by Nick Stubblefield
With all the mayhem of travel, madness of scheduling, and the commercialism that has come to define modern-day Christmas-time, feeling "in the spirit" can seem like an insurmountable task for a busy New Yorker. Fortunately, if you let it, the concert hall can serve as a more-than-welcome respite from it all, a sanctuary safe from all the noise, and a place to feed the soul. When you get right down to it, the holidays are a time for unity, and that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from the shared experiences with family and friends. For many, there's also the spiritual and religious element to the holidays. The New York Choral Society set out this past holiday season to embrace that familial quality in a religious context using the most universal and inclusive instrument of any -- the human voice.
The New York Choral Society, often abbreviated NYChoral, is a New York mainstay. Founded in 1959, they've graced stages at almost every major venue in Manhattan, and performed a diverse set of repertoire from Mendelssohn to Arvo Pärt. The holiday show packed the modern, warm, and cavernous Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, a venue well-suited in size for NYChoral. Choir members, just like the audience, came from various backgrounds and ages. They conveyed a sense of welcome and community -- something akin to what you might see in a mid-sized church.
The program opened with a Fantasia on Christmas Carols, with a restrained accompaniment on the looming pipe organ at back-center stage. Composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams, the work is a warm, eerie reflection on the birth of Jesus. It may be paradoxical that a slow, minor-key, medieval-styled melody conveys a sense of Christmas joy, but Williams' composition manages to do it magnificently. Vocal-composer giant Robert Shaw's arrangement Many Moods of Christmas offered up rapidly changing styles, and holiday favorites including What Child is This, and I Saw Three Ships. Also notable on the program was a jaunty arrangement of Shout for Joy from NYChoral's alumnus director Robert De Cormier. David Hayes, the society’s current director, led each work with joyful exuberance that warmed both choir and audience.
What's a Christmas concert without a good audience sing-a-long? The program culminated in three of them full-on, including a triumphant Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. It was the perfect star atop the tree from a group that celebrates community and inclusiveness in a time where we could all use a little more of it.
More pics from this year's holiday concerts: