Behind the Scenes: A Cathedral Christmas Program Notes + Guest Artist Bios

LexPhil makes its return to the stunning Cathedral of Christ the King to present an array of sacred repertoire in A Cathedral Christmas: Songs of the Manger. Lexington Chamber Chorale and Ecco join to present works by Holst, Respighi, Reger and Howard Blake, the music of modern masters intertwine with timeless masterworks for an evening to remember. Purchase your tickets today!

By: Daniel Chetel

LexPhil returns to the magnificent Cathedral of Christ the King to present an evening of sacred music dedicated to the Christmas season and the nativity. The program begins with the serenity of the of the manger scene and concludes with the ecstatic joy brought on by the birth of the Christ child.

Numerous contemporary composers—including Italian film composer Ennio Morricone, Norwegian choral composer Ola Gjeilo, and recently deceased leading American composer and teacher Stephen Paulus—join the more revered Ottorino Respighi and Gustav Holst on this holiday journey towards the star of Bethlehem.

Morricone’s (1928-) Gabriel’s Oboe, Gjeilo’s (1978-) Serenity, and Max Reger’s (1873-1916) Mariä Wiegenlied (Maria’s Lullaby) set the stage for our beautiful manger scene. The baby has fallen asleep and no one—neither the new parents nor the Kings—wishes to disturb his peaceful slumber. By contrast, Respighi’s chamber cantata Lauda per la natività del Signore offers a more theatrical approach to the nativity scene with characters depicting Mary, Joseph, the Angel, and a shepherd. The text has been attributed to Jacophone da Todi, a thirteenth-century Franciscan priest and may come as quite a surprise to listeners more accustomed to Respighi’s massive orchestral Roman Triptych.

This intimate work is both more modern and less aurally ambitious than those symphonic works. The Angel, who comes to offer good tidings, leads the action, assuring Mary and Joseph that there is nothing to fear. Respighi’s pastoral orchestral writing highlights the same instrument as the selection from Morricone’s score to the 1986 film The Mission: the oboe. In several pieces this evening the oboe functions as a modernization of the medieval shawm. This early double reed instrument was characterized by its strident sound and was often associated with shepherds who would play their instruments outside in the fields.

Gian Carlo Menotti’s (1911-2007) Amahl and the Night Visitors was originally written as an NBC Television Opera and premiered on television on Christmas Eve, 1951. In the opera the young boy Amahl and his mother are visited by the three kings as they travel to see their newborn King. The hospitality and generosity of Amahl, his mother, and the entire town is rewarded with a miracle when Amahl’s limp is cured and he heads out with the Kings in search of his new destiny. The March depicts the Kings’ entrance into the house, both full of pomp and humor; the Dance of the Shepherds is the town’s offering to the Kings, a joyful instrumental number, beginning hesitantly and ending with the raucous energy of a tarantella. Menotti features a pair of oboes that together set the stage for the shepherds to entertain the passing Kings.

Menotti also transports us from a sense of serenity to the excitement of celebration that the shepherds bring. Again featuring the oboe (now alongside the celestial harp), Stephen Paulus’s (1949-2014) Wonder Tidings from his trio of “Nativity Carols” speaks to the wonderment of the Christmas miracle. Finishing the evening is Gustav Holst’s (1874-1934) classic Christmas Day which includes quotations from multiple old carols including In Dulci Jubilo, God Rest You Merry Gentleman, and The First Nowell, heard in succession and then layered on top of each other into a rousing fantasy. As Holst’s Christmas Day entreats, “Rejoice with heart, and soul, and voice,” as we give thanks for this holiday season in the presence of family, friendship, and the warmth of music.

Sarah Shafer, soprano

Praised by the New York Times for her “luminous voice” and “intensely expressive interpretations,” and named “remarkable, artistically mature ... a singer to watch” by Opera News, soprano Sarah Shafer is quickly emerging as a sought-after artist on both the operatic and concert stage. The 2017–2018 season sees Ms. Shafer’s Metropolitan Opera debut as Azema in the John Copley production of Semiramide. Concert work includes her debuts with Malmö Symphony Orchestra singing Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with John Wilson conducting, and with Utah Symphony Orchestra singing Mozart’s Mass in C Minor conducted by Markus Stenz. Recital work includes a return to the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago for their opening concert “Myths and Legends” and a salon concert with Myra Huang.

The 2016–2017 season saw Ms. Shafer’s house and role debut as Leïla in Bizet’s Pearl Fishers at Tulsa Opera, as well as a return to San Francisco Opera as Zerlina in Jacopo Spirei’s new production of Don Giovanni. Recital work included appearances at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, a salon concert exploring the poetry of Paul Verlaine as set to Claude Debussy’s music with the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago, and a recital with Brian Zeger as part of Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra’s chamber music series. Concert work for the 2016–2017 season included Carmina Burana with the San Antonio Symphony conducted by Sebastian Lang-Lessing, Mozart’s Requiem with the Omaha Symphony, Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony with both the Cheyenne and Williamsport Symphony Orchestras, the world premiere of Richard Danielpour’s “Talking to Aphrodite” with the Sejong Soloists at Carnegie Hall, and Bach’s St. John Passion with Voices of Ascension.

Jamie Van Eyck, mezzo-soprano

Hailed by Opera News for performances that are “luminescent” and “touching,” mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck appeals to audiences and critics alike as a compelling artist in opera and concert. Recent career highlights include a New York City solo recital debut, and recordings for Albany Records, Centaur Records, and Bridge Records. Jamie is a soloist on the American Symphony Orchestra’s recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and sings a leading role on the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s DVD release of Elliott Carter’s opera, What Next.

She has been featured in concert at the Tanglewood Music Festival, Ojai Festival, Bard Music Festival, Five Boroughs Music Festival, Princeton Festival, and at Santa Fe Opera. She has sung two world premiere performances at Carnegie Hall, including a song cycle by Ned Rorem, and has been a featured soloist with many of the nation’s top orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, American Bach Soloists, and the Phoenix, Utah, Lexington, Colorado, and Pacific Symphonies. She has sung leading roles with the opera companies of Boston, Fort Worth, Austin, Utah, Madison, Wolf Trap, and Saint Louis. Jamie made her Broadway debut in Jerome Kern’s Music in the Air with the Encores! series at New York City Center, and has been soloist in pops concerts with Keith Lockhart and Marvin Hamlisch.

She has been a guest artist at noteworthy international music festivals including Toronto’s Luminato Festival, Moscow’s Golden Mask Festival, and the Grahamstown and FynArts Festivals in South Africa. Jamie is an Assistant Professor of Voice at Baylor University.