Christmas music in Rome
impresses GIUSEPPE PENNISI
This year the Christmas period in Rome coincides with the beginning of the 'Jubilee of Mercy', an extraordinary Jubilee called for by Pope Francis to reflect, among other things, on inequalities among nations and people. Thus, the musical programs provide a special emphasis on these aspects. There are concerts in almost every church. Some make strange programming choices: eg the most important Anglican church in Rome (St Paul Within-the-Walls) started its Christmas music program with Carmina Burana by Carl Orff (Hitler's composer in residence), forgetting that it had been written for a Nazi youth meeting in Frankfurt and that its medieval text is an anthem to drinking and fornication. Also, there is the usual flurry of ballets and musical comedies as well as pure entertainment music.
In this report, I focus only on three main programs. The first is linked more to the Jubilee than to Christmas. Three important institutions (the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, the Sistina Musical Chapel and the Teatro dell'Opera) joined forces for six special concerts in St Augustine Basilica (where one of the best known Caravaggio paintings can be seen). The concerts include religious music through the centuries from Gregorian choruses, to baroque, to Benjamin Britten and Wolfgang Rihm. The first concert was held on 8 December 2015 (when I was in the audience) and will be repeated on 30 December in St Anne parish within the Vatican walls. It included compositions by Gabriel Fauré, Francis Poulenc and Felix Mendelssohn, as well as Gregorian Chants, the Song of Solomon and the Magnificat. The Fauré-Poulenc-Mendelssohn part was handled by the Rome Teatro dell'Opera Chorus (directed by Roberto Gabbiani) with four soloists — two sopranos, Marika Spadafin and Angela Nicoli, and two altos, Michela Nardella and Marzia Zanonzin).
The opening night was a very special Christmas concert played and sung not by the regular symphony orchestra and chorus but by teenage instrumentalists and singers under training with Salvatore Accardo as their conductor and soloist (in two Beethoven pieces for violin and orchestra). I attended the performance. In short, on 9 December an audience of some two thousand and eight hundred was confronted with an orchestra of one hundred and twenty youngsters and a chorus of two hundred (average age: ten), dealing with Beethoven, Rossini, Adam and an anonymous Irish composer. Under Accardo's guidance (as well as that of the chorus master Vincenzo De Carlo), the vast ensemble was very cohesive, even though in certain passages not as smooth as their seniors of the regular symphony orchestra. At the same time charming and engrossing, this performance was warmly applauded.