Noonday Concert at Columbia University
All seasons filled St. Paul’s with music this summer
Rolf Kristian Stang
St. Paul’s Chapel may be tucked away just off the beautiful Main Commons at Columbia University, but a well-worn brick pathway leads to it. St. Paul’s, built between 1903 and 1907, has continually been a very busy and popular place for distinguished music making. On July 21, it was the venue for the last in the season of the university’s popular free Noonday Concerts.
For generations, countless programs have resonated in the grand space of this church. In this concert, Norwegian-American soprano Lisa Dæhlin sang, featuring “Songs of the Seasons,” which included cooling Christmas songs and Auld Lang Syne for good measure. As in Vivaldi, the seasons were presented in four separate groups, with an additional group to commemorate Easter.
Singing through the seasons, Dæhlin sang well-loved pieces drawn from three centuries. She is an intelligent singer and is clearly comfortable putting across music in just about any style, classical or pop. The huge “St. Paul’s” is not air conditioned, and in the July heat and intense humidity, “Winter Wonderland” was sung brightly upbeat and was, as a matter of fact, a pleasure to hear. Listeners sang along quietly on “White Christmas.”
Easter Season songs included the 1899 hymn-like version of the spiritual “Were You There,” which was very effectively sung. Although in the reverberant acoustics of St. Paul’s words are mostly lost, careful listening made poetry from Thomas Hardy to E.E. Cummings and Åsmund O. Vinje a special part of the comfortably sophisticated programming.
Assisting artist, brilliant Norwegian trumpeter Anja-Christin Nielsen, was a wonderful asset to the program, playing solo as well as participating in several stunning arrangements.
Nielsen opened the concert quietly, commandingly, making use of the acoustical vastness of the place by playing the haunting “Domen/The Dome” by Jan Magne Førde, famed composer of Norway’s notable contribution to worldwide wedding marches.
Autumn was brought in with a setting of Thomas Hardy’s “A Day-Close in November,” set to music by contemporary American composer Stefania de Kenessey, who was present. Throughout the program, Nielsen joined Dæhlin in a beautiful rendering of “Lo, How a Rose e’er Blooming,” and other pieces.
E.E. Cummings’ “Sweet Spring,” set to music by Ellen Mandel, also present in the audience, brought that season into the picture.
Pianist/composer Richard Pearson Thomas accompanied the performers and added a great deal to the concert. Thomas’s playing of the Grieg/Vinje “Vaaren” was masterful. The entire audience clearly reacted, insisting in a separate curtain call for him.
This article originally appeared in the Aug. 21, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.