Friday, December 15, 2017

Baltic Christmas Day 15 - NY Latvian Concert Choir

Today on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas we welcome Kristīna with her article on the NY Latvian Concert Choir's annual Christmas concert!

Along with the much awaited and various Christmas craft markets (Ziemsvētku tirdziņi) in the New York metro area, the New York Latvian Concert Choir’s annual Advent concert has become a tradition of the holiday season for many. I began attending the concerts when I had four young children, and one Sunday just needed a break, or as my husband called it- “a walk-about.” It was my chance to get away from stressful pre-holiday preparations and simply sit & absorb the joyful celebration surrounding the season. I returned home inspired and calm, thus beginning a personal tradition that continued as solo excursions for a number of years, but grew to include family members, and finally, to joining the choir as a singer.

Many Latvian choirs prepare for a concert during the Christmas season, reaffirming the idea that abundant joy is found in intangible things. As often happens during holidays celebrated by the Balts, we enjoy a unique blend of Christian themes and images, a bright star and the manger in Bethlehem alongside snowy woods and energetic, slightly rowdy budeļi, or mummers.

The NYCC Advent concert takes place at the NY Latvian Lutheran Church in Yonkers on the first or second Sunday of the Advent. It follows a brief service and a seasonal chorale sung by everyone present. The choir often commissions works by Latvian composers specifically for this concert. In the past, composers such as Uģis Prauliņš, Ilona Rupaine, and Ēriks Ešenvalds have composed pieces for the choir. Most often the commissioned work is a Christmas cantata with compositions for poetry by Latvian authors or arrangments of traditional folk melodies. The commisioned works usually include accompaniment by a chamber orchestra. Thanks to grants from the New York Council for the Arts, a small orchestra has been a part of the concerts for as long as I have attended them. Flowing passages by violins, wall trembling percussion, and mysteriously dreamy notes on a harp, undoubtedly make for a richer experience for both singers and audience. In addition to the commissioned cantatas, the program has included familiar Christmas carols arranged for a choir and works by Baltic composers such as Estonian Urmas Sisask.

While the music of the Advent concert is the focus of the day, the luncheon following the concert encourages folks to stay and enjoy friendships. A characteristically food- laden buffet including salmon (smoked or as gravlax), various meats, sauerkraut, and plenty of potato salad, is the centerpiece of the church’s social hall. For a number of years a small Christmas market with a handful of vendors squeezes into an adjoing conference room and onto the stage of the hall, providing the “shopping fix” for those who are so inclined.

We may associate the Latvian singing tradition with song festivals, but of course it extends further. The New York Latvian Concert Choir’s Advent Concert is a fine example of the fact that singing in general is good for the body and soul. What better time than heading into Christmas to give both body and soul a gift?

Paldies, Kristīna, for your beautiful post on this NYC Christmas tradition! Kristīna finds singing along with CDs in the car or with friends around the campfire one of the best ways to de-stress. She is hoping the activation of otherwise unstimulated areas of the brain that is required in choral singing will postpone the effects of age on her brain by a few minutes... Oh, Kristīna, of course singing keeps one young, especially at heart!

A side note, one of our favorite holiday albums is Christmas Joy in Latvia: Latvian Christmas Cantatas (2012) by the NY Latvian Concert Choir (conducted by Andrejs Jansons), which was named as one of the 'Top 25 Greatest Christmas Albums of All Time' by Rolling Stone.

Tomorrow we travel to Lithuania for a cup of coffee... Hope you'll join us!

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