MSOC welcomes holiday season with ‘Strike the Harp!’

By Erin Dutton
For the Journal Inquirer
December 7, 2010

MANCHESTER — The Manchester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale (MSOC) rings in the holiday season with its concert, Strike the Harp! at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 11, at St. Mary Episcopal Church, 41 Park St.

The chorale, directed by Kevin L. Mack, will present a selection of carols from throughout the ages, and around the world.

The concert opens with “A Ceremony of Carols,” Benjamin Britten’s setting of 15th- and 16th-century English poems in his distinctly modern harmonic language. Simple chant-like opening and closing movements frame livelier fanfare-like selections and tender lullabies.

The accompaniment of a single harp allows for the intimacy and purity of the ancient devotional verses.

Sharon Rondeau, the harpist for this concert, has performed it many times and observes, “It requires a real commitment from the singers and from the conductor.”

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on Christmas Carols” arranges five traditional carols in a progression from solemnity to festivity. A somber cello solo leads into a baritone narration of “This is the Truth Sent from Heav’n Above,” and the piece ends in the joyous “God Bless the Ruler of This House.”

Kirke Mechem’s “The Seven Joys of Christmas” is pure celebration, with carols from around the world illustrating the joys of love, bells, Mary, children, the New Year, dance, and song.

Director Kevin Mack states, “Attentive audience members may detect beauties of choral texture similar to Randall Thompson’s works, or a brilliance and humor redolent of Walter Piston.”

John Rutter’s “Candlelight Carol” and Daniel Pinkham’s “Evergreen” were composed within a few years of each other, but these two carols from opposite sides of the Atlantic contrast the traditional with the modern.

Rutter’s setting evokes classic English carols, while American composer Daniel Pinkham uses the voices of the chorale in unison throughout the piece, accompanied by only a four-measure repeated chord pattern.

Mack, in his program notes, describes “Evergreen” as “simple and supremely effective, the piece can transport the listener to contemplate the meaning of Christmas.”

The performance concludes with a much livelier compilation of well-known holiday carols.

Conrad Susa’s “A Christmas Garland” highlights a number of carols ranging from “I Saw Three Ships” to “We Three Kings” and “Joy to the World.”

Audience members will be called to make music with the chorale, as Susa’s piece incorporates a carol sing-along throughout certain sections of the work.

Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors and students 18 and older, and free for all under 18. Tickets for the performance will be available at the door.

For more information, call 860-645-1151, e-mail MusicSix [at], or visit the MSOC website: