Performing Arts: Celebrating Creation

by patrickmccoy

Review: Washington National Cathedral celebrates 105th anniversary with a sacred oratorio.

L to R: baritone Christopheren Nomura, soprano Gillian Keith and tenor Rufus Muller. (Photo by Washington National Cathedral/D. Marks)

To commemorate the 105th anniversary of laying the Washington National Cathedral‘s foundation stone, Canon Michael McCarthy led the cathedral combined choirs of men, girls and boys in a performance of Haydn’s Creation. Sacred in the biblical manner of the oratorio, yet dramatic in operatic execution, the three vocal soloists superbly told the story of God’s handiwork from the perspective of the angels.

Soprano Gillian Keith (Gabriel), tenor Rufus Muller (Uriel) and baritone Christopheren Nomura (Raphael) individually brought a unique quality in their solo singing and were a perfect match when they sang in ensemble. McCarthy masterfully drew upon the rich colors of the classical period orchestra to create a vivid musical tableau in the opening “Representation of Chaos.” It was as if each musical family of the orchestra was a creative force in the sequence of events.

The Cathedral’s combined boys and girls choir. (Photo by Washington National Cathedral/D. Marks)

Music has always been associated with the marking of a special occasion, and the choice of Haydn’s Creation was the perfect musical vehicle to celebrate such an important milestone in the life of the cathedral. The pure treble voices of the boys and girls floated above the resonant adult voices of the choir.  In the choral favorite, “The Heaven’s Are Telling,” the combined voices, majestically accompanied by the orchestra, proclaimed the story of creation.

In the aria “The Marvelous Work,” soprano Gillian Keith sang with a radiant quality, coupled with a joyous presence.  Ms. Keith’s singing of the aria “On Mighty Pens” was a masterful example of text painting.  Her singing musically illustrated the cooing of a bird as her voice echoed with the strings of the orchestra creating a fluttering effect. Tenor Rufus Muller confidently sang his recitatives, giving a distinct color to each idea; a lovely legato line marked his performance throughout. The aria “In Native Worth” showcased the agility of Muller’s voice. Christopheren Nomura’s baritone was commanding, but also possessed a glowing warmth. Nomura made wonderful use of falsetto as he sang of the ‘light and flaky’ snow. Such thoughtful interpretative nuances by the three soloists, coupled with the instinctive playing of the orchestra, breathed life into the age old story.

Petersburg, Va. native Patrick D. McCoy received a B.M. in vocal performance from Virginia State University and an M.M. in church music from the Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Va. He has contributed arts and culture pieces to CBS Washington, The Afro-American Newspaper and the newly published book, “In Spite of the Drawbacks” (Association of Black Women Historians), which includes his chapter on legendary soprano Leontyne Price. McCoy has interviewed some of the most acclaimed artists of our time, including Denyce Graves, Norman Scribner, Julian Wachner, Christine Brewer and Lawrence Brownlee. Listen to these interviews and others at Blog Talk Radio. McCoy may be reached via email at and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy.

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