‘The Washington Chorus: A Candlelight Christmas’ at The Kennedy Center by Jane Coyne

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The Washington Chorus, under the baton of Guest Conductor Andrew Clark, delighted a packed house at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday evening as it presented A Candlelight Christmas, a wondrous evening of holiday music.

There is no better way for friends and family to celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season or create a joyous holiday tradition than to share time together enjoying a holiday concert, and it’s hard to beat a performance of the ASCAP and Grammy Award-winning Washington Chorus. Now in its 53rd season, and under the direction of Music Director and frequent arranger Julian Wachner, the critically acclaimed choral organization is joined this Christmas by the Robinson Singers of James R. Robinson Secondary School (under the direction of Michael Horanski), and The National Capital Brass and Percussion.

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The concert began in darkness, lit only by flickering candles held by the choristers on stage and by additional singers stationed in the back of the concert hall who then proceeded down the aisles to the stage, in all 200 voices singing the beautiful hymn “Once in Royal David’s City.” In many of the musical selections during the evening, singers were joined by the National Capital Brass and Percussion, whose trumpet, French horn, trombone, tuba, percussion, timpani harp, and organ instrumentation added so much to the concert experience.

The Washington Chorus is often recognized for its longstanding commitment to education and outreach, which includes a Side By Side program (now in its 22nd year) that provides opportunities for accomplished area high school choral groups to be mentored by and to perform with and alongside The Washington Chorus in its annual Christmas concerts. The Robinson Singers, a vocal ensemble comprised of 36 young singers from James W. Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Virginia was invited to perform in the 2013 concerts. Very well trained and rehearsed by their conductor Mike Horanski, this award-winning ensemble performed with the energy expected of a young choral ensemble and surprised with attention to balance, dynamics, and diction that is often far less developed in many young singers.

The concert was programmed with traditional favorite carols and hymns, a tribute honoring the centennial birthday of Benjamin Britten that included “Hymn to the Virgin” (composed by Britten at the age of sixteen), “A New Year Carol,” a particularly beautiful performance of “This Little Babe” that featured Kate Rogers on harp, and a selection of works from around the world that featured “Hodie Christus Natus Est” by the French composer Poulenc, the traditional Venezuelan song “Niño Lindo,” and “Un Flambeau,” known by English speakers as “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella.” One of the most beautiful moments of the evening came just before the traditional “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. It was Glenn Rudolph’s “The Dream Isaiah Saw,” a driving and building prayer of hope for all children.

In addition to the gorgeous sounds of music filling the concert hall, and the many beautiful arrangements by Julian Wachner and others, simply seeing so many singers in black robes and holding red music folders was exciting. With two Christmas trees decorated with simple white lights on either side of the stage and equally simple but very well designed lighting by Danny Ozment, the visual effects were stunning.

Andrew Clark conducting The Messiah.

Andrew Clark conducting ‘The Messiah’ and the Worcester Chorus.

Throughout the evening, the audience was encouraged and conducted in sing-alongs of familiar carols and the traditional “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah” by the very personable and engaging Andrew Clark, who was spectacular throughout the entire evening. Seemingly completely at ease guest- conducting a world renowned 180 member chorus, a youth choir, a brass and percussion ensemble, and nearly 2000 audience members of varying musical ability, all of this at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to boot, this highly talented and versatile young conductor appears destined for a wonderful career.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

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A Candlelight Christmas was performed on December 15, 2013 at the Concert Hall at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. The concert will be performed again at The Kennedy Center on Sunday, December 15 at 5 PM;Saturday, December 21 at 1 PM;and Sunday, December 22 at 7 PM. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 416-4600, or purchase them online. The concert also plays on Monday, December 23 at 7:30 PM at The Music Center at Strathmore –  5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call (301) 581-5100, or purchase  your tickets online.


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