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The Arts
11.28.07

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Yule Love 'em: Members of the Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus at a recent performance in Munich.

Music for the Feast of Christmas

The Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus returns with a Santa Cruz holiday tradition.

By Scott MacClelland


Believe it or not, the Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus, which gives the community its annual Music for the Feast of Christmas, has reached the 25th anniversary of its founding. Cheryl Anderson has been its music director for two-thirds of that rich history and finds herself excited all over again at this year's set of four performances. "Many of the original members are still singing with us," Anderson says with pride, "at least 10, with a lot of institutional memory, a lot of caretaking." While many amateur and semipro choirs come up with a holiday sampler each year, Anderson prefers to anchor her assortment around at least one substantial piece. In this case, it's Johann Sebastian Bach's Christmas Cantata Gloria in excelsis Deo, adapted from material in the great Mass in B Minor, a work the composer found unwelcome in Lutheran Germany because of its Roman Catholic liturgical elements and its sheer size. In addition, Anderson demonstrates uncommon taste by including Giovanni Gabrieli's antiphonally radiant Jubilate Deo and Czech-born American composer Vaclav Nelhybel's thrilling Estampie Natalis of 1976, a dancing celebration. The men of Anderson's chorus get to sing the popular Ave Maria of 1964 by Franz Bibel, while the women claim Mendelssohn's Beati omnes.

Anderson and her husband, John (the music director of Ensemble Monterey), recently traveled in east Africa, collecting vivid impressions of the music they heard there—especially that of the Masai—which accounts for an African set in the program. "It's very rhythmic and jumps a lot," Anderson says, adding, "there will also be some small Hebrew pieces." An orchestra of 23 and brass choir join the 100 members of Anderson's chorus. As a discrete project, Music for the Feast of Christmas began as a joint venture by the Cabrillo Chorus and the Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Department, then headed up by Susan Wandruff. Initially, the annual event was presented at First Congregational Church. It only moved to historic Holy Cross Church after repairs following the serious hit the building sustained in the Loma Prieta earthquake, and with the enthusiastic blessing of Sister Barbara Long, the church's music director. Anderson formed the Cabrillo Youth Chorus about 10 years ago, and has watched trebles as young as seven become today's teenage baritones. The Youth Chorus now hosts about 60 voices.

Following the formal program, Anderson promises sing-along carols in arrangements by the popular British choral composer John Rutter. A catered reception after the final matinee performance on Sunday will include champagne and hors d'oeuvres, "with a slight added cost," Anderson says. Her own gladly expressed last word about this popular annual event takes the form of a gracious thank-you: "We get so much support from the community."


THE CABRILLO SYMPHONIC CHORUS 'Music for the Feast of Christmas,' Nov. 29-Dec. 2 at 8pm and Dec. 2 at 2pm at Holy Cross Church, 126 High St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $25/$18; call 831.479.6331.


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