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A Premier Catalog of Premiere Recordings

 

CD150   Mass for a Sacred Place by Stephen Paulus & Other Works

 

CD150 Mass for a Sacred Place by Stephen Paulus
and other works by Locklair, Ives, Lauridsen, Near, Whitacre, Fissinger, MacMillan

Cathedral Choral Society Chorus & Orchestra
J. Reilly Lewis, Music Director

  • 28-page insert with notes and biographies
  • Complete texts and translations
  • 59'28" total playing time

CD150     $15.95

Purchase from Canticle Distributing

 

CONTENTS
Stephen Paulus: Mass for a Sacred Place (World Premiere)
1. Kyrie
2. Gloria
3. Credo
4. Sanctus
5. Agnus Dei
6.   Dan Locklair: Pater noster (2000)
7.   Charles E. Ives: Serenity (c. 1919)
8.   Morten Lauridsen: O magnum mysterium (1994)
9.   Gerald Near: O magnum mysterium (1973)
10. Eric Whitacre: hope, faith, live, love (1999)
11. Edwin Fissinger: Lux æterna (1982)
12. James MacMillan: A New Song (1997)

Listen Listen:

Agnus Dei from Mass for a Sacred Place by Stephen Paulus

 

Mass for a Sacred Place     Stephen Paulus (b. 1949)

The Second William Strickland Commission
Commissioned by the Cathedral Choral Society of Washington, D.C., J. Reilly Lewis, Music Director, under the auspices of the William R. Strickland Fund, "to remember the concerts of the Cathedral Choral Society during World War II."

Mass for a Sacred Place derives its title from two sources. One is the obvious connection with its world premiere performance at Washington National Cathedral, a vast and inspiring place. This "house of prayer for all people," the sixth largest cathedral in the world, engenders deep feelings of humility and spirituality. Its location upon Mount Saint Alban above Washington, D.C., only gives it more grandeur.

The title's other derivation has to do with the "sacred place" that resides within each individual. The Ordinary of the Mass is a universal form of Western European music that speaks to each person who hears it sung regardless of the place in which the music is performed or the personal faith of the listener. The form and the language are timeless. The Latin words are not only ecclesiastically important, but also a favorite for many composers. Latin is a language particularly conducive to a musical setting given its rich sound and pure vowels. The repetition of certain phrases such as "Kyrie elesion," "Christe elesion," and "Dona nobis pacem" can serve as musical devices for organizing a setting of the Mass.

In this, my second Mass, I wanted to honor the space in which the work was to be heard for the first time. Because of the reverberant quality of the Cathedral. I was very careful to organize sounds and words so that they could be distinguished even this this vibrant ediface. I also decided to create blocks of sound that would overlap, amounting to "washes of sound" in some cases. Sometimes these "washes" are generated by the choral sounds alone - as in the Sanctus. Other times they are paired with the orchestra.

The Cathedral Choral Society's William Strickland Commission specifies a work for large symphonic chorus and orchestra. The use of the full orchestra assisted me in creating sounds that I feel contribute to the sacred nature of the form. Part way through the Agnus Dei the organ enters and vacillates between three or four chords while the chorus begins a contrapuntal section with the words "miserere nobis." My thought was that this plea for mercy would be aided by the organ moving between several closely spaced chords and that the echoing of these sounds within the Cathedral would add to this crying out. Part way through, the strings enter with discordant harmonies and low rumbling bass notes from the celli and basses. Their muted nature makes a gentle dischordant counterpoint against the chorus and organ. At the end of this section the brass enters, but even more quietly, in clustered sounds that are comprised of altogether different pitches. Chorus and orchestra converge on a climactic chord before reiterating some of the opening harmonies in a quiet and reverent close.

--Stephen Paulus


PATER NOSTER (2000)     Dan Locklair (b. 1949)
A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, Dan Locklair holds a Master of Sacred Music degree from the School of Sacred Music of Union Theological Seminary in New York City and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Dr. Locklair is presently composer-in-residence and professor of music at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. A professional organist since the age of 14, he was church musician of First Presbyterian Church in Binghamton, New York (1973-1982) and an instructor of music at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York. Locklair's setting of the Our Father, an a cappella motet for eight-part mixed voices, features very sustained, rich, and carefully nuanced choral writing and is dedicated to the Choir of Men and Boys at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York City and to its longtime director of music, Dr. Gerre Hancock, who retired in May 2004.


SERENITY (c. 1919)     Charles E. Ives (1874-1954)
John Greenleaf Whittier's "The Brewing of Soma" was first published in the Atlantic Monthly in April 1872. In his poem of seventeen five-line stanzas, the New England poet and Quaker abolitionist depicts Vedic priests in a forest imbibing a sacrificial concoction designed to produce a mystical encounter with the spirit world. However, beginning with stanza 11, "And yet the past comes round again, and the new doth fulfull," Whittier turns to the futility of seeking God through external "experience." English hymnologist W. Garrett Horder extracted stanzas 12 and 14-17 for use as the hymn, "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind," published in 1884 in his Congregational Hymns. Set to hymn tunes Elton or Rest in 1887, Whittier's truncated poem became a staple of Protestant hymnals by the turn of the century.

Ives used only stanzas 14 and 16 in Serenity, apparently basing his text on the hymn version rather than the original poem. The narrow-compassed melody is supported by repeated iteration of two chords, with the hypnotic effect of gentle waves lapping at a shoreline as an inert object is inexorably pushed forward yet buoyed up from beneath. The late music theorist Douglass Green thought the "harmonic ambience of the piece to be two half-diminished seventh chords a whole step apart." The final harmonic resolution "occurs with the words 'Take from our souls the strain and stress,' at which point we literally move to a higher plane, possibly a result of the composer's desire to paint in tones."


O MAGNUM MYSTERIUM (1994)     Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943)
In the medieval church, O magnum mysterium was song on Christmas Day after the fourth reading during Matins, the most elaborate of the offices, or services. "For centuries, " writes Morten Lauridsen, "composers have been inspired by this beautiful test, with its juxtaposition of the birth of the new-born King amonst the lowly animals and shepherds. This affirmation of God's grace to the meek and the adoration of the Blessed Virgin are celebrated in this setting through a quiet song of profound inner joy."

In this 20th century setting, arching lines, transparent suspensions, and poignant dissonances imbue the music with an intimate, inward luminosity. The world premiere was given in 1994 by the Los Angeles Master Chorale where Lauridsen is composer-in-residence. He is also chairman of the Composition Department at the University of Southern California School of Music, whose faculty he joined in 1967.


O MAGNUM MYSTERIUM (1973)     Gerald Near (b. 1942)
One of the finest composers of church music today, Gerald Near first studied theory and composition with Leo Sowerby. He continued his studies at the University of Michigan and later with Dominick Argento and was one of the first recipients (1982) of a a McKnight Foundation Fellowship. That year also saw the performance of two commissioned works for the AGO National Convention in Washington, D.C. He was appointed organist and choirmaster, and subsequently served as Canon Precentor, of the Cathedral Church of St. Matthew in Dallas. He has been artist-in-residence at St. John's Cathedral in Denver where he is director of Aureole Editions.

This motet for the Feast of the Nativity, written for unison voices and organ, calls to mind reflections on unison singing by the martyred German theologican Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945). "The purity of unison singing, the simplicity and frugality, the humanness and warmth of this way of singing," he wrote in Life Together, "is the essence of all congregational singing...Unison singing, difficult as it is, is less of a musical than a spiritual matter. Only where each person in the group is disposed to an attitude of worship and discipline can unison singing give us the joy which is peculiar to it alone."


hope, faith, life, love (1999)     Eric Whitacre (b. 1970)
Currently composer-in-residence with the Pacific Chorale in California, Eric Whitacre has served as principal conductor of the College Light Opera Company and chorus master for the Nevada Symphony Orchestra, and has appeared as guest conductor with numerous professional and educational ensembles, including the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, the Gregg Smith Singers, and the Kansas City Chorale. In 2002, he was named guest music director of the Tokyo Wind Symphony. He studied composition at The Juilliard School with David Diamond and John Corigliano.

Whitacre writes that, when he was commissioned by Northern Arizona University for its 1999 centennial, "I chose three of my favorite e. e. cummings' texts and started writing. It was the middle installment, 'hope, faith, life, love,' that was causing me to lose sleep. The original poem is actually quite long, with sounds of clashing and flying and singing, and calls for music that is vibrant and virtuosic, a real show piece. The more I thought about faith, however, the more introspective I became, and I modified the poem entirely to fit that feeling. I took only the first four words (hope, faith, life, love) and the last four (dream, joy, truth, soul) and set each of them as a repeating meditation.

Each of the words, in turn, quotes a different choral work from my catalog, and its corresponding musical material comments on the word I set. (For example, the word 'life" quotes the musical material from Cloudburst, where the text is 'roots, trunk, branches, birds, stars.') Because I wrote it last,the middle movement even quotes the first and last piece in this set on the word 'soul,' simply because I believe the soul is the beginning and the end."


LUX ÆTERNA (1982)     Edwin Fissinger (1920-1990)
     Deborah Sternberg, soprano; Jon Bruno, baritone
Composer Edwin R. Fissiner was for many years chairman of the music department at North Dakota State University and served as director of the choir. From 1957 to 1967, he held similar positions with the University of Illinois at Chicago. He recieved both his bachelor's and master's degrees from the American Conservatory of Music, and was a nationally recognized composer and editor of contemporary choral music. Lux Æterna is dedicated to the memory of Phil and Dodie Mark, Fissinger's star composition pupil and his wife, who were killed in an automobile accident. Fissinger's setting of the communion text from the Requiem Mass opens with a baritone singing the traditional plainsong and incorporates, between shimmering eight-part chord clusters, a soprano solo of freely composed, rhapsodic, chant-like lines. (Perhaps the combination of these two solo voices symbolized the ill-fated couple). Such architectural layering of voices makes this music ideally suited for performance in a cathedral.


A NEW SONG (1997)     James MacMillan (b. 1959)
James MacMillan is the pre-eminent Scottish composer of his generation. He read music at Edinburgh University and took doctoral studies in composition at Durham University with John Casken. The succesful premiere of Tryst at the 1990 St. Magnus Festival led to his appointment as affiliate composer of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Between 1992 and 2002 he was artistic director of the Philharmonic Orchestra's Music of Today series of contemporary music concerts. Internationally active as a conductor, in 2000 MacMillan was appointed composer/conductor with the BBC Philharmonic. He was awarded at CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in January 2004. This short celebratory song, whose first performance was given at St. Bride's Episcopal Church in Glasgow, reflects MacMillan's interest in Scottish folk music, Gaelic Psalmody and plainsong. The unison theme is followed by a choral stretto whose overlapping lines are embellished in a quasi-improvisational manner. In contrast, the next section is built upon drone-like pedal points, reminiscent of bagpipes. After a return to the ornate contrapuntal tutti sections, a brief organ postlude concludes the work in a fortissimo flurry that calls for the full and substantial resources of Washington National Cathedral's Great Organ.

 

STEPHEN PAULUS

Stephen Paulus

Composer Stephen Paulus has been hailed as "...a bright, fluent inventor with a ready lyric gift" (The New Yorker). His prolific output of more than two hundred works is represented by many genres, including music for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensembles, solo voice, keyboard, and opera. Commissions have been received from the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, The Houston Symphony, and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, with subsequent performances coming from the orchestras of Los Angeles, Philadelphia, St. Louis, The National Symphony Orchestra, and the BBC Radio Orchestra. He has served as Composer-in-Residence for the orchestras of Atlanta, Minnesota, Tucson, and Annapolis, and his works have been championed by such eminent conductors as Sir Neville Mariner, Kurt Masur, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Leonard Slatkin, Yoel Levi, the late Robert Shaw, and numerous others.

Paulus has been commissioned to write works for some of the world's great solo artists, including Thomas Hampton, Håkan Hagegård, Doc Severinson, William Preucil, Cynthia Phelps, Evelyn Lear, Leo Kottke, and Robert McDuffie. Chamber music commissions have resulted in works for The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Friends of Music at the Supreme Court, The Cleveland Quartet, and Arizona Friends of Chamber Music. He has been a featured guest composer at the festivals of Aspen, Santa Fe, Tanglewood, and in the U.K., the Aldeburgh, and Edinburgh Festivals.

As one of today's pre-eminent composers of opera, Paulus has written eight works for the dramatic stage. The Postman Always Rings Twice was the first American production to be presented at the Edinburgh Festival, and has received nine productions to date. Commissions and performanaces have come from such companies as the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Washington Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Berkshire Opera Company, Minnesota Opera, and Forth Worth Opera, among others, as well as many universities and colleges.

His choral works have been performed and recorded by some of the most distinuished choruses in the United States, including the New York Concert Singers, Dale Warland Singers, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Robert Shaw Festival Singers, New Music Group of Philadelphia, Master Chorale of Washington D.C., Vocal Arts Ensemble of Cincinnati, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and dozens of other professional, community, church, and college choirs. He is one of the most frequently recorded contemporary composers with his music being represented on over fifty recordings.

A recipient of both Guggenheim and NEA Fellowhips, Paulus is also a strong advocate for the music of his colleagues. He is co-founder and a current Board Vice President of the highly esteemed American Composers Forum, the largest composer service organization in the world. Paulus serves on the ASCAP Board of Directors as the Concert Music Representative, a post he has held since 1990.

Paulus' music has been described by critics and program annotators as rugged, angular, lyrical, lean, rhythmically aggressive, original, often gorgeous, moving, and uniquely American. He writes in a musical language that has been characterized as "...irresistible in kinetic energy and haunting in lyrical design" (Cleveland Plain Dealer). "Mr. Paulus often finds melodic patterns that are fresh and familiar at the same time... His scoring is invariably expert and exceptionally imaginative in textures and use of instruments" (The New York Times).


KEDNRA COLTON
Soprano Kendra Colton is a versatile American singer who performs repertoire from Baroque opera and oratorio to contemporary music. Trained in the United States and Europe, she appears regularly in solo recital, with symphony orchestras, and often at major music festivals on both continents. She has developed a niche for herself in the oratorios and sacred works of Bach, Brahms, Haydn, Handel, Mendelssohn, Mozart, and Schubert. Acclaimed not only for her performances of Handel and Mozart operas, she is also recognized for her skill as an interpreter of contemporary chamber music and has given several premieres.

Ms. Colton is a graduate of Oberlin College and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music with Master of Music degrees in singing and piano. Ms. Colton's discography includes recordings for Koch, Boston Records, and Stereophile labels. She also recorded two solo CDs - Le Charme, a collection of French art songs, and He Brought Me Roses, 25 lieder by Joseph Marx. She sang the title role in the recently released Chandos recording of the opera Griffelkin by Lukas Foss.


J. REILLY LEWIS
J. Reilly Lewis, a native of Washingotn D.C., received his bacheolor's degree from Oberlin College and his master's and doctoral degrees from The Juilliard School. He was appointed Music Director of the Cathedral Choral Society in 1985, having previously served as the Choral Society's accompanist under founder Paul Callaway. Dr. Lewis has conducted many premiere performances with the Society, including the world premieres of Gregg Smith's Earth Requiem (1997) and Stephen Paulus's Mass for a Sacred Place (2003), the Washington premiere of Florent Schmitt's Psalm 47 (2001), and the North American premiere of Hector Berlioz's Messe Solennelle (1994). Dr. Lewis leads the Society in eight of its current recordings.

A keyboard artist (harpsichord, piano, and organ) and conductor, Dr. Lewis has performed locally, nationally, and internationally. He has appeared as organ soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra and performed Barber's Toccata Festiva, with Leonard Slatkin at the podium, in a Cathedral Choral Society concert. An internationally recognized Bach specialist, Dr. Lewis is founding Music Director of the Washington Bach Consort, and organist and choirmaster of Clarendon United Methodist Church in Arlington, Virginia.


ERIC PLUTZ
Organist Eric Plutz was the Keyboard Artist of the Cathedral Choral Society from 1998 to 2004. He was at the same time organist and director of music at The Church of the Epiphany in Washington D.C., where he oversaw the entire music program and planned and implemented the popular Tuesday Concert Series. He was organist at Temple Sinai in Washington, accompanist of Cantate Chamber Singers, and rehearsal accompanist of the Washington Bach Consort.

Mr. Plutz also served as the Dean of the District of Columbia Chapter of the American Guild of Organists and taught opera the The Selma M. Levine School of Music. He has been a featured performer at conventions of the Association of Anglican Musicians. Mr. Plutz earned the Bachelor of Music degree magna cum laude from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey and received his Master of Music degree from Eastman School of Music. He is currently principal university organist at Princeton University.

CATHEDRAL CHORAL SOCIETY
The Cathedral Choral Society is the resident symphonic chorus of Washington National Cathedral. The 220-voice chorus is the oldest extant choral group in Washington; it was founded in 1941 by Cathedral organist and choirmaster Paul Callaway, who served as music director until 1984. Since 1985, Dr. J. Reilly Lewis has conducted the Society in musical masterpieces from plainchant to contemporary works. Each season the Society presents four major concerts, often performed with full symphony orchestra. Throughout its history the Cathedral Choral Society has presented numerous world premieres, many of which were commissioned by the Society, and has maintained a tradition of showcasing both promising young soloists and internationally known artists.

In addition to its subscription concert series at Washington National Cathedral, the Society has performed at the Kennedy Center and in other concert venues throughout the Washington, D.C. area and on nationwide radio and television. The chorus appears frequently with the National Symphony Orchestra. The Society sponsors educational and community events and each year presents one of the great English choirs in concert at Washington National Cathedral.
For more information see www.cathedralchoralsociety.org

Cathedral Choral Society
J. Reilly Lewis, Music Director
Gisèle Becker, Chorus Master
Eeric Plutz, Keyboard Artist
Cahterine Beauchamp, Chorus Adminstrator
Margaret Shannon, Program Annotator

Roberta J. Duffy (2002-2004); Janet Hall (2004-), President, Board of Trustees
Mark W. Ohnmacht, Executive Director
Jean Fritter Jawdat, Depputy Director
Edeard Lewis, Development Director
Cheryl Kemper, Director of Marketing, Public Rel;ations,and Edcuation
Jessica Boykin Settles, Director of Finance
Sandra McIlvaine, Executive Assistant
Cherie A. Call, Prgram Assistant

SOPRANO I
Verena Lucia Anders
Rebecca Christie
Tari Cooper
Debra Echtenkamp
Jeannie Cummins Eisenhour
Linda Etheridge
Lynne Fitzhugh
Eleanor Frierson
Monica Haggerty
SaraE. Hagigh
Phyllis Hannum
Portia Hargrove
Susan Hecht
Dawn D. Henderson
MaryKate Hotaling
Jennifer Kerslake
Laura F. Kieffer
Leslie Kruse
Jake Levin
Janice L. Lockard
Chris Markus
Jocelyn McCarthy
Jocelyn Miller
Beth Neely
Clara Ohr
Ellen E. Roberts
Stania Shaw
Kathleen Ying-shu Sheu
Meredyth Shinko
Melanie J. Steinkamp
Ptarcia Stephenson
Deborah Sternberg
Andrea Stumpf
Bridget Tunstall
Elizabeth Owens Wakefield

SOPRANO II
Suzanne Abu-Sharr
Cappie Anderson
Rachel Barham
Jessica Barness
Susanna Beiser
Sheri Closson
Clara Cohen
Laura M. Connors
Kerri Gray
Charlotte Jaeger
Carolyn Koller
Beth L. Law
April Maddox
Suzie Matthews
Linda McCorkindale
Emily Modan
Elizabeth Naccache
Mary B. Olch
Catherine E. Ort-Mabry
Nerissa Paglinauan
Wendy Palmby
Melissa McPherson Pipkin
Frances H. Pratt
Joy Ryan
Helen L. St. John
Rebecca Schendel
Cynthia Shen
Dibby Smith
Dianne Vandiver
Michele Vink
Jeannete D. Warren
Jane Woodall
Margot T. Young

ALTO I
Mary Ann Alford
Vikkey Anderson
Susan Andrea
Catherine Beauchamp
Sheri Bergen
Jeanne Briggs
Kathleen Brion
Cherie Call
Judy F. Davis
Christine de Fontenay
Sarah G. Fuller
Catherine R. Garland
Chris Cozadd Gilmour
Deborah Gitin
Susan Grad
Nicole Hambleton
Sandra Hoffmann
Embry Howell
Jane Jurkevics
Ingrid Kauffman
Martha E. Kossoff
Marhta Lewis
Crista Linn
Anna Mathie
Eliza Nesmith
Marsha McGraw Olive
Jane Roningen
Margaret Shannon
Donna H. Smith
Nessa Spitzer
Maggie Toscano
Molly Wallace
Bridget Young

ALTO II
Cynthia Allen
Heather Carkuff
Linda Christenson
Robin Costanza
Kim Decker
Sue DeLeon
Roberta Duffy
Sherry Flanary
Sally Gillespie
Margaret Gonglewski
Pam Hazen
Melissa Hilker
Ann Ingram
Julie R. Jernigan
Marion Leach
Jane Lester
Beth A. V. Lewis
Andrea Merrill
Paula Moriarty
Jennifer Hanson Mueller
Martha A. Olson
Willa Perlmutter
Melissa Pittard
Miriam Radakovich
Jennifer Renner
Christopher G. Riggs
M. Elizabeth Tidball
Kathleen M. Welling
Clifton N. West III

TENOR I
Gregg Breen
Woodie Fagan
Stephen R. Gurry
Jeff Harwood
John Heaton
Kevin Josey
Richard F. Larkin
Bert le Roux
David McGraw
Nathan Mick
David L. Moulton
Christine H. Mulligan
David R. Patterson
Raymond P. Rhinehart
Martin Rosenthal
Michael Salvatierra
Lawrence P. Schreiber
Melbert E. Schwartz
Scott Shortenhaus
D.C. Washington
Keith Wiebe
Bill Woessner

TENOR II
Keith Anderson
Colin B. Church
James Clay
Andrew Clubb
David Costanza
Richard Dodd
Thomas Gallagher
Roberto N Ifill
Simon Kaplan
Charles Kovatch
Kathy V. Jackson McLaughlin
Chris Mixter
James M.E. Mixter, Jr.
John T. Moore
John E. Moyer
Sunny Neely
David S. Patterson
Matthew A. Reklau
Matthew Roberts
Kevin Rosengren
Jim Steichen
James E. Turner

BASS I
Eric P. Anderson
Hans Bjornsom
Jon Bruno
Alfred Chiplin
Georg Dolzmann
Bryan George
Robert Gisberg
William Harwood
John Hewes
James Kennedy
Don Lassell
Jonathan Lockhaas
Antonio Mayorga
Scott McCorkindale
David Nelson
Gerald W. Padwe
Nicholas Peterson
Michael Replogle
Craig Reynolds
Steven B. Rich
Stephen S. Roberts
Samuel Schmitt
Andrew Soto
L. Bradley Stanford
Erik Stokstad
Andre Thompson
Bert van Selm
Josef Wolfbeisser
Peter R. Wolfe
Fred A. Wulff

BASS II
Ernest Abbott
Chris Buechler
George Cervantes
Jonathan Chiu
Brian Erickson
Charles Ervin
Andrew Gilmour
Kai Groennings
Michael R. Harrison
Joe Hill
David McB. Howell
Walter Leathers
Frank M. Montgomery
John W. Palmer
Melvyn K. Prince
Harold Quayle
John Rogers
Bernhard D. Saxe
Nikos Singelis
Davie Smith
Frank J. Sullivan
Christian Turner
Mehernosh Unwalla
Joe Winters
Ellis Wisner
Roy Woodall


THE WILLIAM R. STRICKLAND COMMISSION

"To encourage the composition of music for the church by commissioning and performing new works" was one of the principal purposes for the formation of the Cathedral Choral Society in 1942 as the resident symphonic chorus of Washington National Cathedral. The realization of its founders' vision over the span of six decades lies in the numerous world, American, and Washington premieres that have been presented under the auspices of the Society. The list of composers whose music has been heard first within the sacred spaces of the Cathedral is a veritable Who's Who of twentieth-century musicians, many of whom went on to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Music: Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, Benjamin Britten, Dave Brubeck, John Corigliano, Richard Wayne Dirksen, Gregg Smith, Howard Hanson, Paul Hindemith, Lee Hoiby, Kent Kennan, John la Montaine, Gian Carlo Menotti, Ned Rorem, Leo Sowerby, and Robert Ward.

For its first thirty years, the Society was part of the Cathedral's music program and thus often performed music commissioned by the Cathedral itself such as the world premieres of John Corgiliano's A Dylan Thomas Trilogy: Poem on His Birthday and John la Montaine's Mass of Nature composed for the American Bicentennial in 1976. That same year, while retaining its status as the Cathedral's resident symphonic chorus, the Society became a legally and financially separate non-profit organization. More than two decades elapsed before the Society was again able to commission major new works.

In 1991, the Society received a substantial bequest froom the Estate of William Remsen Strickland, the outstanding American conductor and composer who had been principal guest conductor of the Society during World War II. The income from the William R. Strickland Commission Endowment Fund provides every five years for the commissioning of an American composer to write a work for symphonic chorus and orchestra. The noted American choral conductor and composer Gregg Smith received the first William R. Strickland Commission, and the Society presented the world premiere of his Earth Requiem on March 9, 1997. Stephen Paulus, whose Mass for a Sacred Place is heard on this recording, was awarded the second Strickland Commission. The third Strickland Commission will be awarded in conjunction with the Washington National Cathedral Centennial in 2007.