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Classical View: Season of concerts for Bel Canto Youth Chorus, Bach Choir of Bethlehem

The Bach Choir of Bethlehem organization has a double bill for the holiday season:

Bel Canto Winter Concert, 4 p.m. Dec. 3, Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, and

Bach Choir of Bethlehem, J.S. Bach’s “Magnificat in D minor,” 4 p.m. Dec. 9, First Presbyterian Church, Allentown; 4 p.m. Dec. 10, First Presbyterian Church, Bethlehem.

“The Bel Canto Youth Chorus of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem celebrates 30 years since its inception,” says Kelly Rocchi, Bel Canto Youth Chorus Director, “and our December 3 winter concert showcases the artistry and excellence of our young musicians performing great masterworks.”

The Youth Chorus comprises two vocal groups: the Youth Chorale of students grades four through eight and Concert Choir of students grades nine through 12. The Winter Concert features the full complement of voices.

The program begins with an international work, “Sorida (A Zimbabwe Greeting),” with words and music by Rosephanye Powell sung in the Shone language, and a Shaker tune, “In Yonder Valley.”

The Youth Chorale then presents the J.S. Bach harmonization of Philipp Nicolai’s “Gloria, Sei Dir Gesungen” from Cantata No. 40, with organ accompaniment by Greg Funfgeld, followed by Antonio Vivaldi’s “Laudamus Te from Gloria” in D Major RV 589, with cellist Simon Perez.

Two contemporary pieces follow: “Something Told the Wild Geese” by Sherri Porterfield and “Stopping By Woods on a Snow Evening” by Vera Kistler. The segment closes with the African-American spiritual, “Rise Up and Go Tell It,” arranged by Anthony Giamanco.

The Concert Choir takes the stage with “He Watching Over Israel,” the best-known movement from Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s oratorio “Elijah,” Op.70, No. 29, with Greg Funfgeld on organ.

Members of the Bach Festival Orchestra and Greg Funfgeld accompany the Choir’s performance of several movements from Bach’s Cantata, “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland,” BWV 61. Composed in 1714, the premiere was held the first Sunday of Advent that year.

The program concludes with a traditional Gospel blues in “John, the Revelator” and a new commissioned carol, “A Night in Bethlehem.”

“The music we present ranges from masterpieces to a new Christmas carol. We hope to extend our energy and excitement to our audience,” says Rocchi.

The Bach Choir of Bethlehem Dec. 9 and 10 performances “pulse with joy, echoing through the notes of Bach’s legendary ‘Magnificat’ and the festive Cantata, ‘Christen, ätzet diesen Tag,’” says Dr. Christopher Jackson, Artistic Director and Conductor of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem.

The concert opens with Bach’s magnificent “Magnificat in D minor,” one of his obligations when he assumed the position of Cantor Figuralis in Leipzig.

As cantor, Bach was expected to write substantial cantatas for every Sunday and feast day of the year, which numbered approximately 60 events.

The “Magnificat” consists of 12 movements. However, as it had to fit within Vesper services, Bach was acutely aware of timing. The piece runs approximately 30 minutes.

For Bach’s first Christmas in Leipzig, he composed the large-scale Cantata, “Christen, ätzet diesen Tag,” BWV 63, replete with brilliant and joyous brass and percussion.

Comprised of seven movements, the work begins with a festive flourish and the Choir’s entrance is at similar scale, joyous and energetic. An alto recitative follows and leads into a delightful duet between soprano and bass, which is introduced by a beautiful and graceful oboe.

“Both written in 1723, these masterpieces are in turn devout, playful, ebullient and full of infectious and rhapsodic joy,” says Jackson.

Vocal soloists include Molly Quinn and Nola Richardson, sopranos; Luthien Brackett, alto; Dann Coakwell, tenor, and Edmund Milly, bass.

Adding a new dimension to its carol-singing tradition, the Bach Choir of Bethlehem features a new carol composed solely for the Christmas concerts.

The program closes with the traditional choir and audience sing-along.

“The music resonates through centuries, bringing us together in shared history and vibrant musical traditions,” says Jackson. “Such is the spirit of collaboration and unity that we carry with us, echoing through the entire season.”

Bel Canto Youth Chorus, 4 p.m. Dec. 3, Cathedral Church of the Nativity, 321 Wyandotte St., Bethlehem;

Bach Choir of Bethlehem, 4 p.m. Dec. 9, First Presbyterian Church, 3231 W. Tilghman St., Allentown; 4 p.m. Dec 10, First Presbyterian Church, 2344 Center St., Bethlehem; live-stream and ticket information: Bach Choir office, 440 Heckewelder Place, Bethlehem; office@bach.org; 610-866-4382, ext. 110 or 115; https://bach.org/tickets/

“Classical View” is a column about classical music concerts, conductors and performers. To request coverage, email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, pwillistein@tnonline.com

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Dr. Christopher Jackson
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Bach Choir of Bethlehem