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BWW Review: THE WASHINGTON CHORUS A CANDLELIGHT CHRISTMAS at The Music Center At Strathmore / Kennedy Center Concert Hall

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Running through December 23rd

BWW Review: THE WASHINGTON CHORUS A CANDLELIGHT CHRISTMAS at The Music Center At Strathmore / Kennedy Center Concert Hall
The Washington Chorus. Photo courtesy of Strathmore.

On December 16th The Washington Chorus took the stage for the first time in over 700 days to present their annual "A Candlelight Christmas" concert at The Music Center at Strathmore. It was clear from the outset that the audience was as glad to be there as the 160-voice choir was to be back on stage performing. Choral performances have been particularly challenging during the pandemic, and the members of the The Washington Chorus deserve special kudos - although the soloists and instrumentalists were unmasked, the members of the chorus had to spend the entire evening singing through (and into) masks. One can only imagine how hot and uncomfortable that must be, yet they did so with aplomb, and with only a slight loss of diction and clarity of enunciation.

The evening started with the Washington Chorus Handbell Quartet playing a delicate fanfare, which segued seamlessly into soprano Deena Tumeh's solo opening to Once in Royal David's City, with the rest of the chorus processing down the aisles in the verses that followed, giving the performance a dramatic beginning.

Conductor Eugene Rogers (who also serves as TWC's Artistic Director) then led the Chorus and the audience in Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, the first of many perennial favorites sprinkled throughout the evening.

Jane Recker's soprano was the centerpiece of Ēriks Ešenvalds' intriguing Only in Sleep, which started with Recker doing the first verse solo. The Chorus picked up the theme in the second verse, with Recker providing an airy solo counterpoint that didn't sit quite far enough above the choir to feel like the descant that the composer was trying to achieve. The fault lay with the music, not the musicians, and the piece was still moving and interesting.

Rogers did a wonderful job of narrating and engaging the audience, and he led a spirited O Come All Ye Faithful, followed by nicely executed renditions of Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day and Nativity Carol. And then National Capital Brass and Percussion (which provided sterling accompaniment throughout the evening) took a featured turn with Flourishes, highlighting the solid instrumentalists of the ensemble.

The most memorable pieces of the evening followed the instrumental interlude, beginning with baritone Conor Kelly's warm and folksy solo on Preparing for the Prince of Peace, a light, bouncy piece that provided a nice warmup for a surprise visit from Santa (and an unscripted sing-a-long of Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer).

Rogers then welcomed a guest soloist, soprano Aundi Marie Moore of the Washington Opera. Moore's incredible voice transported the audience to a gospel church on Christmas Eve, as she performed Sweet Little Jesus Boy and fronted the chorus for a sweeping performance of Mary Had a Baby.

The entire evening built beautifully to The Dream Isaiah Saw, a soaring, breathtaking contemporary composition that is obviously a favorite of the group, judging by the passion they poured into it's performance. Composer Glenn Rudolph started writing the piece in July of 2001, and it wasn't completed until after the terrible events of that September. The music and lyrics are haunting, as they juxtapose the peace and harmony of Isaiah's prophecy with the current state of the world we live in.

After the emotionally moving moment of The Dream Isaiah Saw, Rogers brought the concert to a contemplative close by inviting the audience to turn on the lights in their phones and join in as the choir re-lit their candles and delivered a quiet and gentle Silent Night, followed by a lively We Wish You a Merry Christmas that sent the audience home filled with the holiday spirit.

There are five more performances of this delightful Christmas concert, and it's a warm and welcoming way to spend a holiday evening, with something for everyone to enjoy.

Running time is one hour and fifteen minutes with no intermission.

National Capital Brass and Percussion

Anthony Bellino, Trumpet
Kevin Businsky, Trumpet
Laurel Ohlson, Horn
David Murray, Trombone and Orchestra Contractor
Seth Cook, Tuba
Jason Niehoff, Timpani
Jonathan Bisesi, Percussion
Paul Byssainthe, Jr., Organ and Piano

The Washington Chorus Handbell Quartet
Alison Combes
Nancy Kuhn
Nicholas Moy
Leigh Anna Reichenbach

A Candlelight Christmas will be performed at Strathmore on Friday, December 17th, and then moves to Kennedy Center Concert Hall for performances on December 19, 21 and 22, before returning to Strathmore for a closing performance on Thursday, December 23rd. For future events at Strathmore, click here.


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