A lovely afternoon at the First Presbyterian Church of Monterey was the setting as the brass players warmed up, the Church began to fill, amidst the anticipatory hubbub of audience members greeting each other and reading over the printed program of Christmas With the Camerata Singers. Under the direction of John Koza, Artistic Director and Conductor, these singers presented a program filled with old texts and new settings and rhythms. Mixed meters and syncopation dominated many selections. Ably accompanied by Organist Tiffany Bedner and a Brass Quintet, the singers rose to the rhythmic as well as dynamic demands.
Appropriate for the season, the opening number was “Prepare the Way” by Margareta Jalkeus. This gentle reminder of what was to come segued into Leo Nestor’s “Magnificat.” Before the brass entered, the opening chant with its many subtle changes seem to echo the emotions that Mary might have experienced upon the announcement of the impending birth. Benjamin Britten’s “A Hymn to the Virgin” utilized a very effective call and response between the chorus and solo quartet – encompassing both English and Latin. Certainly this season’s music must include J. S. Bach. Zion hört die Wächter singen (from “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme”) with Bedner’s assured organ accompaniment gave voice to a 16th century text by Philip Nicolai. This was followed by Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern. The partner to this was Felix Mendelssohn’s “There shall a star from Jacob” with very crisp diction. The full text of the “Gloria” from the ordinary of the Mass finished the first half. This was characterized with great exuberance, mixed meter, and full complement of brass, percussion and organ and a cappella sections. As the program began with a quiet announcement of preparation, this selection ended with great fanfare.
David Lasky’s “Alleluia! Christ is Born!” began the second half with a definite rhythmic vitality as befit the simple yet profound “on this day is born our Savior.”“Dormi, Jesu!” by Edmund Rubbra presented the traditional text with a tenderness as expected of a lullaby. Another traditional text with music by Jeste Bremer, “In Dulci Jubilo,” provided a contrast to the previous sweetness with a syncopated and driving rhythm to the ending. Dan Forrest has a wealth of compositions that fit many groups. His acappella “The Work of Christmas” with text by Howard Thurman addresses what the real work of Christmas is after the “song of the angels is stilled,” “the star is gone,” “kings and princes are home,” and “shepherds are back with their flock.” The list goes on with “find the lost,” “heal the broken,” “feed the hungry,” “to bring peace among brothers,” and “make music from the heart.” A lovely 17th English text, “Out of the Orient crystal skies,” with modal music by Richard Zgodava, describes the setting of the star guiding the three kings to Bethlehem “where born is this heavenly King.” A light cymbal sound accented the steady rhythm of the caravan leading to the Picardy third at the ending Alleluia.
Two well-known carols by popular choral composers/arrangers were next. Bob Chilcott has arranged the beautiful “Away in a manger” for organ and voices to lovely effect. Another vocal “visual” in John Rutter’s “Three Kings of Orient” used organ and tambourine to great effect. A gentle and controlled dynamic portrayed the journey until arriving with their gifts. The final “Glorious now behold him…” utilized a full forte ending the arduous journey. A terrific organ and brass introduction to “Christmas Joy” by Stephen Chatman set the background for this work encompassing seven well-known carols. The interplay of the vocal carols with instrumental melodies was really exciting. How could one not feel the invitation – “Noel, Noel, Sing Christmas Joy!”
Rounding out the afternoon was the traditional “Silent Night” to sing along. Kudos to the instrumental ensemble of Richard Roper, Ari Michich, trumpets; Alicia Mastromonaco, French Horn; Alex Bedner, Trombone; Forrest Byram, Tuba; Lily Sevier, Stuart Langsam, Percussion. Again, Koza has successfully combined voices, instruments and repertoire.