Annual Christmas concert Saturday at St. Paul’s Church

by Michael Caruso, Chestnut Hill Local 12/11/2014

Alan Harler will bring the Mendelssohn Club to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, for its annual performance of the Christmas concert “A Feast of Carols” Saturday, Dec. 13, 5 p.m. The 130-member choir has been performing its Christmas concert at St. Paul’s Church since 1988, and Michael Stairs has been the organist throughout all the years since then. Harler will be retiring as the choir’s music director after 27 years at the helm, so this could very well be the final opportunity for local music lovers to hear this revered maestro conduct the chorus he has lovingly guided for nearly three decades.

Harler explained his choice of program this time around. “Unlike my usual ‘thematic’ Feast of Carols, I am taking a different and quite selfish approach here. I’ve constructed a program around my favorite repertoire from 20-plus Christmas programs that I have led at St. Paul’s Church.

“This year’s program includes sacred music from the Russian Orthodox tradition. The wonderful sonority of these unaccompanied hymns is perfect for St. Paul’s warm acoustics, something I discovered when I programmed Rachmaninoff’s ‘Bogoroditse Devo’ in that first Christmas concert, and I will reprise it in this one. And I couldn’t resist opening with Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Slava,’ which isn’t really a Christmas carol, although it does have a Yuletide connection. It’s great fun because it brings together the chorus, organ and brass — a perfect opener for a concert that ends very quietly and reverentially.

“The concert includes Daniel Pinkham’s iconic ‘Christmas Cantata.’ I also couldn’t resist asking Mendelssohn’s Club composer-in-residence Donald St. Pierre for one more piece, and he responded with an arrangement of the Medieval carol, ‘Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.’ We’re including two wonderful American Christmas songs: Charles Ives’ unison ‘A Christmas Carol’ (which was also programmed on that first Christmas concert) and Don St. Pierre’s arrangement of Peggy Lee’s charming ‘Christmas Lullaby.’ And, of course, we’ll feature a number of favorite carols, many in David Willcocks’ marvelous arrangements to sing with the audience.”

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