Ceremonies of Carols
The holidays are upon us, and for those who are so inclined, there is an abundance of seasonal music all around town, as varied in style and quality as there are Christmas tree ornaments. For me, the gold standard has always been the St. Thomas Church Choir of Men and Boys: the finest example of the great Anglican choral tradition we have in this country. I had the chance to see the choir twice this past week, singing carols both old new.
Last Thursday, the choir gave their annual performance of Britten's Ceremony of Carols (1941), which I've written about previously. This year, they also sang John Rutter's Dancing Day (1974), which, like the Britten, is scored for harp and SATB choir. Led by John Scott, St. Thomas' Organist and Director of Music, the performance was astonishingly beautiful, even from my spot high up in the organ loft. Unfortunately, the concert - which in past years has always been free - cost $40: a fact that went unnoticed on the St. Thomas website.
Three days later, the choir offered A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, modeled on the traditional service given by Cambridge, England's Kings College Choir each year on Christmas Eve (which you can hear tomorrow morning at 10am here in New York on WQXR 105.9FM or streaming online on the BBC Worldservice.) This time, the service - which featured carols from the 14th through 20th centuries - was free and, as one might expect, packed to the gills. For all the beautiful music that transpired over two-plus hours, by far the greatest moment came at the end of the service, when the choir processed through the nave singing Mendelssohn's "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing," the boy sopranos soaring above the basses and tenors. Moments like these yield instant memories, far richer than the transitory parties and other obligations of this hectic holiday season.
Hope you get to hear some of this noble and ancient music for yourself this week, regardless of your creed. More pics on Flickr.