Knoxville Handel Society joins Sacred Heart to stage ‘The Creation’ with full choir, orchestra
By Bill Brewer
In what probably is a first for the Diocese of Knoxville, the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus served as center stage for a live secular choir and orchestra performance as part of a new diocesan arts initiative called the Cathedral Concert Series.
The Knoxville Handel Society performed Joseph Haydn’s composition The Creation on April 29 to a standing-room-only audience. More than 70 vocalists were joined by 30 instrumentalists in performing The Creation for parishioners, Handel Society members, and the general public.
The performance also was a first for the Knoxville Handel Society, a choral organization serving the Knoxville area that puts on classical masterworks like The Creation. The society was formed in 2016.
Bishop Richard F. Stika greeted some 1,300 patrons, describing for them how the new cathedral was a perfect fit as the setting for Haydn’s celebrated classic, which follows the biblical account of God’s six days of creation.
Bishop Stika explained that in St. Louis, where he is originally from, the archdiocese would hold performances of sacred music for the community. As the Diocese of Knoxville’s new cathedral was being built, he hoped to establish a similar program.
“Music, as we all know, elevates our minds and our thoughts. And we have such a vast assortment from throughout the centuries of sacred music. I’m kind of like a nervous father. This is our first group of over 1,300 people in this cathedral,” Bishop Stika said.
“I want you to feel at home. Cathedrals historically have been places of music in the tradition of bringing people together to elevate our minds and our thoughts. That is what my prayer is for this evening. The creation, that is what we’re going to celebrate this evening, the beginnings of who we are, the beginnings of the universe that God has created,” he added.
Bishop Stika encouraged the audience to place themselves in a sacred moment, no matter their faith tradition, and pray that the Lord be with them as they witness the miracles of music, accomplishment, and talent.
He then led the audience in a prayer, after which he prompted them to yell out a loud “Amen.” He then responded loudly, “Alleluia, sisters and brothers!”
“That was for my Baptist friends,” he concluded, drawing laughs.
Just before the performance, the audience heard from Don King, Knoxville Handel Society music director, who explained how the society and the diocese teamed to put on The Creation.
“Dec. 13, 2017, is a red-letter day because that is when we met with [cathedral rector] Father David Boettner, and Glenn Kahler, with the blessing of Bishop Stika. What began there was a warm and genuine relationship between the Knoxville Handel Society and Sacred Heart Cathedral. Our first visit to the cathedral was that day,” Mr. King said.
He noted that he and Wendell Boertje, also a Handel Society music director, toured the still-under-construction cathedral. As they admired its size and emerging beauty, they couldn’t help but wonder if it would be open in time for the concert. Mr. Boertje served as conductor for The Creation.
“Even at that time, Wendell and I sensed that this was that sacred space we needed to have this sacred work performed in. We are all here to witness this celebration of God’s creation in the creation of man inspired by the Creator,” Mr. King said. “The only phrase I can think of that we need to share comes from the master of our performance, Soli Deo Gloria, to God alone the glory.”
Mr. Kahler thanked the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus for hosting the first performance in the Concert Series. He also recognized the Diocese of Knoxville Music Commission, which represents all quarters of the diocese and serves the laity and clergy by providing support services and resource management of worship music at the parish and diocesan levels.
The Music Commission manages a roster of activities with the mission to promote the Gospel message of Jesus and the glory of God through musicianship in service to the Church, to protect the Church’s great repository of sacred music, to preserve the musical traditions of the Church, and to enrich activities for worship, education, and service of all diocesan music ministers.
Mr. Kahler, music director for Sacred Heart Cathedral and the diocese, said The Creation kicked off a series of concerts the diocese will be hosting. The fall concert will be a Celebration of the American Negro Spiritual, with guest conductor Dr. Everette McCorvey and renowned guest soloists from the American Spiritual Ensemble.
According to Mr. Kahler, the Cathedral Concert Series supports the arts in its goal to provide opportunities for local, regional, national, and international music ensembles to perform sacred and classical musical works for the community in an effort to establish an appreciation for sacred music in East Tennessee.
The Creation, it is generally believed, was inspired by George Frideric Handel and Handel’s oratorios. Haydn was moved by Handel’s celebrated classic Messiah. Haydn spent two years composing his great oratorio modeled after Handel’s work. Also influencing Haydn was John Milton’s literary classic Paradise Lost.
Haydn’s work has been described as a statement of warm optimism about the world and our place in it, a constant reflection of his love of mankind and God’s creation.