June 23, 2018
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Bangor choral event to honor tradition of carols

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols” will be the featured work performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, during the annual Advent concert of the Chamber Choir of St. John’s.

Harpist Isleen Halvorsen will accompany vocal ensemble. The choir was founded in 1994 and, since then, has been directed by Kevin Birch, music director and organist at St. John Catholic Church, 207 York St., where the concert will be held.

Birch described the work earlier this week as: “A sublime combination of ancient plainsong and choral and solo movements based on medieval poems, Britten’s work has become a Christmas classic.”

The idea for the choral work was sparked by a book, according to musicweb.com. Britten purchased the book “The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems” in 1942 when the cargo ship on which he was a passenger stopped in Halifax, Nova Scotia on its way to England from New York City.

“A Ceremony of Carols” premiered Dec. 4, 1943, at Wigmore Hall in London with the Morriston Boys Choir performing. Although composed for a treble or boys choir, Britten authorized the arrangement for mixed voices that will be performed by the Chamber Choir, according to Birch.

The group also will perform two versions of the “Canticle of Mary,” also known as “Magnificat — My Soul Proclaims the Greatness of the Lord,” and a selection of motets by diverse composers to round out the program, the director said in an email.

“The Magnificat settings are especially noteworthy,” Birch said. “Samuel Scheidt’s setting combines versets for organ in alternation with chants sung by the choir. Here the organ functions as another choir.”

The piece was written in 1624.

“Hendrik Andriessen was a leading Dutch composer and organist recognized for his role in renewal of Catholic Church music in the Netherlands,” the choir director said. “His Magnificat for mixed choir and organ is richly detailed and beautifully crafted in his very distinct compositional language.”

Birch has said that in planning for the annual event and a similar concert during Lent, he looks to “the great composers who left us works which can continually challenge and inspire us.”

Formed in response to the Second Vatican Council’s challenge to find practical means to preserve and use the rich heritage of Latin chants and motets and to explore the repertory of music used in other communions, the Chamber Choir performs sacred choral music ranging from chant to modern works, according to Birch.

“I am grateful to the members of the Chamber Choir for their devotion to the whole process of music making — and for their generosity in sharing these works with the wider community,” he has said.

The concert is free but donations will be accepted. For information, call 217-6740.

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