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Benjamin Britten: St. Nicolas, Ceremony of Carols

  • December 5, 2021
  • St. Mark's United Methodist Church
  • 100 State Road 46, Bloomington, IN 47408
  • 3:00 PM
  • $15

On Sunday, December 5th, 2021, the Bloomington Chamber Singers will present a program of seasonal works by English composer, Benjamin Britten. Culminating with Britten’s dramatic oratorio, Saint Nicolas, Op. 42, the program will also feature one of Britten’s best-known and most-performed works, A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28. Conducted by musical director, Gerald Sousa, the concert will take place at 3 pm at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, Bloomington, (100 State Road 46, Bloomington, IN).

Saint Nicolas, a dramatic jewel of a cantata, depicts traditions surrounding the 4th-century St. Nicolas of Myra, whose yearly feast day falls on December 6th. Britten’s oratorio focuses on the history, life, faith, and miracles associated with this early Christian bishop, whose reputation for aid to children and the poor has been regarded as one of the inspirations for the figure of Santa Claus. The chorus sings in the introduction, “Strip off your glory, Nicolas!” asking him to reveal the man behind the legends. Britten’s Saint Nicolas premiered in 1948 with Peter Pears featured as tenor soloist; in the current production, the role of Nicholas will be sung by BCS tenor, Patrick Conklin. Crozier’s libretto invites the audience to join in singing two beautiful hymns at key moments: ‘All people that on earth do dwell’ and ‘God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.’

Also on the program is Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, a charming work written for treble voices with harp accompaniment. The text, taken from 14th-century Middle English lyrics and carols, as well as from seasonal poetry written in the 16th century, draws upon familiar seasonal themes: the baby, Jesu; Mary, the rose of virtue who bore him; the “happy fault” of Adam’s sin that led to Christmas joy. Sung with sensitive attention to earlier forms of English poetry, Ceremony of Carols evokes enchanting musical atmospheres: from the freezing cold of an English winter, to the chirping birds of early spring, or April dew falling on the flower. Britten composed A Ceremony of Carols for his own difficult times, while traveling from the United States to England on a cargo vessel in dangerous waters at the height of World War II. Both of these works offer musical reflection on transformed hope and healing in a world marked by suffering and pain.

Focusing on authentic performance practice, the Chamber Singers’ passionate connections to the music shine through every performance. An auditioned group of about 45 singers now in its 51st season, the choir is committed to attaining the highest standards of choral music, and to safe public performances. Monroe County COVID-19 protocols will be followed.

Benjamin Britten: St. Nicolas, Ceremony of Carols