The celestial vocal assembly Quire of Voyces calls its annual holiday program — this year, as in every past year since artistic director Nathan Kreitzer founded the group — "The Mysteries of Christmas," and the 2013 edition will be performed at 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in St. Anthony's Chapel at the Garden Street Academy, 2300 Garden St.
Michael Eglin continues as the Quire's composer-in-residence.
The composers and works featured in this concert are John Amner (1579-1641), "Come, Let’s Rejoice"; William Byrd (c 1540-1623), "O magnum mysterium"; Thomas Tallis (c 1505-1585), "A New Commandment," "O Lord, Give Thy Holy Spirit" and "Out From the Deep I Cry to Thee"; Reginald Jacques (1894-1969), "The Holly and the Ivy"; Benjamin Britten (1913-76), "A Boy Was Born" and "A Hymn to the Virgin"; John Paynter (1931-2010), "The Rose"; Stephen Paulus (b. 1949), "God With Me"; Franz Biebl (1906-2001), "Ave Maria"; John Tavener (1944-2013), "The Lamb"; Eglin (b. 1975), "A Midnight Clear" and "Sweet Babe Wrapt in Twilight Shade"; Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943), "O magnum mysterium"; Egil Hovland (1924-2013), "Stay With Us"; and F.X. Gruber (1787–1863), arranged by Malcolm Sargent (1895-1967), "Silent Night.”
Some of these composers have recently died; others died 400 years ago; some are still living; others are even still young. They represent too wide a range for anything meaningful to be said that covers them all, so I’m going to talk about the word “mystery” instead.
When you are looking up a word in a dictionary, the first definition given — if there are more than one — is usually the closest to the historical origin of the word. The meanings that follow after are sometimes deliberately developed from the first meaning, more often the result of a misunderstanding. Kreitzer’s use of the word “Mysteries,” however, seems to look over the heads of subsequent applications, including Christian, to the Greek word that started it all, μυστήριον, (“mist-AY-rion”). My Greek lexicon (Liddell & Scott) says of this word that it means “a mystery, secret rite: mostly in plural … the mysteries, religious celebrations … .”
Of course, the Christian meanings, are also applicable. They are the frame of reference for the initial entries on “mystery” for both my Merriam-Webster and my OED. The American definition is a model of clarity; the English an ideal of erudition. Thus, here are the American definitions of mystery:
» 1.a: "a religious truth that one can know only by revelation and cannot fully understand"
» 1.b.1: "any of the fifteen events (as the Nativity, the Crucifixion, or the Assumption) serving as a subject for meditation during the saying of the rosary"
» 1.b.2, capitalized, "a Christian sacrament; specifically: eucharist [mass]"
» 1.c.1: "a secret religious rite believed (as in Eleusinian and Mithraic cults) to impart enduring bliss to the initiate 1.b.2 : a cult devoted to such rites"
Now, 1.c figures into this concert, to be sure — more than one Quire concert has managed “to impart enduring bliss” to this initiate — and all the definitions have something to do with this music, but in the end, the one that seems to fit best is the Greek sense of celebration — a joyous ritual that unites all present.
Tickets to "The Mysteries of Christmas" are $20 for general admission and $15 for students and seniors, and the Quire has said that no more advance-sale tickets are available; a limited number will be available at the door. As ever, showing up early is a good plan. You can try calling the Garvin Theater box office at 805.965.5935 — something might come up.