The Cecilia Chorus of New York kicks off the 2017-18 season with a burst of holiday joy. Coming together in Carnegie Hall to perform Bach’s beloved Christmas Oratorio (Weinachtsoratorium), our 170 member strong SATB Chorus will be joined by a full orchestra and soloists Rebecca Farley (soprano), Renee Tatum (mezzo-soprano), and William Guanbo Su (bass).
Music Director Mark Shapiro:
Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, one of the composer’s most lavish musical achievements, comprises six cantatas that were written to be performed on consecutive feast-day mornings from the Nativity through Epiphany. Although each cantata stands alone effortlessly, in the aggregate they constitute, by evident design, a magnificently cohesive whole.
The Christmas Oratorio was first heard in Leipzig in December/January 1733-4, and then—astonishingly—not again until 1857, having lain fallow for five generations. Since 1955, Bach’s oratorio has been recorded at least thirty times, sometimes twice by the same conductor. A takeaway here may be that, while some music catches the popular imagination immediately, other music might have to wait, ever so patiently, for its historical moment and the happenstance of a timely and convincing revival. Destiny counts on passionate cadres of committed musical excavators to ensure that worthy artifacts do not vanish forever in the silences of eternity. (In this vein, we proudly draw your attention to our May 2018 New York premiere, a mere four-score years after she wrote it, of English composer Dame Ethel Smyth’s amazing oratorio The Prison that dates from 1934.)
Bach’s narrative structure lucidly delineates the Nativity story, which is further supported by the key sequences of Bach’s large-scale harmonic design. Successively, the six panels of the double triptych that comprises the Christmas Oratorio trace a cogent narrative arc through the Birth, Annunciation, Adoration of the Shepherds, Naming, Journey of the Magi, and Adoration of the Magi.
Throughout human history, the dark winter solstice has been a time to turn on the lights (or light the bonfires) and, with the harvest completed and the next round of planting still in the offing, to feast unabashedly and in large numbers on perishables and preserved meats. Though there is, to be sure, a legitimate musicological basis for advocating on behalf of Bach performances by small musical cohorts, there is also something important to be said in favor of turning out the whole community to celebrate, as we will do on December 9. Sometimes it does take a village.