The Washington Chorus’ ‘A Candlelight Christmas’ at The Kennedy Center

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No stranger to world-class performances, the Concert Hall of The John F. Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts makes itself home to an annual musical favorite this month, The Washington Chorus’ holiday show, A Candlelight Christmas.

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Seen under nothing but the light of flickering candles, a small section of the chorus starts on stage. The rest of the performers file in slowly through aisles, and the hall glows brighter and brighter. All of this happens amidst the harmonious chords of “Once in Royal David’s City.” Stage dressings of Christmas trees and effective lighting cues create a visually stunning evening that matches the spectacle of sound.

Under the baton of renowned Music Director Julian Wachner, the 180 men and women of The Washington Chorus truly capitalize on their numbers, putting forth a mellifluous sound that engulfs every audience member, keeping patrons returning year after year. Complete with orchestra, the evening represents an energized effort that is sure to please any music or holiday lover. Wachner acknowledges and rejoices in the addition of a new organ for the performance, thanks in part to the generosity of The Kennedy Center chairman, David Rubenstein.

Throughout the night, we learn about many of the chorus’ external community programs, such as The Outreach Singers, a subset of artists dedicated to performing for communities unable to attend traditional concert settings. Moreover, the group’s well-established “Side by Side” program allows a high-caliber chorus from a local area high school to perform alongside The Washington Chorus.

This year, the Chamber Choir (also known as The Madrigal Lords and Ladies) of McDonough High School in Charles County, MD, take to the stage. It is pleasing for the Grammy Award-winning Washington Chorus to support young singers of the next generation. With a few standout female solos and diverse range of selections, Director T.C. Mazzeo’s impressive group of young men and women are a highlight of the night. After their set, the high school students join large chorus for the rest of the night. A sea of black gowns and suits, red binders, and Madrigal garb line the stage. The spread of color is a momentous sight.

The performance boasts a selection of roughly twenty-five songs which range from upbeat favorites—such as “Jingle Bells,” “Good King Wenceslas”—to more peaceful arrangements, such as “Silent Night” and “Still, Still, Still.” Wachner himself is a skilled arranger, so many of the tunes stem from his creative efforts. The familiar pieces are a joy to listen to during this festive season, and the less familiar songs are still melodically intriguing.

Composer-conductor Julian Wachner. Photo by Megan Greenlee.
Composer-conductor Julian Wachner. Photo by Megan Greenlee.

Some songs are sing-along and audience members stand to participate. This allows for a few well-needed stretch breaks, but parents should still keep in mind the two-hour run time when deciding whether or not to bring younger kids. Though the large size of the chorus proves breathtaking, some words are hard to understand, though all lyrics are printed in playbills for audience members to follow along.

In the spirit of joy and giving, A Candlelight Christmas proves to be a fun and enjoyable way to celebrate the holidays with family and friends. Each performance shows us how powerful music can be in our lives, serving as a source of unity and comfort.

Running Time: 2 hours, including a 15-minute intermission.

A Candlelight Christmas continues performances on Saturday, December 19, 2015 at 2 PM; Monday, December 21, 2015 at 7 PM; and Tuesday, December 22, 2015 at 8 PM The Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. Another performance occurs on Friday, December 18, 2015 at 8 PM at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.

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