will fold the Canterbury Girls Chorus from Redeemer and First Brass of Sarasota into the program.


"We were told by the publisher that we are presenting the United States premiere of it, which is interesting for a small group in Sarasota to be giving the U.S. premiere of this work," he said.


The Tsunami Requiem opens on Christmas Day with celebration, followed by a lilting lullaby as the children go to bed. In the third movement, the mounting power of the coming tragedy is introduced through brass and percussion as the nightmarish wave rolls through the villages along the coast. The final movement uses the haunting voices of children asking where are the houses, where are their mothers, before a final Agnus Dei, the request for rest eternal.


The Faure requiem in its original setting is one particularly appropriate to Musica Sacra Cantorum, said Parrish.

"No winds, no brass, no percussion. It's a really gentle and ethereal work," he said. "To me it's very fulfilling. It treats the choir as a choir without the interruption of soloists, except in the Pié Jesu."


There, Elinor Garlington of the Canterbury Girls Chorus will sing the solo. She has "really just a beautiful voice," said Parrish.

It will be sung in its original Gallican Latin, rather than the Ecclesiastical Latin it is often sung in.

"That might take people a second to get used to," said Parrish.


The theme of the concert was inspired by a marble sculpture by Francis Chantrey titled "The Sleeping Children" in Lichfield Cathedral in the United Kingdom, where Musica Sacra Cantorum served as visiting choir last July.


Stainer's Oratorio, 'The Crucifixion,' to be presented Sunday and Monday

Stainer's Oratorio, 'The Crucifixion,' to be presented Sunday and Monday

By htwebteam , Herald-Tribune

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Musica Sacra Cantorum, Sarasota-Manatee's only choral ensemble dedicated solely to the performance of sacred and spiritual music, is presenting two performances of the great Victorian oratorio, "The Crucifixion" (1887) by Sir John Stainer, at 6 p.m. Feb. 22  at St. Boniface Episcopal Church, 5615 Midnight Pass Road, Sarasota, and at 7 p.m. Feb. 23 at Trinity United Methodist Church, 3200 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton).


Stainer's legacy has been largely kept alive through the oratorio, of which "God So Loved the World" is its centerpiece. Subtitled "A Meditation on the Sacred Passion of the Holy Redeemer," the work was performed often and enthusiastically during the latter part of the 19th and early decades of the 20th century. It was so popular that during its time, it was compared to Handel's more durably popular "Messiah."

It is one of the most frequently performed works in Britain during the season of Lent.

Soloists are Richard Byrum, tenor, and Daniel Carlidge, bass-baritone. Neil Page is organist.

Musica Sacra Cantorum is growing

Musica Sacra Cantorum is growing

By htwebteam , Herald-Tribune

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Musica Sacra Cantorum, a Sarasota based choral organization, has announced its expansion into two distinct choral groups: Musica Sacra Cantorum Voices and Musica Sacra Cantorum Chorus. The former ensemble, the newest addition to the organization, is comprised exclusively of professional choral artists, while the latter ensemble combines highly trained, and talented volunteers along with some of the professional ensemble from "Voices." Voices will number 16 singers this season, while the Chorus group will range from 40-45.


On Nov. 3 at 7 p.m., Musica Sacra Cantorum Voices will debut in concert with "A Randall Thompson Retrospective," beginning the Musica Sacra Cantorum season. Three of Thompson's works are on the program: "The Last Invocation," Alleluia, and "The Peacable Kingdom," based on the Edward Hicks painting of the same name.

The performance will be held at the Church of the Redeemer, 222 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota. Tickets are $20-$30.

Other programs in the season include "The Angels Rejoice," Musica Sacra Cantorum Chorus, at 7 p.m. Dec. 8 at Church of the Redeemer; "The Crucifixion" by John Stainer, Musica Sacra Cantorum Voices, 7 p.m. Feb. 23 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Bradenton; and "Deux Requiems," Musica Sacra Cantorum, 7 p.m. April 13 at Church of the Redeemer.

Warmup for stint at cathedral




Sunday, May 4, 2014 at 1:00 a.m.

A "dress rehearsal" for a stint at the Lichfield Cathedral in England will be presented by Musica Sacra Cantorum this afternoon at St. Boniface Episcopal Church.



The final program of the ensemble's 2013-14 season, "Britten to Britain" is a warmup for a July residency at the cathedral. The ensemble will sing each day for choral evensong services and at the Sunday Eucharist.

Artistic director Robert Parrish believes the weeklong residency marks the first time a Sarasota choral ensemble has been selected to be in residence at a British cathedral.


"It's been an interesting journey," said Parrish. "The process is relatively lengthy to get approved. You have to send recordings; they have to make sure you uphold the standards of the cathedral while they're on vacation."


The cathedral's choral music is typically sung by boys' and girls' choirs until summertime, when the choirs go on holiday and visiting choirs fill in.


"While I visit England a lot, I never really grasped that these choral evensongs have really increased attendance at cathedral services," said Parrish. "They happen every day and they're like attending a one-hour free concert, because the music changes every day."


The present Lichfield Cathedral was built in 1200. The Close, buildings associated with the cathedral and clergy, includes

buildings from medieval times as well as the 17th to 19th centuries.


Parrish and the ensemble have prepared a repertoire of anthems written by 20th-century American composers, including Harold Friedell, Leo Sowerby, Rene Clausen and Ned Rorem. Today's concert also will include Benjamin Britten's "Rejoice in the Lamb" and Mendelssohn's "I Hear My Prayer," featuring soprano soloist Fiona Gillespie; and Gabriel Faure's "Cantique de Jean Racine." Works by Samuel Sebastian Wesley and Michael McCarthy also are on today's program.

About two dozen of the Musica Sacra Cantorum singers are making the trip to Lichfield and will have time to explore the community.


"It's completely different from your average tour," said Parrish, "I wanted to do something where you didn't have to get on a bus at 5:30 every morning. They're literally going to sing every day. Hopefully the group will rally and not be tired out as the whole premise of the music I have chosen is it's good, solid music but it's not so taxing that they'll be exhausted after a service. It's better to do the simple and so it really well."

Exploring the beauty and artistry of chant


Thursday, February 27, 2014


A wide variety of chant from cultures across the globe will be presented Sunday afternoon at "Some enChanted Evening" at St. Boniface Episcopal Church on Siesta Key in a collaboration between Musica Sacra Cantorum, world music vocalist Stephanie Heidemann and concert organist Mary Mozelle.


Artistic director Robert Parrish has created a program of chant from early Christianity, Judaism, Russian and Green Orthodoxy and chant-inspired works by such composers as Ola Gjeilo, Morten Lauridsen, John Tavener and Maurice Durufle. The performance is at 4 p.m. March 2 at the church, 5615 Midnight Pass Road, Sarasota. Tickets are $15 in advance (405-7322,, $20 at the door.-- Susan Rife

REVIEW: Musica Sacra Cantorum not your usual holiday concert

REVIEW: Musica Sacra Cantorum not your usual holiday concert

By Richard Storm , Herald-Tribune

Monday, December 9, 2013


Dr. Robert Parrish, founder and director of Musica Sacra Cantorum, clearly has a mission in mind that does not include the usual feel-good holiday concert, with a jolly sing-along and familiar music.

His goal, and that of his vocal ensemble, is to bring repertoire to local audiences that offers an insight into choral compositions that, despite their seminal influence on the development of choirs around the world, particularly in Europe, are too seldom heard here.


This goal is not easily achievable, of course, and the concert heard Sunday evening made it clear that total mastery of its demands is still to be found. Nonetheless, much beauty was presented to an appreciative audience Sunday evening in the resonant acoustic and visual beauty of St. Boniface, for which sincere thanks are due to Parrish, his chorus and Becca Hill, soprano, Marilyn Parry, alto, Richard Byrum, tenor, Robert Barr, bass, assisted by Ann Hobson Pilot, harp, Virginia Bray, piano, Neil A. Page, organ, and Daniel Cartlidge, baritone soloist.


After a solemn start with Palestrina's Matin Responsory as arranged by David Willcocks and John Rutter, Benjamin Britten's glorious "Ceremony of Carols," accompanied and wonderfully illuminated by harpist Pilot, was impressive, despite some pitch and intonation problems in the chorus. Francis Poulenc's "Hodie Christus natus est" followed with more energy and choral security.

"Four English Carols" composed by Gustav Holst in 1907 groups familiar texts with a mixture of chant and part-singing that is charming and folkloric, summoned more energy from the chorus than had been heard previously. John Rutter, whose choral compositions have become iconic despite their predictable character, was heard in selections from "Dancing Day," composed as a response to Britten's "Ceremony of Carols." For whatever reason, possibly the use of the original vocal assignments to treble voices, in this case the women, this group was very successful, boosted by the superb piano contribution by Virginia Bray.

The young Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo has become "flavor of the month" in choral music, and his arrangement of "The Holly and the Ivy" was a good example of his lush and lovely texture, notable for its key changes, well executed by the chorus.


Ralph Vaughan Williams, that symbol of British music, was wonderfully served in an energetic performance of his "Fantasia on Christmas Carols," led by the impressive baritone soloist Daniel Cartlidge and accompanied by Neil A. Page at the St. Boniface organ. Small imperfections aside, this was a program of great joy.

CONCERT REVIEW: Ambitious 'Sacred Service' performance rewards everyone present

CONCERT REVIEW: Ambitious 'Sacred Service' performance rewards everyone present

By Richard Storm , Herald-Tribune

Monday, April 29, 2013


It must be said at the outset that the immensely challenging concert Musica Sacra Cantorum presented Sunday afternoon at St. Boniface Episcopal Church was not always perfectly executed. Perfection in performance of this music is not often found, given the great difficulty of the compositions: Leonard Bernstein's 1965 Chichester Psalms and Ernest Bloch's "Avodath Hakodesh" (Sacred Service) from the early 1930s.

The Bernstein led off the concert, following an interesting (if overlong) interfaith forum in which local clergy discussed a topic of great interest to us all in these difficult times: the nature of peace. These psalms are typical of the composer at his most unconventional, contrasting lyrical melody with barking outbursts from the organ and percussion and the delicate sounds of countertenor and harp, devoting the voices of the chorus to both styles with varying degrees of success.


Countertenor Donald Sheeler seemed a bit hesitant at first, but soon began to produce the lyrical qualities so important to the work, which contains some of the most challenging vocal writing ever presented by this unpredictable genius. The chorus struggled with both rhythm and balance at times, but found considerable peaceful beauty in the final movement. The contributions by organist Barbara Roth-Donaldson and harpist John Kieffer were excellent.

Ernest Bloch's massive Sacred Service is too seldom heard these days. Prior to this concert, it had not been heard in Sarasota for 28 years. The reasons for this must certainly include its enormous requirements of both the singers and the orchestra and its nearly-relentless demands on the audience with its blend of monumental ensemble and reflective intimacy.

On this occasion, a fine orchestra of wind instruments, brass, percussion and harp, joined by the chorus and baritone soloist Todd William Donovan met the challenges of the score head-on, with varying results. Some of these problems seemed to result from the balance issues faced by a chorus and an orchestra of nearly equal size in a small but highly reverberant acoustic.


Possibly due to this, Donovan produced a consistently loud sound lacking in shading and color, with some strain on the high notes, while the chorus was often inaudible, particularly in the tenor and bass sections. The occasional brief solo by soprano Rebecca Hill floated above the ensemble with ease, and the instrumental musicians played with skill and flexibility.

All of the above taken into consideration, this was still a performance worth presenting and well worth hearing.

REVIEW: Musica Sacra Cantorum one to watch

REVIEW: Musica Sacra Cantorum one to watch

By htwebteam , Herald-Tribune

Monday, December 10, 2012


Music fills the air during the holidays. Luckily, Sarasota enjoys an abundance of live choral concerts this season that all but drown out the piped-in shopping mall Christmas carols. One of the newest choral ensembles to arrive on the scene, Musica Sacra Cantorum, under the leadership of artistic director Robert Parrish, presented "A Cathedral Christmas," containing sacred music intended to be performed in cathedral settings.


This winning thematic idea was most successful when the ensemble was accompanied by the St. Boniface organ played by Neil Page. In "While All Things" composed by Healey Willan in 1907, we heard some delicious music with colorful organ and voices. The small amateur ensemble held its own in this and other works from the 20th century - Petro Yon's "Gesu Bambino" and a delightful "Christmas Day" by Gustav Holst as well as a Baroque work such Dietrich Buxtehude's Magnificat.

Now in its third season, Musica Sacra Cantorum is dedicated to performing sacred choral works of all faiths and has found a loyal, yet small, following of singers and patrons who appreciate the unique pleasures of this genre.


A number of the selections on the program were sung without any accompaniment at all. Because instruments were banned from early church worship, unaccompanied vocal music, referred to as a capella (from the church) remained the norm in Christian worship for centuries. What might sound simple to a non-singer is terribly challenging to those in the choral ensemble.

Undaunted, the Musica Sacra Cantorum singers made their staged entrance to the Spanish Christmas tune from the early Renaissance, "Riu Riu Chiu." It was a capella with an antiphonal element as they spread out and walked down separate aisles of the hexagonal church.


Here and in several of the works by John Tavener, Benjamin Britten, Orando Gibbons, and William Byrd, the ensemble struggled with diction and keeping a pitch center. These are not easy things, but often necessary to provide the full enjoyment promised by such music.


Hard work is necessary to achieve the effects desired, and at the beginning of Francis Poulenc's O magnum mysterium, their concentration paid off. The vocalists entered with clarity and spot-on intonation in some intentionally piquant harmonies. There's much more to work for and accomplish, but for those who love the rich heritage of sacred choral music, the path of Musica Sacra Cantorum is one to watch.


Musica Sacra Cantorum, Robert Parrish, artistic director. Reviewed Dec. 9 at St. Boniface Episcopal Church.