Cathedral Concert has Byzantine Touches

NEW YORK – The 2013 Cathedral Christmas Concert brought Christmas Spirit with a dash of Byzantine spice to the Upper East Side of Manhattan on December 22 with a delightful mix of sacred and secular, and Greek and American holiday music presented by the Cathedral’s choir and orchestra conducted by Gus Chrysson.

Greeks and non-Greeks alike patiently waited with lights low and hushed tones – a nice contrast to the noisiness of latter day audiences at the Radio City Christmas show.

The sanctuary glowed with the colors and the gold and silver backgrounds and trim of radiant icons as the glorious sounds from singers and instrumentalists alike began with the choir’s male voices singing “O Come, O Come Emanuel.”

Cathedral’s head chanter Athanasios Minetos then presented the ancient Christmas hymn “I Parthenos Simeron – Today the Virgin Gives Birth,” which was repeated by the choir.

Johann Sebastian Bach spoke to the  gathering through his Christmas Oratorio with  “Brich an, O Schones Morgenlict -Break forth, o lovely light of morning,” sung by baritone Constandinos Tsourakis and “Schlafe Mein Liebster – Sleep, my beloved,” performed  by Mezzo-Soprano Karolina Pilou.

The annual concert is held “Under the High Patronage of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America,” who was unable to attend this year, but was represented by Bishop Sevastianos of Zela. He thanked the performers of “really lifting up our hearts,” but also noted the he heard fine voices behind him and to his left and right in the audience.

The Dean of the Cathedral, Father Anastasios Gounaris, welcomed the participants and called upon God to bless them throughout the 12 days of Christmas and the New Year. Chrysson also offered greetings and encouraged the audience to sing along aided by a green sheet containing lyrics.

The audience/congregation was pleased that Very Rev. Dr. Robert Stephanopoulos, Dean Emeritus was in attendance and wished him and his family a Merry Christmas.

A medley of American Christmas favorites was mixed in with a thrilling rendition of  “O Holy Night” sung by Soprano Wendy Baker and The First Noel and Silent Night sung by the choir and the congregation.

Among the highlights was the arrangement by Frank Debby of the beloved Greek Orthodox hymn for Christmas, “I Genisis sou – Your Birth O Christ,” sung by Minetos and the choir and the traditional African American spiritual “Sweet  Little Jesus Boy” sung by Davone Tines, whose rich and resonant bass filled the Cathedral.

In addition to the delight of the audience, the event’s success – it was also a general fundraiser for the Cathedral – was indicated by the fact that unexpected ticket sales at the door meant that the programs ran out.

After the concert, some of the audience made it up to the United Palace Church – a fully restored Loews movie palace in Washington Heights – for a screening of it’s a Wonderful Life.