Old traditions fade; new traditions replace them. For many Philadelphians, one of the best new traditions is the annual New Year’s Eve concert presented by Choral Arts Philadelphia. A large-scale Baroque concert may seem like an odd way to spend New Year’s Eve, but the event has been filling its venues ever since the organization's inventive director, Matthew Glandorf, initiated it in 2014. The concert starts early in the evening, so you can follow it with dinner and more conventional forms of revelry.
This year the centerpiece will be the Christmas Story composed by Heinrich Schütz, Bach’s greatest forerunner. Published as Historia der Geburt Jesu Christi (Story of the birth of Jesus Christ), Schütz’s work is noted for its simplicity and directness. Written when the composer was 75 years old, Historia reflects the mature calm of an artist who lived through the trials and devastation of the Thirty Year’s War.
The instrumentalists for the concert will include the members of Piffaro, the Renaissance Band playing the instruments stipulated in the published edition of Schütz’s oratorio. Schütz composed during the early Baroque period but he was still coloring his work with the unique sounds of Renaissance instruments. Historia is not frequently programmed in the United States, though it’s become a popular work in Europe, so this a welcome and somewhat rare performance.
The Historia would have been one item in a Christmas Vespers service, and Choral Arts will surround it with other pieces that could have accompanied it when it debuted during the Vespers conducted in the Court Chapel of Dresden in 1660. The program will include chants, Lutheran chorales, and vocal pieces on traditional Latin texts alongside this Baroque master work—a still-timely gift from a man who witnessed how religious war can tear a society apart.
What, Where, When:
Choral Arts Philadelphia will present “Christmas Vespers from Dresden, Heinrich Schütz's Christmas Historia” on Tuesday, December 31, at 4pm at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, 1904 Walnut St., Philadelphia.
Tickets are $50 general admission, $40 for seniors, and $25 for students. They’re available online at and at the door.