Acadia Choral mixes it up

BAR HARBOR — Introducing a choir and its audiences to new and or unfamiliar compositions is risky business, especially at Christmas time, when nostalgia for the tried and true repertoire of carols and liturgical music is very strong. Last year, Director Jamie Hagedorn got the Acadia Choral holiday program exactly right with a perfect blend of old and new. There were, at times, new takes on old pieces, and the choir seemed more energized than daunted by the musical challenges. This year’s selections? The jury is still out.

The first half of this year’s program primarily featured pieces by Bob Chilcott and Jonathan Wilcocks. It sometimes sounded a bit unfinished and tentative. Even the “Gloria’s” in the Peter Anglea arrangement of “Angels We Have Heard on High, which ended the first half, seemed more melancholy than celebratory.

Still, the compositions were interesting and at times quite stirring. We did, at least, feel educated.

The second half of the program was a delight, opening with a divertimento by the Acadia Chamber Winds, David Woolsey on Oboe, Kathy Jaensch, clarinet and Peter Ossanna, bassoon. Woolsey went on to accompany several of the ensuing choral pieces to great effect.

The first of these choral pieces was Mozart’s “Saint Mary,” which was truly celebratory in every possible way, with the choir singing with full, joyful strength the hallelujahs that Mozart seems to have borrowed from Handel’s “Messiah.” The soloists throughout the full program were terrific, but of special note was Katelyn Parker Bray’s deliciously bell-like soprano which was not only spine tingling on its own but could be heard soaring in the soprano section during the choruses.

There were two pieces honoring St. Joseph, who tends to get short shrift in the Christmas repertoire. The first, by Stephen DeCesare, was a sweet and simple tune that also would be perfect for a children’s choir. The second, by Neil Harmon, was deeper, more complex and haunting and a proper tribute to Jesus’ stepfather.

Also fun for the few children in the audience was the rendition of Sy Brandon’s “The Night Before Christmas.”

The choral finished up with another Wilcocks piece, but this time a cheery version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” That, along with the traditional audience sing-along carols, ended the offerings on just the right note.

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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