NEW YORK CITY CHILDREN'S CHORUS
CHRISTMAS IN NEW YORKTraditional Holiday Favorites with Violin, Harp, Organ and Piano
NEW YORK CITY CHILDREN'S CHORUS
MARY WANNAMAKER HUFF, conductor
ANDREW HENDERSON, piano and organ
JAQUELINE KERROD, harp
JORGE ÁVILA, violin
DAVID CARLETON, piano | DAVID ENLOW, organ
DANIEL POTTER and GABRIELLE SANDERSON, handbells
KATIE GURNEY, treble soloist
ROD GOMEZ, baritone | NATHAN RIEHL, tenor
Keith Bonner, flute | Diane Lesser, oboe
Jo-Ann Sternberg, clarinet | Damian Primis bassoon
Jorge Ávila and Alexander Sharpe, violins | Alissa Smith, viola
Arthur Fiacco, cello | Roger Wagner, bass
Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church
REVIEWSThe album features the First Recording of the chamber orchestra version of Randall Thompson’s The Place of the Blest.
PROGRAM NOTESThe New York City Children’s Chorus is pleased to present its second album, Christmas in New York. Before we sang the final notes of our 2015 debut album, Simple Gifts, we knew this project was waiting for us, and for you. The phrase “Christmas in New York” is spoken with excitement and expectation by millions of tourists who visit our beloved city in hopes of capturing the joy and beauty that buoys our spirits each December. For New Yorkers, Christmas in New York means annual treks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Baroque Crêche or the Natural History Museum’s Origami Tree; hearing Musica Sacra singing Handel’s Messiah at Carnegie Hall; or stopping to see the decorated windows of favorite shops and sample the seasonal sweets from a favorite bakery. For the New York City Children’s Chorus, Christmas in New York means singing our favorite holiday carols and songs. The glee our children express when they open their folders and find Carol of the Bells and Deck the Hall are only rivaled by the joy this conductor feels in teaching these Christmas favorites, year after year.
Given the breadth of beloved Christmas repertoire available for treble choir, and several years’ worth of Christmases with the NYCCC, I wondered which larger work might best anchor our first recorded Christmas offering. Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, which we have sung for several years, seemed an obvious choice, but it has been recorded many times by excellent treble choirs, and I wondered if we might best honor our experience of Christmas in New York with an important work by a composer born here.
Years ago, when I first came to New York to begin my work with children’s choirs, I had an important conversation with my friend, renowned cellist, Arthur Fiacco. He spoke of how important being in a children’s choir had been to him and recounted his performance and recording of a brilliant piece of music composed by a New York native, Randall Thompson’s The Place of the Blest. He considered it to be among his most formative musical experiences as a child. Any of you who are musicians know that when a respected musical colleague commends such a piece or musical experience, you had better take note! So, I acquired a copy of the score and acquainted myself with it, quickly realizing that the monumental nature of the piece would require an exceptional treble choir and chamber orchestra. I knew the joy of singing Randall Thompson’s beautiful Alleluia, from my own formative years as a chorister, and it was clear that the fourth movement of this masterpiece, Alleluia, Amen, rivaled the Alleluia in artistic merit, with its beautiful orchestration and soaring melodic lines. I reluctantly filed it away under “someday.” It is with great personal fulfillment that I present to you in this album the first recording of the chamber orchestra version of Randall Thompson’s The Place of the Blest.
Two movements of this work are settings of two of Thompson’s favorite poems by Robert Herrick. The first movement, The Carol of the Rose, is not a traditional carol, but a serene setting of Herrick’s poem depicting the Christ Child, juxtaposing the lush harmonies of the strings and choir with the beautiful, pastoral melodies of the woodwinds. The Pelican, an extended multi-sectional movement depicting the birth, life and death of that gregarious and noble bird, is a medieval allegory of the life of Christ, translated by New York poet Richard Wilbur. Thompson chose Herrick’s poem, The Place of the Blest, to title the third movement and the entire work. With a strophic melody, first introduced by the alto voices, and then transposed by the sopranos, the two voices trade lines of Herrick’s poem, evoking imagery of the earth as an isle of dreams and heaven as a white island where earth’s worries are forgotten, and in the final verse, join in peaceful harmony to sing of the fresh, unending joys awaiting us in heaven.
The selection of favorite Christmas carols which precede The Place of the Blest on our album takes the listener on a veritable tour of an NYCCC Christmas in New York, from the excitement of a live television performance in Rockefeller Center or Times Square, to singing for the annual Train Show at the New York Botanical Gardens, or sharing Christmas carols in service of our elderly neighbors at the James Lenox House next door. We recall the joy of performing Gesú Bambino in Pietro Yon’s musical home, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and recording The Bright Daystar, a piece Jane Richards commissioned to celebrate the NYCCC’s fifth anniversary, in the sanctuary at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church. No less magical is singing the works of Normal Luboff, Peter Wilhoushky and Paul Halley, who were so strongly influenced by our beloved New York City.
In reflecting on the experience of making this album, I find myself extremely proud of the NYCCC choristers’ commitment to performing such a wide variety of music with beauty, style and integrity. I am especially proud of the seven tracks featuring the fifteen boys in grade eight through eleven, whose voices have changed, or are in the midst of the transition from treble to tenor or bass. This album is a testament to their growth as singers, and I am delighted to share it with you, the listener. [Mary Huff, October 2019]
The New York City Children’s Chorus at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church is a graded choral program for children in the metropolitan New York City area who wish to receive training in the art of singing in a rigorous and rewarding choral environment. Founded in 2012, the NYCCC is comprised of nine choral ensembles for children ages four through eighteen, steeped in the bel canto tradition, exploring a range of Western music from Bach to Broadway. The advanced performing ensembles heard in this recording have appeared at New York’s most prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Town Hall. Recent appearances include performances of Vaughan Williams’ Sancta Civitas, J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and appearances on NBC’s Today Show and Amazon Video’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The NYCCC has also performed Schubert’s Mass in G, Benjamin Britten’s Saint Nicolas, Fauré’s Requiem and Vaughan Williams’s Hodie. The choristers have performed successful concert tours in Boston, Nashville and Washington, D.C., and abroad in Austria, Canada, Germany and Spain. [ www.nycchildrenschorus.org ]
Mary Wannamaker Huff is Artistic Director of the New York City Children’s Chorus and Associate Director of Music at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, where she conducts and plays the organ for liturgies and concerts with the church choirs and the Saint Andrew Chorale and Orchestra. Her children’s choirs have toured internationally and performed in New York City’s concert halls and churches, and have appeared on the television shows Saturday Night Live, Good Morning America, NBC Sports, CBS Sunday Morning, Fox 5’s Good Day New York and MSG Media. They have sung for the opening of the Tribeca Film Festival, filmed a nationally-aired television commercial for Nintendo and joined Nathan Lane for a one-night performance of The Man Who Came to Dinner. Individual choristers under Huff’s guidance have performed in Broadway shows and at the Museum of Modern Art; one of her chorister’s solo performances in Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms was hailed as one of New York Magazine’s “Top Ten Classical Events in NYC.” Each summer, she directs the Lake Junaluska Singers, a professional choir in North Carolina, and travels throughout the United States for guest conducting and teaching workshops. She holds degrees from Furman University and Yale University.
Andrew Henderson has served as Director of Music and Organist at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church since 2005, where he oversees an extensive liturgical and choral program and the Saint Andrew Music Society’s Music on Madison concert series. Dr. Henderson, also the Associate Organist at New York City’s Temple Emanu-El, is chair of the organ department at the Manhattan School of Music and the organ instructor at Teachers College at Columbia University. A native of Thorold, Ontario, he holds degrees in music from Cambridge, Yale,
and The Juilliard School.
PROGRAMAustrian Carol | arr. Norman Luboff
Still, Still, Still (Marilyn Keith and Alan Bergman)
Scottish Carol and Plainchant | Paul Halley
The Bright Daystar (William Dunbar)
French Carol | arr. Paul Halley
Huron Carol (Jean de Brébeuf)
Carol for the Animals (Alice Carver Cramer)
Mykola Leontovich | arr. Peter J. Wilhousky
Carol of the Bells (Peter J. Wilhousky)
Spanish Carol | arr. Norman Luboff
A La Nanita Nana (Juan Muñoz y Pabón)
French Carol | arr. Erica Phare-Bergh
Gesù Bambino (Frederick Martens)
Angel (Reynolds Price)
Traditional | arr. Reginald Unterseher
I. Deck the Hall (Welsh Traditional)
II. Jingle Bells (James Pierpont)
III. O Christmas Tree (German Traditional)
IV. Here We Come a-Wassailing / We Wish You a Merry Christmas (English Trad)
Randall Thompson (1899-1984)
The Place of the Blest
I. The Carol of the Rose (Robert Herrick)
II. The Pelican (Richard Wilbur)
III. The Place of the Blest (Robert Herrick)
IV. Alleluia, Amen