NEW YORK – On the upper East Side of Manhattan it is not Christmas for Greek Orthodox Christians and their non-Greek neighbors alike until they partake of the holiday concert of the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity with its delightful blend of carols in Greek and English.
The 2014 concert, performed by the Cathedral choir and distinguished soloists who are members of the choir and excellent instrumentalist assembled by Costas Tsourakis, the conductor and music director, also featured extensive excerpts from the Messiah of George Frideric Handel.
The words of the Prophet Isaiah at beginning of Handel’s magnificent oratorio set the tone for the audience sitting quietly in the dimly lit space beneath the dome of silver and gold: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”
It is not known whether Handel was in touch with Greeks or Orthodox Christians when he served at the courts of England and Germany, but many of his operas and oratorios have Greek themes. One audience member observed that many Orthodox Christians become familiar at a young age with the feel of Handel’s music as a result of the blending of Handelian motives with the Byzantine music in some church choirs.
After the rousing conclusion of Messiah, the hymns of the Orthodox Church took their turn telling the story of Christmas.
The soloists, all members of the Cathedral choir, included sopranos Alyson Spina, Alexandra Skendrou and Sun Young Chang; Karolina Pilou, Mezzo Soprano, Joseph Brent, Tenor and Davone Tines, Bass.
The choir presented a beautiful rendition of “I Parthenos Simeron” accompanied on piano.
The choir was joined by the orchestra for an ethereal “I Yennisis Sou – Your Birth, Christ our God.”
Tsourakis, who grew up in Astoria and has roots in Nisyros and Ikaria, is also the Cathedral’s interim choir director. He invited the audience to join in the singing that followed but most were satisfied with just listening to the fine performance.
“Oh Come All Ye Faithful” was begun as “Adeste Fideles” by Sun Yung Cheng in Latin and Alexandra Skendros began “Silent Night” in Greek.
The Cathedral was filled with poinsettias and boughs of pine trees and the audience, which was greeted and thanked by Archbishop Demetrios after the performance, was filled with good cheer in anticipation of the concert that is held “Under the High Patronage of His Eminence,” according to the invitation.
The archbishop, visibly very pleased, praised the conductor and the performers, and declared that “after such music you don’t want to hear a speech – just more music,” and coaxed the ensemble into offer the gift of an encore – a reprise of the moving communion hymn, “Lytrosin Apesteilen – Salvation is Created” by the Russian composer Pavel Tchesnokov.
Archbishop Demetrios with everyone a Merry Christmas and urged them to meditate on the lyrics of the carols which he said have deep theological meaning.