We broke audience records for our Allentown concert on Saturday, and many brave souls defied the weather for Sunday’s program in Bethlehem, and I would be willing to bet that members of the audience were glad they did! The 2013 Christmas Concerts are now hopefully very happy memories for all who attended. They certainly are for the performers.
The arc of the program brought to mind Robert Shaw’s and Robert Russell Bennett’s epic arrangements of The Many Moods of Christmas, though I believe that Greg Funfgeld’s programming cast a much wider net. Here, the moods tended toward a far greater sense of intimacy, of sharing the Incarnation Narrative from many perspectives, and through the lens of many cultures. Many of the carols were deeply-familiar, though, in this particular order, they seemed ever more full of nuance and the interplay between texts was quite striking.
It’s extremely rewarding to dig into one of the major works for a Christmas Concert, say, the Christmas Oratorio, or, perhaps, the trumpets and drums works of BWV 63 or 110. It was equally rewarding to dig into the more familiar texts of Christmas carols, to partake of their view across centuries, and even into the future. Greg had intended the program book to be a kind of keepsake, a collection of some of the great poetry of the nativity. I know I’ve revisited several of the texts in the days since the concert and pondered their richness.
The work of a few individuals stands out: Beth Allen Gardner’s lovely singing of the first verse of Elizabeth Poston’s Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, was deeply moving (particularly given the exposure of singing by herself from the galleries). Tom Goeman’s accompanying on both organ and piano was full of nuance and color. The pianists and organists in The Choir always are humbled by his preternatural skill at coaxing the most musicality, articulation, and color out of every note he plays. It’s humbling, but also inspiring. The polyrhythms from Chris Hanning and his student on the Nigerian processional, Betelehemu, were thrilling and full of ever-evolving variety. Finally, at the helm, our intrepid leader, Greg. His ability to shape words, vocal colors, articulation, and evoke performances of emotional depth, powerful spirituality, and visceral excitement always astounds. As beautifully as he shaped the design of the program, equally beautiful was the way he brought it to life, with great sensitivity and engagement. I left Sunday’s performance strangely energized (after a long weekend of singing, and an even longer day of making music), and some grinchitude that had been creeping into my psyche had been rather powerfully exorcised.
Phil Metzger seems to have enjoyed the performance.
There’s much, much more to come in the New Year: the world premiere of our new children’s opera, Young Meister Bach, Haydn’s epic Creation, the continuation of our pairing of Mozart and Bach at Bach at Noon, and a really stunning Festival program, including an exploration of the intersection of healing and music in the works of JS Bach and his son, CPE!