Seraphic Fire’s Christmas program proves moving and memorable

By David Fleshler

At a candlelit Christmas concert Wednesday in Miami, the choir Seraphic Fire invited the audience to set aside thoughts of gift-wrapping, trees and colored lights and to experience the holiday as a solemn midnight service in a medieval church, monastery or cathedral.

“The concept of a Jingle Bells Christmas is a relatively new one,” the choir’s artistic director, Patrick Dupré Quigley, told the audience at  St. Jude Catholic Church. “Perhaps in the last 40 years, Macy’s has done a very good job of convincing us that this is the only way Christmas is celebrated. But for thousands of years, Christmas did not begin under a tree. Christmas began at midnight. We are trying to bring about the atmosphere of that early Christmas, what Christmas was to people for hundreds if not thousands of years.”

With that, the lights went out, leaving the church illuminated only by candles, and from the back began the grave sounds of a hymn in Old Church Slavonic in the pure tones of the choir’s female voices. The ensemble’s Christmas concerts have always been special events, but for this one the choir outdid itself, with a performance that was evocative, choreographed in the singers’ processions and beautifully sung. The music ranged from the anonymous Latin plainchants of the early Middle Ages to traditional carols to works by contemporary composers.

The mezzo-soprano Misty Leah Bermudez gave a vigorous, expressively sung Spanish solo in Ríu ríu chíu by the Renaissance composer Mateo Flecha. The contemporary song Jesus Christ the Apple Tree by Elizabeth Poston turned into a stereophonic tour de force, as the singers fanned out around the church, one joining in after another to bathe the audience in gorgeous sound. Throughout, the tone was one of quiet joy and thanksgiving, rather than the brassy noisiness of commercial Christmas music.

There were classic English carols such as O Little Town of Bethlehem, O Come All Ye Faithful and Once in Royal David’s City. The last is the traditional opening work of the King’s College Christmas Eve Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, here marked by the fine, sweet-toned opening solo of the soprano Rebecca Duren. And the choir sang modern works, such as the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s take on Latin church music, the Kyrie and Gloria from his Missa Syllabica, harmonized in a manner that was searching and contemporary but never jarringly out of context for its medieval texts.

A Seraphic Fire Candlelight Christmas will be repeated six times in Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties. One element of the performance that will not be repeated in this round of concerts, unfortunately, is the venue. St. Jude’s, a gray stone edifice on Brickell Avenue, where the choir sang for the first time, has a wonderful acoustic that allowed the choir’s sound to bloom and glow, strengthening the bass and allowing the sounds to resonate with unaccustomed radiance.

As an encore, they sang the old English carol We Wish You a Merry Christmas. And by the end of the program, which lasted about 80 minutes, it was possible to forget about Santa.

A Candlelight Christmas will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Thursday at St. Christopher’s-by-the-Sea, Key Biscayne; 7:30 pm. Friday at First United Methodist Church, Coral Gables; 8 p.m. Saturday at Miami Beach Community Church; 4 p.m. Sunday at All Saints Episcopal Church, Fort Lauderdale; 7:30 p.m. Monday at San Pablo Catholic Church, Marathon; and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church, Boca Raton.; 305-285-9060.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Seraphic Fire’s Christmas program proves moving and memorable”

  1. Posted Dec 09, 2010 at 10:22 pm by MD

    Well written! The performance was absolutely beautiful. At one point I was so moved I sat there with a wide smile and tears as I pondered God’s love for us in the song “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day” so beautifully performed. Seraphic Fire brings it all: truth, beauty and goodness. They made my Christmas this year!

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Thu Dec 9, 2010
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