On December 17 (and 18), the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus (NYCGMC), led by Artistic Director Charles A. Beale, took over Town Hall for “Xmas & Chill,” its spirited holiday concert. Pianist Aaron Dai, guitarist Jason DiMatteo, and drummer Dan Gross assisted and special guests were the singing string quartet Well-Strung, made up of first violinist Edmund Bagnell, second violinist Christopher Marchant, violist Trevor Wadleigh, and cellist Daniel Shevlin. Christopher J. Anderson devised ‘choralography’ and Shelly Guy and John Colon signed the proceedings.
The choristers welcomed us by rejoicing resonantly and reverently in Giovanni Gabrieli’s refined Renaissance “Hodie Christus natus est,” fielding a most beautiful, lush sound, and a somewhat hushed rendition of Mykola Leontovich’s “Carol of the Bells,” with its insistent rhythm. Both were sung a cappella, the first as revoiced by Beale and the second as arranged by Peter J. Wilhousky. From Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” came the choristers’ propulsive and all-too-pertinent “Gloria in Excelsis, Half of the People (are stoned and the other half are waiting for the next election).” NYCGMC and soloist Dennis Sprick lent warmth to composer Gustav Holst and poet Christina Rossetti’s sentimental “In the Bleak Midwinter,” in Beale’s arrangement.
The singers gently considered the month in contrasting songs “december 1,” a world premiere, by pianist Dai and poet Ted Kooser, considering the approach of winter in the country, and “Manhattan in December,” swinging and sophisticated, by Ann Hampton Callaway. Guy Jacobs took up the baton for composer Nurit Hirsh and lyricist Ehud Manor’s “Bashana Haba’ah,” a slow and reflective take on a familiar Hebrew song, arranged by John Leavitt. We went from ‘next year’ to ‘tonight,’ with an upbeat, celebratory “Esta Noche,” in Tom Cunningham’s edition, adapted by Stan Hill.
Well-Strung took center stage for Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” and bade the audience provide the whip crack with unison claps and ring those sleigh bells by jingling our keys. They played the “Winter” movement of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and played and sang Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” in an unusual and intriguing blend. They offered a romantic “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” and a lusty “Devil Went Down to Georgia” as “Santa Went Down to Target,” and also joined NYCGMC in many of its numbers.
The choristers, notably assisted by percussionist Gross and Well-Strung, took a hot, contemporary approach to Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati, and Harry Simeone’s “Little Drummer Boy,” arranged by Michael McElroy and adapted by Steve Milloy, and saluted the transition from 2016 to 2017 with a rocking “New Year’s Carol,” by Ola Gjeilo and Charles Anthony Silvestri. The chorus sang James Lord Pierpont’s “Jingle Bells” joyously, in the version popularized by Barbra Streisand—fast, then slow waltz, then fast and, of course, introducing us to the past participle ‘upsot’ (“upsot?”)—as adapted by Beale.
Assistant Conductor John J. Atorino mounted the podium to lead the chorus members, now having donned their gayest Christmas pajamas, in an entertaining doo-wop “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, and Phil Spector, with soloist Scott Morwitz, and a rocking “Frosty the Snowman,” by Walter E. Rollins and Steve Nelson, both in Atorino’s arrangements. “Snow Extravagaaaanza” included Irving Berlin’s “Holiday Inn,” an a cappella “Good King Wenceslas,” and, returning to Berlin, a rollicking “Snow” and caressing “White Christmas.” Scott Ivy was the soloist. We were treated to a futuristic carol, Jonathan Coulton’s “Chiron Beta Prime,” in Atorino’s edition, imagining an Earth ruled by “robot overlords”—“Did he say overlords? He meant protectors,” soloists Jonathan Chang and Zachary Ares told us, as two silvery automatons joined them on stage.
Beale returned to lead a moving multi-lingual account of Franz Xavier Gruber’s “Silent Night,” arranged by Norman Luboff, and performed here in the original German; in Korean, sung by Trevor Kim; and in sign. In Tim Minchin’s “White Wine in the Sun,” in Beale’s edition, soloists Gary Wayne Farris, Todd Caporizzo, and David Borden shared some of Christmas’ pros—family, the songs—and cons—“the commercialization of an ancient religion,” “the mis-education of children who, in tax-exempt institutions/Are taught to externalize blame/And to feel ashamed and to judge things as plain right and wrong.” NYCGMC poked fun at family bickering in the Dropkick Murphys’ “The Season’s upon Us,” arranged by Christopher D. Littlefield. Leroy Braithwaite’s “Togetherness,” in Beale’s arrangement, was the concert’s rousing, festive finale, and in the encore, the singers saluted New York City with Phillip Phillips’ “Home” (“Just know you’re not alone/’Cause I’m gonna make this place your home”).
NYCGMC presents its annual “Big Gay Sing,” this year entitled “Welcome to New York,” with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Mexico City, from March 24 to 26, 2017, and “Two Choruses. Both Pretty,” with the London Gay Men’s Chorus, on May 20. The concerts take place at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Visit www.nycgmc.org
for more information.