RESOUNDING JOY: The Cathedral Choral Society recently presented its series of festive holiday music at Washington National Cathedral.
by Patrick D. McCoy
Washington National Cathedral was just about filled to capacity as eager listeners filled the majesty of the space to get into the holiday spirit. Whether it was observing the audience members donning their holiday red or the beautiful wreaths adorning the sacred space, there was certainly a presence of joy! After a prelude of music by the Lyric Brass Quintet, the Cathedral Choral Society began the concert with guest director Betsy Burleigh conducting her own arrangement of the timeless “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” It was a wonderful quodlibet that also included “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” The women of the choir sounded afar like an angelic choir, while the ensemble of men gave the presence of the shepherds waiting in joyful expectation. A glorious fanfare with brass accompanied by organist Benjamin Straley announced the music’s transition to the triumphant carol “O Come All Ye Faithful” arr. by Willcocks. Filled to capacity, Burleigh gave the invitation to the audience to sing and they raised their voices in the impressive nave with exciting fervor.
The program itself was like putting on your favorite Christmas CD as you are finishing up holiday chores. It was a collection of songs and carols that everyone for the most part know such as “Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming” and “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” The “Christmas Cantata” by Daniel Pinkham perhaps served as the the major extended work on the program. In three movements, the cantata presented a variety of sonorities: unaccompanied voices to organ and brass, then finally swelling on a big “alleluia!” A special part of the evening was the world premiere “Silent Night” by Welsh composer Paul Mealor. The work itself was in the traditional a cappella style, with occasional dissonances that truly captured the importance of that special night long ago. Lush, sustained harmonies executed by the choir conveyed a solemnity and reverence.
Of course, the holidays is certainly about the joy of children. The Washington Latin Public Charter School performed several selections as a part of the concert. Under the direction of Melissa VerCammen, the small ensemble held their own. Of special note was their beautiful rendering of “Good Night, Dear Heart” by Dan Forrest. It is amazing how certain composers become embedded in the fabric of holiday programming. The carol arrangements of David Willcocks are a mainstay, but it was also gratifying to witness the carol settings by Washington favorite Julian Wachner as a continued part of that tradition.
Though there were no big overtures or odes to the late J. Reilly Lewis at this particular concert, his presence was felt. With a guest conductor before them, the Cathedral Choral Society rose to the occasion and maintained “The Joy of Christmas!”
Listen to the World Premiere of “Silent Night” by Paul Mealor:
A native of Petersburg, Virginia, Patrick D. McCoy is a graduate of Virginia State University and Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia. He has been an arts contributor for Examiner.com, CBS Washington, The Afro American Newspaper and most recently was the Performing Arts Columnist at Washington Life Magazine for whom he interviewed Joshua Bell for the magazine’s arts column “Perfect Pitch.” As a church musician, he currently serves as Organist/Choirmaster at Saint John’s Episcopal Church (Zion Parish) in Beltsville, Maryland and teaches applied voice on the music faculty at Virginia State University, where he also served as guest conductor of the the Virginia State University Concert Choir. Visit www.patrickdmccoy.com for all of your arts news and send press releases and ideas to email@example.com. He dedicates his musical pursuits to the Glory of God, in loving memory of his mother Velma Ann McCoy-Pulley (1956-2017).