Christmas Concerts Wrap Up – Sunday Edition

I’ve spoken with an interesting cross-section of people involved in today’s concert, from performers to audience members, guarantors, first-time listeners, and seasoned audience members.  The unanimous conclusion (with which I heartily concur) was that our performances today and last night were something special, even among a group whose performances are frequently thus.  I learned this evening that Joe Ganzelli, our percussionist, and our substitute oboist, Madeline Friese, are both young underclassmen at their respective schools. Part of what made these concerts so rewarding, I believe, was the vitality of our younger performers, from the Bel Canto Children’s Chorus, to the young players in the orchestra, to our excellent choral scholars, who dove into this very challenging music with great vigor and commitment.  Music composed for young people, performed, in part, by young people, allow those of us who are passionate about these experiences to exhale a little – the future of classical music performance is in excellent hands.  There was also the pleasure of watching so many dedicated musicians mentoring their younger colleagues – Chris Hanning working with one of his proteges, Nobuo Kitagawa working with one of his students, the excellent and inspiring rapport that Dr. Joy Hirokawa shares with the Bel Canto singers, and the affection and artistic mentoring Greg Funfgeld shares with our choral scholars – it’s all so very inspiring.

Like last night, many moments from shine through – from Ben Butterfield’s wonderfully evocative singing as St. Nicolas, to the excellent solo and duo work by our quartet of vocal soloists, to the bravery of our little St. Nicholas, and his colleagues, the pickled boys….I could gush on.  There’s a moment in the fourth movement of the Britten, after the tempest and storm, when the skies clear, and theres a sort of eerie twinkling piano part, accompanied by strings playing in octaves, with understated whirls from the suspended cymbal.  Nicolas sings about how the sailors were sleeping, and how he looked into the sky, having just experienced tumultuous emotional, spiritual, and physical trials and saw God’s angels smiling down upon him.   Nicolas weeps.  Ben sang this with tremendous emotional depth and generosity of spirit.  I was able to regard the orchestral players from my perch on stage left, and I saw the violins playing their octaves with the sensitivity of mothers cradling their children, and Chris Hanning drawing the sound from his cymbal with two mallets with such utter tenderness.  Everyone was working to bring to life the incontestable brilliance of Britten in this moment, with complete emotional and spiritual commitment.  Tom Goeman played the piano part with more sensitivity than seems humanly possible.  These are the moments in the lives of musicians that make it all worth it – the countless hours of practice, the humbling confrontation with deeply-challening music, and the deeply-felt desire to bring notes on a page to life in as visceral a sense as possible.  I think this pair of concerts was definitely for the ages.

The Choir does not rest on our laurels, however.  We’re rehearsing tomorrow night to continue tackling movements of Mendelssohn’s riveting and epic oratorio, Elijah, and to have a little holiday fellowship, before we begin our Christmas hiatus.  I’ll have more to say about Elijah, as well as our Young Composers’ Family concert in the coming weeks.

Recently this blog has had an uptick in visitors – yesterday we’d beat our previous record for hits (which was on September 11, 2011 – when we were in New York for the Remember to Love concerts at Trinity Church, Wall Street).  Welcome back to longtime friends, and welcome, as well, to new visitors.  Please use our comments section to reflect on this concert – the applause was gratifying, but many of us would love to know how you felt either performing or listening to this music.

Philip Metzger has a review up on the Morning Call’s Music Blog.

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