This year’s Christmas Concerts will be a little bit different from those in the past. Instead of a survey of larger works, this will be a concert full of delightful miniatures, offered in celebration of our latest release on the Analekta label, A Child’s Christmas in Bethlehem. In putting together the program, Greg Funfgeld polled the members of The Choir about their favorite selections from our popular Christmas in Bethlehem recordings, and combined them with some selections from the new recording to assemble an exceptionally pure distillation of Christmas magic! We can confidently guarantee that you will be enchanted with the result in two concerts containing a magnificent variety of carols from different historical periods, fusions of wonderful poetry, charming music, lots of opportunities for audience singing, and copious amounts of Christmas joy and wonder. We’ll be joined by a wonderful assembly of brass players, percussion, and Tom Goeman, The Choir’s Assistant Conductor, Rehearsal Accompanist, and Organist, will provide his inimitable support.
The twenty-two pieces on the program reflect the gamut of Christmas music, from Gregorian plainsong refreshed with the sound of handbells, to a recent composition by one of The Choir’s own members. David Umla, a Bass I in The Choir, composed Sleep Well, Thou Child of God, for our Greg Funfgeld and his church choir, and it’s since been published by Paraclete Press. David combines a lovely poem that he wrote himself with a lullaby that is at once reverential and jazzy, full of rich harmonies and peace. It fits marvelously with other carols on the program, including Hugo Distler’s melancholically beautiful setting of Lo, How a Rose is Blooming, Bach’s enchanting harmonization of the cradle chorale, O Jesulein Süss, and Elizabeth Posten’s ravishing Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.
The program not only includes settings of great peace and intimacy, but also of great ebullience and joy, not least of which, Samuel Scheidt’s epic setting of In Dulci Jubilo, which combines polychoral singing with fiercely bravura trumpet writing (and launches The Choir’s soprano sections into the stratosphere, a challenge they are meeting with remarkable aplomb). There will be two organ settings of the same tune by Bach, allowing Tom Goeman to demonstrate two virtuosic takes on Christmas joy by one composer: the first, a quiet, delightful canonic treatment, and the second, a vast and showy fantasia. The Choir will also sing a wonderful Nigerian carol in its native Yoruba (complete with exuberant African percussion), John Rutter’s masterful setting of Noël Nouvelet, in French, and Johann Walter’s devout Joseph lieber, Joseph mien, in German. The program will conclude with Mack Wilberg’s ecstatic Ding Dong! Merrily on High, and an audience carol.
I hope our audience will enjoy this program as much as we’ve enjoyed preparing it. The challenge of singing these carols well have us paying careful attention to their texts, to sustaining musical lines, and allowing the poetic imagery to stimulate our imaginations. It’s been a wonderful fall! We’ve also been giving attention to repertoire for the fall’s Bach at Noon performances, we’ve been working on the opening chorus of our newly-commissioned children’s opera, Young Meister Bach, and revisited some movements of the Mass in B-Minor, as well as put our toes in the water on the beastly good (and challenging) opening chorus of Bach’s Michaelmas cantata, BWV 19. Oh, and we’ve learned some choruses from Haydn’s Creation!
There’s a wonderful collection of reflections on our favorite carols by members of The Choir on our Facebook page, assembled by our fantastic new Administrative Assistant, Andrea Fritchey. I encourage you to visit it, and if you’ve not liked us, take a moment to do so (we’re one like away from 1,000, at present!). Stay tuned to the blog for updates in this last week of preparation for the concerts, and if you’ve not, there’s still time: order your tickets at www.bach.org! While there, you can also order a copy (or copies, talk about great stocking stuffers!) of A Child’s Christmas in Bethlehem.