The St. Charles Singers’ 2023 “Candlelight Carols” concerts, the choir’s first holiday collaboration with a brass ensemble, will feature seasonal songs for choir and brass at concerts Dec. 1 in Wheaton and Dec. 2 and 3 in St. Charles.
The mixed-voice chamber choir, founded and conducted by Jeffrey Hunt, will be joined by a quintet from the Millar Brass Ensemble, whose name reflects its longtime association with Northwestern University’s Alice Millar Chapel.
“Brass brings a sparkling, celebratory sound to the Christmas season,” Hunt says.
About half the program will comprise music for choir and brass, the rest for choir alone, he says.
The concert will offer the world premiere of Andrew Wainwright’s choir and brass arrangement of the early Canadian Christmas hymn “Huron Carol,” written for the St. Charles Singers.
The work opens and closes, Hunt says, with “atmospheric” instrumental passages for brass quintet, percussion (suspended cymbal and triangle), and piano that evoke the natural world. Audiences also will hear piccolo trumpet and flugelhorn, in addition to the standard brass quintet of two trumpets, French horn, trombone and tuba.
Of particular interest, Hunt says, is how Wainwright pairs voices and instruments having similar musical registers, such as sopranos and trumpet, tenors and trombone.
Also performing in “Huron Carol” are percussionist Oliver Hunt and pianist Valerie Heinkel-Bollero.
A British-born composer, arranger and performer of brass band music, Wainwright has won top prizes for his compositions in multiple international competitions. In 2017, the New York Philharmonic Brass commissioned him to write two pieces for its annual Holiday Brass concert. His music was featured for three consecutive years in the New York concert series.
Other works to be heard for the first time in a St. Charles Singers program are Australian choral luminary Stephen Leek’s “Southern Cross” from the Oxford University Press collection “World Carols for Choirs.”
“This charming, swinging piece with a jazz sensibility conjures Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere, where it’s summer in December,” Hunt says.
June Nixon’s rollicking, a cappella arrangement of the French carol tune “People Look East” is, in Hunt’s words, “a little gem” with particularly inspired writing for the sopranos.
Concertgoers will hear a movement from Daniel Pinkham’s jubilant, Baroque-inspired “Christmas Cantata (Sinfonia Sacra)” with antiphonal passages where voices and brass echo one another.
John Rutter’s arrangement of “I wonder as I wander,” a traditional Appalachian carol, “captures the text so beautifully,” Hunt says.
Making return appearances to the “Candlelight Carols” program are Jonathan Dove’s “The Three Kings,” Paul Halley’s jazzy arrangement of the Christmas spiritual “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” Herbert Howells’ “A Spotless Rose,” Reginald Jacques’ “Good King Wenceslas,” Mykola Leontovych’s “Carol of the Bells,” based on a Ukrainian folk chant, Samuel Scheidt’s “A child is born,” Arthur Warrell’s “We wish you a merry Christmas” and David Willcocks’ versions of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night.”
Concert Dates and Locations
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1, at St. Michael Catholic Church, 310 S. Wheaton Ave., Wheaton; and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3, at Baker Memorial United Methodist Church, 307 Cedar Ave., St. Charles.
Tickets and information
Single-admission tickets cost $45 for adults, $40 for seniors 65 and older, and $12 for students. Group discounts are available.
Tickets and information are available at stcharlessingers.com or by calling 630-513-5272. Tickets are also available at Townhouse Books, 105 N. Second Ave., St. Charles (checks or cash only at this ticket venue). Tickets also may be purchased at the door on the day of the concert, depending on availability.
Sopranos performing in “Candlelight Carols” include Jeanne Fornari and Karen Rockett, both of Batavia; Amy Bearden and Ingrid Burrichter, both of Chicago; Marybeth Kurnat, DeKalb; Jessica Heinrich, Elburn; Laura Johnson, Hanover Park; Amanda Kohl, Oak Park; and AnDréa James and Cynthia Spiegel, both of St. Charles.
Alto voices are Margaret Fox, Batavia; Bridget Kancler, Chicago; Nicole Tolentino, Glendale Heights; Jennifer Gingrich, Naperville; Bethany Brewer, Palos Heights; Debra Wilder, Vernon Hills; and Karen Archbold and Rachel Taylor, both of Wheaton.
Tenors are Brian Smith, Aurora; Bradley Staker, Batavia; Rob Campbell, DeKalb; Marcus Jansen, Geneva; Stephen Mollica, Naperville; Gregor King, North Aurora; Jonathan Cramer, Waukegan; David Hunt, Wayne; and Steve Williamson, West Chicago.
The bass section comprises Brandon Fox, Batavia; Nate Coon and Brian Jozwiak, both of Crystal Lake; Jess Koehn, Downers Grove; David Hartley, Hanover Park; Michael Popplewell, North Aurora; Michael Costello, River Forest; Antonio Quaranta, River Grove; and Aaron James, St. Charles.
St. Charles Singers
Founded and directed by Jeffrey Hunt, the St. Charles Singers is a chamber choir dedicated to choral music in all its forms. Hailed by American Record Guide as “a national treasure,” the mixed-voice ensemble includes professional singers, choral directors and voice instructors, some of whom perform with other top-tier Chicago choirs. Classics Today has called the ensemble “one of North America’s outstanding choirs,” citing “charisma and top-notch musicianship” that “bring character and excitement to each piece.” Find out more at stcharlessingers.com.