Silvery sounds of Christmas start at Nairobi Cathedral

Members of the Nairobi Music Society during rehearsals for Christmas chorals at Kenton College in Nairobi on December 6, 2017. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG
Members of the Nairobi Music Society during rehearsals for Christmas chorals at Kenton College in Nairobi on December 6, 2017. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG 

The beautiful music associated with the Christmas season will come to life this weekend as the Nairobi Music Society (NMS) performs its annual programme of choral and orchestral pieces.

The conductor, Duncan Wambugu, is excited about the music for the concert at the All Saints Cathedral.

“The cathedral always offers a perfect setting and the acoustics of the venue are also very ideal for a concert of this nature,” says Mr Wambugu.

“Some of the pieces in the concert will also be played on the cathedral’s pipe organ,” he adds.

The highlight of the concert is the “Mass for Peace (Missa Amani)” composed by Njane Mugambi. Two sections from the “Mass”, the first (processional) and the last (Blessing) will be performed for the very first time during the Christmas concert.

Gospel of Luke

Mugambi started composing parts of the Mass in 2011, but the work began in earnest three years later and was completed in September 2017. It is a work for full choir accompanied by organ, brass and percussion ensemble.

The concert includes the “Magnificat” also known as “Song of Mary” by UK composer John Ratter. Completed in 1990, The “Magnificat” is based on the biblical hymn “Magnificat” from the Gospel of Luke.

In addition to the liturgical text, Ratter chose a 15th Century English poem that compares Mary mother of Jesus, to a rose.

The composer describes the music as a ‘poetic outpouring of praise, joy and trust in God, ascribed by Luke to the Virgin Mary on learning that she was to give birth to Christ.

110 singers

The NMS repertoire also features the joyous Christmas anthem “Gloria” by the American composer Mark Hayes, which combines Latin with the composer’s own text to share the message that angels sang during that first Christmas.

The concert will also feature other festive favourites like “Jingle Bells” and an improvised rendition of “12 Days of Christmas”, which takes the audience on a journey through the different eras of classical music.

“The music takes you right from Gregorian chants of the Middle Ages, through the Baroque, Romantic periods, up to the 20th century,” says Mr Wambugu.

It is this diverse range of music for the Christmas concert that the conductor says will be very enjoyable for the audience.

“We will also have the Christmas carols that everyone can sing along to,” he said.

Mr Wambugu is excited because the music symbolises the festive season and the members of the choir have been enjoying the rehearsals. He says some of the music pieces have never been performed in Kenya before and it will be interesting to introduce them to the audience.

Mercy Wambugu is the soloist for this concert while Hannah Emmrich plays the organ. Rehearsals began during the first week of September and by the time of the performance there will have been a total of 10-12 rehearsals.

“The members of the orchestra join us towards the last few days of the concert because they are trained musicians and require less time in rehearsals than the choir does,” says Francis Oludhe, chairman of the NMS. The choir has a total of 110 singers, way above the usual average for a typical NMS concert, plus around 20 musicians from the Nairobi Orchestra.

“Duncan is a very popular conductor,” says Mr Oludhe.

Many more members have been turning up to join the choir but they restricted to a certain number given the space available at the concert.

The All Saints Cathedral is the traditional venue for the NMS Christmas concerts and is also very accessible to people from various locations.

The first concert is tomorrow Saturday at 7pm followed by a second concert on Sunday.

According to Mr Oludhe, the Sunday afternoon concert is usually a big crowd-puller.

The NMS also keeps its ticket prices relatively low at Sh800 for adults and Sh500 for students and NMS members. Concessions are offered for large groups of people who book for tickets together.

A conspicuous absence from the concert is the Christmas favourite, the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

Mr Oludhe explains that the piece was left out because it is already lined up for the 2018 edition of the Voices for Hospices concert, which takes place every three years.