Music Director and Conductor: Mark Shapiro
Piano: Jeremy Chan
English Traditional Carol: Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day (arr. David Willcocks)
Kim Gannon & Walter Kent: I'll be Home for Christmas (arr. Mac Huff)
Algirdas Martinaitis: Alleluia
Elizabeth Poston: Jesus Christ and the Apple Tree
English Traditional Carol: God Rest you Merry Gentlemen (arr. David Willcocks)
Herbert Howells: A Spotless Rose
French Traditional Carol: Shepherds in the Fields Abiding (arr. David Willcocks)
Polish Traditional Carol: Infant Holy, Infant Lowly (arr. David Willcocks)
English Traditional Carol: I saw Three Ships (arr. Brian Morales)
Jewish Liturgy: Oseh Shalom
Every Voice Children’s Chorus
J. Pierpont: Jingle Bells (ass. Kirby Shaw)
Every Voice Children’s Chorus
Piano: Drew X. Coles
English Traditional Carol: The First Noël (arr. Rhonda Poley)
Cantori New York
Every Voice Children’s Chorus
Mykola Leontovich and Peter J. Wilhousky: Carol of the Bells
Felix Mendelssohn: Es wird ein Stern
Harold Darke and Christina Rossetti: In the Bleak Midwinter
Mariah Carey and Walter Afanasieff: All I Want for Christmas is You (arr. Mac Huff)
Irving Berlin: Snow
Leroy Anderson and Mitchell Parish: Sleigh Ride (arr. JoAnn Harris)
Tom Lehrer: Chanukah in Santa Monica (arr. Joshua Jacobsen)
Franz Biebl: Ave Maria
Traditional West Country Carol: We Wish you a Merry Christmas (arr. Arthur Warrell)
Franz Gruber: Silent Night (Sing-along)
Since I do not particularly care about Christmas, and even less about the perky and sentimental music that inevitably comes with it, I tend to diligently steer clear of all holiday-related celebrations, my only exception to the rule being Cantori New York’s holiday concert, and for good reasons. For the several years I’ve been attending it, it has always managed to diplomatically combine welcome and not so welcome favorites, hidden and not so hidden gems, unorthodox versions of Jewish songs, exclusive arrangements and special requests by Cantori’s members, and the traditional sing-along for “Silent Night”.
What more could one ask for? Well, a holiday party of course, and they had that covered too after their second and last performance this past weekend. For all those reasons, and also to prove my occasionally willingness to go with the flow and the spirit of the season, I found myself heading down to the West Village’s Church of St. Luke in the Fields on the nice sunny afternoon we got to enjoy last Sunday to join friends, colleagues and other acquaintances in the packed-to-the-rafters space.
Although at first it looked like the British and a few of their European neighbors had come and hijacked the program, a wide range of American classics were included and, I might add, performed with the choir’s signature proficiency. Among those we had Kim Gannon and Walter Kent’s syrupy “I’ll be home for Christmas”, Elizabeth Poston’s folksy “Jesus Christ and the Apple Tree”, Irving Berlin’s upbeat “Snow” and Tom Lehrer’s good-humored “Chanukah in Santa Monica”.
Standing out in the international portion of the program, the Ukrainian-based “Carol of the Bells” brought just the right amount of unadulterated cheerfulness. I was also delighted by the inclusion of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Es wird ein Stern”, which not only contributed attractive melodies, but some German singing too. Another newcomer from across the pond that made a wonderful impression was Lithuanian Algirdas Martinaitis’ “Alleluia”, during which many different variations of “Alleluia!” created endlessly interwoven and truly mesmerizing textures.
A recurring carol that will always be a personal favorite of mine is the vivacious French-flavored “Shepherds in the Field Abiding”, not only for the childhood memories that it never fails to bring back to me, but also for Cantori’s reliably exciting performance of it. Another composition that has touched the audience’s heart and soul year after year is Franz Biebl’s all-male “Ave Maria”, and the gentlemen of Cantori nailed it again on Sunday afternoon. Now all we need is an all-female work of the same caliber.
A returning number in a different package was the English carol “I Saw Three Ships” that had been winningly rearranged by Cantori member Brian Morales. Overflowing with vigor and high-spiritedness, this catchy new take on the classic has even converted maestro Shapiro from a self-avowed die-hard sceptic about the song’s merit into a new die-hard fan. And that, my friends, is no small endorsement.
Former Cantori member Jonathan Breit’s dynamite version of “Ochos Kandelikas” got a new pianist in Jeremy Chan and, as a probable consequence, a somewhat more restrained treatment than in years past. That said, the song’s inherent hotness should not, could not and would not be fully subdued. With its sexy rhythms and irresistible beats, not to mention the singers’ infectious enthusiasm, this was still one of the biggest hits of the concert, and rightfully so.
I originally thought that the addition of Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is you” to the program was a seasonal joke, but on Sunday afternoon I discovered that the Church of St. Luke in the Fields is in fact no longer a safe space free of pervasive pop culture. On the other hand, I can now brag about being there when Cantori got to repeatedly coo “baby!” for what was possibly the very first time in its several glorious decades of existence.
Keeping up with a newly established tradition, Cantori had invited the young singers from Every Voice children's chorus to perform by themselves, which they very capably did for the soulful Hebrew song “Oseh Shalom” and the all but ubiquitous “Jingle Bells”, before both ensembles joined their mighty forces for a heart-felt cross-generational rendition of the classical English Christmas carol “The First Noël”.
Keeping up with a long established tradition, by the end of the concert it was the audience’s turn to join Cantori to sing along the first and last verses of Franz Gruber’s ever-beautiful “Silent Night” in English while the indefatigable choir sang the middle one by themselves in German “in an alien key”. Beside generating good feelings all around, our contribution also earned us an invitation to the packed and rocking party. Happy holidays!