The world premiere of “Christmas Oratorio” by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev for two choirs and symphony orchestra is set for December 17, 2007, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC. It will be performed by the Russian Defense Ministry Symphony Orchestra together with the Choir of the Tretyakov Gallery and the Youth Choir of the Musical College by the Moscow Conservatory conducted by Valery Khalilov. The Washington Boys Choir will join the 180 Russian musicians at the finale of the “Oratorio.”
“At the heart of this composition lies the Gospel narrative of the birth and early days of Jesus Christ’s life on earth,” Bishop Hilarion said to Zenit News Agency. “The dramatization is essentially one of movement from darkness to light, from the Old Testament to the New, from the painful expectation of the Messiah to the triumphant joy of mankind’s salvation by God incarnate.”
Recitatives are interspersed by a variety of musical pieces for soloists and orchestra, for one or two choirs and orchestra, soloists and choir, orchestra without choir, and for two choirs a capella, singing alternately. The score includes 3 arias, for a treble, soprano and bass; 2 orchestral fugues, one for full symphony orchestra and one for the strings; as well as many choral pieces.
Like Bishop Hilarion’s earlier work, the “St Matthew Passion,” the oratorio is characterized by the depth of the choral and orchestral scoring, the clarity of the melody and widespread use of vocal harmonies. Nonetheless, in its style and dramatization, it is unlike “The Passion,” which owed its intonation and style to Russian liturgical choral music of the 19th century and to Bach. Baroque models play no significant role in the “Christmas Oratorio” and the liturgical choral style is not the dominant one. Where “The Passion” was deliberately ascetic in its delivery (it used only one choir and strings) this oratorio uses two choirs and also a complex score for different sections of the orchestra: strings, woodwind, brass and percussion sections, including the timpani, campanelli and tubular bells.
The angels’ glorification in song of the Son of God who is born in Bethlehem is joined by that of humans. This joint exaltation is symbolized by the singing of the boys’ choir and the mixed choir.
The Washington premiere of the Oratorio will be broadcast live by EWTN (Eternal World Television Network) and can also be followed through this television network’s web site. The time of TV broadcast is 7:30PM Eastern time on Monday, 17 December. The broadcast will be repeated on 18 December at 4:00PM Eastern time and on 20 December at 4:00AM Eastern time.
For an interview with His Grace from March of this year, go HERE.