PORTLAND, OR– Cappella Romana is celebrating its 25th anniversary with two concerts: Orthodox Music Ancient and Modern to be performed on September 23 at St. James Cathedral in Seattle, WA and on September 24 at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, OR.
Alexander Lingas, Portland native, founded the group as a way to raise funds with music for the rebuilding of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in San Francisco that had been severely damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. In 1990, Lingas moved to the city by the bay after being appointed associate cantor at the Cathedral. An accomplished singer in the Greek Orthodox Church, Lingas also sang with the Portland choir Cantores in Ecclesia and the Portland State Chamber Choir and decided to invite friends to perform in a benefit concert for the church. They performed ancient Byzantine Greek Orthodox music and contemporary pieces by Greek-American composers to the delight of those attending the benefit, raising funds for the rebuilding effort. The group continued performing and Lingas named the group Cappella Romana (Roman chapel) evoking the Byzantine Empire and the religion that once connected the farthest regions of the Roman Empire.
In the 25 years since that first benefit concert, the group has performed in annual concert series in its home base of Portland and in Seattle and has more than 20 recordings released to date. Tours have brought the unique sound of Cappella Romana to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, and the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The group has also performed at universities including Stanford and Yale and at festivals across Europe.
From the earliest performances, the group has always included more than Byzantine chants in its repertoire. The 25th anniversary concert also features music by Russian composers Sergei Rachmaninoff and Igor Stravinsky, late 20th-century British Orthodox composer John Tavener, and Greek-American composers Tikey Zes, Frank Desby, and works composed by Lingas as well. International acclaim followed the group’s recording of the early 20th-century Russian Orthodox Passion by Russian composer Maximilian Steinberg, a work which was thought to be lost. Baroque pieces including Handel’s Messiah performed with the Portland Baroque Orchestra are also part of the repertoire of this remarkable group.
Musical scholarship has also benefitted from Cappella Romana’s work as Lingas has uncovered centuries-old manuscripts and arranged them for performance by modern musicians. The music is not just for scholars, Lingas noted. “Ancient traditions of music have a contemporary resonance somehow,” he said, as reported in The Oregonian/Oregonlive. “It’s this fantastically intricate and sophisticated world. People know this from the visual art of the time they might see in a museum, but there is a sound world associated with it that we bring to a wider audience.”
Cappella Romana performing. Photo by ToriAvaPhotography.com
The group also performs and records contemporary music by Oregon composer Robert Kyr, British composer Ivan Moody, Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, and the well-known Estonian composer Arvo Part. “Composers like Part and Tavener and others are recognized by modern audiences as having ties to ancient traditions, but people have found in their music a kind of a window into a wider spiritual world,” Lingas observed in The Oregonian.
The group is expanding professionally as well with singer and executive director Mark Powell, who had previously worked for the Portland Baroque Orchestra, joining Cappella Romana as a full-time employee. He spoke to The National Herald, noting that the 25th anniversary concert is reprising the first Cappella Romana concert and the group is working on increasing its performances in the New York area.
Increasing collaboration with groups internationally is the next step for Cappella Romana as well as continuing the exploration of music. Greek colonies of the 16th century in Venice and St. Petersburg were the source of music performed by the group at an early European music festival in Holland recently. As reported in The Oregonian, Lingas said, “One of the joys of what we do is that the traditions we’re exploring are so rich that there’s an inexhaustible supply. There’s lots to do. We’ll continue exploring all these things we’ve found and sharing them with people.”