Chorale and orchestra give concert gifts to all

Annapolis groups offer wide variety of seasonal music to their fans in the annual `A Celebration of Christmas'


December 14, 2007|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to the Sun

The holiday season arrived for choral music fans when J. Ernest Green raised his baton for the Annapolis Chorale and Annapolis Chamber Orchestra's annual "A Celebration of Christmas" concerts Dec. 6 and Dec. 7 at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.

The concert resembled a giant gift with boxes inside boxes to be opened, each containing something for everyone -- those who love singalongs, those who enjoy jazz artists and those who cherish the rare experience of hearing angels sing.

The orchestra opened with what has become a festive tradition: "Farandole" from Georges Bizet's L'Arlesienne Suite. Later, it offered a rousing rendition of Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride" that seemed especially appropriate after our first snowfall of the season. Among other orchestral selections were the Mannheim Steamroller arrangement of "Silent Night" and Mel Torme's "Christmas Song."

Accompanying the 180-voice chorus, the orchestra played an assortment of carols from Jeff Tyzik's Holiday Mood Suite that included "Deck the Halls," "O Christmas Tree" (I would have preferred it sung in the original German as "O Tannenbaum") along with an anticipatory "Carol of the Bells" and a lively "Jingle Bells."

As is the custom, a guest reader offered seasonal stories. This year, the task was performed with warmth and charm by Gary Jobson, an ESPN commentator, author and sailing guru.

Jobson, who lives in Annapolis, did a delightful reading of The Polar Express, followed later by a nostalgic "A Visit from St. Nicholas" and concluded with Henry Van Dyke's "Keeping Christmas."

Lyric soprano Amy Cofield Williamson offered a sublime performance of Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria" (a first for the Christmas concert) that was followed by "O Joyful Children" and a highlight of the evening, "O Holy Night." It was as close as we'll get to hearing an angel sing. Cofield Williamson was joined by the full chorus in verses 1 and 3.

Guest pop vocalists this year were jazz singer Heather Venesile and singer-songwriter Mollie Weaver.

Venesile sang "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Christmas Waltz" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas," a song written during World War II that remains meaningful this holiday season.

Aptly describing her style as "symphonic folk," Weaver delivered Amy Grant's "Breath of Heaven" ("Mary's Song") with the women of the chorus. Weaver was joined by the Annapolis Youth Chorus in singing John Lennon's "Merry Christmas" and by the full chorus in Irving Berlin's "White Christmas."

In addition to accompanying Venesile and singing "Christmas Comes Again," the Annapolis Youth Chorus, led by director Laurie Hays, brought another highlight with their singing of the traditional Zambian song "Bonse Aba" (translated to "All Who Sing Have a Right to be Called the Child of God") in which soloist Maddie Myers, a sophomore at Severn School, contributed.

Pianist Eric Apland was a formidable musical presence throughout the evening, most notably in his delectable solo of "Go Tell it On the Mountain." He added distinction and fervor to the hymn.

Noteworthy full chorus performances were the lovely a cappella piece, "Sing We Now of Christmas," and John Rutter's challenging "Gloria," beautifully realized.

The program concluded with Green inviting the audience to join the chorus in singing a medley of carols that included "Joy to the World" and "Deck the Halls." I overheard several audience members say that this was their favorite part of the program.


Green and the Annapolis Chorale continue to spread Christmas spirit, performing Handel's Messiah at 8 o'clock tonight and 3 p.m. Sunday at historic St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Annapolis. Tickets: Maryland Hall box office at 410-280-5640.

The Chorale and Chamber Orchestra will present the complete Messiah at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Todd Performing Arts Center at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills. Tickets: 410-827-5867.

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