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Baltimore cathedral to host world premiere of musical setting of St. John’s Passion narrative

The Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore's Homeland neighborhood is pictured in a March 27, 2023, photo. The cathedral will host the world premiere of a musical setting of the exact text of St. John's Passion narrative during special concert March 31. (OSV News photo/George P. Matysek, Catholic Review)

BALTIMORE (OSV News) — The Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore will host the world premiere of a musical setting of the exact text of St. John’s Passion narrative during a special evening candlelit concert March 31.

Steven C. Warner, a world-renowned liturgical composer, created the work and will serve as the conductor when the setting is presented. Warner is the founder of the Folk Choir at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, which he directed for 35 years.

“This haunting piece was written while Mr. Warner and his wife were on sabbatical in Ireland for five years,” said Julie Grace Males, music director at the cathedral and director of the Office of Divine Worship for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. “It is written in the Celtic tradition and is to be accompanied by Celtic harp.”

Males noted that Warner’s numerous liturgical compositions are featured in hymnals around the English-speaking world and some were used at the cathedral at last year’s priestly ordination and at Auxiliary Bishop Bruce A. Lewandowski’s episcopal ordination in 2020.

“The Archdiocese of Baltimore is honored to host the world premiere of such an important work,” Males told the Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan news outlet.

Eric Sabatino, a harpist and professor in the performing arts department of The American University in Washington, will be featured on harp during the premier of “The Passion According to St. John.”

Ryan Slattery, a native of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and a tenor who sings at the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria, Va., will sing the lead role of the narrator. Deacon Mark Loepker of Our Lady of the Fields in Millersville will sing the role of Christ, and Mark Lowitt of the cathedral will portray Pontius Pilate.

The Epilogue will be sung by Grace Herron, a graduate voice major from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. The Cathedral Schola will comprise the chorus.

Following the premier of the Passion setting, the text of which comes from the New American Bible, Revised Edition, Males will direct the Cathedral Choir in a brief collection of pieces to prepare the assembly for Holy Week.

The 7 p.m. concert is co-sponsored by the cathedral, the Office of Divine Worship, the Notre Dame Alumni Association of Maryland, the National Association of Pastoral Musicians and Oregon Catholic Press, publisher of Warner’s new composition. The concert is free, but a freewill offering will be collected.

George P. Matysek Jr. is managing editor of the Catholic Review, news outlet of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

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