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Musical knowledge and impeccable taste

The Western Wind presents "Home for the Holidays: From Darkness to Light"
Sunday, December 8, 2019 at 7:00 PM
Church of St. Luke in the Fields, 487 Hudson Street
Reviewed by Paul Berss

L-R: Todd Frizzell, David Vanderwal, Elizabeth van Os, Elijah Blaisdell, Linda Lee Jones, Eric S. Brenner.

Unlike holiday music performances that offer renderings of "Jingle Bells," "Silent Night" and "Santa Baby," the Western Wind presented a scholarly, dazzling display of wide-ranging musical knowledge and impeccable taste when the venerable organization delighted a packed house in the Church of St. Luke in the Fields with an evening of music for the holiday season.  The wonderfully original program included Christmas and Hanukkah songs, selections from Debussy and Poulenc to Charles Ives, and singing in Ladino, Native American, English, Hebrew and French.

Singers were sopranos Linda Lee Jones and Elizabeth van Os, countertenor Eric S. Brenner, tenors Todd Frizzell and David Vanderwal, and baritone Elijah Blaisdell, joined by violinist Patricia Davis, and Will Holshouser on accordion.  Even the sopranos doubled at times on flute and guitar. Tenor Todd Frizzell produced a pair of castenets for the last selection, adding a Spanish flavor to a most spirited "Ocho Kandlikas" by Bosnian-born Jewish-American guitarist Flory Jagoda that was sung in Ladino. The audience clapped in rhythm and danced in their seats.

Composer Martha Sullivan accepts applause after performance of her "Lazarus," a setting of Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus" that is found on the Statue of Liberty.

It would be quite a task to pick out highlights from such a splendid program, but I will mention two new works by composers Martha Sullivan and Gerald Cohen, both of whom were in the audience and were heartily applauded after performances of their works.  The program refers to immigration: "In our own time, immigration and the worldwide refugee crisis demand a response," and this was realized with Sullivan's "Lazarus," a setting of Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus" that is found on the Statue of Liberty ("give me your tired, your poor").   Also present was Gerald Cohen for the world premiere of his Hanukhah work "And Yet the Light Returns."  Another Hanukhah selection was "Odekha" by Salomone Rossi (1570-1630), a musician and composer at the court of Mantua who is considered to be the first Jewish composer to set Hebrew texts in the European choral style.   And, as a Debussy devotee, I especially enjoyed that composer's last song, "Noel Des Enfants."

The evening was a total delight throughout - the performances, the selection of repertory, even the comprehensive and informative printed program.  Kudos to all creators and performers.


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