New Years with Bach: Choral Arts Philadelphia presents a seasonal treat

What a year. End it with some high notes as Choral Arts Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Bach Collegium present a rare historically informed performance of J.S. Bach’s Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 (Christmas Oratorio). The late afternoon festive concert is hosted by Marvin Rosen (host of “Classical Discoveries” at WPRB, Princeton NJ) and takes place at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, 38th and Chestnut Streets, at 4-8pm on December 31, 2016.

Since 2013, Choral Arts has performed numerous rarely heard and well-known Bach pieces as part of the Bach At Seven Cantata Series led by artistic director Matt Glandorf. In the current season, Choral Arts has begun to perform all of Bach’s surviving works from his most creative time at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig as part of the 1734-1735: A Season in the Life of Bach series. The New Years Eve concert features one of Bach’s lesser known yet monumental works. Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 premiered in Leipzig during the major feast days of Christmas in 1734. According to Glandorf, after Choral Arts played the work two years ago “a generous supporter… came forward and offered a challenge grant to have the event repeated.” (See a video

Choral Arts Philadelphia with Bach Collegium, conducted by artistic director Matthew Glandorf. Credit: Sharon Torello (October 2016 at St. Clement’s Church)

Choral Arts Philadelphia with Bach Collegium, conducted by artistic director Matthew Glandorf.
Credit: Sharon Torello (October 2016 at St. Clement’s Church)

The oratorio is a collection of six cantatas that present a narrative of the Christmas story. Since the six cantatas were originally performed one per day, the instrumentation is different for each, a programming challenge which means the work is rarely performed in its entirety. Additionally, the cantatas have particularly challenging choral and solo writing, making the piece inaccessible to many choirs. “Although it would be a challenge for us trying to perform it every year,” Glandorf said, “I like the idea that it could become a regular piece of repertoire for Choral Arts.”

Choral Arts will perform the work over four hours (with an extended intermission) on Saturday, December 31, 2016. All solo and duet parts will be sung by the professional core members of the ensemble, with tenor James Reese as Evangelist (The Crossing, Holy Trinity Bach Vespers, Chicago Bach Project).

[Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, 38th & Chestnut Streets] December 31, 2016choralarts.com.

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.