December Celebration New Carols by Seven American Composers (Pentatone)
When's the last time you heard a Christmas carol that made you wish you could hear it again and again? This collection of seasonal music, titled December Celebration, may just fit the bill. New carols from seven American composers are featured on this disc, half of which were commissioned for this project. Soprano Lisa Delan is one of the featured soloists."They're all in a very contemporary and uniquely American musical language," she explains, "but they sound as if they could have been written any time in the last 50 years, they're so immediately accessible and such a delight to listen to that I was thrilled to be a part of the genesis of the project and to be able to record on it as well."
When they went into Skywalker Studios last year to make this recording, Lisa says it was truly a gathering of friends, from the composers, to the musicians including the New Century Chamber Orchestra, and the Volti Chorus. "So recording this in December of last year was like the best Christmas party anyone could have asked for," Lisa says.
The recording opens with a delightful work for chorus and orchestra by Mark Adamo, who's best known for his opera, Little Women. On December 4, his newest opera, Becoming Santa Claus, opens at the Dallas Opera. Lisa says he was knee-deep in his new opera while working on this carol, "The Christmas Life." "So it was uncannily good timing for him because one flowed very easily into the other," Lisa says. "Even though the style is very different, there's a mood that I think is consistent. And his piece, once we heard it, we knew it had to open the recording. There's just something about it which is so inviting and so magical that it is the perfect gateway for the recording."
Lisa Delan has worked extensively with composer Gordon Getty. She says it was his collection of four Christmas carols that sparked this project in the first place. "The first one he'd written was several years ago, 'Call the Children,' and it had been performed and programmed several times over the last few years in different holiday programs by kids' choruses," Lisa says. "Adult choruses and essentially everybody loved it so much and it was so much fun to work with, that I think it inspired him to go back to that theme and write 'The Snow Child' and 'Candles on the Tree' and 'Run to the Window.' When he first finished that set, we thought about an entire Getty holiday album but he said, 'You know, that's really all [he had] to say about that.' And that's when we had the idea to turn to other composers and create a rich tapestry for the recording."
Most of the pieces woven into this beautiful tapestry are in some way connected to Christmas with one exception: "How Bright the Darkness," by Luna Pearl Woolf. Here's part of the text:
The darkest day, the longest night,
The moon has turned the snow to light
How bright the darkness is tonight.
"I'm getting goosebumps while you're reading that," Lisa tells me. "And the quality that she evoked in the choral writing, as well as the orchestration, is so transcendent. My favorite part might be that gorgeous harp solo seguing back into the second half of the piece. It gets me every time.
"It was interestingly the only piece on the CD that is not on a specifically Christmas theme which, since Luna and I are both Jewish, made a lot of sense," Lisa continues. "And we'd talked about maybe writing a Hannukah piece, but at the end of the day she'd decided to go with a seasonal piece reflecting the winter solstice, which is also my birthday, so I felt connected to that."
Lisa Delan also felt a special connection to "The Road to Bethlehem," one of seven carols from Jake Heggie's suite, "On the Road to Christmas." "It's actually the first one I recorded when we started the sessions," she recalls, "and I felt particularly close to that one based on the poem by Emily Dickinson because I've worked so much with her poetry over these last years, having recorded and performed 'The White Election,' Getty's song cycle on 31 poems. And another four poems that I recorded on my last solo CD. So I've spent a tremendous amount of time reading Dickinson, and dreaming Dickinson, visiting her home in Amherst, [Mass.], having sung at the church where her family attended and visited her burial site. There's something very transcendent to me about having been able to sing her as part of this holiday cycle."
There is something magical about this time of year. Perhaps it's the colorful lights, the festive décor, or that moment when we pause and appreciate one another a little bit more. Perhaps it's the music, including these new carols on December Celebration.