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Christmas Pops Concert unleashes the Bach

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By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

On Sunday afternoon, Music Director and Conductor Mary Lee Cirella, along with the St. Paul Adult and Children’s Choirs and Orchestra, presented their Christmas Pops Concert at St. Paul Parish.

But if you think this was a bunch of people in Santa hats singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman,” you would be sorely mistaken as to the level of musical ability that was on display.

The orchestra and choir act together during Bach’s ‘Magnificat.’  Photos by James Kinneen

The orchestra and choir act together during Bach’s ‘Magnificat.’ Photos by James Kinneen

After the crowd was invited to stand and perform “O Come All Ye Faithful” together, the entire first half of the concert (until the intermission) was one piece: Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Magnificat.” The Magnificat was supposedly written by Bach when he was the music director at St. Thomas for July’s Feast of the Visitation, but Bach liked it so much that he altered it so that he could play it again as part of Christmas festivities. While it wasn’t exactly a well-known holiday classic, the orchestra appreciated playing it, as well as the change from last year, when they performed a very different French piece.

“This work is one of the greatest Bach works there is,” cellist Peter Zay explained, “and he wrote hundreds of hundreds of pieces. We feel lucky that we can perform something like this in a more modest setting like this church congregation. This choir, which is, of course, an amateur choir, did an amazing job, and the soloists that came out of the choir were really great, so I enjoyed working here with these folks.”

While one Bach piece dominated the first half of the performance, following the intermission, Zay noted that they were going to play some more fun fare, which would be a significant change for the performers.

“We’ve got some Christmas and pop tunes, some fun stuff. You know the Bach is just such a deeply moving piece, a more serious piece. The pop stuff is much lighter and a lot of fun. You wear two hats when you play a concert like this.”

For those concerned about “holiday trees” and the use of the phrase “happy holidays,” the second half of the concert would have put them at ease. While there were some upbeat classics like “Sleigh Ride” and “The Christmas Song,” the “Christ” most decidedly remained in “Christmas” with songs like “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Mary Did You Know?”

Whether they were devout Christians or not, members of the audience could not help but respect and admire the level of musical talent on display at St. Paul’s.

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