Musica Sacra 2.0

April 9, 2008

b6b6c0a3eb07e755982b089e06f2360d.jpg Passing the torch is not always a simple matter (as the sponsors of the Beijing Olympics can testify), but the sad loss of Richard Westenberg at least leaves behind a worthy successor in Kent Tritle.

Last night in Carnegie Hall, Tritle conducted his first concert as music director of Musica Sacra, and it was, most appropriately, Bach’s B-Minor Mass, sung in memory of Westenberg.

How different are things now than when Westenberg began developing the ensemble in the 1960s! By the ’70s, his concerts had become the great hope of New Yorkers who wished for some local choral manifestation of international early-music advances. It lends some perspective to recall how, 40 years ago, the senior music critic of the Times publicly expressed indignation when Thomas Dunn committed the outrage of performing the B-Minor Mass with a chorus of only 16 and an orchestra of 24 (when nowadays we sometimes hear it with only one singer or player on a part). No doubt carrying out Westenberg’s original goals, in this changed marketplace of options, will not be a matter of simply preserving in amber all of his practices. He would have been the first to protest against that. But matching his successes is a worthwhile goal, no matter how altered the environment.

Kent Tritle has become the leading force in a complete range of choral concert music in the city, through his superb concert work at St. Ignatius Loyola’s on Park Avenue and with secular choruses that include the Oratorio Society of New York. A healthy Musica Sacra will bode well for the whole commonwealth of music. And surely no one is better equipped to see to that health than Kent Tritle.

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