Seraphic Fire Covers the Ages in Christmas Specials

Written By Elizabeth Hanly
October 13, 2017 at 7:59 PM

This week choral group Seraphic Fire returns to us with one of Miami’s best-loved Christmas traditions. The group will present its annual candlelit evening of Christmas carols at various Miami-Dade and Broward churches during the week through December 16.

Just a week later, Seraphic Fire will present Handel’s Messiah, perhaps the most beloved of all choral music of any time and any place.

Art Burst sat down to talk with Seraphic Fire conductor and choral master James Bass.

AB: What can an audience expect to hear at your evening of carols? I’m guessing that since this is a Seraphic Fire concert, we will be hearing much more than typical mall Christmas music.

JB: This is the third year of our carols concert, and this year’s songs are a compilation of the favorites from our earlier concerts. As always, we begin the evening with the Gregorian chants, Pater Noster and the Ava Maria exactly as they were sung at Midnight Mass in churches throughout Europe a thousand years ago. A segue follows as another Gregorian chant, Adeste Fideles, is transformed while we sing into its more recognized version, O Come all ye Faithful from the 18th  century.

A few more carols, mostly French and Italian, from the 18th and 19th centuries follow.

As you know, Seraphic Fire is as interested in presenting extraordinary work from living composers as it is extraordinary work from the past. We are proud, therefore, to be including choral work from Jake Runestad and Morten Lauridsen. Lauridsen’s musical recreation of the nativity is among our most popular selections. In it Lauridsen sets an ancient text — a chronicle the nativity scene from the point of view of the animals present — to modern diatonic music, which uses dissonance within the same key.

AB:  This surely doesn’t sound like mall music.

So much of that “mall music” adds to the malaise of Christmas, in my view. I’ve been told again and again by those who have come to our carols how important it is to sit in candle light with this music of so many generations all around. To simply sit and ponder.

AB: Let’s turn to The Messiah.

Handel wrote the Messiah in 1741. Today this work is presented everywhere from high schools and community centers to concert halls. Everyone still wants to linger with it. The Hallelujah chorus is, in fact, the most recognizable piece of choral music in the entire world. Play it in Moscow, in Tokyo, in Los Angeles. Everyone knows that music. Everyone has been touched by that music. 

AB: Seraphic Fire is presenting this work with orchestral accompaniment.

Yes. We will be collaborating with Sebastians, a period orchestra who play with the original instruments or fine reproductions of the same instruments that would have been used during Handel’s lifetime. No metal strings will be used, for instance, only gut strings. We want to recreate the sound that 18th century audiences would have heard.

Conducting this piece is an honor. I feel immense gratitude to be able to do so with musicians of this caliber. Working with the Messiah, one is inhabiting the same words and the same notes that humankind has been responding to for centuries.

Carols by Candlelight will be performed on Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Philip’s Episcopal, 1121 Andalusia Ave., Coral Gables; $55. Then on Dec. 16 at 7:30 p.m. at All Saints Episcopal, 333 Tarpon Dr., Ft. Lauderdale; $55.

Handel’s ‘Messiah’ will be performed Dec. 19 at 8:00 p.m. at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 S.W. 5th Ave., Ft. Lauderdale; Dec. 20 at 8:00 p.m. at Trinity Cathedral, 464 N.E. 16th St., Miami; and Dec. 21 at 4:00 p.m. at South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 S.W. 211th St., Miami; ticket prices vary.

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