On Sunday, December 18, the Chancel Choir and Chamber Orchestra will perform Stephen Main’s “Wonder Tidings” at our 10:30 service.
In 2016, after performing works like Vivaldi’s Gloria, Bach’s Cantata #140, and Pergolesi’s Magnificat, I was looking for something different. Something this century in English. A friend suggested Wonder Tidings, a work that was premiered right here in Columbus at First Community Church in 2005 (and subsequently won the John Ness Beck Foundation First Prize for new choral music). After hearing it I fell in love with the piece.
The texts chosen by Stephen range from 14th century cathedral services to 20th century prose. The only familiar text is In the Bleak Mid-winter by Christina Rosetti. It consists of six movements lasting around 28 minutes.
The heart of the piece is in the fifth movement, essentially a lullaby titled Bethlehem Down.
The soprano and baritone soloists sing “When he is King, they will clothe him in gravesheets, Myrrh for embalming and wood for a crown, he that now lies in the arms of Mary.” Then the choir sings “Sleeping so lightly, so lightly, in Bethlehem down. Here he has peace and a short while for dreaming.” Every time I read that text and hear the beautiful music in my mind, I tear up.
The orchestration exists in two versions, one for chamber orchestra and a second for full orchestra. We will be performing the former, and in my opinion, more beautiful of the two, the original chamber version. It calls for flute, oboe, horn, cello, harp, organ, timpani, and percussion.
While the parts are at times quite tricky both rhythmically and harmonically, the overall effect is that of a ‘joyful set of carols.’ In 2016, I remember being panic-stricken that we wouldn’t “pull it off.” This was a real reach for us, but we worked hard and definitely “pulled it off.”
This year; we began in October. And once again the choir has worked quite diligently on this piece. In my opinion, it is one of the very best works for Christmas. We hope it brightens your Advent Season.
-Written by Bill Boggs
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