Coming Home to Charpentier
This year, for the first time in two decades, October passed without a set of Magnificat concerts. It has been very gratifying to hear from so many loyal Magnificat fans asking about the season and I am looking forward to coming home next month to see everyone on the weekend of December 7-9. The program I chose for my homecoming has a special place for me personally and Magnificat as an ensemble and preparing the score and planning the concerts have been a wonderful and meaningful experience. Every elegant gesture and touching poetic conceit and each sweetly painful 9-8 suspension and magnificent cadence is imbued with memories of the friends with whom I have performed the music and the audiences with whom we’ve shared it.
In many ways the program that Susan and I developed in 1993 to frame Charpentier’s Pastorale sur la naissance de Nostre Seigneur with arrangements of traditional French noëls served as the model for many other Magnificat programs. The juxtaposition of sophisticated art music with contemporaneous folk music, the ideal of balance between vocal and instrumental music and each individual musician, all became hallmarks of Magnificat programs.
The Nativity Pastorale program was also our first encounter with the “vaux de villes” the popular melodies that served equally well for Christmas texts and less solemn lyrics. Many of these melodies re-appeared in the opera parodies that we staged in the 90s. The noels, in Charpentier’s instrumental arrangements and in settings by other French composers of the period, have featured in many Magnificat programs over the years, and in some ways have become even more strongly associated with Christmas than O come All Ye Faithful or Silent Night to me.
The program for those first performances in 1993 captures some of the scrappy enthusiasm of the early Magnificat years. The woodblock images in one of the 16th century Bibles de Noelz perfectly captured the folk roots of the noël melodies and I was keen to use them in our program. But these were the days before PhotoShop and so the program cover was literally cut and pasted (with scissors and tape) at a Kinko’s. It is gratifying to be able to include these same images (much more beautifully rendered by Nika Korniyenko) in our program again this December.
In addition to the many wonderful friends who have taken on the roles of angels and shepherds in earlier revivals of this program, the Nativity Pastorale is strongly associated with two very dear colleagues who are no longer with us and there are several passages in the music that will always bring their memories to mind.
Magnificat’s first performances of this program in 1993 were also the first of many collaborations with Judy Nelson. Her haunting rendition of the noël Une jeune pucelle with Marion Verbruggen was unforgettable. Also joining us for those concerts in 1993 was French Canadian tenor René Boutet, who also passed away earlier this year. His shining voice and sincere spirit shone throughout the performances and touched musicians and audience alike. Both Judy and René will be in my heart during our performances in December.