Arts & Leisure

St. Stephen’s sets the mood with Advent concerts

CAROL HARDEN (LEFT), Joy Pile, Thomas Dunne and Emily Sunderman are celebrating 15 years together as the Addison String Quartet. On Dec. 12 the quartet will debut a new work by local composter Jorge Martin as part of the Thursday Noon Advent Concert Series at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Middlebury.

MIDDLEBURY — Advent is observed by Christian churches as a season of waiting and preparation for the celebration of Christmas. Churches often hold special musical events during the season that stretches across the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.
In Middlebury this season, there will be a number of musical events that seek to capture the whole range of feelings and emotions of the holidays, with musical styles stretching across centuries and cultures.
A centerpiece of the local holiday music scene is St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church’s Thursday Noon Advent Concert Series, which will take place at the sanctuary on the green in downtown Middlebury on Dec. 5, 12 and 19 this year.
True to the range of works that make up the repertoire for the season, this year’s Advent Concert Series will include a range of instrumentation, including organ in the first performance, a string quartet on Dec. 12 and voice and guitar on Dec. 19.
Organist and carillonneur George Matthew Jr. founded the Thursday Noon Advent Concert Series eight years ago. He said he was thinking in part about a particular musical legacy when he started the programs.
At around midday on some Monday in 1916, as the Great War raged in Europe, a British musician and composer named Harold Darke sat down at the organ in London’s St. Michael’s Church, Cornhill, and began to play, hoping his music might be a light during a time of great darkness.
Darke returned to play the following Monday, and the Monday after that, and another 1,830 Mondays after that — through the Great Depression and World War II and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
By the time he passed the torch to another organist in 1966, Darke’s Monday lunchtime recitals had become a musical institution.
With that as a backdrop, Matthew kicked off the Noon Advent Concert Series at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.
The series kicks off this year on Dec. 5 when Matthew will play the works of Buxtehude, Demessieux, Karg-Elert, Otto Malling and Fridthjof Anderssen.
“It’s a nice break in the day,” said Matthew. “I like to play a variety of music, from Bach to contemporary, some serious, some light.”
Karg-Elert’s “Fantasia” is a good Christmas choice, he said. And it’s fun to play.
“It ranges all over the organ, from virtuoso patches to thunderous sounds.”
The series performers choose their own music, mostly related to the season, he said.
This year there’s an exception, however.
On Dec. 12, the Addison String Quartet, directed by Emily Sunderman, will debut “Lux Aeterna,” a new work by local composer Jorge Martin.
The quartet, which includes violinists Sunderman and Carol Harden, violist Joy Pile and cellist Thomas Dunne, will also perform Mozart’s String Quartet K 421 in D Major.
The work, which Mozart dedicated to Haydn, includes a “recurring exploration of nervous triplets, passages that nearly flip to D major (a happy key) from the melancholy and devout minor, and unconventional lengths of phrases,” Sunderman said.
On Dec. 19, basso Jack DesBois, who graduated from Middlebury College in 2017, will combine two programs into one: Favorite “Messiah” bass solos paired with traditional ballads, folksongs and hymns.
“George and I have been performing Handel arias together for six or seven years now,” DesBois said. “I’m looking forward to singing some of my favorite Biblical texts again with him, including Isaiah’s ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,’ and the Psalmist’s ‘Thou hast led captivity captive and received gifts for men; yea, even for thine enemies.’ I’m also excited to bring Handel’s music into conversation with the lowly traditional songs of America and the British Isles.”
DesBois plans to bring his acoustic guitar, he said, and there may be some opportunities for the audience to join in.

OTHER ADVENT MUSIC EVENTS
• Dec. 8: Middlebury College’s Mead Memorial Chapel will host Lessons and Carols for Advent and Christmas. The festive annual program features choral music, congregational singing and biblical texts of the season, led by Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life Mark Orten and Director of Choral Activities Jeffrey Buettner, with music by the Middlebury College Choir; readings by students, faculty and staff; and a carillon prelude by George Matthew Jr., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
• Dec. 13: St. Stephen’s will celebrate the Swedish Festival of Santa Lucia, directed by Rustan Swenson and featuring the local youth in the roles of Lucia and her attendants, and the members of the Nordic Chorus of Londonderry, 7:30 p.m.
• Dec. 22: Middlebury Congregational Church will host the Annual Messiah Sing, sponsored by the College Community Chorus and let by its conductor, Jeff Rehbach. 2 p.m.

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