The magic of Christmas filled the Carmel Mission Basilica on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. That’s right – in July. And it was wonderful! We enjoyed two parts of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Andrew Megill conducted the Chorale and members of the Festival Orchestra. These Mission concerts typically sell out, and have become an annual tradition. The magic we heard was the final installment to the set of Bach Cantatas featured during the 82ndCarmel Bach Festival.
Interspersed with the Baroque masterpiece, we heard seven Magnificat-Antiphons by Arvo Pärt. I eagerly looked forward to these short acapella works. I trusted that the music of the great Estonian composer Pärt would be compatible with the Cantatas and significant to the style of Bach. I was entranced by the minimal harmonies and deliberate tension between dissonance and resolution. The music is quite different from Bach, and yet the same. The close cluster harmonies were still presented within the framework of a harmony we associate with Bach: every note is meant to be heard without the distraction from excess notes.
The two Oratorios sung in German were beautiful. The music seemed to pick right up from Sunday and Monday afternoon. We heard the Oratorio written for the 3rdDay of Christmas, Part III, and for the Feast of the Epiphany, Part IV. The Chorale and Festival Orchestra responded to Andrew Megill’s conducting with exquisite care. As is a custom in performance, the soloists were members of the Chorale. There is a spell in the air when music is made with a small ensemble of Baroque instruments. At times, the tempo danced along; in other parts, we relaxed with a comfortable stroll. These musicians gave us music that sounded amazing in the space. I liked that the trumpets joined in the first and last movement of each Oratorio Part.
Attending a concert at this historic church is always magical. As dusk descends, the instruments undergird the soaring voices to bring us a window to the musical heritage of J.S. Bach. The beautiful interior lit with the tall candlesticks giving off soft light allows one to soak it all up. Sitting in the refurbished pews makes for a wonderful evening. As the last note fades into the night air, the hush is comfortable and respectful. Mark your calendars now for the Wednesday concerts in the Mission during the 83rdCarmel Bach Festival in 2020!