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Polyphony gets out its bag of festive sounds

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols” was inspired by a group of poems the composer read.

Britten was on a 1942 trans-Atlantic voyage returning home to England from the United States when the ship stopped in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“Britten bought a copy of ‘The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems’ there, and it was from this book that he drew inspiration and drew a lot of the text,” said Maxine Thevenot, the artistic director of Polyphony: Voices of New Mexico.

Polyphony: Voices of New Mexico
WHEN: 7 tonight and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11
WHERE: The Cathedral Church of St. John, 318 Silver SW
HOW MUCH: $25 general public, $20 seniors, $5 students with valid ID in advance by visiting or at the door. A reception with the choir follows the concert

“It’s one of the core repertoire pieces for upper-voice choirs, sopranos and altos.”

The poems were from the 14th through the 16th centuries.

“A Ceremony of Carols” is the featured work in Polyphony’s paired holiday concerts tonight and Sunday, Dec. 11. The concerts will have 16 female voices.

Thevenot said Britten composed most of the piece on the voyage. It is believed that he originally planned the music as a collection of songs and later brought them together in a single work.

She described it as a 25-minute, 11-movement work for treble voices and harp. The harpist is Lynn Gorman DeVelder.

Among the titled movements are “That yonge child,” “As dew in Aprille” and “In Freezing Winter Night.”

“It starts with a wonderful procession (of the singers) in low light from the back to the front of the cathedral, so people are part of it. And it ends with a recession. The procession and recession music is the same ‘Hodie Christus natus est,’ which means Christ is born,” Thevenot said.

The work, she said, has movements for full choir, movements for soloists and one movement for two voices.

One soloist in the concerts is soprano Jennifer Perez. “Her voice is ethereal, heavenly,” Thevenot said.

“A Ceremony of Carols” takes up the first half of the program.

The second half includes two pieces by Andrew Ager. One is his “Dormi Jesu” for two soloists and organ and the title track from Polyphony’s new CD, “Winter: An Evocation.”

The choir also will sing other works, including “The Holly and the Ivy” and “Carol of the Bells.” The concerts will close with “Silent Night,” in which the audience is invited to participate, Thevenot said.