It’s been many years since I was in Manhattan at Christmas time. I was there last weekend. Wanting to be as close to the Metropolitan Museum as possible, I stayed at a small hotel on the Upper East Side. There were some delightful decorations along Madison Avenue. The windows of Ralph Lauren’s flagship store were gorgeous!
(The building seen at 00:28 through to 00:34, a French Renaissance revival edifice completed in 1898, is called the Rhinelander Mansion.)
What I was most excited to see was the Christmas tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Each year the Museum puts up a Christmas tree decorated with eighteenth century figures from Neapolitan Nativity scenes. It’s been many years since I’ve seen this moving and beautiful display.
(Thanks go to my husband Ron for creating the above video montages.)
Sunday night my friend Helene and I attended a concert at the museum. Directed by Kent Tritle, the Choir of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine presented a program of sacred music entitled O Magnum Mysterium (“O Great Mystery’). In all my years of going to the Met, I’d never been there when the museum was not completely open. Certain galleries were lit, especially those that led to the Medieval Sculpture Hall where the concert was to be held. Others were roped off and dark. We came in through the Roman Sculpture Court.
This was the set-up for the performance: . The choir entered from the right; we heard them before we saw them. They were singing a Gregorian Chant entitled Veni, veni Emanuel. They entered slowly, grouping themselves directly in front of the Christmas tree.
Here, the chant is sung by the Christendom College Choir and the Schola Gregoriana:
Neither photography nor videorecording were permitted on this occasion, so I have selected some YouTube videos of several of the pieces performed by the choir. This setting of O Magnum Mysterium by Tomas Luis de Victoria is sung by The Sixteen:
Several of the pieces on the program were by twentieth century composers. I was especially taken by this Ave Maria by Franz Biebl, a composer with whom I was not familiar.
And I was delighted to find a video of Chanticleer singing this luminous work in the very same space where Sunday night’s concert took place:
This performance is by the King’s College Choir, King’s College, Cambridge. It’s accompanied by these comments from the poster:
Probably the best and most moving piece of music I have ever heard. I was lucky enough to be able to watch this on “Carols from Kings” on Christmas Eve 2009 and it left me in tears. The beauty of the harmonies and the control of Kings College Choir transcends all words and I was left in a state of shock quivering and speechless. I have never heard anything like this in all my life! I never want it to end!
The piece that I heard at the Bach Concert earlier this year is called”Dirait-on:”
Can music be too beautiful? For me, “Dirait-on” comes close…..
At the close of the concert, the choir, once again singing Gregorian chant, made its stately way out of the Medieval Sculpture Hall, to the gallery at the right.
Here is Conditor alme siderum, sung by the Schola Gregoriana Mediolanensus of Milan, Italy:
How could something be so magical? We were transported. O Magnum Mysterium, indeed.