That was the year that was

Holiday concerts bring challenging year to a close

by Michael Caruso
Posted 12/30/22

The year 2022 has been a challenging one for classical music lovers – locally, nationally and even internationally.

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That was the year that was

Holiday concerts bring challenging year to a close


The year 2022 has been a challenging one for classical music lovers – locally, nationally and even internationally. Many of us assumed – or hoped? – that the lifting of the COVID lockdown protocols would bring about a sudden return to normalcy. Unfortunately, that’s not precisely what actually happened here, there and everywhere.

Some performing ensembles were so seriously compromised by the disappearance of “live-in-concert” performances that they simply weren’t able to bounce back. In Philadelphia, the most unfortunate casualty may be the Philly Pops, which will be ceasing operations at the end of the year. Established by celebrated jazz musician Peter Nero to fill the gap created by the Philadelphia Orchestra’s refusal to follow the lead of the Boston Symphony and its Boston Pops, the Philly Pops simply has been unable to retrieve those audience members lost during the lockdown.

Several decades ago, the Philadelphia Orchestra turned down the chance to create its own “Pops” with legendary composer Henry Mancini as its music director. Might there be a “second chance” in the future?

Congratulations to the newly-minted “Philadelphia Ballet” finally giving up the fiction of its being the ballet company of the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It never was and now it no longer pretends to be. It has been celebrating Christmas with its traditional performances of “The Nutcracker” in the Academy of Music.

The Academy of Vocal Arts, headed by K. James McDowell, of East Falls, has resumed its role of presenting fully-staged mountings of the operatic standard repertoire. Just recently, the company performed Verdi’s “La Traviata” to superb reviews. Next on its roster is Donizetti’s comic masterpiece, “Don Pasquale.”

Here in Chestnut Hill, both Episcopal parishes – St. Paul’s and St. Martin-in-the-Fields – have resumed “live-in-person” musical performances. St. Paul’s “Five Fridays” series of fundraising chamber music recitals is back in business while St. Martin’s has welcomed the Fairmount String Quartet as artists-in-residence. Further down the Avenue, the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill has resumed hosting concerts by The Crossing, Piffaro and Tempesta di Mare. Together, the three make Chestnut Hill the most musically active section of Philadelphia outside of Center City.

“Christmas Oratorio”


What better way for lovers of sacred choral music to bring the season to a close than with a performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio?” Fortunately for local classical music lovers, Matthew Glandorf, of Choral Arts Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Bach Collegium, will perform this six-movement masterpiece Sat., Dec. 31, at 4 p.m. The concert will take place in the Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Savior at 38th and Chestnut Streets in University City.

Glandorf explained, “The so-called ‘Christmas Oratorio’ was first performed in 1734-35. It’s a slightly misleading title. Although there is a through narrative of the Christmas story as recounted in the Gospels of the life of Jesus, it really is a collection of six cantatas. They were intended for performances on the major Feast Days of Christmastide, Dec. 25 through Jan. 16.”

Glandorf listed those feast days: Jesus’ birth on Christmas Day, the annunciation to the shepherds on the second day of Christmas, the adoration of Jesus by the shepherds on the third day, the circumcision and naming of Jesus on New Year’s Day, the journey of the Magi on the first Sunday of the new year, and the adoration of the Magi on the feast of the Epiphany.

“Although scholars are not sure who the librettist was,” Glandorf continued, “it is assumed that it may have been Bach’s regular collaborator, Christian Friedrich Henrici (alias “Picander”).

“Like much of Bach’s best works, much of the material in the ‘Christmas Oratorio’ originated in other works and was re-fitted with new texts and improved along the way,” he said. “Three secular cantatas as well as a lost cantata form the basis of the overall score.”

Glandorf pointed out that each of the six cantatas employs different instrumental forces. Three of them use trumpets and timpani, only the fourth uses two horns, while most use four oboes. Bach chose the instrumentation to fit the degree of solemnity of each celebration.

“Since each cantata was intended for performance on six different days of Christmastide,” Glandorf added, “we can see why the orchestration and character is so varied. That’s why mounting a performance of all six is so challenging!

“Although each cantata can certainly stand on its own in concert,” Glandorf concluded, “hearing the entire Christmas story as presented in the Gospels of Saints Matthew and Luke, and the more mystical and philosophical Gospel of St. John, shows that, like Bach’s Mass in B minor, there is an overall unity to the way the six separate works form a unified concept.”  

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