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Joy to the World: choir and orchestra in perfect harmony

Joy to the World: uplifting performance at St John’s Church (Photograph supplied)

Marjorie Pettit’s concerts are now an integral – and indispensable – part of Bermuda’s advent season. The size of her team rivals that of a large local corporation: 50 choral singers, 25 musicians, as well as 30 in production management, taking care of tickets, programmes and seating.

In Joy to the World, the Bermuda Chamber Choir and Orchestra with Bermuda School of Music Youth Choir and orchestra leader Kerry Haslam produced some rousing entertainment at St John’s Church, Pembroke.

Fused together under Pettit’s direction, the musicians and singers delivered perfectly polished, world-class performances of 25 thoughtfully chosen Christmas items from diverse times and places, all focused on the main theme. The audience was not neglected.

We sang five traditional carols with orchestra and choir, which added hugely to our enjoyment. The opening Gaudete (Rejoice!) came from medieval France. A drone-like accompaniment lay under an intensely syncopated choral antiphonic chant which sounded urgent, joyful and spontaneously, modern.

CPE Bach’s Magnificat used boisterous brass instrumentation to underline its declaration of fundamental, spiritual joy in worship. Ukrainian composer Myokola Leontovich’s Carol of the Bells with its complex, Eastern orthodox sound, flawlessly delivered by the choir, resonantly reminded us that its first performance was in the University of Kyiv in December 1916, while world war was raging.

In complete contrast, Max Reger’s 1912 Maria Wiegenlied (Mary’s Lullaby) celebrated the joy of parental love. Young Euan Forster’s moving solo accompanied by Oliver Grant on piano made the perfect vehicle for its imagery of domestic joy, peace and safety.

The Sparrow’s Carol by Bob Chilcott, new to us, formed another development: it was almost as if the songbird at Mary’s feet in the Lullaby had morphed into a swarm of cheeky, needy sparrows, with the chorus ”so let us have a bite, to be of good cheer/ and you shall have a Christmas to last all year”.

John Rutter’s Candlelight Carol, also new to us, was a profound statement on the mystery of joy. Using quotes from traditional carols, and framing the words with traditional-sounding musical phrasing, the work hints at the immeasurable by using unanswerable questions.

Elizabeth Fortune’s solo performance of Winter Wonderland was well controlled, engaging and brought out the joyous, innocent frivolity of the song.

Little Drummer Boy showcased Shelton Bean’s masterly snare drumming and the orchestra used strings and wind to recreate an 18th-century fife band sound, perfect for the theme. The evening ended with the ultimate musical burst of joy, Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

The sheer teamwork behind the integration of voice and instrumentation resulted in a perfectly built performance.

Once again, thank you, Marjorie Pettit.

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Published December 16, 2023 at 7:56 am (Updated December 16, 2023 at 7:14 am)

Joy to the World: choir and orchestra in perfect harmony

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