PBO's Reason for the Season

Chelsea Nicole Spangler on November 9, 2009

The holiday sales are on, airlines are offering special home-for-the-holidays rates, and pop versions of holiday tunes have already hit the radio airwaves and are playing in malls. Many bemoan the commercialization of the holiday season, and long for a return to a remembered (or perhaps only imagined) past. Things were simpler then, the adage goes, and people still appreciated the reason for the season.

Philharmonia Chorale

Perhaps this ideal of an unsullied holiday is part of the motivation for popular groups like Mannheim Steamroller to arrange holiday tunes for harpsichords, lutes, and piccolo trumpets. Reconstructing the sounds of a past era might allow listeners to sonically teleport to a simpler time, when the holidays didn’t obligate one to go on a spending spree. The Philharmonia Baroque ensemble’s upcoming holiday concert will move listeners a step in this direction, with its all-Baroque repertoire and its orchestra of period instruments. Although artistic products of the Baroque period are generally known for anything but their simplicity, music enthusiasts know that a good listening experience can make life seem a whole lot less complicated.

Under the codirection of Bruce Lamott and Elizabeth Blumenstock, the choir and orchestra will present a program of both Christmassy and wintry selections. The repertoire will range from the explicitly religious to the seasonally appropriate, and will evoke a breadth of emotions from reverence to exuberance.

The concert will open with Antonio Vivaldi’s Magnificat in G Minor, RV 610. The text comes from the Gospel of Luke, and recounts the words of the Virgin Mary while she was pregnant with Jesus. Vivaldi’s setting begins with a solemn, homophonic adagio that expresses Mary’s humility. The Et exultavit, with its buoyant leaps, is jubilant. Slow, chromatic descents in the final Et misericordia section emphasize the gravity of the young mother’s responsibility.

Christmas concertos by Giuseppe Torelli and Giovanni Battista Sammartini, both meant to be played on Christmas night, alternate between solemnity, anxious anticipation, and quiet joy. For musical impressions of the winter season, the ensemble turns to the “Winter” concerto from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The three movements call up images of being caught in a blizzard, of cozying up by a fireplace, and later watching snowflakes gently fall, whisked away by the occasional flurry.

Despite this program’s title of “Gloria!” the concert won’t beat you over the head with holiday cheer. The holidays can bring on a whole gamut of emotions, and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s repertoire allows for reflection on an entire array of them. Through music sacred and secular, vocal and instrumental, worshipful and jovial, the singers and instrumentalists will guide the audience to examine the holidays through ever-shifting emotional lenses. The program will end with Vivaldi’s Gloria in D Major, reminding each listener that, whatever our view of the holidays, there is cause to celebrate.

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