Fall marks first time paid pros will perform as the congregation nears 150th anniversary.
From the busy corner of Broadway and Hildebrand, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word can look out on a 283-acre inheritance that dates to the 1869 arrival in Texas of three nuns from Lyons, France.
The expanse contains many of the congregation’s historic ministries, including a university, a retirement home, a Heritage Center and an ecological preserve called the Headwaters of the Incarnate Word, where a spring called the Blue Hole lies, the source of the San Antonio River.
Yet the jewel in the congregation’s crown may well be the Chapel of the Incarnate Word, a Romanesque-inspired space that honors the nuns’ monastic roots. Bathed in gold tones, the chapel’s domed ceiling gives way to massive arches that meet a marbled floor. Its musical centerpiece, a majestic pipe organ, sits overhead.
Though openes for special occasions and each second Sunday for Mass, over the next year the space will become a full-fledged concert hall, and some of those musical performances will be free.
This fall marks the first time the chapel will host a series of paid professional performances initiated by the congregation as a run-up to its 150th anniversary in 2019.
Since the chapel underwent renovations and a new pipe organ was installed, the congregation’s leaders have sought to make the chapel more open, said Sister Mary Henry, who oversees it and the Heritage Center.
Musical groups have rented the space, but last year, it hosted a series of performances, a tryout of sorts. “All the performers were friends of the congregation, and they all performed for free,” Henry said.
They’ve all sought out the space for its beauty, history and treasured acoustics, akin to those of classic European sacred spaces.
This month, the chapel opened its own concert series with a performance by the Austin Baroque Orchestra & Chorus, a Texas group that performs in both Austin and San Antonio. Billy Traylor, its founder and director, covets the space, describing its reverberation as adding “a halo or glow around the music,” helping to amplify it.
The group performs with period instruments, including baroque flutes, oboes, violins, the lutelike theorbo, and the harpsichord, and it seeks spaces that emulate how the music might have been played pre-1800s.
“It’s impossible to put this music in its context,” Traylor said. “But to put it back in a space like that, it’s as beautiful a space as the places where that music was meant to be performed. It was like it might have sounded in Royal Chapel in the Palace of Versailles.”
The series will follow up with performances by the Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble Conspirare, which will open its 25th anniversary season in the chapel; the San Antonio Mastersingers; the Children’s Chorus of San Antonio and IlluMen; and the Agarita Chamber Players. Ars Longa, a vocal ensemble, will perform Sept. 30. Tickets are $20 for the latter, but other concert prices range from $20 to $50.
The chapel’s free pipe organ recital series will feature Chris Keenan of University United Methodist Church, Andrew Lloyd from the University of Texas at San Antonio and Geoffrey Waite of Laurel Heights United Methodist Church.
The chapel’s free choir series will feature performances by the University of the Incarnate Word Cardinal Singers and the Trinity University Chamber Singers.
Since its dedication on the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1907, the chapel was updated slightly after Vatican II but has mostly stayed intact — a 500-seat space gleaming with stained glass.
It stretches 120 feet, not including its altar, and is 68 feet wide. Its 300 ornate oak stalls face one another, a tribute to the congregation’s monastic roots. From such pews, alternating choirs of nuns chanted psalms in responsorial song.
During chapel tours, Henry asks groups to sit in carved chairs and will read a tribute to another kind of sound.
“Be still and aware of God’s presence within and all around,” it says. Sometimes, Henry said, the best sound the chapel can offer is silence.
Enter to https://www.ccvichapel.org/concerts and find your tickets to enjoy of 2018-2019 Concert Season.
Wrote by Elaine Ayala
firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @ElaineAyala
Photos by Jerry Lara / Staff photographer