Not only is Christ Cathedral an important center of spiritual life for more than one million Orange County Catholics, but efforts are underway to make it one of the centers of art, music and culture for the community as well. That new life is beginning with two major events this spring, a series of carillon concerts from the 236-foot tall Crean Tower and a double-billed concert featuring music from Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” and a performance of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
The Easter Carillon Concert Series began on March 30 and concerts will be performed from 12:40 p.m.-1 p.m. every Wednesday during the Easter Season through May 11. Despite unusually cool and blustery weather, the grounds around the stainless-steel mirrored spire adjacent to the main cathedral building were alive with people, some with their lunches, waiting for that first concert from the 52-bell carillon on March 30. The program of liturgical music played by carillonneur Melissa Weidner was met with frequent applause from the assembled audience.
On the evening of May 6 the Arboretum will host the concert of “Carmina Burana” and “Rhapsody in Blue.” Maestro Valery Ryvkin conducts and featured soloists are scheduled to include pianist Grace Fong from Chapman University, soprano Maria Cristina Navarro from the Pacific Chorale and tenor Benjamin Brecher from the New York City Opera. The concert begins at 8 p.m. and tickets are available online at cathedralproductions.com.
These events are music to the ears of Dr. John Romeri, director of Music Ministries, who knows that they hold both promise and challenge for the cathedral’s future as a cultural venue. “This can be one of the greatest cathedrals in the world,” he says, “and that means a responsibility to provide some of the greatest music in the world.”
Romeri appreciates the challenge posed by the legacy of the late Rev. Robert Schuller, founder and pastor of what was the Crystal Cathedral prior to its purchase by the Diocese of Orange in 2013. “Now the diocese must step forward,” Romeri says, to live up to the world-famous reputation that Schuller built.
Romeri isn’t daunted. He is very proud of the choral groups already in place—the 56-voice Cathedral Choir, the new 90-voice Diocesan Choir, and the Spanish Choir directed by Ricardo Soto—and he looks forward to bringing new generations into the tradition. A new children’s choir will be established by this fall and he sees a day when the Christ Cathedral Academy, a Catholic school teaching children from preschool through eighth grade, will have a choir school. It would be one of only three such schools in the country.
One endeavor that would combine one of the area’s premiere musical institutions with local youngsters is a hoped-for association between Christ Cathedral and the Pacific Symphony. Romeri envisions a time when the symphony may perform concerts with these choirs and provide educational music outreach programs.
Music alone does not a cultural center make, however. The 2016-17 season of the Christ Cathedral Drama Series is already in place. Saint Luke Productions will present four theatrical productions between August 2016 and April 2017. They depict the lives of some of the most inspirational figures in Catholic history, “Faustina,” “Saint Francis,” “Therese,” and “Vianney.” More information and tickets for these productions can be found at ccdramaseries.com.
The fine arts will also figure in the cathedral’s future. The upper floors of the Cultural Center, designed by world-renowned architect Richard Meier, will host world-class traveling artistic and spiritual exhibits. “The Vatican Splendors exhibit is on display right now at the Ronald Reagan Library,” he notes. “There’s no reason why an exhibit like that couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be on display right here.”
As with every artistic institution, Christ Cathedral needs funding for its ambitious projects. “I have great ideas,” Romeri says. “All I need is the funding to make them real.” Any business, organization or individual who wants to contribute to this part of Orange County’s cultural life can visit christcathedralcalifornia.org. He says no donation is too small. “We can find a little something for anyone to donate to.”
Exhibits at the Cultural Center depict the renovations and refurbishments taking place to transform the former Crystal Cathedral into the center for Catholic worship, showing the Christ Cathedral campus as a work of art itself.
It’s easy for visitors to run an errand only to find themselves spending time wandering the grounds, finding a new wonder around each corner.