His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon was among nearly 2000 concertgoers who gathered at the Washington National Cathedral on Sunday, October 21, 2018 to witness the world premiere, more than a century later, of Alexander Kastalsky’s Requiem, Commemoration for Fallen Brothers (1917). The monumental work for chorus, soloists, and orchestra was written to commemorate the millions of Allied soldiers who lost their lives in the First World War. A preliminary version of the piece received its first performance during the composer’s lifetime, but the full 17-movement version of the Requiem, which contains movements honoring each of the Allied nations and their respective religious traditions (including the United States), had never been heard until this fall. As part of the same project that culminated in the concert on October 21, the work received a preliminary first performance on October 14, 2018, at the World War I Museum in Kansas City, MO, though only with piano accompaniment. The performance was timed to coincide with the upcoming centennial of the World War I Armistice, and was part of the official calendar of commemorations endorsed by the World War I Centennial Commission.
“The name Alexander Kastalsky (1856-1926) is well-known to Orthodox believers in the Russian tradition, who can still find his expertly crafted works in anthologies of liturgical music today, but he is virtually unknown in the world at large,” said Benedict Sheehan, Music Director at Saint Tikhon’s Seminary and Monastery, Artistic Director of the Chamber Choir of Saint Tikhon’s Monastery, and one of the project’s principal organizers. “His Requiem, perhaps his magnum opus, was hitherto unknown to any but a handful of scholars and experts. One of our goals in reviving the piece, aside from finding a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives in the Great War, was to show that there’s more to Russian sacred music than the Rachmaninoff Vespers and the Tchaikovsky Liturgy, wonderful as they are. One of the great figures that deserves to be better known is Kastalsky, who really represents a whole movement in Russian music and aesthetic thought, and who, moreover, has a great deal to offer music lovers today.”
The performance brought together the Chamber Choir of Saint Tikhon’s Monastery with some of the nation’s finest musical organizations. Joining the singers from Saint Tikhon’s was a collection of more than 200 musicians from the Cathedral Choral Society of the National Cathedral (Steven Fox, dir.), the Kansas City Chorale (Charles Bruffy, dir.), the Clarion Choir (S. Fox), and the Orchestra of Saint Luke’s, all gathered under the baton of Maestro Leonard Slatkin, one of the pre-eminent conductors in the world today, and known in particular to Washington audiences from his tenure as Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra. Soprano Anna Dennis and bass-baritone Joseph Charles Beutel filled out the impressive assemblage of musical forces.
Metropolitan Tikhon not only attended the premiere, but was closely involved in the planning of the project from its inception. A significant number clergy and guests of the Orthodox Church in America were in attendance, along with representatives of numerous faith traditions and diplomats representing the World War I Allies. Several hundred students from area universities also attended, under sponsorship by the Carmel Charitable Endowment. In its review of the “solemn and moving concert,” the Washington Classical Review remarked that “the listener has the sense of hearing an entire world of many peoples and faiths crying out in lamentation,” and posited that “at the very least the vivid tapestry of chant and folk music sounds in this wide-ranging work may send listeners on a mission to investigate more of Kastalsky’s music.”
Vladimir Morosan, describing the work in his program notes, wrote that “the music of Commemoration for Fallen Brothers resembles a rich and varied mosaic, with contrasting musical episodes following one another. Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant funereal texts in various languages follow one another in rapid succession.” He goes on to say that this particular performance “deliberately used a number of different languages to underscore the multinational and universal character of the work.” Morosan’s seminal research into Kastalsky’s music over the past several decades helped save the Requiem from oblivion, and his recent efforts in preparing the first modern performing edition of the score played a pivotal role in making the premiere a reality. According to the project’s organizers, the weekend’s activities included making a complete recording of the Requiem, which they hope will be made available for commercial release in the near future.
More information about the project and Requiem is available online.