When it comes to live performance, many of us have our annual holiday traditions here in NYC. For some, it's Handel's Messiah; for others, it's The Nutcracker at NY City Ballet, or one of the five daily performances of the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. But, for me, it just isn't Christmas in New York without the annual concert by the acclaimed Boys of the Saint Thomas Choir at Saint Thomas Church, an oasis of calm in the center of the chaotic Fifth Avenue shopping corridor.
When I first started attending this concert twenty years ago, Director of Music John Scott would perform an astonishing double-duty, leading the boys in Britten's Ceremony of Carols before taking his place behind the organ console to perform Messiaen's 70-minute meditation, La Nativité du Seigneur. Sadly, that tradition ended with Scott's untimely death in 2015, although his successor Daniel Hyde - now the Director of Cambridge's renowned King College Choir - would continue the annual tradition of performing Britten's Ceremony, which dates back to the 1970's. (Hyde did perform the Messiaen once, on a separate recital in December 2018.)
For this year's concert, which was completely sold out, Director of Music Jeremy Filsell dispensed with both the Britten and Messiaen, choosing instead a custom program of carols generally from the English tradition, both traditional and contemporary. On Thursday, the boys were accompanied by the string players of Juilliard's Music Advancement Program under their director Catherine Birke, as well as by Saint Thomas' Associate Organist Nicolas Haigh (who performed La Nativité du Seigneur in a near-empty nave in December 2020.)