Cappella Romana cancelled its live audience but not its performance of Tchaikovsky's Divine Liturgy at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 14. “This is a time when the soothing and healing effect of music is needed,” they wrote their fans.

Pacific Youth Choir has opted not to take part in the concert. Their decision was made in alignment with Governor Kate Brown’s order banning gatherings of 250 or more, and with Portland Public Schools proactively suspending events that bring large groups of students, adults, and community members together.

However, the 16 professional adult singers of Cappella Romana will perform the program Saturday before their virtual audience.

The link to the video stream will be on their website, cappellaromana.org. “As you can imagine, any loss of ticket revenue has significant financial impact on us,” their message states.

In conductor Benedict Sheehan’s notes on the performance, he writes that Russian choral artistry long enjoyed the admiration of the Western musical world. After hearing the Choir of the Imperial Chapel of St. Petersburg in 1844, composer Robert Schumann wrote in his diary that they were “the most wonderful choir we have ever had the occasion of hearing.”

Hector Berlioz was even more effusive, writing in 1847 that it “surpasses everything we have in Europe.”

Yet at the same time, Russia had produced only a modest number of memorable sacred choral compositions.

Enter Tchaikovsky.

In early 1879, Tchaikovsky published his new Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in defiance of Russia’s Imperial Chapel director. A court battle ensued.

Sheehan's notes (also available at Cappella Romana’s website), states that Tchaikovsky’s score played a key role in the rebirth of Russian sacred music. “Without this piece (and the bold vision of its publisher) there would be no Rachmaninoff Vespers, no Grechaninov Passion Week, no Chesnokov, no Kastalsky.”

Sheehan, a rising star in the choral world, also chose, along with Cappella Romana’s artists, to combine English and Church Slavonic in various parts of the night’s performance. “Peter Illich Tchaikovsky, we owe you a debt of gratitude.”

The program include’s Tchaikovsky’s Divine Liturgy, with:

• Kalinnikov: First Antiphon

• Sheehan: Second Antiphon, Alleluiarion

• Rachmaninoff: Beatitudes for double choir, from his Divine Liturgy

• Chesnokov: Choral concerto, “My Soul Magnifies the Lord”, feat. Fotina Naumenko

• Tcherninov: Many years (sung in English)