Tanti auguri di buon compleanno to Friends of Ionarts the Suspicious Cheese Lords. The group was founded twenty years ago this July, and on Saturday the Washington-based all-male vocal ensemble celebrated with an anniversary concert in the gorgeous acoustic of the Church of the Ascension and St. Agnes downtown. As I learned when I broke bread with the Lords a few years ago, the group is a way of life. Many former Lords were also in the audience on Saturday afternoon, and a number of them joined the current members for a few numbers. With their normal roster of about a dozen doubled by alumni, on the first two pieces from Tallis's settings of the Lamentations, for example, the group had a much richer, more complex sound. Perhaps the Lords should think about taking a "reunion tour" with that mix of singers.
The program began with the first piece the group ever learned, Francesco Landini's L'alma mia piange, and continued through many of the Renaissance rarities the Lords have revived and recorded over the years, including Ludwig Senfl, Jean Mouton, and Elzéar Genet. The Lords also remained true to their secondary interest, the championing of new music for male choir, with the top three pieces given awards in their first composition contest. While Andrew Robinson's setting of Psalm 141 received first place, the piece struck me as largely rehashing the popular tropes of far too much recent choral music (think Eric Whitacre, for example). Of far greater interest was a setting of the Benedictus canticle by Adam Taylor (b. 1989), which won second place. (After the composition contest, Taylor ended up joining the Lords, so he actually sang in his own work.) Taylor studied composition rather than vocal performance, and his score displayed an excellent grasp of counterpoint and textural interest in a believably late Renaissance style. Catholic music directors looking for music that is both current and traditional should check out some of Taylor's music at his Web site.