For 40 years Paul Callaway has been making great music greatly in Washington Cathedral. On Saturday night and Sunday afternoon the Cathedral Choral Society, which Callaway founded 40 years ago, summed up the splendor of those four decades.
The music was the Eighth Symphony by Gustav Mahler. For its performance Callaway's Cathedral Society was joined, in an unprecedented display of affection, by Norman Scribner's Choral Arts Society, young singers from the Cathedral and Landon Schools, St. Columba's Boy and Girl Choirs, and the boys of the Cathedral Choir. The soloists, too, were distinguished artists who have appeared previously in the cathedral under Callaway's baton. They included Phyllis Bryn-Julson, Veronica Tyler, Nancy Williams, Elaine Bonazzi, Mary Ann Stabile, George Shirley, John Reardon and Philip Booth.
As always with Callaway, the highlight of the occasion was the challenge of giving life to a great masterpiece. With 600 performers under his direction, Callaway took the full measure of Mahler's gigantic symphonic concept. Supported by the cathedral organ, played by Douglas Major, the full chorus and orchestra swept into the immense opening lines, "Come, Creator Spirit, come and make within our souls thy home," and it was clear that Callaway was the same great master of music that he has been on so many earlier occasions, not only in the cathedral, but in the concert halls of this city.
The entire first part moved with tremendous energy, its torrents of sound balanced by the intimate moments in which Mahler let the radiance of the words "The sevenfold gift of peace is thine" shine in quiet beauty. The soloists were superb, sustaining the great demands of the score with apparent ease. And the double chorus, as if rising to the excitement of matching voices, precisely as Mahler suggests, was magnificent. The audience's prolonged applause for Callaway and the performers at the close was fitting tribute to another great performance.