The Second Cantata (“Christmas”) was completed in 1978 and premiered ten years later by Kathleen Shimeta at New York’s Merkin Hall. It is dedicated to Krzysztof Penderecki. Unlike the first, third, and fourth cantatas (“Good Friday,” “Advent One”, and “Easter”) it is not a liturgical piece but is instead intended for a recital performance. Although the texts are by the English metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan (1622-1695), the cantata is in many ways a meditation on the second question of the 1563 Heidelberg Catechism. Generally, the first movement focuses upon the Catechism’s first answers and the second movement upon its last:
Question 2. How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?
Answer: Three; (a) the first, how great my sins and miseries are; (b) the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; (c) the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.
The first movement opens with a quotation, played on LP, from the fourth movement of Bach’s Cantata No. 80, “Komm in mein Herzenshaus, Herr Jesu” (Come in my heart’s house, Lord Jesus). The quote returns in the body of the movement, performed by the trumpet, where it introduces the movement’s cadenza. It returns at the movement’s close. Throughout the movement, sections of Bach’s Cantata 140 (“Wachet Auf”), as well as Richard Strauss’ Rosenkavalier, appear as part of the musical texture.
Whereas the first movement can be seen as centering on the Bach quotations, the second movement centers on a lullaby (“One born in a manager. . .”). On either end, the lullaby is buttressed by a set of musical “wheels” that circle each other like the orbits of the heavens Vaughan references in his text. As the movement progresses the pitches in these wheels are gradually eliminated until at the end only a pair trichords remain.
Mezzo soprano Wendy White has sung in over forty productions at the Metropolitan Opera, including the title role in Carmen, Fenena in Nabucco, Dame Quickly in Falstaff, Brangene in Tristan und Isolde, Suzuki in Madama Butterfly, Baba the Turk in The Rake’s Progress, Maddalena in Rigoletto, both Bersi and Madelon in Andrea Chenier, Isabella in L’Italiana in Algieri, Erda in Goetterdaemerung, as well as Cieca in La Gioconda and her performances in Nabucco, Chenier, Figaro, Wozzeck, Il Trittico, Cenerentola, and Madama Butterfly have been broadcast by PBS in its “Live from the Met” series. Miss White’s recordings have included Nabucco, Luisa Miller, La Traviata, Rake’s Progress, Oedipus Rex, and Songfest; her performance in A Quiet Place (conducted by the composer Leonard Bernstein) earned her a Grammy nomination. Miss White has appeared as a soloist the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Washington National Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Munich Symphony, and the Netherlands Radio Orchestra, under the direction of conductors Leonard Bernstein, James Levine, Leonard Slatkin, Seiji Ozawa, Christoph von Dohnanyi, John Williams, Lorin Maazel, and Zubin Mehta.
Directed by Karen Louisa Linton
Conductor Jerry Blackstone is Director of Choirs and Chair of the Conducting Department at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance where he conducts the Chamber Choir, teaches conducting at the graduate level, and administers a choral program of eleven choirs. In February 2006, he received two Grammy Awards (“Best Choral Performance” and “Best Classical Album”) as chorus master for the critically acclaimed Naxos recording of William Bolcom’s monumental Songs of Innocence and of Experience. Internationally recognized as of his generation’s leading conductors, Mr. Blackstone is also a strong advocate for the training of young musicians, serving as Director of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s summer programs for high school students and adults.