Westminster Williamson Voices Recording Features Music of James Whitbourn

"Living Voices" released on the Naxos label.
Friday, September 2, 2011

The Westminster Williamson Voices, conductor James Jordan and organist Ken Cowan from Westminster Choir College of Rider University are featured on Living Voices, a new recording that was released on the Naxos label on September 6 and is now at 22 on the Billboard Classical Music charts.  The CD is a collection of works by composer James Whitbourn whose music has been called a “celebration of light” by NPR’s All Things Considered. Opening with Whitbourn’s Son of God Mass, the recording features works associated with life and death, many of them world premieres, including Requiem canticorum and Living Voices, a work to commemorate the dead of 9/11.  

Requiem canticorum has its thematic roots in two large-scale orchestral works written for the BBC Philharmonic, the first of which explored the fearful symmetry of two events both commemorated on the same day August 6: the Feast of the Transfiguration and the dropping of the atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. The second was a commemoration of the wounded Christ, an embodiment of the hurts and pains borne by human beings. Its text is a group of Latin songs - which can loosely be called canticles - that form a piece to commemorate those who are dead and to comfort those who are bereaved.

Living Voices
was first commissioned by the BBC as part of a broadcast from Westminster Abbey of a service held after the 9/11 attacks on the United States. The text, written by Sir Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate at the time, is an integral part of the piece and was part of the same commission. The work was first performed live in a concert in New York on the first anniversary of the 2001 attacks, along with the Son of God Mass.  For this recording the text is read by Westminster alumnus and actor Ronn Carroll.

“Music performance builds into its experience, we hope, both journey and story," says Maestro Jordan.  "For me and for the Westminster Williamson Voices, the experience of recording Living Voices and taking the journey that James Whitbourn’s music inspires has been both life changing and life affirming.”

James Whitbourn has an international reputation as a composer of choral music and of music for television films and concert halls. After studying music at Magdalen College, Oxford University, he began his career in the BBC, a background that helped shape his compositional style with its direct connection with performers and audiences worldwide.  His television work includes the lush orchestral score for the BBC series Son of God, on which the Son of God Mass is based. Whitbourn also has a profile as a choral and orchestral conductor and has a close association with Westminster Choir College, where he has been a visiting artist and a composer-in-residence.

Since its founding in 2003 the Westminster Williamson Voices has quickly established itself as a voice of composers of our time, and it has been acclaimed for its creative programming and collaborations with other art forms. Critics have described the Westminster Williamson Voices as an ensemble of “intimate and forceful choral artistry,” with tone that is as “controlled and silken in sustained phrases as they are vibrantly sonorous in extroverted material” and “without peer.” The choir has given premières of more than 30 choral works, including three major works by British composer James Whitbourn: the chamber version of Annelies: The Anne Frank Oratorio; Luminosity, a work for triple choir, dancers, viola solo, organ and tanpura and Requiem canticorum, featured on this recording.

James Jordan is recognized and praised from many quarters in the musical world as one of America’s pre-eminent conductors, writers and innovators in choral music. His career and publications have been devoted to innovative educational changes in the choral art that have been embraced around the world.

Ken Cowan is one of North America’s finest concert organists.  Praised for his dazzling artistry, impeccable technique and imaginative programming by audiences and critics alike, he maintains a rigorous performing schedule that takes him to major concert venues across America, Canada and Europe.  Recent performances include appearances at Grace Cathedral San Francisco, Philadelphia’s Verizon Hall, Spivey Hall, Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, France.  In addition, Mr. Cowan has been a featured artist at the national conventions of the American Guild of Organists, Organ Historical Society and the Royal Canadian College of Organists. A native of Thorold, Ontario, Canada, Mr. Cowan received a master’s degree and Artist Diploma from the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.  Prior to attending Yale, he graduated with a Bachelor of Music from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

Saxophonist Jeremy Powell is also featured on the recording.  He is a graduate of the Jazz & Contemporary Music program at New School University and has played with such world-renowned jazz artists as Larry Coryell, Jeff Berlin, and Kenny Drew Jr. In 2010 Jeremy was named "Best Saxophonist" by Creative Loafing's 2010 Best of the Bay awards. He currently resides in Tampa, Florida, where he plays and teaches music full time. Since 2005 he has been a frequent collaborator with the Westminster Williamson Voices and James Jordan, with whom he gave the premiere of James Whitbourn's Requiem Canticorum and also gave the New York premiere of the piece at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall in 2011.

Naxos of America is the leading independent classical music distributor in the United States.

Living Voices will be available for purchase and download from Amazon.com and iTunes.

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