Ivan Moody Talks Akáthistos Hymn With iClassics

“The harmonies are lush and dark in Russian style, though periodically the shadows disperse as in a cloud-break and the sound brightens. The effect over the whole hymn is of a slow revelation of light and warmth over an ancient musical ground.” (Willamette Week)

“Something new, substantial, and profound” (Sunday Oregonian)

Standing Room Only — Ivan Moody’s Akáthistos Hymn

Interview originally published on

Ancient melodies and a sixth-century poetic meditation form the ground of Ivan Moody’s setting of The Akáthistos Hymn, one of the most beloved devotional hymns in the Orthodox tradition of Christianity.

The Akáthistos Hymn is a meditation in 24 stanzas (one for each letter of the Greek alphabet) on the cosmic role of the Virgin Mary as mother of the incarnate Word of God. The popularity of the devotion is especially associated with the raising of the siege of Constantinople in the sixth century, a miracle attributed to the intervention of Mary as the protector of the city. In gratitude, the citizens of Constantinople gathered in the Holy Temple of Saint Sofia and sang the hymn while standing (hence the name Akáthistos, which means “not sitting”).

Moody’s setting makes use of a celebrated contemporary English translation by Bishop Kallistos Ware and Mother Mary; the refrains are sung in Greek to traditional Byzantine chant, with its characteristic microtonal ornaments. Moody is the first to compose music for the entire hymn since the Middle Ages. What was the genesis of this composition?

Ivan Moody: Having worked with Cappella Romana in the past – they gave the North American premiere of my oratorio, Passion & Resurrection, for example – I wanted to write a large-scale work especially for them. The Akáthistos Hymn is one of the great poetic compositions of the Orthodox Church, and I see that it is increasingly used in the Roman Catholic Church too. It is full of astounding imagery that just cries out for music.

Much of your music comes out of your interest in the traditions of the Orthodox church.

I’m a practicing Orthodox Christian; when I set words from our liturgical tradition, I’m always keenly aware of the historical riches we have stored up in musical terms. As a performing church and concert musician I’ve researched a number of Orthodox musical traditions, and feel privileged to be in a position to absorb all this.

However, I’m not Russian, or Greek, or Serbian: I was born in London, England. I think that the challenge for me is to reconcile all those musical traditions, which I love, with my own heritage and my own voice. I don’t do this consciously – if I may say this without sounding too pompous, there’s a period during the course of composition when one is just “digesting,” thinking subconsciously, and then all these things come together really quite spontaneously. If it doesn’t work that way, then it’s a sure sign that I should throw what I’ve written away…

How did you go about setting the Akáthistos Hymn? What were some of the special challenges?

Liturgically, nowadays most of this is intoned by a priest or deacon, the choir singing just the opening and closing sections and the refrains (“Rejoice” and “Alleluia”). However, it was not always thus: there are some extant mediaeval settings of the entire hymn in Byzantine chant. So, I bit the bullet and decided to set the whole text. The finished piece lasts for more than 90 minutes, making it the largest piece I’d ever written.

The first and biggest challenge was simply finding musical notes to correspond to the richness of the text! It’s so full of images that one can hardly find music for each idea – that would simply become tediously madrigalistic. It was a question of responding, simultaneously, to words, spiritual “ambience” and long-range architecture.

The second was how to structure the piece: it’s divided into four sections, and that helped me organize a harmonic scheme, but there are numerous sub-divisions, so one strategy that I adopted right from the beginning was the alternation of three inter-related styles. One was audibly related to Russian mediaeval music, the other was clearly Byzantine, and the third was, well – me. And that “me” is, in part, a result of those other two.

How did the recording come about?

Alex Lingas thought initially that I was nuts to undertake such a project, but once he had the score in his hands, he programmed it for Cappella Romana and made it a real success. I was present at the world première, in Portland OR, and it was quite one of the most extraordinarily moving occasions of my life. It was repeated in a subsequent concert season, and enthusiasm was then running at such a high level that the idea of recording it came about. If anyone was going to record it, Cappella was the choir.


Nico Muhly Talks about Setting Text to Music

March 2-4, The Tudor Choir will perform the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s Small Raine, inspired by the same English tune as John Tavener used in his 16th-century Western Wind Mass. After watching the video, explore the text of Small Raine and get your CR Presents: The Tudor Choir tickets today!

Small Raine

Westron wynde, when wilt thou blow?
The small raine down can raine.
Chryst, if my love were in my armes
And I in my bedde again!

– Anon. (early 16th century)

O splendor gloriae et imago substanciae
Dei patris omnipotentis, Iesu Christe,
unice eiusdem fili dilecte tocius boni fons vive,
redemptor mundi, servator, et Deus noster, salve.

O Jesus Christ, radiant light and image
of the nature of God the almighty Father,
his beloved and only Son, living fountain of all good,
redeemer of the world, our Saviour and our God, hail.

– Votive Antiphon for Compline (early 16th century)

CR Presents: The Tudor Choir

Spyridon Antonopoulos on Medieval Church Acoustics

Dr. Spyridon Antonopoulos

Dr. Spyridon AntonopoulosThe Red Bull Music Academy features an interview with Cappella Romana’s own Dr. Spyridon Antonopoulos and Emma Warren for an exploration of the transcendent impact and contemporary relevance of medieval acoustics:

“‘Kalophonic music was more embellished and abstract,’ explains Antonopoulos. ‘There are entire compositions of just syllables. It’s an evolution where music seems to usurp text for the first time. To me, that demonstrates humans trying to reach this ineffable place, where speech failed. They had to use music.’ This, he says, is an example of humans trying to unify themselves to the cosmos, when speech is no longer sufficient. It’s what devotional music is all about. ‘This change happens when the massive urban basilicas of Late Antiquity begin to yield to smaller domed churches. Did these spaces respond? Did the music respond? We know there’s a relationship.’”

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Early Music America: Reveling in Byzantine Chant

Philippa Kiraly has published a wonderful feature including reviews and interviews with Mark Powell and Alexander Lingas in honor of our 25th Season, as well as a preview of our upcoming Hagia Sophia “Icons of Sound” recording:

“Cappella Romana opened its 25th season in October in Seattle and Portland with “Icons of Sound: Byzantine Chant from Hagia Sophia.” Enhanced by the reverberant acoustics of Seattle’s St. James Cathedral, the sound of early Byzantine church music created a hypnotic effect as eight men — more than half of them Greek Orthodox cantors — and five women sang music from scholarly editions, much of it prepared by the singers themselves.…

“The sound created by Cappella Romana’s men singing early chant is like nothing heard elsewhere. There’s an initial firm start to phrases that seems almost to come from under the note, though it doesn’t. There’s a rich resonance, a strongly cored, open sound with a lot of depth, and no vibrato. The music often has a limited range, spanning not much more than an octave, while its highly ornamented melodies are usually sung over one or more drones that indicate the tetrachord (a four-note range) of the mode in use. When you hear the ensemble, it only takes a few measures to know that this is Cappella Romana.…

“Participation since 2010 in Cappella Romana’s ongoing Stanford Research Project — from which the October concert was a natural offshoot — had the choir heading to San Francisco immediately after the Hagia Sophia concert. “Icons of Sound: Aesthetics and Acoustics of Hagia Sophia” was a collaboration between Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics and the Department of Art and Art History.

The aim was to use real-time digital signal processing to synthesize the acoustics of Hagia Sophia itself. In Istanbul, the Stanford crew was allowed only to work in the middle of the night. They popped balloons in Hagia Sophia, measuring the reverberation times and signal response at all frequencies around the cathedral, capturing this information into their computers, and bringing the results back to Stanford. Cappella Romana’s part was to sing while wearing tiny microphones on their foreheads in Stanford’s Bing Concert Hall, with the signals processed and distributed to an array of 24 loudspeakers distributed throughout the hall. “I was prepared for it to sound fake,” says Powell, “but it sounded and felt like the real thing.”

The resulting Cappella Romana CD will likely come out in 2017, adding to its catalog of more than 20 recordings. To get a taste of the ensemble’s distinctive and unmistakable sound, go to YouTube to find dozens of excerpts.…” —Philippa Kiraly, Early Music America

See the full feature on Early Music America

Artslandia Interviews Mark Bailey

Mark Bailey

Mark Bailey

Artslandia interviews our Rachmaninoff: All-Night Vigil guest-conductor Mark Bailey! Here’s an excerpt, but you can find the full interview on

What makes this group, Cappella Romana, a good fit for this music? And more generally, what do you enjoy about working with them?

Cappella Romana brings so much to this work, for one, the nuance and expressivity of ancient chant. Rachmaninoff himself was directly inspired by ancient chant, just like the music Cappella is so well-versed in. Cappella understands very much the meaning of religion, how it relates to music, and how that can relate to anyone in the audience, regardless of religious affiliation. The story of the Vigil is a universal one, and yet at the same time, quite personal. Cappella’s continued immersion and commitment to this music makes working with them a real treat and privilege.”

Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil:

Cappella Romana’s 24th Annual Season opens with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s monumental All-Night Vigil (also known as the Vespers), in celebration of the 100th anniversary of its premiere in 1915. Impassioned and hauntingly beautiful, the All-Night Vigil is a pinnacle of the Russian choral repertoire. The performances will include psalms and hymns by Tchaikovsky and others to place Rachmaninoff’s work within its larger context.


Friday, 11 Sept. 2015, 7:30pm
St. James Cathedral


Saturday, 12 Sept. 2015, 7:30pm
St. Mary’s Cathedral

Sunday, 13 Sept. 2015, 2:30pm
St. Mary’s Cathedral

John Michael Boyer on Spirit Catholic Radio

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Arstlandia Interviews Ivan Moody Before From Darkness To Light

Ivan Moody

Ivan MoodyArstlandia hosts a Q&A with From Darkness To Light guest conductor Ivan Moody and includes this preview of the performance:

This coming weekend, May 16 and 17, classical choir Cappella Romana will bring star composer and conductor Ivan Moody to Portland to conduct From Darkness to Light, an intense program featuring the rarely-performed Choir Concerto by Sergei Rachmaninoff, a Diptych by Ukrainian composer Galina Grigorjeva, and his own work Anastasis on Eastertide texts in Greek and English…or that’s one way to describe Cappella Romana’s upcoming performance. The LA Times has another perspective of Moody’s music, calliing it “like jeweled light flooding the space.” How is it that early choral music that’s so academic to read about, is so visceral and so emotional to actually hear? After spending the afternoon enveloped in Ivan Moody’s transcendent SoundCloud, Artslandia asked Moody to shed some light on his musical process and philosophy. Here’s what he said:

Read The Interview on

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Friday, 15 May 2015, 8:00pm
Trinity Episcopal Church



Saturday, 16 May 2015, 8:00pm
St. Mary’s Cathedral


Sunday, 17 May 2015, 2:00pm
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral

Ivan Moody Talks Arctic Light with Fanfare

Ivan Moody talks about Cappella Romana’s latest release, Arctic Light with Fanfare Magazine‘s James Altena. Read a couple of the questions below and find the full interview on the Fanfare website

Fanfare: How did your particular association with the Cappella Romana come about, and what led to the recording of your Arctic Light CD with them?

Ivan Moody: I met the artistic director of Cappella Romana, Alexander Lingas, in England in, I think, 1988 or 1989, and we remained in touch. He conducted some of my pieces with the group, especially my lengthy oratorio Passion & Resurrection, and I subsequently wrote my Akáthistos Hymn for the group, and they performed it in concert and recorded it. After that I was invited back to conduct concerts and, apart from my own music, I have concentrated on music from Bulgaria and Serbia, in which I have a particular interest, and now, of course, from Finland. The recording came about because of the enormous enthusiasm that was apparent from the audiences on hearing this completely unknown repertoire: There was definitely electricity in the air!

Fanfare: Where do the works on the Arctic Light CD fit in to the larger framework of Orthodox liturgical music? How did you come to choose the particular works to be included in it?

Ivan Moody: Finland is a very interesting case. In normal parish use in Finland you will find very standard Russian St. Petersburg four-part chant (in Finnish), though there is now increasing interest in Byzantine and early Russian chant. But the music on the CD is something quite different. Composers such as Pekka Attinen and Boris Jakubov were trying to find a genuinely Finnish musical language for the Orthodox Church, and they were highly resourceful in so doing. Much of their work might be seen as experimental (in particular the remarkable Cherubic Hymn by Attinen, which suggests a composer such as Richard Strauss), and it is not frequently sung liturgically, but it was a very important step in the creation of a Finnish musical identity.

Other composers continued this, especially Peter Mirolybov and Leonid Bashmakov, and there are some highly original composers of younger generations—in particular Timo Ruottinen and the even younger Mikko Sidoroff, who are producing large amounts of music for liturgical use. I chose the repertoire on the basis of what had particularly struck me as interesting after having known this music for quite a few years, and in order to give something of a survey.

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Fanfare Interviews Robert Kyr

Time For Life Robert Kyr__Cappella Romana_Classical CDs

Time For Life Robert Kyr__Cappella Romana_Classical CDsFanfare Magazine has a grand interview with composer Robert Kyr about his new Cappella Romana CD, A Time For Life. Read an excerpt from the interview, “The Joy of Creation” below and visit the Fanfare Archives for the full piece:

Fanfare: A Time for Life is one of a number of your pieces inspired by issues relating to the natural world. What is it about this subject that you find consistently stimulating? Kyr: Living in the Pacific Northwest, I am very close to nature. My home is about 1,000 feet above the valley where the University of Oregon is located, and around my house, I have 70-foot trees. Essentially, I live in a temperate rainforest. This is but one of the ecosystems in which I’ve lived. I grew up to the west of Cleveland and then pursued all of my studies on the East Coast and in Europe. I taught at the Aspen Music Festival for five summers and did some incredible hiking in the Rockies. I also did seven residencies at the Banff Center for the Arts in the Canadian Rockies. And before moving to the Pacific Northwest, I lived in Southern California and San Francisco at different times. Since 1993, I’ve also spent about four to six weeks every year in the high desert of northwest New Mexico. Thus, I’ve lived in most of the ecosystems in the United States. Living in the Northwest so close to nature has connected me more deeply than ever to this subject. In the other places that I lived, I certainly appreciated nature and had a sense of what is happening to our planet in terms of the environmental crisis. However, it is more evident in the Pacific Northwest where I live much closer to nature. I feel the change in climate very directly, since where I live, it has become progressively colder for most of the year. I also see the effect on the forests of extreme logging (“clear cutting”). We also have pollution from industry and from field burning, and that is of course a concern as well. Any human activity that pollutes nature is felt very profoundly in the Northwest and this is probably why our region is often called “the center of environmental activism.” As an environmental oratorio, A Time for Life is my reaction to the degradation of the ecosystems in which I’ve lived, and my response to what is happening to our world in general through climate change. To a large extent, humanity is causing the environmental crisis through its flawed policies and refusal to find new ways to live in harmony with nature. … Fanfare: As you’ve also done in other works, you assembled a text/libretto that draws on a great many sources, which you reinterpret in your own words. How do you approach the assembling of the texts for these sorts of pieces? Kyr: I’m a writer of what I call “text for music” in that I am both the composer of the music and writer of the text. When I was conceiving A Time for Life, as with many of my projects, there was a substantial amount of research involved. I always begin by simply doing research into a wide variety of possibilities that I know will inform a new piece in some way. At some point in the research process, I begin to feel that it’s time to begin writing. Then, I start to create my “text for music,” meaning that I write the text and music at the same time. Writing music for me is primarily an internal process. I do not write anything on paper until I can hear the whole work from beginning to end, internally and completely. The text and music are thus one entity, and there is no separation between the two of them in my compositional process. That is fundamentally different from a composer who is taking a found text by a poet or writer, and setting it to music. I sometimes call my process “composing text for music,” because it is inextricably bound to the creation of the music itself, and we don’t really have a single word in our language for composing text and music simultaneously. This means that when I begin to notate the music, I’m free to refine and change the text and/or music, whenever necessary. I don’t need to negotiate with another author, so I’m not limited by working with something that cannot be changed. Each composition is a living and fluid being, and it can be refined and transformed during the compositional process. Personally, I find this to be a very exciting way to composer vocal music. It is not static or constrained in any way, but is an open creative process that allows for revision and transformation whenever needed. In A Time for Life, the texts come from a diverse range of sources. One of the great joys of creating the work was to discover that there is a profound connection between the intonations, chants, and prayers of indigenous people and Eastern Orthodox spirituality, especially as it relates to creation, the creator, and nature. This deep connection has never been pointed out before, because scholars have rarely considered those cultures within the same frame. But I found that they share many values related to creation and nature, and artistically, this suggested to me that the dynamic relationship between them could be explored through a work of art. The first part of my environmental oratorio is entitled “Creation” and it is an exploration of creation stories related to the two cultures. The second part is entitled “Forgetting” and it describes humanity’s falling away from creation, through its failure to live in harmony with nature. The third part is entitled “Remembering,” and in it, a hopeful future is imagined, in which humanity serves as a responsible steward of the earth and realigns itself with the creative forces of existence. At the very end of the work, the two soloists sing about remembering our deep connection to nature and embracing the forces of creation. Thus, there is a physical and spiritual journey within the oratorio that moves through the destructive behavior of humanity toward the forces of creation and renewal.

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Fanfare Interviews Tikey Zes about his new Divine Liturgy Recording

New interview with Divine Liturgy composer, Tikey Zes by Ronald Grames of Fanfare Magazine:

“If one composer stands at the forefront of Greek Orthodox music in America, it would likely be Dr. Tikey Zes…”

RG: So, what is it about music for the Greek Orthodox church that especially appeals to you?

TZ: It is the distinctively beautiful melodies of the post-Byzantine chant of the 19th and early 20th centuries and the harmonizations and arrangements/compositions that can be made from them.

RG: This 1991/1996 Liturgy is Tikey Zes’s The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom , which is one of the new releases by Cappella Romana being featured in this issue. I asked Zes about his relationship with the choir and about the dedication of the Divine Liturgy to Dr. Alex Lingas and the choir he founded and directs.

TZ: My relationship with the Cappella Romana started in 1981 when I first met Alexander Lingas, who much later became the director of this choir and a leading scholar of Byzantine Music. Under Dr. Lingas’s excellent direction this chamber choir has produced a number of CDs based on Byzantine Chant and recently a CD of my 1991/1996 Liturgy. This Liturgy was dedicated to the group because it has done so much to promote Byzantine Music to the general public.

RG: I am interested in the connection between Cappella Romana and your Divine Liturgy . I gather from Alexander Lingas’s notes that Cappella Romana was founded the same year (1991) that you published the first version of this setting. They performed it in concert a year later, and you then expanded—and possibly revised—the Liturgy for them in 1996. There must be some interesting stories in that outline: how you met Alexander Lingas, where he heard or became aware of your Liturgy—were you using it in a worship setting during that period?—what the concert premiere was like, why you decided to revise the work, and what exactly is different in the 1996 version.

TZ: The final 1996 version was essentially the same as the earlier version, with just a few changes. I started using it (in its manuscript form) in liturgical services in the late 1980s.

I first met Alex Lingas in 1981 in a Greek Orthodox Choir Conference in Portland, Oregon. I saw him off and on after that and followed his career both as a Byzantine scholar and eventually as the conductor of Cappella Romana, which gave its first concert in San Francisco in 1991. Since the Cappella was dedicated to the promotion and performance of Eastern Orthodox music, old and new, I decided to dedicate the 1991/1996 Liturgy to them…

Read the full interview at

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