With its focus on new music by contemporary composers, a performance by The Crossing is always a surprising experience. But that’s never more true than at Christmastime, when other choirs are turning their attention to the “Messiah” and to sing-a-long carol sessions.
“We do this in a really beautiful, candlelit stone church in the English cathedral tradition,” says Crossing founder and director Donald Nally. “From the moment you walk in the door, the mood encourages you to leave your troubles outside the door and switch off for a little bit, to engage only in the music that’s coming at you and the emotional content of that music. It’s a really thoughtful evening in which there’s a lot of quiet, beautiful singing. In that way, I consider it a relief from all that other music we’re constantly bombarded with every time we walk into Starbucks or a greeting card store.”
The centerpiece of this year’s “Crossing @ Christmas” concert is “Astralis,” a major piece by German composer Wolfgang Rihm, written for cello, tympani and choir. The piece’s meditations on the natural world inspired the overarching theme for the ensemble’s current season. “It’s a really ethereal, spatial, thoughtful piece that creates an amazing atmosphere,” Nally says.
The second half of the program is anchored by Bermuda-born composer Gabriel Jackson’s more jubilant “Ave regina caelorum” for choir and electric guitar. Nally describes it as “very rhythmic, with a lot of sweeping lines for the sopranos and tenors and a number of very specific moods — Gabriel even writes in the style of Eric Clapton at one point.”
The program is filled out with a number of smaller pieces, including two by Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds, all chosen by Nally to maintain the evening’s mood. “I choose pieces that I feel have some kind of message of either hope or anticipation or that reach across various boundaries in terms of our idea of God,” Nally says. “That can be nature or the world or the cosmos or whatever. Then I thread them together to make almost a liturgy, even though the concert is a mix of secular and sacred. It’s what I would call spiritual music that fits together to tell a story of contemplation and anticipation.”
That story is also represented on “Christmas Daybreak,” the choir’s newly released CD featuring works by Jackson, James MacMillan, and Philly composer Benjamin C.S. Boyle, among others. Not unexpectedly, Nally says, “It’s not your typical collection of Christmas music.”
Crossing @ Christmas
Dec. 20, 8 p.m.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
22 E. Chestnut Hill Ave.