A Hundred Years Later, The Esoterics Present Rachmaninov’s “All-Night Vigil”

Posted on March 06, 2015, 12:08 am
3 mins

Seattle’s award-winning a capella choral group The Esoterics present BDENIE, a performance of Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov‘s much loved All-Night Vigil. The All-Night Vigil was first performed on March 10, 1915, exactly a hundred years ago. It was commissioned to raise funds for war relief efforts during the first months of the First World War.

The All-Night Vigil consists of liturgical music from the Russian Orthodox Church, sung in Old Church Slavonic and comprises three sections: the Vespers (an evening service), Matins (an early morning service) and Prime (for the first hour of the day). Due to its religious nature, it was banned in the USSR after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, and was only first recorded in 1965. It has however gained international acclaim for its musical qualities and historic significance.

While the religious nature and specific Russian Orthodox qualities of the All-Night Vigil in the context of current-day politics might seem incongruous at first, it celebrates the composer Rachmaninov’s love of church music despite his own jaded history with the church. Rachmaninov had stopped attending church service at the time of writing the work, largely because of their refusal to condone his marriage to his cousin, Natalia Satina. There is also debate in musicological circles as to whether the work was intended as a concert work (to raise funds for the war effort) or as a devotional liturgical work.

It is however undeniable that the All-Night Vigil stands head and shoulders above other Russian romantic choral works. Esoterics conductor Eric Banks concurs: “[The] All-Night Vigil comes at the end of an era. With its sweeping settings of chant, it is the pinnacle of Russian romantic choral music.”

The work is characterized by dark, rich textures and some of the lowest notes in sung literature. The Esoterics have opted to include Slavonic chant between movements, which varies the texture and connects the movements linearly for its 70-minutes duration. The group has expanded to 48 singers for this concert and will perform the All-Night Vigil in some of the area’s best-suited acoustical spaces, such as the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in West Seattle, St. Stephens in Seattle, St. John’s in Olympia, and Christ Episcopal Church in Tacoma.

The Esoterics Present All-Night Vigil

When and Where:  

Friday, March 6, 2015, 8 PM;  St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church (4805 NE 46th Street, Seattle)

Saturday, March 7, 2015, 8 PM;  Holy Rosary Catholic Church (4142 42nd Avenue SW, Seattle)

Sunday, March 8, 2015, 3 PM;  St John’s Episcopal Church (114 20th Avenue SE, Olympia)

Sunday, March 8, 2015, 7 PM;  Christ Episcopal Church (310 N K Street, Tacoma)

Tickets available at the doors of through www.theesoterics.org

Johann Van Niekerk is a writer, conductor and collaborative artist based in Seattle, WA. He holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Washington where his research focused on the role that music has played throughout history in effecting social change. Van Niekerk covers performing arts events in and around Seattle.