Submitted by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

On Sunday, May 21 at 5 pm, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church will present “Song Ascending: The Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams.” This special concert will feature three soloists (including two parishioners), the parish choir, string quartet, and organ under the direction of Dr. Michael Monroe, Minister of Music. The four major works on the program were all originally written for orchestra, but will be heard in new arrangements by Dr. Monroe for quartet and organ.

Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis and his violin romance, The Lark Ascending, regularly turn up on lists of most beloved classical works. Each exhibits the composer’s uniquely pastoral style and great gift for melodic development. The Tallis Fantasia is based on a sixteenth-century hymn, which will be sung by the St. Paul’s parish choir to open the program. In Vaughan Williams’ original version of the Fantasia, a large string orchestra is set against a smaller orchestra and quartet of string soloists; in this arrangement, the organ is used to enable the antiphonal contrasts of sonorities, serving both to provide grandeur in the dramatic climaxes and distant echoes in the many mysterious passages which evoke the spirit of an ancient past.

Susanna Monroe will be the violin soloist in The Lark Ascending, a work chosen in anticipation of Ascension Day on May 25. The alternately fluttering and rhapsodic solo part is inspired by birdsong, set against folk-like melodies suggestive of the English countryside.

In contrast to this soaring solo work, Joe Wright’s soulful tuba will sing in the “Romanza” from Vaughan Williams’ tuba concerto, a work written when the composer was in his eighties and took up the unusual challenge of writing what has become the definitive concerto for the orchestra’s most earthbound instrument.

The concert will conclude with the Five Mystical Songs, settings of devotional poetry by George Herbert for baritone, chorus, and orchestra. Nate Haywood is the guest soloist in these inspiring songs, which are alternately stirring, tender, joyful, and filled with poetic musical responses to Herbert’s seventeenth-century words.

Nathan Skinner, music director of Boston’s historic Park Street Church, will be the guest organist for the program, which will last for about an hour. The concert is free admission; a voluntary offering will be taken to support the Bedford Community Table.

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