Child’s Christmas in Wales is a new work, at least on the West Coast. It was commissioned in 2003 for a mixed choir, soloists, and chamber symphony in New Jersey.
Matthew Harris comes to us this Sunday with a composing track record as long as Santas beard, and with the kudos that come from doing much more with his choral scores than anyone ever expects. So I found out by Googling “Matthew Harris Composer”.
I asked two of the Chanteuses, who are also in the Camerata, how they liked the work. They were excited, and now so am I. went to his website to check things out. He is quite modest about commissions for choral works. There are plenty of them, and serious choral directors say it is a great pleasure to direct and produce his works. One group, a Galway, Ireland Men’s Choir commissioned a work “Three Plums”, which they used to win acclaim at the Cork Choral Festival. He also makes it very clear that his arrangements of choral pieces are easily accessible to community choral groups.
I am sure Child’s Christmas in Wales will exceed expectations tomorrow Sunday December 19th at Westminster Presbyterian Church 4 PM. They have plenty of seats, and the price is right, $22 for adults, and $20 for seniors. Ed Ortiz wrote three columns in Friday’s Ticket section. You should read it before going.
I did engage in about an hour of conversation with Matthew Harris. He answered every question I could think of, like: Why do A Child’s Christmas?
“I thought I could add some music that would create an ambient cultural setting. You know Welsh Choirs have a long history of beautiful singing, and that was what Thomas was hearing in his village, and others. These hymns and drinking songs were what remained with him as he grew into a justly famous adult poet, and began his concert tours in Europe and the US. If you want to hear Thomas read this work, like I did, look for a podcast on iTunes.”
How do you handle all the “he saids?” I asked, carefully.
“I get the chorus to be like a Greek chorus to create a kind of village dialog. I just love creating a setting for the eccentric characters that Thomas put into his poem, ”
I, myself, remember meeting Thomas, in a Greenwich Village bar after one of his readings. He was full of wonderful gestures, and lilting voice, very musical without rehearsed vocalese or reliance on specific tunes. He was also very good about downing pints and keeping a running conversation of poetic merit without losing his place.
Harris plans to work this inner music and rhythm into his solo lines, and choral parts, and also to inject instrumental snippets from the BBC radio in the British Isles of the 1930’s and 40’s, Thomas’ formative years. He says these are embedded in larger chunks, and that there is a minimum of dissonance for dissonances sake.
Harris has the Camellia Symphony, the Camerata California Choir, and four very adept solists. One of them, Pedro Betancourt, was featured in a recent fall Turner Harmonie concert to a great deal of adulation. Pedro also sang at the Carmel Mission Messiah, all of the very demanding tenor solos.
I asked Harris what he is working on now.
“A work about Cain and Abel, “Mark of Cain”–that draws more recent scholarship into the family relationships depicted in the book of Genesis. I have a solo soprano taking the role of the serpent. And another work is called “In the Arms of Music”, which celebrates all the music I really love.”
So I am sure you readers will like this Sunday’s program. Let me know your comments, as I will also be reviewing it for this paper.