Santa Fe New Mexican
Even in Santa Fe, Christmas comes but once a year. Fortunately, all winter long there’s plenty of music and dance to help make, and keep, the holiday spirit alive. From Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” to Performance Santa Fe’s Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve concerts, from the Santa Fe Symphony’s annual airing of Handel’s “Messiah” to Santa Fe Pro Musica’s weeklong series of baroque Christmas music, there’s something for everyone in the concert hall as well as in the air.
The Santa Fe Desert Chorale has had a high profile on the year-end music scene for decades, and it continues the custom in 2014. According to Music Director Joshua Habermann, three different programs will cover the waterfront in terms of repertoire, audience attraction and artistic opportunity.
“The main program this year is called Carols and Lullabies,” Habermann said by phone from Dallas, where he is director of the Dallas Symphony Chorus. “It’s the same title we’ve been using for several years now, though the repertoire changes each year. The idea behind it is that the concert has a fair amount of variety in it. Because of it being the holiday time, we draw a more diverse audience than in the summer. So the concept is there’s to be a little bit of something for everyone.”
The music is also chosen to suit the formidable talents of the singers and to sound well in the luscious acoustics of the soaring Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the ensemble’s main performing home. Plenty of planning has gone into the mix, with due attention to what Habermann calls “the choral pillars” that buttress SFDC’s work.
“We’re going to do a piece by Renaissance composer Jean Mouton, not a particularly well-known composer, but a beautiful one. We’ll do some 19th-century Romantic music, this time some Mendelssohn, which I love. I always find myself going back to Scandinavian music, so we’ll do some Grieg. And of course, we always do carols. This year, we’ll do Scandinavian carols and also some Spanish carols that have proven popular in New Mexico. And as always, a special setting of ‘Silent Night.’ Finally, we always do a setting of the ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ text, a different one each year. This year we’re going to do one by contemporary American composer Frank La Rocca, a beautiful, meaty piece, about eight minutes long.”
And there’s more. Carols and Lullabies also will incorporate some sing-alongs to favorite holiday melodies such as “The First Nowell” and “Deck the Halls.” He continued, “As you know, many of our audience members are people who sing in choirs, and they always say they’d love the chance to sing in the Desert Chorale. So with this opportunity we say, ‘Here’s your chance.’ Really, the winter time is kind of a populist program that will have familiar fare but also heftier repertoire, so you feel you have a main course to the music.”
The other two holiday repertoires lean more to the popular music side of the equation. The first is a Christmas and Cabaret event featuring singers Sarah Weiler and Jay Hill on Dec. 9 at The Inn and Spa at Loretto. The second, Endings and Beginnings, features Santa Fe Desert Chorale’s Voasis, its ensemble of eight pop and jazz singers, in a series of concerts at The Lodge at Santa Fe.
“Voasis is really fun,” Habermann said enthusiastically. “We’ve been excited about this since we conceived it a couple of years ago. The question was, How could we break down the boundaries between the classical world and the popular a cappella world? They have existed side by side for so long; they used to be closer together, then for some reason they got separated. But I’ve always loved both; I’ve even sung in both.”
Deke Sharon, a friend of Habermann’s growing up, is now one of the movers and shakers in the popular vocal slice-of-the-media world, playing major roles in such programs as The Sing-Off. Habermann went to him when the concept of a separate-but-equal Chorale ensemble for popular music came up.
“The best model for us was to try to emulate the Desert Chorale itself, which brings some of the best classical ensemble singers in the country together,” Habermann explained. “So we thought, why don’t we expand that? Instead of throwing the regular Desert Chorale singers into the pop-jazz-rock ensemble — which might not be comfortable for all of them — why don’t we have the best ensemble singers from around the country for this specialty? That’s the basic idea.”
It’s an idea that’s proven very popular, too: From the group’s launch more than a year ago, it’s attracted both established choral patrons and newer audience members who like their vocal jazz both hot and cool.
“We’ve found that it’s brought in younger people—but it’s also attracted our core audience,” said Habermann. “Some people say, ‘I really love this, but I got into choral music via classical.’ Others say they’ve had more fun with pop-rock, but that it’s also helped them appreciate the classical side of our work. So there’s been a lot of crossover, which is great.”
Beyond Christmas, Habermann said, the Chorale has several high points coming up before the holidays and after.
One comes in February, when the ensemble will perform its recent Dancing the Mystery repertoire at the national conference of the American Choral Directors Association in Salt Lake City. This by-invitation-only prestigious appearance will be preceded by a tour throughout New Mexico and Colorado. And in summer 2015, the repertoire will include gems ranging from Herbert Howells’ “Requiem” on the Great Cathedral Music program to a program of Orthodox music including Byzantine chant and modern Russian religious works. There also is slated a repertoire of music from Venice for eight singers accompanied by lute and a repertoire of English music including Ralph Vaughan Williams’ treasured “Serenade to Music.”
“The basic concept is musical excellence above all,” Habermann made clear. “That’s our bottom line. We’re putting the best onstage, whether it’s pop-jazz, whether it’s classical. That’s what we think the Desert Chorale should be known for. And the singers always have a good time, whether it’s in Voasis or the regular Chorale. It’s like being in an all-star game.”
For more information on the SFDC holiday season, visit www.desertchorale.org or call 988-2282