Christmas Comes Early To The Heights For Chorale Concert
Published: Monday, December 9, 2013
Updated: Monday, December 9, 2013 04:12
The setting was not exactly a model of holiday cheer: a chilly, rainy, and sleet-filled night on the last weekend before finals period. Within the confines of the Trinity Chapel on Newton Campus, however, a vast assembly of Boston College’s most talented musicians turned a gloomy Friday evening into a joyful celebration of the Christmas season. The occasion was “Christmas on the Heights,” an annual concert conducted by Director of the University Chorale John Finney and jointly performed by the University Chorale and the Boston College Symphony Orchestra. The first of three performances over the weekend, Friday’s concert offered a carefully assembled program of Christmas classics from across the musical spectrum: some religious, others secular, some upbeat, others somber—but all performed with the consistent professionalism that has long defined the Chorale and Orchestra.
From the concert’s start, Finney engaged the audience directly, encouraging them to sing along to the carols. As the opening notes of “Joy to the World” resonated throughout the chapel, many audience members took him up on that offer. The familiar, soaring notes of Handel’s hymn were an appropriately joyous beginning to the concert, reverberating throughout the church walls as the Chorale singers jumped in without missing a beat.
By their very nature, both the Chorale and the Symphony Orchestra are groups whose success is determined not so much by individual players as the collective whole. On “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” however, three Chorale seniors were granted their time in the spotlight. To the lovely violin accompaniment of Emma Lott, A&S ’14, Chorale President Mariana Eizayaga, A&S ’14 traded solos with Vice President Sydney Barada, A&S ’14, and Women’s Secretary Colin O’Neill, CSOM ’14 on one of the concert’s early highlights.
The high point of the evening, however, was the rendition of “For Unto Us a Child is Born,” a spirited selection from Handel’s Messiah. The piece’s interplay of male and female voices creates something of a call-and-response effect, one carried through to perfection by all five voice types in the Chorale. The piece also provided the Orchestra’s finest hour, with the group’s violins taking center stage with rapid, sprightly string parts. After the piece, Finney was met with hearty applause as he said to the crowd, “It’s moments like that that make me feel like the luckiest man in the world.”
As the concert progressed, it established a carefully arranged pattern of ebb and flow, as somber and slow religious pieces were often followed by more upbeat carols. Midway through the concert, Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival” provided an intriguing medley of both styles, arranging excerpts of “Joy to the World” alongside “Silent Night,” “Jingle Bells,” and, most intriguingly, a propulsive, brass-heavy version of “O Come All Ye Faithful.” With its reprise of earlier tunes in the concert and its anticipation of coming ones, “A Christmas Festival” looked backward and forward at the same time.
The second half’s highlights allowed the orchestra to have some fun with atypical sonic elements. Anderson’s famous “Sleigh Ride,” for instance, calls for jingle bells and sound effects of hoofs and whips. The Spanish carol “Fum Fum Fum”—one of the concert’s shortest pieces, but also one of its most memorable—evoked the sounds of clicking castanets and, with its loud tambourines, became that most unlikely of creations: a foot-tapping classical piece.
To close the concert, however, Finney chose the “Hallelujah” chorus, another Handel masterpiece from Messiah. Recalling the opening rendition of “Joy to the World,” the piece brought the performance full circle. Before beginning the piece, Finney called on any former Chorale members present to come forward and join the musicians. As if waiting for the cue, dozens of Chorale alumni of all ages and from all corners of the church suddenly got out of their seats and approached the altar, squeezing beside current Chorale members for the concert’s final performance of the evening. It was a fitting testament to the Chorale’s traditions, its longevity, and the voices, old and new, that have been ushering in “Christmas on the Heights” for so many years.