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J. Reilly Lewis: A Tribute

J. Reilly LewisA dear friend of music and of all of us, J. Reilly Lewis, passed away unexpectedly on June 9th.  We celebrate Reilly’s life on Choral Showcase on September 18th with performances by the ensemble he founded—The Washington Bach Consort.  And here, we invite you to re-experience Reilly’s infectious enthusiasm; these are the Classical Conversations we recorded with Reilly over the years.

Reilly headed up the Washington Bach Consort (which he founded in 1977) and the Cathedral Choral Society (since 1985).  In chatting with Reilly, both in the studio and otherwise, what always stood out, even above his knowledge and wit, was his passion.  We talked after the 2011 earthquake about the damage to his beloved space—Washington National Cathedral.  He adored the Cathedral, beginning when he was an 8-year-old member of its junior choir.  He loved its organ, and savored the “vast acoustic,” as he liked to say.  He was proud to be able to rehearse his Cathedral Choral Society there each week, and told me once, in preparing Handel’s Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, how happy he was that Handel had included strategic rests so they could fully capitalize on the thrill of cathedral acoustics. 

Washington is one of the best choral towns anywhere, and Reilly luxuriated in the richness.  He spoke about how ensembles of every shape and dimension give us a stimulating variety of different approaches to singing.  He loved the unsurpassed caliber of soloists here too, often choosing his Consort soloists from the chorus, saying, “It’s home-grown, yes, but I couldn’t do any better no matter where I looked!”

Reilly was famous for his visceral descriptions of music.  Talking about one of Handel’s coronation anthems, Reilly’s words were as alive as the piece itself.  He savored the gradual build-up, as only Handel could write, leading to the fabulous D Major chord.  “Zadok, the Priest,” he exclaimed (in tempo, of course)!

In speaking about Bach’s B minor Mass, a signature piece for the Consort, I asked him how he approached a work he’d conducted so many times before—35, in fact.  It’s not, “what can I do different this time,” Reilly said.  “We’re not conquering the piece.  We approach it with reverence for the privilege of experiencing it, and, when we do, the music guides us, and takes us wherever we’re going to go.”

David Ginder, Producer of Choral Showcase

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The Big Bach Family

David Ginder chats with The Washington Bach Consort's J. Reilly Lewis about the many musicians in the Bach lineage, and the March 2015 concert celebrating most of them.

Faure's Requiem at The Cathedral

The Cathedral Choral Society's all-French program in March 2015.  Bill Bukowski chats with J. Reilly Lewis about the music, including Faure's Requiem.

CPE: Bach Son

The Washington Bach Consort's May 2014 C.P.E. Bach concert, marking the 300th anniversary of the composer's birth.  Music Director J. Reilly Lewis chats with David Ginder.

Visionary Women at The Cathedral

Bill Bukowski talks with J. Reilly Lewis of the Cathedral Choral Society about the "Visionary Women" program (in February 2014) in tribute to Joan of Arc and Hildegard of Bingen.

Mutual Inspirations Festival 2013

J. Reilly Lewis on the Cathedral Choral Society's 2013 tribute to Vaclav Havel, "The Power of the Human Spirit."

Handel, the Englishman

David Ginder chats with J. Reilly Lewis about the Cathedral Choral Society's May 2013 concert celebrating Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee.

The Bach Consort's 35th year

The Washington Bach Consort's J. Reilly Lewis talks about Bach's B minor Mass on the final concert (in April 2013) of their 35th anniversary season.

Czech Fête

The Cathedral Choral Society's J. Reilly Lewis talks with David Ginder about the conclusion of the Mutual Inspirations Festival (in October 2011) with a performance of Dvorak's Te Deum, plus Janacek's Glagolitic Mass.

Russian Singing

Cathedral Choral Society Music Director J. Reilly Lewis on the "Russian Riches" concert of May 2011.

Bach's Keyboards

The Washington Bach Consort's J. Reilly Lewis on their "Art of the Keyboard" concert (in March 2011) that included solo harpsichord pieces, concertos for two harpsichords (with Reilly and Scott Dettra, the soloists), plus chorales and organ preludes.

Bach's Solo Cantatas

J. Reilly Lewis of Washington Bach Consort talks with David Ginder about Bach, on the occasion of a month-long Bach birthday celebration (in March 2011, on both Classical WETA and VivaLaVoce), during which the Consort's CD of Bach Solo Cantatas (with soprano Elizabeth Futral) was featured.

Missa Solemnis

The Cathedral Choral Society's J. Reilly Lewis with David Ginder on the March 2011 all-Beethoven concert, including the great Missa Solemnis.

The B minor Mass: Its Odd History

J. Reilly Lewis of Washington Bach Consort on their 2010 concert exploring the origins of Bach's B minor Mass.

Lincoln: Portrait in Music

J. Reilly Lewis on the Cathedral Choral Society's 2009 concert marking the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth, including Hindemith's When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom'd.

The Cathedral at 100

J. Reilly Lewis talks with Deb Lamberton about the Cathedral Choral Society's celebration (in May 2008) of Washington National Cathedral's centennial with Mendelssohn's oratorio, Elijah.

An Argento Premiere

Composer Dominick Argento and Cathedral Choral Society Music Director J. Reilly Lewis on the 2008 premiere (at the Cathedral) of "Evensong: Of Love and Angels."

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