Masterworks Directed by A Master


“My core belief in music is that we are changed by the vibrations. That the cumulative effect on our bodies and souls is both subtle and profound.”

Thomas Crawford, Music Director and Founder, The American Classical Orchestra

If Handel or Beethoven had walked into The Cathedral of St. John the Divine last Saturday evening, they would have recognized not only their now iconic compositions, but also the instruments utilized to communicate the majesty. One can only imagine the pleasure taken in truthful adherence as well as in the director, Thomas Crawford’s sensitive interpretation. The American Classical Orchestra “devoted to preserving and performing the repertoire of 17th to 19th century composers” plays these works on original or reproduced period instruments that Crawford calls “organic.”

The sound is rich, smooth, and pure: drums which seem struck from the inside; wind instruments like satin; violins whose bows seemed to round a corner rather than to move back and forth so fluent is their tone. The Masters would have been present at the sold-out 25th Anniversary of an orchestra that uses “historic performance practice techniques” and, much to their assured satisfaction, passes these skills to future generations through concert and educational programs.

A rapt audience was privileged that night to hear Handel’s Coronation Anthems (1727) and Beethoven’s 9th, Opus 125 (1824) with the addition of the vigorous and transcendent voices of three choirs: The Cathedral of St. John the Divine’s Choir of Girls, Boys and Adults, The Choir of Men & Boys & Men and Girls, Trinity on the Green, (New Haven, Connecticut) and the Choir of Trinity Church (Princeton, New Jersey).

The abundance of the many powerful, textured voices resounded in the grandeur of the cathedral as they must have when first performed. From adult to eight-year-old choristers felt the full measure of the potent scores as we in the audience luxuriated in their collaboration. Esteemed soloists included Arianna Zukerman, Heather Johnson, Choong Lee and Camille Reno, all of whose voices soared. Crawford feels that “harmonious vibrations become sympathetic and are passed on eternally.” After such an experience, one could hardly disagree.

The Handel performance was further enhanced by the participation of dancers from the Purchase Dance Corps and the Ballet Hispanico School of Dance. Under the skillful and inspired aegis of choreographer Cynthia Fuller-Kling (see previous story), young dancers wove up and down the aisles like celebratory spirits. Covering a vast amount of space with grace and focus, using their bodies to salute and embellish, they seemed an extension of the music itself, a physical manifestation. What a joy for these students to take part in such a splendid and stately production! How memorable.

There was some noting of the resonance indigenous to the cathedral that created, it was said, a less clarified sound than had been heard elsewhere. This critic found the after waves an endowment, not a distraction. Crawford was completely aware of his surroundings and gave the measures full opportunity to rise and settle enhancing the overall affect. His decision to do so and the manner in which this was handled, was further evidence of the virtuosity of his musicianship and his dedication to craft.

After the concert, a reception was held at The Synod House next door to the cathedral. Wines as well as tables of cheeses, fruits and petit fours greeted friends and supporters. Celebratory cakes were plentiful. Feelings were warm and appropriately satisfied.

A first exposure to the American Classical Orchestra made a fan of this critic. Though you may not be as lucky as I to have been exposed under such special circumstances, I recommend tracking them down during their 2010-2011 season beginning October 4th at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Theirs is a unique and essential gift to any lover of classical music.

Photos by Helena Kubicka de Bragança

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