It’s good to be “early.” And Westminster Kantorei, a chamber choir that specializes in early and modern music, will present an “early” performance during its winter concert on Sunday, February 18 in Bristol Chapel on the Westminster Choir College campus in Princeton. It is in advance of the group’s appearance at the eastern conference of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA).
“Every year they have a conference, and it’s held in different parts of the country,” says Amanda Quist, associate professor and department chair of conducting, organ, and sacred music at Westminster Choir College. “This year the eastern division of ACDA is having a conference in Pittsburgh that’s at the beginning of March. The people who specifically attend these conferences are conductors, teachers, music educators, students, people who sing in church choirs, community choirs, kind of everything choir-related. In order to perform at one of these, you have to apply with a recording and be accepted for performance, which we did, so Westminster Kantorei is one of the featured performing choirs at the conference. I believe we are one of four collegiate ensembles performing.”
The Princeton concert will act as a kind of preview, including works that will be performed for the ACDA, plus some additional pieces. On the program will be Johann Sebastian Bach’s motet “Lobet den Herrn” (Praise the Lord, all ye nations), William Byrd’s “Kyrie” from the “Mass for 5 Voices,” Roxanna Panufnik’s “Kyrie after Byrd,” the “Kyrie” from Tomas Luis de Victoria’s “Requiem Mass,” Josef Rheinberger’s “Abendlied” (Evening Song), Johannes Brahms’ “Sehnsucht” (Longing), and Carol Barnett’s arrangement of the spiritual “Anchored in the Lord.” In addition there will be a world premiere.
“Each year ACDA does something called the Brock Memorial Commission. They will choose a composer, usually a well-known current composer, to write a piece in memory of Raymond W. Brock and have it premiered at the ACDA conferences.”
Brock served as administrative assistant for ACDA from 1987 until his death in 1991. An endowment in his name also provides for a student composition contest.
“This year we have been asked to premiere a piece by Tarik O’Regan, called ‘All Things Common.’ The text is a paraphrase of a speech by Abraham Lincoln given right before he became president, ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ He also pulls texts from some Biblical books, including Acts and Matthew. It’s somewhat minimalist, somewhat canonic. It’s a beautiful piece.”
Also featured in the Princeton concert will be an eight-part a cappella arrangement by the English choir VOCES8 of Ben Folds’ “The Luckiest.”
One of Westminster Choir College’s eight choral ensembles, Westminster Kantorei was established in 2004. Its name is connected to the cantor-led choirs in the old courts of German Protestant rulers. Quist began work at the college in 2010. Initially she conducted the Westminster Symphonic Choir. Her first contact with Kantorei was in 2012, while the group’s regular conductor was taking a leave of absence. Eventually her predecessor took another job, and she was installed as the chamber choir’s full-time director.
In addition to her work with Kantorei she leads the Westminster Chapel Choir and teaches graduate and undergraduate conducting. Through her work with Westminster Symphonic Choir she has collaborated with the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Staatskapelle Dresden. She is also the director of the Westminster Vocal Institute, a highly regarded summer program for talented high school students.
Together Quist and Kantorei have released their first album, “Lumina,” made possible in part by a grant from Carol F. Spinelli Foundation. The fellowship is awarded in support of a faculty member in conducting who is engaged in work for the advancement of the school and its choral program. The album’s producer was the New Jersey-born composer, music producer, and frequent Westminster collaborator Malcolm Bruno. Its executive producer was Westminster’s Anne Sears, the college’s director of external affairs. The recording engineers were John Baker and Sam Ward of the Princeton-based AFFETTO Recordings.
“Lumina” was recorded at Princeton University Chapel and released in September, 2017. Rheinberger’s “Abendlied” is among the featured selections, alongside works by Byrd, Bach, Hildegard von Bingen, John Dunstable, Richard Farrant, Felix Mendelssohn, Thomas Tallis, and Heinrich Schutz.
“We’ve had a lot of good response to it,” Quist says. “The ‘Abendlied’ was featured as a Spotify pick for 2017 classical recordings. It’s received something like 35,000 hits. I think it’s one of the most played pieces of any recording that has been released from here, so that’s fun. Somehow that one’s gotten on people’s radar, and they’ve been listening to it like crazy.”
Quist received her bachelor’s degree in music education from Western Michigan University. Then she taught high school and middle school for four years. She also directed a professional children’s choir for the North American Choral Company. She returned to Western Michigan to obtain her master’s degree in choral conducting; then further deepened her understanding and expertise in pursuit of her doctorate, which she earned from the University of West Texas. She worked as director of choral activities at San Jose State University before being hired by Westminster Choir College.
Quist now makes her home in Princeton with her husband, Tim Brent, a visiting assistant professor of popular music studies at Westminster. When the couple is not involved in the making of music, the two prefer to spend their quiet time in nature.
“My husband and I love to camp and fish,” Quist says. “We love the outdoors. I grew up in an athletic family. Once upon a time I thought of myself as a basketball coach, in terms of what I’d like to do, and I still enjoy participating in sports whenever I can. So we’ll play basketball or tennis, things like that. We mostly love to be outside. Whenever we can get some time we off, we kind of escape into the woods and get on the water.”
While nothing is firm yet, a few of Quist’s goals for the near future include a Kantorei European tour (two years ago, they traveled through France and England), another collaboration with the early music instrumental group Juilliard 415, and, she hopes, a second recording.
Collaboration is an important part of the Kantorei experience. Past performances of larger works, like the Monteverdi “Vespers” and Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” have brought the chamber choir together with other ensembles, including Westminster Choir and a variety of early music specialists.
“When we do that we either collaborate with Juilliard 415 or with professional groups in New York or Philadelphia,” Quist says. “I think that’s one of the things that’s really unique about the choir, for the students, that they get to see theorbos (a large lute) and organs and harpsichords, and they understand that we sometime sing things at a different pitch level because that’s how it would have been done in Bach’s time. Things like that. We really focus on performance practice quite a bit in an effort to give them that information and sort of that skill set for when they leave here. I think that’s one of the hallmarks of the group.”
The daughter of a high school teaching mother and school principal and church organist father, Quist grew up in the Midwest, where choirs are as abundant as corn. She sang in choirs all her life, including in churches and at school, which informed her lifelong love of music. “When I sang my senior year of high school, in an honor choir in Michigan, that was the first time that I felt like it could be real purpose for me, as if there was a real meaning there that I had to be a part of, and I felt sort of a change in myself,” she says.
She had begun college as a psychology major and music minor, since it had been her aim to work with and help adolescents, but it was singing in three choirs and taking a music class that defined her life’s focus.
“After being there for one semester, I realized what I really wanted was to be a professional musician and a teacher,” she says. “It was really the desire to connect with people and realizing that I couldn’t really live without music that made me understand that this is really what I was supposed to do.”
Upon further reflection, she recalls a single, transformative moment.
“There was this time when I was a freshman when the director said that he had to leave the room for something and asked me to step in front of the choir and conduct them. I’ll never forget the feeling of standing in front of them and hearing their sounds and working with this group. I just had never felt anything quite like that, and it was mind-blowing. It really was life-changing for me.”
Westminster Kantorei, Bristol Chapel, Westminster Choir College, 101 Walnut Lane, Princeton. Sunday, February 18, 3 p.m. $15 to $20. 609-921-2663 or www.rider.edu/events/westminster-kantorei-winter-concert.