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Cathedral Basilica lands performance by 'Voice from Assisi' Friar Alessandro

As Scott Kennebeck says, "Sometimes, the Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways."

How else does one explain the upcoming performance by a world-renowned tenor falling into his lap?

"I just got a call out of the blue," said Kennebeck, the executive director of the Cathedral Concerts series, which extended its 24th season by three weeks to accommodate the performance by Friar Alessandro Brustenghi.

Friar Alessandro, 34, has recorded three albums, starting with the "Voice from Assisi" recorded at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London. The album was produced by Mike Hedges, who has worked with U2, Dido and others. "Voice of Joy" and "Voice of Peace" followed. According to his website, Friar Alessandro is the first friar to land a recording contract with a major record label — Universal Music Group, a subsidiary of Vivendi.

He also recorded a concert at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, which was telecast in March by about 80 percent of PBS stations in the U.S. — 290 of 360, according to Kennebeck.

His performance at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis on Friday, May 12, amounts to half of his brief U.S. tour. He'll also perform Wednesday, May 10, at St. Paul the Apostle Church in New York. Before traveling to the U.S., Friar Alessandro will perform Saturday, May 6, at St. George's Cathedral in London.

"This is pretty big," Kennebeck said. "We're excited."

And to think it's all thanks to a random phone call from St. Louisan Stephen Pfaff, a fan of Friar Alessandro. Pfaff and wife, Lynne, split time between Tampa and St. Louis. Enthralled by Friar Alessandro's voice, they've met him and knew Friar Eunan McMullan, who informally acts as Friar Alessandro's manager.

"They had been looking for an opportunity to come to the United States," Kennebeck said, adding that the Pfaffs considered Tampa as a destination but then "thought of our concert series. ... Friar Alessandro has an amazing voice and an amazing vocation story. It's just unbelievable."

Friar Alessandro grew up a musician and sang out of necessity to fill classes — "I had a tiny voice," he stated on his website. He developed his voice just to pass an exam into the Franciscan Friars; he passed with flying colors.

"It was his unstoppable desire to fulfill his vocation that drove Alessandro into discovering his voice," the website states. "He didn't bring his voice to the vocation; the vocation brought the voice to him — it truly was a gift from God."

After first vows in 2001, Friar Alessandro experienced a crisis in faith and eventually left the friars for three years. However, he returned and made his final vows in 2009. Three years later, he recorded his first album.

"His voice is pure and pain soaked; the songs heartbreakingly beautiful," the website states. "Alessandro's eyes have a permanent twinkle. In his voice you hear the essence of who he is, of being filled with love."

On May 12, he'll add his voice to the many — 90 artists in all — who have performed in the series over the past 24 years at the cathedral basilica, a concert venue unlike any other in St. Louis given its art work, architecture and sacred nature. It is the perfect place for the sacred music Cathedral Concerts presents.

"It's an amazing venue," said Kennebeck, who started singing at the New Cathedral in 1978. "We bring in groups that wouldn't appear anywhere else in St. Louis, and the people in the archdiocese and greater community wouldn't be able to hear them."

What they hear "can be breathtaking," said Kennebeck, adding that live performances by groups such as the Vienna Boys Choir are "just magical. For a CD, you can do 100s of takes and splice things together, but when they're live in the cathedral, they achieve that perfection. On top of it, the stunning view of the cathedral as the music is happening can be transformative." 

"Voice from Assisi"

Who • Friar Alessandro Brustenghi

What • A tenor and Italian Franciscan friar performs religious music in Cathedral Concert

When • 8 p.m. Friday, May 12

Where • Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, 4431 Lindell Blvd. in the Central West End of St. Louis

Tickets • $19-$29

More information • about the concert, visit www.stlouisreview.com/bsH or call (314) 533-7662; about Friar Alessandro, visit friaralessandro.com or follow him on Twitter @FriarAlessandro 

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