Poinsettia embellished the stage and candles were lit in the stained-glass window sills. Wreaths adorned the large, wooden doors. Trinity Chapel was buzzing with Christmas cheer—the small chapel was filled to the brim with students, grandparents, and neighbors alike. The two rather enthusiastic and chatty women next to me leaned over and proudly informed me that their grandchildren were part of the University Chorale. One of them donned a T-shirt that read “BC Grandparent.”
When John Finney marched up to the stage, the audience erupted in applause. 2017 marks Finney’s 25th year as conductor of the University Chorale of Boston College. Finney invited the audience to sing along with the Chorale during the more popular Christmas carols. He was also sure to note that this concert was starring not just the Chorale, but the BC Symphony Orchestra, too.
The concert began with a rousing performance of “Joy to the World.” The song was executed with exuberance and strength. This performance made the beautiful harmony and compatibility between the Chorale and the Symphony Orchestra evident from the beginning of the night. After “Joy to the World,” the Chorale proceeded to sing “Tollite Hostias,” from the Oratorio de Noel by Camille Saint-Saens. Prior to the performance, Finney reminisced on the meaning of this song in his own life. 25 years ago, when he had just become the conductor for the University Chorale, they performed this song for him as a welcome at an after-party for the first Pops on the Heights. He soon learned that the Chorale performed this song to welcome and celebrate various people and events throughout history—they even sang it for Pope John Paul II.
“We Three Kings of Orient Are” incorporated vocal and instrumental soloists to capture the reverent and personal nature of the song. It started off with an intricate lead-in by soloists on the violin, viola, cello, and bass. This song was performed with amazing harmony, and it was soft, smooth, and completely mesmerizing. The slow but steady beat was almost trance-inducing for the entire audience. The singer’ passionate voices rolled off the stage like waves into the pews.
The Chorale sang “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” with complete elation. Their voices grew stronger and stronger, leading to a climactic third verse bursting with sounds from all over—the horn section was especially notable during this triumphant run. The two grandmothers sitting next to me were absolutely thrilled about this song—they endearingly belted out the entire thing with almost as much fervor and animation as the Chorale itself.
Next up was “Trepak,” a long-time Christmas favorite from the Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky. This was performed by the Symphony Orchestra alone. It was one of the most impressive pieces of the night, as it was joyful, happy, and upbeat. This song showcased the impeccable work of the percussionists in the Symphony Orchestra. It was executed so perfectly that it easily could evoke the image of the Russian Dancers for anyone who has seen The Nutcracker performed as a ballet.
To end the first half of the concert, the Chorale performed “A Christmas Festival,” a medley of seasonal songs by the American composer Leroy Anderson. It included many of the songs performed already throughout the concert, such as “Joy to the World,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” as well as new additions “Deck the Halls,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Silent Night,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and an unexpectedly dramatic take on “Jingle Bells.”
To start off the second part of the concert, the Chorale sang “Ave Maria.” They performed the version by Franz Biebl, which is known for his unique arrangement. Instead of using the ordinary lyrics, he set the song to the words of the standard “Ave Maria” prayer.
“O Come, All Ye Faithful” was the most regal, devout performance of the night. Finney asked the audience to rise and sing along (not that the grandmothers needed any convincing) in accordance with tradition. This serious tone was quickly juxtaposed with the joyful and light “Sleigh Bells.” This was another performance that excluded the Chorale. The instrumental tune incorporated a comedic aspect, as wood blocks were frequently smashed together to imitate the sound of Santa whipping his reindeer. At one point a reindeer sound emerged from the stage. The noise was so loud and realistic that it will forever be a mystery what instrument (or person, perhaps) could create it.
Featured Image by Sam Zhai / Heights Staff