MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Seattle ProMusica Sings Ethel Smyth & W.A. Mozart

For the grand finale to their 50th-anniversary season, Karen P. Thomas and Seattle Pro Musica will pair major works for chorus, soloists, and orchestra by Ethel Smyth and Wolfgang Amadé Mozart at St. James Cathedral this Saturday, May 20, at 8 pm. Tickets here. You can also register for free access to an online stream here, which will be available starting May 27 at 7:30pm until June 26, 2023.

Thomas will lead Seattle Pro Musica and the orchestra, plus soloists Tess Altiveros (soprano), Dawn Padula (mezzo), Zachary Finkelstein (tenor), and Charles Robert Stephens (bass) in Ethel Smyth’s Mass in D (1891) and Mozart’s unfinished “Great” Mass in C minor, K. 427 (1782-83).

Thomas provides the following commentary:

Mass in D by Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)

“The exact worth of my music will probably not be known till naught remains of the writer but sexless dots and lines on ruled paper,” Ethel Smyth wrote in 1928. It seems she was right, and her music is only recently beginning to get the attention it has so long deserved. Ethel Smyth was a radical and a non-conformist from a young age.

Born into an upper-middle class family, she rebelled against the restrictions of her Victorian-era girlhood. Her father strongly opposed her desire to study music – so she locked herself in her room and refused to eat until he capitulated. She began studying at the Leipzig Conservatory in 1887 at the age of 19. Leipzig was a great center of music activity, and while there Smyth met influential composers such as Antonín Dvořák, Clara Schumann, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Edvard Grieg, and Johannes Brahms. Her best-known work, The Wreckers, was performed in London by Sir Thomas Beecham in 1909. In 1903 she became the first woman to have a work performed by the Metropolitan Opera – Der Wald (The Forest), and in 1922 she became the first female composer to be granted Damehood.

“She was a force of nature, a feminist composer of phenomenal talents, whose music set records and won great acclaim. She had passionate affairs with prominent women – including the celebrated suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst – and a lasting friendship with Virginia Woolf,” writes Beverley D’Silva of the BBC. “Her unstoppable spirit shocked polite society…her activism landed her in prison.”

All her life she fought to have her music performed in the face of misogyny and male critics who dismissed her as a “lady composer.” Dr Amy Zigler, assistant professor of music at Salem College, wrote that if Smyth and others wrote music that was “energetic, loud, forceful or virile” it was damned as “unnatural and unbecoming of a woman.” If they wrote music that was “graceful, soft, lyrical or sentimental, it was deemed to be just ‘parlour’ music for young women to play at home – unimportant or inferior.” While fighting such sexist attitudes, Smyth won the support of conductors like Sir Thomas Beecham, Bruno Walter, and Adrian Boult.

In 1910, at the age of 52, Smyth joined the Women’s Social and Political Union to campaign for women’s suffrage, giving up her music career for two years to further the cause. She and Emmeline Pankhurst went on a campaign in March 1911 in response to adverse comments by a secretary of state about the Votes for Women campaign; they broke windows at the Houses of Parliament, were arrested, and sent to Holloway Prison. On visiting her in prison, Thomas Beecham arrived in the courtyard at Holloway to see the spectacle of a “noble company of martyrs marching round it and singing lustily their war chant, while the composer, beaming approbation from an overlooking upper window, beat time in almost Bacchic frenzy with a toothbrush”. This “war chant” was the work Smyth wrote and dedicated to Pankhurst, The March of the Women, which became the anthem of the women’s suffrage movement.

Smyth composed the Mass in D following a renewal of her Anglican faith, stimulated by reading The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis, while she was ill in Munich on Christmas Eve 1889. The book belonged to her Catholic friend Pauline Trevelyan, to whom Smyth dedicated the Mass. She composed much of it while a guest of Empress Eugénie at Cape Martin near Monaco, in the summer of 1891.

The Mass in D was premiered in January 1893 with about 1000 performers in the enormous Albert Hall in front of an audience of 12,000 people. The “Gloria” was performed as a festive finale at the end of the Mass, as she specified. In spite of the enthusiastic reception at the premiere, the work languished and did not receive a second performance until 30 years later. Smyth blamed this on prejudice against female composers.

The Mass was revived in February 1924, conducted by Adrian Boult. George Bernard Shaw reviewed the performance, and thought the Mass “magnificent.” In the years following, it was performed a number of times. In 1934 a performance of the Mass conducted by Thomas Beecham, attended by Queen Mary, was the culmination of the Festival Concerts celebrating Smyth’s 75th birthday. By this time, Smyth had lost her hearing and was suffering from tinnitus – she turned from music to writing, producing 10 mostly autobiographical books. She died in Woking, Surrey, in 1944, aged 86.

In her late seventies, writing in the final memoir As Time Went On, Smyth declares that the musician in her “won through in the end,” in spite of her deafness:

“If you are still in possession of your senses, gradually getting accustomed, as some people do, to a running accompaniment of noises in your head; if instead of shrinking from the very thought of music you suddenly become conscious of desire towards it… why, then anything may happen… and once more you begin to dream dreams.”

Great Mass in C minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91)

As with his other monumental work, the Requiem, Mozart left the Mass in C minor incomplete, missing portions of the Credo and the entire Agnus Dei. It is certainly his most ambitious and complex sacred work – even in its unfinished state, it is immense in conception. The choral writing ranges from four-part and five-part choruses to the eight-part Osanna, and includes an impressive fugue, Cum Sancto Spiritu. The contrapuntal writing for chorus clearly shows the influence of Mozart’s study of the music of Bach and Handel, while the writing for solo voices owes much to his fluency in Italian operatic style.

From the age of 16 to 24, Mozart was in the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg – an appointment which had been secured by his father, Leopold. Restrictions on the duration and dimension of music in the liturgy, along with severe limitations on his ability to travel to the musical centers of Europe to advance his career were a source of frustration for the young composer. He eventually asked to be released from the archbishop’s service in 1781. The break with the archbishop and Mozart’s subsequent move to Vienna was also a break with his father. His courtship of the young soprano Constanze Weber further widened the rift, and on August 4, 1782 the couple was married at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, without having received Leopold’s blessing.

Mozart began writing the Mass in C minor in the summer of 1782, probably shortly after his marriage to Constanze. He mentioned the work in a letter to his father, dated January 4, 1783, with an indication that it was half finished. Wolfgang and Constanze arrived in Salzburg in July 1783, and the Mass in C minor was premiered on October 26 at the Benedictine Abbey Church of St. Peter, with Constanze singing the soprano solos. By all accounts, the visit did not go well – after this visit, the composer never returned to Salzburg. And though the music of the Mass in C minor was later recycled as the cantata Davidde Penitente, the work itself faded into obscurity, to be revived only in the 20th century.

Filed under: choral music, Ethel Smyth, Mozart, Seattle Pro Musica, Uncategorized

The Glimmer with Seattle Pro Musica

This weekend Seattle Pro Musica presents The Glimmer, the fifth and last in its New American Composer Series. Led by Karen P. Thomas, the program featres a newly commissioned work by the composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate. A citizen of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma, Tate is dedicated to the development of American Indian classical composition and has chosen The Glimmer by Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation to set to music.

Tate explains: Most of my commissioned works focus on tribal culture directly from the land of the commissioner. It is my way of helping the performers and public become closer to their tribal neighbors. The Glimmer deeply echoes the ethos of Lummi and local Salish culture. Out of respect, there is not a direct quote of specific melodies; however, it is greatly influenced by the regional paddle songs. This poem also speaks a language evocative of the sea and it is my hope that the listener and performers resonate with the gestures in this work.”

This is the final installment of a five-concert series celebrating Seattle Pro Musica’s 50th Anniversary by featuring commissions and Seattle residencies by five BIPOC composers from across the country.

The rest of the program includes several other works by Tate as well as Father Thunder (Pērkontēvs) by Laura Jēkabsone, music by Lili Boulanger and Barlow Bradford, and an arrangement o the traditional Scottish song “The Parting Glass.”

 The concert takes place at Seattle First Baptist Church on March 25 at 7:30 pm. 

Tickets for THE GLIMMER are available at The performance will also be available by livestream in real time, and on demand following the performance. Register before the concert begins here.

Filed under: choral music, commissions, Native American composers, Seattle Pro Musica

Saunder Choi and Seattle Pro Musica

Seattle Pro Musica presents New Colossus, the latest in its  New American Composer Series, a five-concert series celebrating the organization’s 50th anniversary with commissions and Seattle residencies by BIPOC composers from across the country. This edition features composer Saunder Choi‘s new work, Never Again, which addresses the issue of gun violence in America. Choi writes: “In the wake of the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman wrote: ‘May we not just grieve, but give: May we not just ache, but act’ in her poem Hymn for the Hurting. This call to action is the inspiration behind Never Again, a commentary about the true cost of freedom in a country where the intersection of politics, capitalism, and gun lobbies stands in the way of sensible legislation.”

The program is on Saturday, February 11, 2023 at 7:30 pm at Seattle First Baptist Church, Seattle, WA; pre-concert conversation at 7pm. Tickets here. You can also see it online but need to register before the performance begins here.

Complete Program:

Spark by Eric William Barnum (b. 1979)

New Colossus by Saunder Choi (b. 1988)

My spirit sang all day by Gerald Finzi (1901-1956)

Never again by Saunder Choi (world premiere)

Earth teach me by Rupert Lang (b. 1948)

Welcome Table by Saunder Choi

Leron, Leron Sinta: traditional Filipino song, arr. by Saunder Choi

A Journey of Your Own by Saunder Choi

Filed under: choral music, commissions, Seattle Pro Musica

Behold the Star with Seattle Pro Musica

Seattle Pro Musica presents its holiday program on 17 December at 3pm at First Baptist Church in Seattle. Titled Behold the Star, the program offers holiday favorites as well as the world premiere of Shruthi Rajasekar‘s newly commissioned I am my own, set to texts by the three Brontë sisters (Emily, Charlotte, and Anne). Winter and holiday-themed works by Herbert Howells, Francis Poulenc, and Guillaume Dufay share the program.

Behold the Star is the third in Seattle Pro Musica’s New American Composer Series. The five-concert series celebrates Seattle Pro Musica’s 50th Anniversary,with commissions and Seattle residencies by five BIPOC composers from across the country.

This performance will also be available by livestream in real time and on demand following the performance (simply register in advance here).

Tickets available at

Filed under: holiday, music news, Seattle Pro Musica

Songs for the People from Seattle Pro Musica

Seattle Pro Musica continues its 50th-anniversary season with Songs for the People, the second of its New American Composers concerts. The program features composer Melissa, an award-winning and acclaimed composer specializing in vocal, political, and theatrical music. 

SONGS FOR THE PEOPLE features five choral works by Melissa Dunphy, including the world premiere of her commissioned work, Songs for the People, set to poetry by the poet and anti-slavery activist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. Her other works on the concert address issues of immigrant rights and women’s rights. Melissa will present a pre-concert talk at 7:00 pm.

Also on the program are works by Dale Warland, Pärt Uusberg, and Eric Tuan.

The concert takes place at Seattle First Baptist Church, at 7:30 pm, November 12.

Tickets available at

The performance will also be available by livestream in real time, and on demand following the performance. You just need to register in advance.

Program notes:

Filed under: music news, Seattle Pro Musica

Seattle Pro Musica’s 50th-Anniversary Season: Opening Concert

UPDATE: If you are interested in catching the Oct 15 concert after the fact, you can sign up for the livestream version, as it’s available on demand after the concert. No charge for the stream, you just need to sign up in advance of the concert.

Has it really been a half century? Seattle Pro Musica, one of the gems of the Puget Sound’s cultural life and of the contemporary choral scene in general, celebrates its 50th anniversary this season with a set of programs superbly curated by artistic director and conductor Karen P. Thomas.

The opening act is on Saturday, 15 October, at Seattle First Baptist Church. Titled My Heart Be Brave, this concert also inaugurates SPM’s New American Composer Series and features composer Marques L.A. Garrett. 

The program presents four choral works by Garrett, including the world premiere of Madrigal, commissioned by SPM, which sets poetry by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Marques will be in residence with the ensemble the week before the concert and will also appear in a pre-concert talk with Karen Thomas.

Also on the program are works by Lili Boulanger, Samuel Barber, Joel Thompson, and Rosephanye Powell.

This five-concert series celebrates the milestone anniversary with commissions and Seattle residencies by five exciting BIPOC composers from across the country.

Marques is an Assistant Professor of Music in Choral Activities at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He is an accomplished vocalist, composer, and active researcher specializing in traditional music of the African diaspora, as well as contemporary choral music by Black composers. For his commissioned work, Marques has chosen Dunbar’s evocative text asking to “teach this tongue the singer’s soulful art.”

Here’s the full lineup for My Heart Be Brave:

Madrigal by Marques L.A. Garrett (b. 1984)

Loch Lomond arr. by Jonathan Quick (b. 1970)

Reincarnations: The Coolin by Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

Hold Fast to Dreams by Joel Thompson (b. 1988)

My Heart Be Brave by Marques Garrett

Mis en inimene by Pärt Uusberg (b. 1986)

To Sit and Dream by Rosephanye Powell (b. 1962)

Till I Wake arr. by Marques Garrett

Hymne au Soleil by Lili Boulanger (b. 1893-1918)

Sing Out, My Soul by Marques Garrett

Complete SPM season listing:

New American Composer Series

Oct 15, 2022 – 7:30 pm

Seattle First Baptist Church

Featuring composer-in-residence Marques L.A. Garrett

Oct 29, 2022 – 4:00 pm and 7:30 pm

CABARET – Resonance at SOMA Towers, Bellevue

SPM’s greatest cabaret hits

Nov 12, 2022 – 7:30 pm

Seattle First Baptist Church

Featuring composer-in-residence  Melissa Dunphy

Dec 10, 2022 – 3pm and 7:30 pm

Bastyr Chapel, Kenmore

Featuring composer-in-residence Sruthi Rajasekar

Dec 17, 2022 – 7:30 pm

Seattle First Baptist Church

Feb 11, 2023 – 7:30 pm

Seattle First Baptist Church

Featuring composer-in-residence Saunder Choi

March 25, 2023 – 7:30 pm

Seattle First Baptist Church

Featuring composer-in-residence Jerod lmpichchaachaaha’ Tate

Grand Finale Concert

May 20, 2023 – 8pm

St James Cathedral

Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor

Ethel Smyth’s Mass in D

Filed under: choral music, music news, Seattle Pro Musica

Seattle Pro Musica’s The Way Home

Friday night at 7.30 pm, Seattle Pro Musica will stream its final concert of the season, The Way Home, which they performed live on 21 and 22 May.

From SPM’s description: “The Way Home honors America’s multicultural heritage with music that seeks to foster respect for all persons and groups, especially immigrants and refugees. Through these performances, we hope to enrich audiences with a greater understanding of and compassion for those who seek shelter from harm.

Music from trailblazing young composers Saunder Choi, Caroline Shaw, Derrick Skye, and Chris
Hutchings explore the peril and helplessness faced by many refugees. Songs from the 14th and 15th
centuries remind us that the refugee experience resonates across human history. Works by Melissa
Dunphy, Reginald Unterseher, and Stephen Paulus express the hope that our hearts will open to
welcome those in need of refuge.”

Electronic program available here.

Filed under: music news, Seattle Pro Musica

Seattle Pro Musica: love came down

Immense gratitude to Karen P. Thomas and Seattle Pro Musica for an inspired performance last night at Seattle First Baptist Church. These holiday concerts mark their return to live singing for the first time in about two years.

The beautifully curated program featured a thoughtful menu of new choral pieces in a wide range of styles, interspersed with gems by Josquin des Prez in honor of the 500th anniversary of his death. Even singing with special masks, the chorus — performing in its various subgroups and in the larger, full-strength ensemble — filled the space with Seattle Pro Musica’s signature clarity, fullness of color, and meaningful expression.

Personal highlights of this program: Welsh composer Paul Mealor’s moving setting of the e.e. cummings poem i carry your heart, which carried the audience away with its sublime, vulnerable honesty and directness; Afro-Brazilian composer José Mauricio Nunes Garcia’s elegantly voiced setting of Domine Jesu; and First Nations composer Andrew Balfour’s Qilak, an a cappella ode to nature that uses harmony and the resources of the singing voice with great imagination to depict the awe-filling vastness of the Northern landscape.

The program contains many other epiphanies. Seattle Pro Musica will perform a live broadcast this evening at 7.30pm PST (available online thereafter until 31 December). We all need such uplifting experiences more than ever.

love came down

by Christina Rosetti

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Stars and angels gave the sign.
Alleluia. Gloria in excelsis Deo.*

Worship we the Godhead,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Alleluia. Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and love to all,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

*Hallelujah. Glory to God in the highest.

Filed under: choral music, recommended listening, Seattle Pro Musica

Some Concert Recommendations

Here are two high-quality programs coming up in the Seattle area, which I highly recommend:

Seattle Pro Musica is returning to live performance at last, and they’re doing so with a characteristically fascinating and thoughtful program curated by SPM artistic director and conductor Karen P. Thomas called love came down. The choices feature mostly new music by BIPOC composers from the US and Canada, as well as works by Josquin des Prez to commemorate the 500th anniversary of his death.

love came down takes place at 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm on December 11 at the Chapel at Bastyr University, and at 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm on December 18 at Seattle First Baptist
Tickets available at  or by at 206-781-2766.  
The performance will also be available by streaming on December 19.

Complete list of the repertoire with comments from SPM below.*

Pacific MusicWorks presents Fiesta de Navidad, a diverse program of festive holiday music from the Missions and Cathedrals of Latin America. Artistic leaders Stephen Stubbs, Tekla Cunningham, Henry Lebedinsky, and Maxine Eilander will be joined by vocalists Danielle Reutter-Harrah, Tess Altiveros, Laura Pudwell, and Pablo Bustos as well as Antonio Gomez on percussion and and Alexandra Opsahl on cornetto/recorder. December 11 at 7.30pm at Benaroya Hall; December 12 at 2pm at Epiphany Church in Seattle. Starting December 22, you can also purchase access to virtual on demand here. Mask and proof of vaccination required.

Program for love came down with Seattle Pro Musica:

Qilak by Andrew Balfour (Canada, b. 1967)
First Nations composer Andrew Balfour expresses his
wonder at the vast expanse of sky and the shimmering of
sun on snow as seen during a visit to Baffin Island in
northern Canada. Sung in Iniktitut and English.

Love came down at Christmas by Eleanor Daley (Canada, b. 1955)
This beautiful setting for tenors and basses of the beloved
poem by Christina Rosetti provides the title for our concert.
Sung in English.

Domine Jesu by José Mauricio Nunes Garcia (Brazil, 1767–1830)
This Afro-Brazilian composer wrote the first Brazilian opera,
as well as hundreds of choral and orchestral works.
Sung in Latin.

I carry your heart by Paul Mealor (Wales, b. 1975)
One of the most-performed of living composers today, Paul
Mealor explores the extremes of vocal range in this tender
setting of a poem by E. E. Cummings. Sung in English.

O magnum mysterium by Brittney Boykin (US, b. 1989)
A contemporary setting of this traditional Christmas text by
the Atlanta-based composer, conductor, and pianist B.E.
Boykin. Sung in Latin.

Ave verum, Gaude virgo mater Christi, and Ave Maria by Josquin des Prez (France, 1450–1521)
Three exquisite motets by the acclaimed Renaissance
composer who influenced generations of composers after
him. Josquin’s fame led Martin Luther to exclaim: “He is the
master of the notes.” Sung in Latin.

Star has come by Roderick Williams (UK, b. 1965)
An exciting piece that uses swooping choral glissandos
(glides from one pitch to another), written by the celebrated
Welsh-Jamaican composer and baritone. Sung in English.

When the earth stands still by Don Macdonald (Canada, b. 1966)
“Come listen in the silence of the moment before rain comes
down. There’s a deep sigh in the quiet of the forest and the
tall tree’s crown. Now hold me. Will you take the time to
hold me and embrace the chill?” Sung in English.

Epiphany Carol by Alexander L’Estrange (UK, b. 1974)
The lyrics by Joanna Forbes L’Estrange implore us to protect
the earth by giving not gold, frankincense, or myrrh, but “a
present for the future.” Sung in English.

Ave Maria by Nathaniel Dett (US, 1882-1943)
A richly chromatic setting by the famed Canadian-American
Black composer, pianist, conductor, poet, and music
professor. Sung in Latin.

In silent night by Mitchell Southall (US, b. 1922)
A gentle, reflective piece by this little-known AfricanAmerican composer, who was born in the South and
later migrated to Canada. Sung in English.

Filed under: choral music, Pacific MusicWorks, Seattle Pro Musica

Stringing and Singing

Attention choral music fans: on Saturday evening 20 February at 5pm PST Seattle Pro Musica, led by Karen Thomas, will inaugurate the series Choral Tapas: Bite-Size Concerts online at Broadcasts available for free, donations welcome. No registration required.
Each episode features two choral works (one old, one new), an appetizer demo by Erica Weisman (both a very fine SPM alto and the chef and co-owner of Seattle Cucina Cooking School), and a cocktail recipe by SPM Executive Director and cocktail aficionado Katie Skovholt. Recipes are available here so you can “play along”: Patas Bravas snackRestless Amadeus cocktail
The inaugural event on February 20th features music by Marques Garrett and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

And the Orchestra Now, directed by James Bagwell, will offer a free livestreamed concert on Sunday, 21 Feb. (2pm EST). This program of works for strings includes the world premiere of Falling Together by composer Sarah Hennies, who was recently profiled in The New York Times; and the 2005 piece Popcorn Superhet Receiver by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, which was used in the film There Will Be Blood. The program also includes Grieg’s Holberg Suite and Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Vaughan Williams.

Access: RSVP at starting on January 27 to receive a direct link to the livestream on the day of the concert. This concert will be available for delayed streaming on STAY TŌNED starting on February 25.


On Sunday February 21 at 7pm PST, Byron Schenkman & Friends presents Piano Songs and Fantasies: music by Mozart, Teresa Carreño, Florence Price, Johannes Brahms, Margaret Bonds, Water Hale Smith, and Franz Schubert. William Chapman Nyaho, Joseph Williams, and Byron Schenkman will perform.

Filed under: Byron Schenkman, music news, Seattle Pro Musica

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