December 14, 2010

Washington Post Review - Joy of Christmas

Tickets are on sale now for The Joy of Christmas! at the Strathmore Music Center
Monday, December 20th 8:00pm!

Review: Joy of Christmas, Joe Banno
Positive responses to music director J. Reilly Lewis's "Joy of Christmas" programs with his Cathedral Choral Society have become almost as much a tradition of the season as the concerts.But, as Saturday's annual presentation proved again, these are the smartest, least-hackneyed and most musically satisfying of the plentiful choral events on offer in the Washington area each December.The cathedral, of course, always adds powerfully to the atmospherics at work - whether wrapping an evocative halo around the divided-chorus antiphony in Elizabeth Poston's "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree" during Saturday's opening Advent wreath procession, or providing crisp reverberation to the athletically virtuosic brass-quintet playing from members of the Washington Symphonic Brass. But the fresh repertoire on offer brought comparable rewards, with a mix of rarely heard material from Felix Mendelssohn and 16th-century composer Jacob Handl, and lovely contemporary pieces by Stephen Caracciolo, Alexander L'Estrange, Frank La Rocca and Richard Wayne Dirksen.The premiere of a newly commissioned carol, "The Nine Gifts" by Robert Chilcott, revealed a warmly consonant charmer. But there was challenging pungency in the torrential onslaught of Adolphus Hailstork's Toccata on "Veni Emmanuel," played with great verve by organist Todd Fickley. Even that tired chestnut of Christmas choral concerts, the guest appearance by a high school chorus, was elevated here by the pure tone, rich blend and superior musicianship of the Maret School Concert Choir, which, under James Irwin's sensitive baton, more than held its own against the rarefied beauty of the Cathedral Choral Society.The program will be repeated in the airy, if more secular, acoustics of Strathmore Hall on Dec. 20.
- Joe Banno


December 3, 2010

Stephen Caracciolo on Joy of Christmas Program

In preparation for this season's Joy of Christmas performances, we sat down with composer and conductor, Stephen Caracciolo to get the scoop on his biggest influences and inspirations. Hear his work -"The Lamb" from Songs of Innocence - in action at this season's Joy of Christmas performances at Washington National Cathedral and the Music Center at Strathmore

How old were you when you first seriously considered making music your career?
About 12. I was singing in a men and boys choir and fell in love with the whole idea of making music with others. The Anglican liturgy was beautiful, and the way music, liturgical action, and spoken word was combined has informed the rest of my life.

Who supported and inspired you to make the choice?
First my mother, second my HS choral conductor.

Do you have a pre-composition ritual or practice that helps you get started?
Not really. Finding good texts is the hardest thing for me. I'm really selective.

Which composers most influence your style?
Almost anyone British, any era.. Also, as strange as this may sound, Alfred Burt, whose carols I sang in high school. His tonal style but with near "jazz" colorings I find creeping into my music even when I didn't intend it too. Have you ever taken a Burt Carol and added a rhythm section to it? You get something close to a jazz chart. Sometimes my scores have that same character. "The Lamb" has seventh chords, and added note chords, and twists of harmony that sound something close to jazz if you add a "beat".

In light of the recent economic downturn, what advice would you give to aspiring singers and composers?
Become very good at your craft while still diversifying. My real job is serving as a conductor and teacher, but I compose and sing on the side. Enjoy working with people. Get some business experience in while you are young, you may have the opportunity to work in arts administration to help support yourself. Get into the very best university program you can, aim high. Most importantly, after you graduate with whatever degree, do not be afraid to simply volunteer your time to other musical artists and professionals whom you respect in your community. Established mentors in the field can help you find a productive slot in the local musical scene. If I had my life to live over, that is what I would do.

Could you briefly tell us about the creation of The Lamb?
If I recall, "The Lamb" was one of those Summer Christmas itches. I settled on the text, wrote the melodic material first, then created the harmonies around that. A very simple construction. My scores tend to explore the tension between dissonance and consonance. Where is the harmony going? How tight can I twist the dissonances before I release them? That character is especially clear in this short setting; at "We are called by his name", for instance. Just weeks after completing this text, I received a new commission, so I selected three additional Blake texts and created a set, "The Songs of Innocence". Thank you for singing the setting of "The Lamb" from that set. I look forward to seeing you at next Monday's rehearsal.

Stephen Caracciolo is a choral conductor recognized for his passionate artistry, creative teaching, and is a nationally known composer and arranger whose choral works have been performed throughout the United States and Europe. Mr. Caracciolo is currently Assistant Professor of voice and conducting at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.