Christ Cathedral, a Big Space for a Big Sound, Hopes to Become a Center for Sacred Music

Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Orange

The Pacific Symphony plays inside the Christ Cathedral during the dedication ceremony for newly-renovated cathedral. They will play Beethoven’s Ninth for their first public performance in the venue with the Pacific Chorale.

Beethoven, Symphony No. 9, “Choral”

Pacific Symphony
Pacific Chorale

WHEN: 7:30 p.m., August 1, 2019

WHERE: Christ Cathedral, 13280 Chapman Avenue, Garden Grove

TICKETS: Start at $20

CONTACT: pacificsymphony.org, or (714) 755-5799

With the estimated $77 million renovation complete, and the high formalities of the dedication Mass conducted, the former Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove has now officially and finally become Christ Cathedral, seat of the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange.

The landmark Philip Johnson-designed church and former home of Dr. Robert Schuller’s celebrated “Hour of Power” broadcast was bought by the diocese in 2012, following Crystal Cathedral Ministries’ bankruptcy in 2010, and the July 17 dedication formalized the building’s status as the spiritual home of the county’s 1.6 million Catholics.

In addition to reestablishing itself as a house of worship, the Cathedral is also establishing itself as a center for sacred music. The Cathedral’s music ministry includes choirs singing in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese, plus an active, touring children’s choir. And, since 2016, it’s hosted the Christ Cathedral Concerts series presenting sacred music from practitioners both local and global.

Beethoven’s Ninth Brings Joy and Brotherhood

Read Timothy Mangan’s review of the concert.

The 2019-2020 concert season began in mid-July with the Schola Cantorum of the London Oratory School, and continues on August 1, with Orange County’s own Pacific Symphony performing Beethoven’s majestic Ninth Symphony under the direction of its long-standing music director Carl St.Clair. Joining St.Clair and the Symphony for the performance will be its long-time collaborators the Pacific Chorale, prepared by its artistic director Robert Istad, with soloists Mary Wilson, soprano, Milena Kitec, mezzo-soprano, Scott Ramsay, tenor, and Kevin Deas, bass-baritone.

While not technically sacred music, Beethoven’s Ninth is celestial enough. Call it quasi-sacred. Its ecstatic celebration of joy, its plea for universal brotherhood, and its praise of abiding friends and familial love, has made it a work humanity has collectively and repeatedly turned to when emotions outstrip our capacity to speak. Go back to the multi-national choir singing under the direction of Leonard Bernstein at the Brandenberg Gate on Christmas Day in 1989, following the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Arguments against labeling it the central work of the Western Canon sound contrarian.

About the work, and the upcoming concert, St.Clair has this to say: “The Beethoven Ninth is a celebration. Coming to Christ Cathedral with the Beethoven Ninth is a crowning moment for all of us at Pacific Symphony. We’re just so honored to be invited to this hallowed cathedral, especially with this piece. The message in this music is timeless, that we need to be conscious of one another, and celebrate our differences, and join our hearts together, and join our spirits together, and worship together.”

Making the Space a Home for Music

The newly renovated space is quite a shift from those who were familiar with it in its earlier incarnation. The interiors are softer, clothed in whites and grays. It feels calmer, more contemplative, less like an elegantly designed television studio. The acoustics still carry an expansive and bright feel. A recent visit found Raymond Nagem, organist of St. John the Divine cathedral in New York City, providing a fluid and inspiring reading of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A major, BWV 536. The cathedral is built for big sound, and should provide an ideal platform for Beethoven’s masterwork.

John Romeri, the Cathedral’s Director of Music Ministries and Organist, is the driving force behind the cathedral’s music program and concert series, and is committed to making the cathedral a home for music.

“We are so excited to have Carl and the symphony here,” says Romeri. “We’ve been working on this for quite awhile. And the message of the Beethoven is perfect for us: the brotherhood of man. We’re just finishing our fifth Mass of the weekend, and have had services in Spanish, English, Vietnamese, and Chinese. It’s also meaningful for me. I’m close to Carl and Rob, and the whole music community is saying ‘Yes, the Christ Cathedral is a place where music happens.’

“We’re looking forward to Carl taking us into the piece, and the mindset of Beethoven, and how great music is created. And over time, we’re hoping sacred works will find a home here.”

If the past is any measure, they will. Already, the Cathedral has hosted the Tallis Scholars twice, and upcoming concerts include the much-lauded Tenebrae Choir of London, the Westminster Choir of Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and the Notre Dame Cathedral Choir conducted by Henri Chalet.

The Pacific Symphony has already played in the cathedral during the week of dedication ceremonies in July. The Ninth will allow them to really stretch their legs and fill that big space alongside the Pacific Chorale.

And the Pacific Symphony already has plans to return for more concerts, according to John Forsyte, the Symphony’s president.

“The Christ Cathedral already serves diverse communities of the region who benefit from this amazing campus,” he says, “and Pacific Symphony’s offerings will, I hope, continue to be an important part of the musical life there. We have additional plans already for when the extraordinary organ is re-dedicated. It is a great privilege for the musicians of Pacific Symphony and the Pacific Chorale to be performing Beethoven’s glorious ninth symphony in a magnificent setting like the Christ Cathedral. The performance came about because of the relationship between Carl and John. They have found a natural artistic and spiritual affinity, and John is excited to have Pacific Symphony and Carl as artistic partners. For such a grand occasion as the dedication of the Christ Cathedral, Beethoven’s call for freedom and peace are just the right messages.“

Peter Lefevre us a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He may be reached at palefevre@gmail.com.