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Great Music in a Great Space

Cathedral Concerts kicks off its 25th anniversary season

First published in the West End Word July 25, 2017. Reprinted by permission.

By Eileen P. Duggan

The St. Louis Cathedral Concerts series began its 25th season on Aug. 9 with a concert by Libera, an internationally known boys choir from South London. Eleven more concerts will follow, all programmed to take advantage of the unusual acoustics of the Catholic Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, 4431 Lindell Blvd. in the Central West End.

“We are thrilled to be kicking off the season with such an amazing group,” said Scott Kennebeck, executive director of St. Louis Cathedral Concerts. “They are unlike any other boy band you have ever heard, with their shimmering, mystical chords and ecstatic harmonies.”

Scott Kennebeck

Scott Kennebeck, executive director of St. Louis Cathedral Concerts, inside the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Kennebeck has been singing in the Cathedral Basilica since he was 8 years old. Photo by Ursula Ruhl

Cathedral Concerts, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, promotes cultural enrichment, education and enjoyment by presenting affordable, live concerts by international, national and local musical artists in the Cathedral Basilica on Lindell Boulevard. The concerts feature world-class musicians performing the finest repertoire of sacred and classical music. Since the inaugural season of 1993-94, the organization has encouraged patrons to “experience great music in a great space.”

More than one listener has noted that the music and the space are perfect for each other. “It seemed as if the Basilica had been constructed explicitly for the presentation of this concert, this space, and its acoustics were so fully utilized,” said A. Dennis Sparger, music director and conductor of the Bach Society of St. Louis, in a past review.

The cathedral’s cavernous space with mosaics covering all interior surfaces allows sound to travel, echo and expand.

“The composers knew they were writing for that acoustic,” said Kennebeck, noting that what works best in the space is vocal music, chant and Renaissance music. “For singing, it’s wonderful. It gives the opportunity for singers to relax and just sing. The room fills itself. Performers that are used to that take advantage of it.”

For the audience, it takes some acclimating. “It’s not like listening to a piece in a dry hall,” Kennebeck said. “People need to be aware that they’re not going to hear the second violin distinctively. Our space has an ethereal quality that lends another dimension.”

Kennebeck should know. No stranger to church music, he started singing in the cathedral’s Pontifical Boys Choir at age 8. He now sings in the Cathedral Basilica Choir and Archdiocesan Choir, and is cantor for the Cathedral Parish. He is principal tenor for the American Kantorei in the Bach at the Sem series at Concordia Seminary and has served as a cantor at masses in all four major basilicas in Rome.

The remaining season features soprano Angela Brown with organist Diane Bish on Oct. 15; the King’s Singers, Nov. 10; the Vienna Boys Choir Holiday Concert, Nov. 22; Christmas at the Cathedral, Dec. 9-10; Westminster Choir College, Jan. 11; Seraphic Fire, Feb. 22; Tenebrae, March 10; The Ambassadors of Harmony, March 24; tenor Scott Kennebeck with organist John Powel Walsh, April 6; and capping the season, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, May 1.

Cathedral Concerts also will continue its Chamber Series with five free remote concerts. Violinist Kristin Ahlstrom, cellist Bjorn Ranheim, clarinetist Tzuying Huang and pianist Matthew Mazzoni will perform the same program at different locations on different dates: Fontbonne University Doerr Chapel, Sept. 5; Sts. Joachim & Ann Catholic Church in St. Charles, Sept. 12; Incarnate Word Catholic Church, Sept. 14; St. Clare of Assisi Catholic Church in O’Fallon, Illinois, Sept. 22; and St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church, Sept. 26. The program will feature chamber music by Beethoven, Khatchaturian and Mendelssohn.

Independent Organization

Despite Cathedral Concerts’ reliance on the church’s cross-shaped space and antiphonal sound, the organization does not rely on the St. Louis Archdiocese or the Cathedral Parish for funding. However, former Cathedral Parish rector Msgr. James Telthorst, who remains on the 12-member board of trustees, founded the series in 1992 with the parish’s newly hired music director, John Romeri. Telthorst and Romeri recognized the opportunity for the Cathedral to become a cultural landmark for the larger community.

The organization, with Romeri as its first artistic director, presented three concerts in its inaugural 1993-94 season. Romeri left St. Louis for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 2010 and was succeeded as the series artistic director by Horst Buchholz.

Kennebeck was named executive director in January 2013, after serving as director of operations since 2000. The program’s only full-time employee, he also serves as artistic director. As a nonprofit, Cathedral Concerts relies on volunteer ushers who greet guests, take tickets, seat guests, sell merchandise, and pre-set the stage for concerts.

Over the past 24 seasons, more than 175,000 people have attended Cathedral Concerts and educational programs. The featured artists over the years include the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the Bach Society of St. Louis, the Boys Choir of Harlem, Choir of King’s College Cambridge, Choir of Westminster Abbey, soprano Christine Brewer, Harvard Glee Club, Vienna Boys Choir, Vatican organist James Goettsche and dozens of others. Many of the artists made their St. Louis debut at the Cathedral, and some, such as Chanticleer and Tallis Scholars, have appeared more than once.

Cathedral Concerts is supported by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission and corporate and individual donors. The organization will hold its annual fundraising gala and Great Music Award presentation toward the end of the season.

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