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Holiday concert combines traditions

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The New Mexico Symphonic Chorus will perform a cascade of psalms for its annual holiday concert on Sunday, Dec. 9.

In the show at the First United Methodist Church, the chorus will pair with the New Mexico Philharmonic and the New Mexico Symphonic Youth Chorus for a performance of Leonard Bernstein, John Rutter and Heinz Werner Zimmermann in “All Is Calm, All Is Bright.”

Roger Melone

The singers will perform Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms,” commissioned for the 1965 Southern Cathedrals Festival at England’s Chichester Cathedral.

In the past, the concert has combined traditional holiday carols with Hanukkah songs. This year, music director Roger Melone discovered a way to knit together both traditions in a single piece, thanks to Bernstein.

“It’s a gorgeous orchestration,” he said. “It’s a gigantic institution of Christianity; he’s a Jewish composer; there are psalms that are common to both traditions. On top of that, Bernstein set them in Hebrew.”

Born 100 years ago this year, the composer scored the second movement for a boy treble or countertenor with harp. Melone decided to embellish Bernstein’s instructions by adding a chorus of treble voices.

“It so happens that all of our middle school students are treble,” he said. “It’s not too low for sopranos and not too high for altos.”

The concert will open with Zimmermann’s “Psalmkonzert,”composed in 1957.

“He was fascinated with classical jazz,” Melone said. “It’s the wildest piece. It’s scored for adult choir and children’s choir in unison. It’s basically the hymn ‘Now Thank We All Our God.’ ”

The high school choir will join the adults in closing the concert with John Rutter’s a cappella arrangement of “Silent Night.”