Cathedral Concert Series is a connection between Church and great masterpieces

By Diana Salesky

The connection between the Catholic Church and great musical masterpieces is strong and centuries long.

The list of composers whose works were inspired by their faith or promoted by their religious duties is lengthy and august.

Johann Sebastian Bach, a converted Catholic, gave us the cornerstones of the musical genre with his two passions, the Mass in B Minor, and several hundred sacred cantatas. Austrian composer Joseph Haydn, who was known to pray the rosary when he had trouble composing, gave us The Creation and no less than 14 Masses.

The list continues with Italian composer Gioachino Rossini and his monumental Stabat Mater, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his beloved Requiem, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Antonin Dvorak, Anton Bruckner, Edward Elgar, and Franz Schubert. The trend continues into the modern era, with composers such as Frenchman Olivier Messiaen, who drew upon his unshakable Catholicism to depict in his compositions “the marvelous aspects of the faith.”

The Cathedral Concert Series, led by Glenn Kahler, Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus director of music and liturgy, continues the tradition of bringing sacred musical masterpieces to the people.

Over the past few months, East Tennesseans have been able to hear three major sacred works by Mozart, another by Haydn, Giuseppe Verdi’s operatic music on religious themes, as well as a beautiful contemporary setting of the Magnificat by Taylor Scott Davis.

These concerts featured both the Amadeus Chamber Ensemble & Choir and the Knoxville Choral Society. And that’s not counting additional concerts by the Scruffy City Symphony and the Tennessee Wind Ensemble. In fact, the series can boast it has presented 52 concerts to date.

What is particularly noteworthy about this series is that it fulfills one of the cathedral’s overarching missions: “To welcome people of all faiths into our sacred space and to share this beauty and grandeur with the entire community.”

If you build it, they will come. And that has certainly proven to be the case with the Cathedral Concert Series. Concerts typically draw between 500 and 1,000 people.

The crowds are enthusiastic, attentive, and continue to show up at a time when many performing arts organizations are bemoaning small crowds and doing everything possible to win back live audiences in a post-pandemic world.

And if you think “free admission” is the draw, it is proving harder these days to get people to open their car doors than their wallets. Months of isolation have not necessarily created a pent-up demand for getting out of the house.

The fact that the Cathedral Concert Series can continue to entice people out of their homes is a testament to the programming as well as the opportunity to sit in a welcoming, beautiful, and contemplative space while listening to live music.

And for the ever-growing audience of listeners outside Knoxville, the concerts are livestreamed by Steve Coy, cathedral director of communications, and also available for later viewing on the cathedral’s website and YouTube channel.

Alan Sherrod in Arts Knoxville commented that “The Cathedral Concert Series has been quite prolific of late in filling a niche in Knoxville’s classical music scene—that of vocal, choral, and instrumental performances that are beyond the scale and logistics of other organizations. The series’ performers have run the gamut from local musicians to those on the national scene.

Importantly, most of the performances are free to the audience, fulfilling a stated goal of building appreciation for the arts in East Tennessee.”

The cathedral is presenting the third annual Cathedral Christmas Festival on Sunday, Dec. 11, at 6 p.m.

The Christmas Festival will feature the cantors of the Cathedral, the Tennessee Wind Symphony, and musicians of the Diocese of Knoxville, with choral and all-sing Christmas carols “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Sing to the Lord.”

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