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Germany Tour - July 2018

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Magic moments in sacred choral music

Emerging young talent showcased in Musica Sacra Novas Composers Competition

Audience members at Brauweiler Abbey last Saturday were treated to a top-class evening of choral music. The final concert of the ‘Musica Sacra Nova’ Festival for Contemporary Sacred Music took place in the Abbey, as well as the composing competition of the same name, whose prize winners were honoured during the evening. The competition, an initiative of Polish composer Paweł Łukaszewski, was developed into an international music competition for up-and-coming young talent in connection with the Gaude Mater Festival in the pilgrimage town of Częstochowa. For some years now, the Friends of Brauweiler Abbey and the Archdiocese of Cologne have also been involved. Thus, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki awarded one of the prize categories. This year, the organisers managed to secure a guest choir which raised expectations from the very moment it was announced. The internationally-renowned Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, composed of Choral Scholars as well as two Organ Scholars, gave fantastic performances of the winning compositions, followed by a varied choral programme with works from the 20th century. The Abbey’s Choirmaster and Organist, Michael Utz, played the two winning organ compositions.

Ethan McGrath’s ‘Nunc Dimittis’ particularly stood out among the premiere performances. The young American’s Latin setting of Simeon’s song of praise used polyphonic elements, revealing parallels with the music of the Romantic period in terms of its musical language. The audience was entranced by the meditative atmosphere of the piece, and responded with enthusiastic applause following its performance. This response also came about due to the immaculate execution of the choir from England, whose accuracy, unified breath control and empathy with their conductor, Stephen Layton, led to a particular beauty in their sound.

Polish composer, Michal Schäfer, won first prize in the ‘organ works’ category. The title of his piece, Lumiere de l’aube (Light of dawn) says it all. Played by Michael Utz on the choir organ of the Abbey, which was inaugurated in the spring, the listeners experienced how the sound of the triumph of the Risen Christ was announced following the harrowing events of Good Friday.