Paul. J. Lebens-Englund, dean of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Mark’s wrote: “While cathedrals provide leadership in addressing the needs of a hungry and hurting world, we’re also called to provide for the holy hungers of the heart — the search for beauty and inspiration.”
Located at 519 Oak Grove St. in Loring Park, St. Mark’s Cathedral has been doing just that with its annual music series since 1971. The 2015-16 season launched on Sunday, Sept. 20 with the Nightingale Trio — a women’s vocal arts group inspired by traditional music from Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
There will be special concerts each month from now on, ending with soprano Maria Jette headlining the cathedral orchestra and choir on May 21, 2016.
Music director Ray Johnston said the concerts are supported by music patrons from within the church and community.
“We’re proud to be able to offer excellent music to listeners at little or no cost,” he said. “We believe it’s very important to make access to live, classical music easy — our concerts are for everyone. All you have to do here is walk through the door.”
Johnston, a native of Kent, England, walked through the door himself 15 years ago. He arrived with impeccable credentials: a scholar in organ performance at Cambridge University, an assistant organist at Worcester Cathedral. Before relocating with his family, Johnston had visited both coasts but knew nothing of the American Midwest.
“It was a great unknown to me, but one which I now call home,” he said.
Of special interest in the concert series will be three performances of the 2016 International Festival of Music from Spain and Latin America. On Feb. 25, the music of Boccherini will be played by eight elite string players from the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. On Feb. 26, members of the Accademia del Piacere of Seville, Spain, will fuse Flamenco music with Baroque stylings. Acclaimed musicians from across Latin America will play music and melodies from Peru on March 4.
The Cathedral of St. Mark’s is a magical place to hear music. Perched atop a hill overlooking Loring Park, it was designed by a parishioner-architect and built in 1910. Envisioned in a Neo-Gothic style, its soaring interior is both stately and warm. Although it didn’t receive its designation of “cathedral” until 1941, it always had the look of one.
And it certainly has the sound of one too.
“Cathedrals have provided a community gathering space for centuries, a place in which the ‘holy’ in everyday life could be celebrated and upheld,” Johnston said.
Johnston is an accomplished organist, pianist and conductor of both choir and orchestra.
“Each of us needs to make time to listen to music, not just as background stuff, but as something that really holds our attention. I’m very concerned about the diminishment of music in most schools,” he said. “Classical music, especially, appears to be dying on its feet.”
He knew Mozart’s Requiem or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony would draw crowds, but he’s looking to showcase variety as well.
“They’re wonderful pieces of music, but they’ve been done so many times before,” he said. “The motto for our series is ‘inspiring, inquiring and inquisitive’ and, to that end, we’ll be featuring a variety of artists and musical offerings.”
To learn more about the music series and St. Mark’s, go to www.ourcathedral.org/concerts.