Sacred Music Concerts at Notre Dame Cathedral
By A.D. McKenzie

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Lionel Sow

Lionel Sow
Director of Notre Dame Choir

Notre Dame Cathedral is celebrating its 850th anniversary with a year of “sacred music” concerts that run until December of this year.

The world’s most famous church traces its history back to 1163 when construction first began, and music has always been a part of its tradition, says Lionel Sow, head of the Notre Dame Choir and artistic director of the sacred music project.

“We’re having 25 concerts this season and the public will get to explore this rich tradition of ancient music,” he told Paris Insights.

Starting with polyphony and covering music up to the 20th century, the concerts include various orchestras in joint projects with the choir. Leading soloists will also be performing a variety of pieces.

This week, the acclaimed Chamber Orchestra of Paris (OCP) performed Haydn’s “The Creation,” conducted by Thomas Zehetmair and featuring soprano Sophie Karthäuser, tenor Werner Güra, and bass baritone Matthew Brook.

The OCP said that Haydn’s masterpiece oratorio is a “true celebration and glorification of the universe” and that the work was “at home” under the “celestial vaults” of the cathedral. The soaring voices of 60 singers from the Notre Dame Choir added to the uplifting pull of the 18th century composition, which was written for orchestra, choir, and soloists.

Sow says that the choir is not only presenting known works but that it also wants to help the public to “re-discover” rare or unjustly forgotten repertoires such as “La Vierge” oratorio by French composer Jules Massenet, which retells the story of the Virgin Mary.

The cathedral’s recently renovated grand organ will also have a starring role when Notre Dame’s small and select group of organists show off their talents during the year of celebration. On March 19th, Johann Vexo will present works by Franck, Dupré, Duruflé, and Vierne, while on May 28th, the organ recital will be by Olivier Latry, who is also a professor at the Conservatoire de Paris.

The public will get to see the relationship between music and architecture when the church’s acoustic qualities are put to good use for Gregorian chants, Pentecostal music, and a performance by Les Sacqueboutiers, an award-winning brass ensemble from Toulouse that focuses on early music.

The year began with Claudio Monteverdi’s Les Vêpres à la Vierge (Vespers for the Blessed Virgin) and will end in December with a specially commissioned work of the same name by Rome-born French composer Philippe Hersant. This will comprise the full Notre Dame Choir, Les Sacqueboutiers, two organs, and several soloists for a “truly dazzling sound,” promises conductor Sow.

We wish to thank A. D. McKenzie, a Paris-based author and journalist, for her contribution to the Paris Insights blog.

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