On Tuesday, December 17 at 8 PM, the New York Choral Society will present "Christmas at Carnegie Hall," an inspiring mix of Christmas favorites, both old and new. Music director David Hayes will conduct the performance, which features Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson along with soprano Sarah Shafer, tenor Benjamin Bliss and baritone Jarrett Ott. The concert will open with Verdi's stunning Ave Maria, followed by Respighi's Laud to the Nativity and Finzi's In Terra Pax. The second half of the concert will consist of traditional Christmas carols, arranged for chorus and orchestra by Donald Fraser. For tickets, please call (212) 247-3878 or visit www.nychoral.org or www.carnegiehall.org. Tickets are also available at the Carnegie Hall box office and through CarnegieCharge at 212-247-7800. Dan Dutcher and Amanda Coleman spoke with David Hayes about the upcoming performance.
Dan Dutcher and Amanda Coleman: As you begin your second season as music director of the New York Choral Society, how is your approach different than in your first year?
My approach hasn't been different this season except in that I have been
intensifying the work we began last season on various musical issues; continuing
to work hard at making sure that not only are the musical details correct, but
that we always communicate the expression and meaning of the texts we are
singing – I said last week in rehearsal: "tell me the story; make it mean
DD and AC: The Christmas concert will include classical, as well as contemporary music. What pieces in particular can we look forward to hearing?
DH: I'm particularly fond of this year's collection of pieces. The thread that binds much of the program together is the part of the Christmas story that focuses on the shepherds "abiding in their fields, keeping watch…" and then rushing to the manger to see the Child. The Respighi Laud to the Nativity and the Finzi In Terra Pax both center on this part of the story; both are extremely beautiful and poignant in their musical treatments. Abbie Betinis's Dormi, Jesu is a more recent work that is a lovely setting of a lullaby sung to the infant Jesus. The middle movement of Stephen Paulus's Three Carols of the Nativity also depicts the scene in the manger with a gently rocking lullaby. The second half of the concert focuses on wonderful carol arrangements (with full orchestra) by Donald Fraser that were originally written for Jessye Norman's Christmastide album, which also featured the New York Choral Society and one of its emeritus music directors, Robert DeCormier.
DD and AC: What are some of your favorite Christmas carols?
DH: I love Christmas carols! I have so many favorites, it's almost as if whatever I'm hearing at the moment is my favorite! I'm very partial to Anglican Church music, so I definitely love English carols. When I was growing up, my mother had a hard rule that there was no playing of Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. Since we all loved that music, there was an incredible anticipation to the moment when we could listen to our favorites each year. As soon as the carols started that's when the decorating began. In a way, that sense of anticipation was almost(!) as exciting as Christmas Day itself and really made our family's listening to Christmas music something very special for us all.
DD and AC: What's coming up next for the New York Choral Society this season?
DH: In April we have a very exciting program planned – a rare performance of Gustav Holst's The Hymn of Jesus (a very beautiful work he composed right on the heels of his orchestral suite The Planets) and the New York premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon's The Singing Rooms, where we will be joined by acclaimed violinist Jennifer Koh. I'm very excited to perform the Higdon as we are long-time friends and colleagues from our Curtis Institute of Music student days and, as I prepared the chorus for the world premiere in Philadelphia in 2008 (also with Jennifer Koh – another Curtis alum).
DD and AC: What do you like to do when you're not conducting?
DH: Well, there's not a lot of downtime for me (!) but when not working I love to read, walk around and explore New York, listen to old-time radio; watch British comedies, 60s and 70s shows, and, of course, Star Trek--The Original Series especially.
Dan Dutcher owns and Amanda Coleman is a publicist at Dan Dutcher Public Relations.