FITTING FOR THE FAMED COMPOSER; NHSO-Yale's Elgar Festival Involves Much Pomp and Circumstance

By Doherty, Donna | New Haven Register (New Haven, CT), April 28, 2013 | Go to article overview

FITTING FOR THE FAMED COMPOSER; NHSO-Yale's Elgar Festival Involves Much Pomp and Circumstance


Doherty, Donna, New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)


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The New Haven Symphony Orchestra is about to come full circle, joining with its Yale University peers in tribute to a man who has a place not only in the city and university's history, but also in the heart of every college graduate who's walked in or out of a graduation ceremony to his music.

On June 28, 1905, British composer Edward Elgar was awarded an honorary doctorate of music degree by Yale University. As a tribute to his friend, Yale Professor of Music Samuel Sanford arranged to have the NHSO and some Yale music organizations play or sing several of his works, including "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1," forever known afterward as the graduation processional.

The NHSO and Yale honor their British friend this week with the Elgar Festival, the highlight of which is the symphony's Angels and Demons concert of the Elgar masterpiece "The Dream of Gerontius," the season finale concert Thursday at 7:30 p.m., in Woolsey Hall.

With the voices of Fairfield's Mendelssohn Choir and the Hartford Chorale, there will be 360 artists on stage there and again Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Hartford's Cathedral of Saint Joseph. Soloists are mezzo-soprano Catherine Martin, Douglas Williams and Michael-Paul Krubitzer, the latter two Yale School of Music grads.

Elgar's work is based on the poem by Cardinal John Henry Newman, who was beatified in 2010. One of the miracles that secured his sainthood was the cure of terminally ill Deacon Jack Sullivan, a Bostonian who will be invited to the Hartford performance.

Elgar, a devout Catholic, took Newman's poem about a man's journey from his death bed to meet God, and wrote the 100-minute piece.

NHSO Music Director William Boughton calls it "the most beautiful portrayal of a man dying and going to meet his maker. It is not an oratorio, it is not a requiem, not a Mass. It is a dream. There is no word in the English language or Latin to describe this tone poem with massed choir and orchestra."

He compares the work to that of Dante, noting that had Dante written it, "I'm sure it would have been more famous. ... "

The poem was given to Elgar as a wedding present in 1889, and evidently, Elgar was as thunderstruck by its content as Newman was when he wrote it.

Though Elgar had the work for a decade, once he started to set notes to paper, it only took him a year, says Boughton.

"Dream" debuted to bad reviews in the Birmingham, England, town hall. It was banned from performances in Anglican cathedrals due to Elgar's Catholic faith and the very Catholic-based dream content, though it is often performed in sacred places where the acoustics enhance the beautiful meld of voice and orchestra. …

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