When the Tallis Scholars give a Christmas concert, they don’t sing music you might hear down at the mall or on your all-Christmas radio station.
And for that, many of us say “thank you.”
The Tallis Scholars find precious gems of Renaissance polyphony to take us to a time when the Christmas season was imbued with sacredness.
The Friends of Chamber Music present the Tallis Scholars conducted by Peter Phillips in a program of Christmas music from the English Renaissance and works by the contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt this Friday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Phillips has chosen music for the Christmas season by two of the greatest Renaissance composers, John Sheppard and the ensemble’s namesake, Thomas Tallis. On the program are two yuletide motets by Sheppard and the Missa Puer natus, a Mass for Christmas day by Tallis.
British music from the Renaissance is beloved for its soaring, glorious polyphony and atmosphere of peace and quiet joy. But to the untrained ear, Renaissance composers can sound alike. For Phillips, however, the distinctions are clear and can be heard.
“Once one becomes familiar with Renaissance polyphony the individualities begin to show,” Phillips said. “But one must want to do this. So, at first, just sit back and enjoy it. When you are ready to tell the difference between Sheppard and Tallis, you will search for it. Before you do that, you need to feel the overall style and atmosphere.”
Pärt’s music, often labeled as “sacred minimalism,” has a haunting, timeless quality that should nicely complement the English polyphony. Pärt, 80, started his career by writing serialist music, an avant-garde technique much in vogue in academia at the time. After Pärt converted to the Eastern Orthodox faith in the mid-1970s, his music began to change. The rigid intellectualism of his earlier works gave way to a simple but not simplistic sound, a solemn stillness, where the sound of one bell could have the crushing impact of a full orchestral fortissimo. Pärt’s austere, mystical music, redolent of incense and Gregorian chant, has become enormously popular, often reaching the top of the classical charts.
“Pärt is a religious composer, and a sense of God is always there but, like Tallis, he never throws it at you,” Phillips said. “He said to me himself recently that he likes the objective element in renaissance polyphony and aspires to that in his own music. He uses silence very well, giving a sense of a long perspective in worship, which is what Tallis also did.”
Right now, the Tallis Scholars are busily bringing Christmas joy to audiences around the world, but, according to Phillips, after their whirlwind tour is over, they will return home to England to celebrate the holidays with family and friends.
“We do not sing as the Tallis Scholars on Christmas Day because all the individual members either have responsibilities in choral foundations (like St. Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey) or like to sing with their families in the local church,” Phillips said. “Since I am a keen cook I particularly enjoy the culinary side of the festivities. Confit d’oie is my speciality. I’ve already prepared it for this Christmas.”
Kansas City Symphony: Classics Uncorked
The Kansas City Symphony’s Classics Uncorked concert is always special during the holiday season. Not only is a glass of wine included in the ticket price, but the Kansas City Symphony performs lesser-heard but delightful music that celebrates the season.
This year, the Symphony will perform music from the operas “Hansel and Gretel” and “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” Also a couple of sleigh rides by composers other than Leroy Anderson, namely Sergei Prokofiev and Frederick Delius. Nestled among all that holiday music is a marimba concerto by Jorge Sarmientos that will be performed by Chris McLaurin, the Symphony’s principal percussionist.
Kansas City Symphony with Doc Severinsen
Any time Doc Severinsen is involved, you know you’re in for a festive time. Severinsen will conduct the Kansas City Symphony and blow his horn Friday at Helzberg Hall. The program includes lots of Christmas music, as well as classical favorites given the Severinsen touch.
Kansas City Chorale
The Kansas City Chorale is offering three holiday options this week: Wintersong, a très élégante seasonal music accompanied by fine wine Thursday at Rozzelle Court; Hello, Holidays!, a program of traditional favorites Friday at Rolling Hills Presbyterian Church; and A Chorale Family Christmas, which features gifted young singers from the area performing Saturday at Visitation Church.
▪ Wintersong. 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Rozzelle Court, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4400 Oak St. $100 ticket includes reserved seating and wine service.
▪ Hello, Holidays! 7:30 p.m. Friday. Rolling Hills Presbyterian Church, 9300 Nall, Overland Park. $10.
▪ A Chorale Family Christmas. 1 p.m. Saturday. Visitation Church, 5141 Main St. $10. 816-235-6222 or KCChorale.org.
Patrick Neas: email@example.com