It is no wonder that this was a sold out event.
Billed as ‘pick of the pops’ this is as close to a classical choral mixed tape as you’re going to get. The Australian Chamber Choir are a smart young company who are clearly as passionate about the work that they do as their founder and conductor, the charming Douglas Lawrence OAM, who has put together a thoughtful program that is highly accessible even to new listeners.
Escaping the city Christmas shopping madness into the cool dark stillness of St Mary’s Cathedral Crypt the cascading melodies of A Baroque Christmas are uplifting and occasionally cheerful rather than sombre. During the first half of the concert the repertoire almost becomes a song cycle with the hypnotic sounds and meditative melodies swirling through almost three-hundred years of festive musical composition. After the interval the pace continues with a jaunty upbeat mood as we trot along through some beautiful pieces exploring both the high angelic lyrical passages, more traditional German festive choral work and some slower more modulated pieces.
Listening to the undulating tones echoing all around us, John Keats’ quote on poetry immediately came to mind:
“The point of diving into a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore, but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out, it is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept the mystery.”
Being able to luxuriate in the sensation of the music in such a beautiful and private space was an absolute treat. It is no wonder that this was a sold out event.
Australian Chamber Choir have certainly done their homework in terms of their audience offerings too. Prior to the concert each ticket holder is emailed full program notes and a link to the website that offers a range of free information including colouring worksheets for children (slightly advanced for the two year old I took but a great idea nonetheless).
A comprehensive guide to the music with full lyrics translated into English is provided at the concert as well. The notes are a guided lesson in choral music for both the novice and the learned listener and there is as much personality in the writing as there is in the presentation of the concert. The Australian Chamber Choir clearly relish choral music and are openly inviting in wanting to share this with their audience.
Unlike similar concerts in recent years A Baroque Christmas was relaxed and comfortable, encouraging enjoyment of the music for all ages and levels of understanding. Mr Lawrence gave a short welcome at the beginning of the concert which included a guide on when we would be asked to clap and when it was best to sit and appreciate the silence between pieces. This guidance felt very inclusive and even the lighting in the Crypt was kept at a level where we could easily read the program notes. A refreshing change from some of the more reverent classical choral music experiences in some of our larger concert spaces.
All of the pieces were composed from the 1500s to the 1700s during an era in which the Church dominated every aspect of European life including culture and art. It was during this era scholars were also starting to ponder the existence of God, most famously the French philosopher Diderot amongst others. It is fascinating that this spiritual music can continue to move us in an increasingly secular society. Living in Australia in the 21st Century in light of the Royal Commission and other revelations, although the broader community is moving away from the Church, the music remains timeless.
I hope that future Sydney audiences get to experience the Australian Chamber Choir’s A Baroque Christmas. It is a shame that it hasn’t yet been regularly programmed at the Crypt as part of the festive season at as I suspect it would soon become a Christmas favourite allowing time for reflection on peace and goodwill to all.
Fiona Hallenan-Barker – Theatre Now: On Sounds