The Symphonic Juncture

A [Symphonist]: "The one who is not afraid to raise the primal force."

- Boris Asafiev (1917)

Review: Symphony of Psalms, Princeton Glee Club 2019

The Princeton Glee Club presented an evening of curated choral works revolving around The Book of Psalms, a subsection of the Holy Bible that is a collection of 150 psalms attributed to the divine messenger David. These psalms range in uses from praise, to royalty to coronations and funerals, notated by Gabriel Crouch, director of the Princeton Glee Club. The sheer numerical amount of psalms lends itself to a wide array of interpretations and in this particular case, musical settings. The Book of Psalms defines three distinct religious themes....


1.That God is active in history

2.The necessity of human response to God through praise and prayer

3.The beginning of wisdom is to Trust in God and fear of the Lord.


These main biblical tenants exert there meaningful essentially in this mortal life especially well in the program that featured the virtuosity-infused transcendent nature of Allegri's, "Misere," and the most notable piece of the night, Stravinsky's, "Symphony of Psalms," featuring Psalms 38, 39, and 150, justly referred to in Gabriel's comments as, "The Musician's Psalm," with references to the glorification of God with music of the strings, pipe, cymbals, lute, and other instruments.


Among the Glee Club's accomplished singers were various soloist's, who in my objective opinion, were some of the finest choral soloists I have heard in a very long time as I imagine their inquisitiveness into the musical language of the various composers explored is situated at a higher degree than most astute musicians. Notable was the Allegri soloist's and especially the soprano, who methodically sprung from her very essence a gracefully crafted C6. Take not that section is a notorious 'danger' zone for those lucky enough to sing this devilishly difficult passage.


Among the beautiful settings of various psalms, ranging from Shaw's adapted setting of Psalm 84 to Byrd's heavenly constructed Psalm 150, was one of the setting's in which drew my head to the side in the question of, what were you thinking? Not in an egregious way, but merely as an inquirer. Within the about 13 minute piece were purposeful (or not) nods to the dissonant, unnecessarily minor second dependent nature of 21st century compositional writing, but something did happen that skewed the piece's auditory intentions. Whether it was on purpose, some of the ornaments inserted in the piece were propelled into the face of the listener, but not in a way that helped progress the musical interweaving it might have meant to deliver. The trills were discordant with the men's section before it and the thematic material making up the second section in the near beginning was not vocally in conjunction with what came before, leading it to sound not quite right. HOWEVER, this did not last for the entire piece and by the entrance of the men during the repetitious, "amplius lava-" section the kinks were long gone and the production of a unified end goal was clearly established.


The clear winner on the program was Stravinsky's, "Symphony of Psalms," with its Rite of Spring essence and driving rhythmic accuracy, I felt as if I was in the Théatre des Champs-Elysées in 1913, watching for the first time as the world was brought to its musical knees at the hands of sheer modernism. Gabriel Crouch must have instilled into the singers how Stravinsky's compositional career not only touched the musical evolution in America but how it change the very core of what was considered music. The performance music for the piano, in this case two, was created by Gloria Yin, a Princeton graduate, who created a usable version of the edition created Stravinsky's son, Soulima Stravinsky for two piano's. Untouchable was the technique showcased by the pianists, and revolutionary was the sound created by the 30+ singers. Harrowingly close to Wagner's leitmotif, the theme for the first movement made it's way from piano to singer, without losing any of its intense chromatic fervor.


Straying away from making this review pages long, ending the program with Stravinsky was a masterful choice, as not only did the program share the same name, but ending with a piece so closely related in musicological design to the 21st century, we could see a pseudo-progression of religious setting throughout the 16-21st century. Even though Stravinsky strayed away from religious connotations with his piece, one cannot exclude the concept that somewhere in the creation of this piece was a feeling of a fight for one's ability to truly praise. What that may be is up to you to decide.


It was a wonderful display of Princeton musical talent and I am so blessed to have been able to