Reviews for Choral Music


  Hildegard Magnificat  (2009)       Audio excerpt :::  Score excerpt  :::   Reviews  :::  Ordering information
The Hildegard Magnificat takes its name from the source of the main musical motif, namely an antiphon by Hildegard von Bingen. This work is probably more at home in a concert setting than at an Evensong, and while it uses the Rite I text, it does not include a Gloria Patri. The Smith College Glee Club commissioned the work, thus the treble version is the original. The mixed choir arrangement simply redistributes the parts without changing a note of the organ. Perera approaches the text atmospherically, creating a sense of exalted mystery. The closing moments resolve the loose E minor tonality with a surprise Picardy third and minor seventh, and this nebulous harmony typifies the evocative effect of the entire setting. The treble version relies on part divisions to fill our harmonies, requiring an ensemble large enough to cover six parts. The mixed choir voicing would be accessible to most volunteer groups.
The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians  November, 2013
  North Country  (2011)         Reviews   :::   Ordering information
Ronald Perera set "North Country," five poems by Robert Frost. Their theme was self-concealment and, in the central poem, revelation. The music was perfectly fitted to the poetry, occasionally dissonant and more often delicate and clear, in keeping with the beautiful conclusion of "Going for Water" (the last poem), "We heard, we knew we heard the brook." The chorus was the Northfield Mount Hermon Singers, whose young voices and disciplined performance were the musical and emotional highlight of the concert..
Daily Hampshire Gazette  1/23/2014
  A Star in the Pail  (2004)       Audio excerpts  :::   Score excerpt   :::  Reviews   :::   Ordering information
Two of those regulars were performed on this program, titled "Premiere! American Poetry Settings." One was Ronald Perera, who was on hand for the New York premiere of "The Star in the Pai," six songs set to whimsical poems by David McCord. Though the texts are pretty light, Mr. Perera's pleasure in the fanciful words comes through in his appealing, quirky music, which the choristers sang with rich sound and liveliness.
The New York Times Review  Saturday, May 25, 2013
Adding a touch of whimsical humor to the first half were Ronald Perera's "The Star in the Pail," cleverly imagined settings of six children's poems by David McCord. Particularly, the perky, percussive "The Cow Has a Cud" and "The Starfish," with its comical barroom piano vamp, drew chuckles from the audience. A part-time Cape resident, Perera was on hand to provide a brief, insightful commentary.
Cape Cod Times  2/7/2006
  Mass  (1967)       Audio excerpt  :::  Reviews  :::  Ordering information
Perera's score is that incredible combination of lush orchestration and solemn choral passages which go straight to the heart.
Washington Star-News  5/10/73

The score is very attractive, with its articulate command of intriguingly sophisticated yet simple and fresh harmonic movement, nice melodic lines and well handled contrapuntal textures.
The Washington Post  5/10/73

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  Did You Hear the Angels Sing?  (1968)        Audio excerpt  :::  Reviews  :::  Ordering information
Samuel H. Miller's poem is dramatically stated by Perera within contemporary sonorities. An independent organ part elevates itself as an equal to the more chordal lines. Organist as well as singers should be experienced in this Christmas work. Recommended for the better adult church choirs.
The Choral Journal 3/75

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  Three Night Pieces  (1974)        Audio excerpt  :::  Reviews  :::  Ordering information
Composed in 1974, the "Three Night Pieces" are settings of poems by Sappho ("Alone"), Adelaid Crapsey ("Triad"), and Tzu Yeh ("I am the North Pole"). Together their total duration is about twelve minutes. Though difficult and highly dissonant, the choral parts are not be yond the capacity of a well trained college ensemble; indeed the work is a worthy addition to the twentieth-century repertoire for women's voices.... College-age singers can and probably should strengthen their musicianship on contemporary compositions such as this.
Music Library Association, NOTES 3/80

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  Earthsongs  (1983)        Audio excerpt  :::  Reviews  :::  Ordering information
Ronald Perera, born in 1941, excels in choral music, and Clara Longstreth is doing a great service in bringing his work to the public. On the present disc we hear his Earthsongs (1983) on texts by e.e. cummings. These are sublime pieces, and immediately advance to the front rank of cummings'settings. "In Just-spring" and "as is the sea marvelous" are particularly fine, but in fact I like all six pieces.
Fanfare Magazine, Winter '94
(review of Albany CD, Troy 108)


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  Canticle of the Sun  (1984)       Audio excerpt  :::  Score excerpt  :::  Reviews  :::  Ordering information
Perera's ability to set text to memorable music is very much in evidence but, perhaps influenced by both his principal text being in Latin as well as his chosen accompaniment, there is a feeling of pastiche, albeit one of very high quality, that comes into play. There is, if you will, a Monteverdi-meets-Philip Glass sensibility about a lot of the music. Still, there are beautiful moments, such as the entire ninth movement, set for unaccompanied choir.
John Story, Fanfare Magazine, May/June 1999
(review of Albany Troy CD 314)

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  The Outermost House  (1991)       Audio excerpt  :::  CD recording  :::  Reviews  :::  Ordering information
The final piece was "The Outermost House," for chorus, soprano soloist, narrator and small instrumental ensemble, by Ronald Perera. This lovely work is a setting of the glowing prose of Henry Beston, from his book which recounts the year spent by the author dwelling in a small Cape Cod beach house. The book is a masterpiece of highly evocative nature writing, full of wonderful word pictures and impressions, which Perera beautifully enhanced with his music.

William Warfield, hale and ever-impressive at 81, narrated with dignity and feeling. Alison Chaney's lovely soprano was a delight. The net effect was that of a masterful tone-painting in praise of one of the world's very special places.
The Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, 6/3/01

When he is on form, Ronald Perera is among the finest living combiners of words and music alive. The major work here, The Outermost House, is as fine as the best pieces on the CRI disc. Writing on a commission from the Chatham Chorale of Cape Cod, Perera was persuaded to take as his text excerpts from The Outermost House by Henry Beston, which recounts the experience of living for a year in a two-room cottage on the barrier beach in 1925-26. Perera sets his excerptsfor narrator, soprano, chorus, and a small orchestra. With one exception, the odd-number movements are for the narrator (again the very musical Robert J. Lurtsema) while the even numbers are usually for the chorus with and without the soprano (the radiant Nancy Armstrong). As I mentioned in my earlier review, as Perera entered the 90s his idiom was becoming progressively more tonal in orientation. This is also to be found here. The music is simply lovely. Perera's exquisite ability to set English words is everywhere in evidence as well as his extreme sensitivity to instrumental and vocal color put to service in a text. This is a major addition to the choral repertoire. For choirs able to field the modest additional forces required it should become something of a staple of their repertoire. Albany has put us in their considerable debt by making this marvelous music available to the larger CD-buying public in such a fine performance and recording.
John Story, Fanfare Magazine, May/June 1999
(review of Albany Troy CD 314)


Elegantly crafted, musically appealing, and stirring to the imagination as well as to the heart... Perera has created a musical setting that is more than just worthy of Beston's masterpiece. It is a work that deserves to be heard often and not just on Cape Cod.
Cape Cod Times 11/18/91


Perera's music supported graceful vocal writing with warm, embracing sonorities, vibrant rhythms, and (often a distinctive feature of his composition) effectively pictorial use of percussion. The succession of scenes hung together by virtue of returning motives or accompaniment figures which provided clear musical links between sections. The variety in its modes of expression always provided engagement for the ear. Perera had constructed a musical setting perfectly conceived for the diaristic nature of his chosen text, reflecting a barrage of stimuli being interpreted, ordered, and set forth by a single intellect.
Springfield (MA) Union-News 2/18/92


Although wisps of Samuel Barber, Gian Carlo Menotti, and Vincent Persichetti can be heard, Perera's compositional style is fluent and singular... The last chorus, "Hold Out Your Hands over the Earth," is a real tour de force. More tonal than the other movements, its universal theme makes it performable as a fine independent work.
Choral Journal 3/94


Perera's emphasis on the essential elements of melody and harmony — the stuff of which all truly affecting music is made — provides the ideal chamber for the artistic amplification of Beston's eloquent reflections on nature, compiled during a year spent alone on a Cape Cod beach. While the music is not based strictly on functional principles (standard chord progressions contained within a given key), it is woven persuasively out of the fabric of traditional triadic harmony and unified through the recurrence of seminal motives and key centers. The product is a persuasive marriage of form and content.
Milwaukee Sentinel 2/28/94


The combination of narrative and musical effects make "The Wreck of the Montclair" portion of "Outermost House" a truly powerful experience. Listeners last weekend actually felt the impact of the huge waves and the terror of their fury through Mr. Lurtsema's dramatic reading of the events that took place in 1927 on a lone stretch of Atlantic beach. We were transported back in time to watch helplessly as the tragedy unfolded. We felt the terror of the sailors caught in an inescapable death trap as the ship was pounded to pieces in the tumultuous surf.

"The Outermost House" remains as a sort of lone witness to both the power and inscrutability of nature. After the tempest, Mr. Perera brought us back to the gentle ebb and flow of life at the beach, and the chorale gave a sublime rendering of the final "Hold Out Your Hands." We were left with a wonderful sense of acceptance and peace.
The Cape Codder 10/17/95


Inspired by the 1927 writing of Henry Beston when he spent a year in virtual solitude at Eastham Beach, "The Outermost House" is a remarkable composition that possesses the musical power to reveal and communicate the many faces of nature when sea, land, sky, wind, and sand collide together in one expansive area. The Saturday night performance was breathtaking, the audience seemingly held spellbound by the unfolding musical drama.
Cape Cod Times 10/16/95

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  Psalm 126  (1992)       Reviews  :::  Ordering information
This sophisticated setting will require solid brass players. Their music is well crafted and included for optional use by the organ in the absence of brass. The choir parts are challenging, but have been structured so that exposed lines occur in two unison parts, making them easier. Excellent music for advanced choirs. Brass parts are available separately from the publisher.
The Diapason, November 1998

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  The Golden Door  (1998)       Audio excerpt  :::  Score excerpt  :::  Reviews  :::  Ordering information
Review from the recording on the CD Island of Hope
Island of Hope, the New Amsterdam Singers' second compact disc recording, offers an eclectic array of contemporary choral music by American composers.... This recording highlights two works with chamber orchestra commissioned by the ensemble. The first of these, set in seven movements by Ronald Perera, is titled The Golden Door. The texts, though diverse in origin, focus on many perspectives regarding immigration. In the opening movement, an incessant agitation of sixteenth notes is used to symbolize the growing frustration of one poor immigrant as the long list of questions posed by the immigration officers takes its toll. In the final movement, a spoken roll call of the names and occupations of recent immigrants is interspersed with the singing of words from the famous Emma Lazarus poem, The New Colossus, found on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty. The work, as a whole, humanizes for the listener many experiences of the people who have come to this country seeking a greater quality of life since the late eighteenth century. It is inspiring and powerful, and admirably performed.
Choral Journal (ACDA), Scott R. Buchanan


Review from the recording on the CD Island of Hope
The Golden Door . . . is the inspiration for the disc's title. It is the only substantial work (about 25 minutes) I've heard that seeks to evoke the varied experience of immigration to America. Ronald Perera (b. 1941) — whose rewarding music I have reviewed in concert — is a skilled and imaginative musical documenter of aspects of the American experience. He cobbled his own text together from first-hand accounts of immigrants, name-lists, and other "officialese" from Ellis Isalnd archives. It is by turns dramatic, poignant, whimsical, and horrifying — like the section dealing with ship passage in "steerage." But the piece is finally celebratory and exultant, leaving the listener newly sensitive to — and proud of — our multicultural origins. A small instrumental ensemble offers imaginative support.
— Lindsay Koob, American Record Guide


Ronald Perera's seven-movement work, "The Golden Door," is based on oral histories of immigrants who entered the United States through Ellis Island... Mr. Perera's work, for choir and a small ensemble of strings, winds, piano and percussion, is an invitingly consonant and occasionally dramatic overview of the varied paths that the immigrants of several nationalities took to Ellis Island, and those immigrants'first moments here. One movement, essentially advertising copy for a German cruise ship, had a lilting, salon quality; it was offset by a starker, more lushly harmonized description of the sounds, smells and general discomfort of traveling in steerage.
New York Times 6/14/99


Sunday afternoon's "American Voices" program by the Chatham Chorale Chamber Singers was just such a powerfully evocative program. Therex was probably not a dry eye in the house as, at the close of a seven-part cantata vividly depicting the arrival of immigrants at Ellis Island, the names and professions of their immigrant ancestors were read aloud by individual chorale members over a soft instrumental underscoring. Premiered in Manhattan just last year by the New Amsterdam Singers, "The Golden Door" was written by Yarmouthport summer resident Ronald Perera, whose "The Outermost House" (based on Henry Beston's book about Cape Cod) was commissioned and presented by the Chatham Chorale in 1991...no matter if one felt Finch's pleasing, alternatively thoughtful and playful settings, could have used some of the incisive dramatic touches Perera so skillfully weaves into his musical tapestries, or that "The Golden Door" perhaps needed a few more reflective (shall I say "lyrical" or "memorable"?) passages to balance its teeming, headlong forward momentum. It is enough if the concerted result stirs our imaginations and feelings, leaving us at once excited and teary-eyed, with plenty of food for after-thought.
Cape Cod Times 5/23/2000

  Why I Wake Early  (2007)       Reviews  :::  Score excerpt  :::  Ordering information

Poems by Mary Oliver are the basis of Ronald Perera's colourful and poignant Why I Wake Early, named for the last of eight sections that move from one morning to the next. Both composers season their essentially tonal language with harmonic spices but what stands out in each score is expressive vocal and instrumental writing that flows from the texts with idiomatic grace and intensity. These are deeply affecting pieces and meaningful additions to the choral repertoire.... In his settings of the Oliver poems, Perera places the chorus in a series of glistening soundscapes in collaboration with string quartet and piano. The final titular poem basks in reflective beauty before taking euphoric wing on the words "I start the day in happiness, in kindness."

Gramaphone (UK) December 2012


Nature demanded its due on Sunday afternoon, as clocks pushed forward for daylight savings time provided an extra hour of sunlight to observe debris strew by the ferocious windstorm on Saturday night. The New Amsterdam Singers seemed to have planned in advance with "As Nature Wakes," an enjoyable mix of American and Czech works featuring nature as subject or metaphor, presented that afternoon at the Church of the Holy Trinity.

This adventurous amateur chorus, founded by the conductor, Clara Longstreth in 1968, celebrated its 40th anniversary with the New York premiere of Ronald Perera's "Why I Wake Early," jointly commissioned by it and the Chatham Chorale of Cape Cod, Mass. Mr. Perera set eight poems by Mary Oliver, a Cape Cod poet, for mixed chorus, string quartet, and piano.

Ms. Oliver's poetry, which has drawn comparisons to the work of Emerson and Thoreau, reveals an awestruck regard of nature that verges on the religious: "What wretchedness, to believe only in what can be proven," she writes in "I Looked Up," the fifth poem in Mr. Perera's cycle. Her work also demonstrates a discerning eye and an ability to render vivid images with a few deft strokes.

Mr. Perera sensitively underscores both attributes in a cycle spanning a day from one dawn to the next, linked by a subtle, recurring four-note motif. His music neatly conjures Ms. Oliver's rippling pond, wary crows, flitting bats and lazily unspooling snake. At the same time, the work's dramatic progression, from the shivering anticipation of "Morning at Great Pond" to the radiant affirmation of the concluding title poem, "Why I Wake Early," does justice to the poet's more transcendental intents. Enhanced by Mr. Perera's estimable knack for setting English, this is a substantial addition to the choral canon.

The New York Times, 3/11/2008


Saturday's Chatham Chorale concert at the Yarmouth Congregational Church gave listeners much to celebrate.

It marked the 20th year of Margaret Bossi's tenure as director, and the concert became a special evening of Americana through works by composers with Massachusetts origins or connections — Leonard Bernstein, Irving Fine, Aaron Copland and the composer Ronald Perera. Perera's composition Why I Wake Early, based on eight poems by Cape poet Mary Oliver, was given its world premiere and formed the centerpiece of the program.

In the tradition of the New England Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau, Oliver's poems are inspired by nature and our relationship to it. Her vision is essentially upbeat without denying the harsh realities of the natural world. She has written: "Every poem is music — a determined, persuasive, reliable, enthusiastic and crafted music."

Perera, a Northampton resident who taught at Smith College for 30 years, has remarkably and faithfully caught and enunciated the spirit of that statement.

His music is eminently approachable (no hard lessons here in "self-improvement") and wraps around the music of the poems comfortably and with telling effect.

In "Entering the Kingdom," a piece about the poet tentatively entering the alien realm inhabited by crows, the composer used the time-tested techniques of a repeated passage in the bass, extended chords and skipping upward scales aided by dialogue from a skilled string quartet. In "Bats," with its swooping choral and instrumental word painting and string and piano tremolos, the chorale sang well within itself presenting some of the best ensemble work of the evening.

The eighth and final setting of the work Why I Wake Early concludes the work on an unapologetically optimistic note. This is Perera's second commission for the chorale, having written in 1991, The Outermost House, based on Henry Beston's book about his solitary winter on the Cape in the mid-1920s.

Perera writes exceedingly well for the chorale and this work should find a permanent place in the American choral canon.

Cape Cod Times, 11/12/2007

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