Saturday, December 10, 2022, 4:00 pm
Emmanuel Church, Boston, MA, in-person

Sunday, December 11, 2022, 4:00 pm
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, MA, in-person, and live-streamed at oldpostroad.org

For over thirty years, Musicians of the Old Post Road has delighted in “unwrapping something fresh for the holidays” (The Worcester Telegram), and this season is no exception! In keeping with their mission of uncovering, exploring, and performing the works of historically overlooked communities and individuals, the ensemble will present a unique and unusual holiday concert in December, entitled American Originals: A Moravian Christmas. This spirited program revives and celebrates the music and culture of the unique community of 18th-century Moravian American immigrants.

Members of the Moravian church (founded by the followers of Jan Hus, a priest who was executed as a heretic in 1415) began immigrating to the American colonies in the mid-1700s after experiencing centuries of religious persecution in Europe. They established their first community in North America in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1741, soon followed by two other communities in Pennsylvania and three in North Carolina.

Music held a central role in the life of the tight-knit Moravian church communities and was considered not an ornament but an essential part of both religious and secular life. In this communal society, opportunities were given for all to learn music and to contribute to the music of the worship services, resulting in a nearly universal level of musical literacy of its members, an extraordinary aspect of this society. Since in Moravian theology there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular, musical performance was an activity that was strongly encouraged, and all Moravian communities established collegia musica, weekly gatherings dedicated to the informal performance of instrumental music. Some of America’s first composers were members of the Moravian communities, and their passion for music-making and dedication to composing resulted in a rich archive from which the ensemble constructed this program to celebrate the holiday season.

A regular feature of Moravian liturgies was the inclusion of musical works for voices and instrumental ensemble, and the vast majority of Moravian sacred vocal music is written for choir and small orchestra. However, works for solo and duo voices were also composed that are more private and personal in character: the duets demonstrate the Moravians’ emphasis on clarity and directness of expression, while the solo arias are a more intimate expression of the sacred music genre. American Originals will include both vocal solos and duets, as well as instrumental works, penned by the Moravians themselves. The ensemble will also be performing lively and festive instrumental works from manuscripts meticulously preserved and imported from Europe.

The remarkable condition of the Moravian archives has been an extraordinary resource for modern researchers, and it is astonishing that tens of thousands of handwritten musical manuscripts have survived intact. In fact, there are works by European composers that only survive in Moravian manuscript copies, including J.C.F. Bach, the ninth son of J.S. Bach. A prolific composer who served at the court in Bückeburg, Germany for most of his career, many of J.C.F. Bach’s compositions were destroyed during World War II. The ensemble will be performing works by J.C.F. Bach, Graun, and Quantz that were all brought over from Europe by the Moravians; many of the program selections will be receiving their modern-day premieres at these concerts.

Featured vocal soloists for the program include soprano Jessica Petrus and mezzo-soprano Hilary Anne Walker. Instrumentalists for the program include flutists Suzanne Stumpf and Wendy Rolfe, violinists Sarah Darling and Jesse Irons, violist Marcia Cassidy, cellist Sarah Freiberg, and organist Michael Beattie. All will perform on period instruments. The first performance will be on Saturday, December 10, 2022, at 4 pm at Emmanuel Church in Boston, MA. The second will be the following day, Sunday, December 11, 2022, at 4 pm at Trinity Lutheran Church in Worcester, MA. In order to reach a wider audience, as well as patrons who might still be wary of the risks of Covid, the Sunday concert will be live-streamed at oldpostroad.org. The program is supported, in part, by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, an agency of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the Boston Cultural Council.

The rest of the season for Musicians of the Old Post Road promises to be equally exciting; on March 11th and 12th, 2023, the ensemble will present Baroque Diva: A Tribute to Faustina Bordoni, featuring soprano Teresa Wakim performing dazzling arias and cantatas written for superstar Faustina Bordoni, whose vocal celebrity inspired a long list of works by such composers as J. A. Hasse, Leonardo Vinci, and Handel. To finish the season, on April 29th and 30th, 2023, Into the Light: Unearthed Treasures by Christoph Graupner will celebrate the unveiling of lost works by Graupner, an unsung German composer who was as legendary in his day as his contemporaries Bach and Telemann.  The program will include some of his concertos, suites, and sonatas.

Based in the Greater Boston area, Musicians of the Old Post Road takes its name from its acclaimed concert series that brings period instrument performances of music of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries to beautiful historic buildings along New England’s fabled Old Post Road, the first thoroughfare to connect Boston and New York City in the late 17th century.

Winner of the 1998 Noah Greenberg Award from the American Musicological Society, Musicians of the Old Post Road has also received programming awards from Chamber Music America and the US-Mexico Fund for Culture. The ensemble has toured in Germany, Austria, and Mexico, and has appeared at festivals and on concert series in the US, including the Indianapolis Early Music Festival, the Boston Early Music Festival Concert Series, the Academy of Early Music (Ann Arbor), the Castle Hill Festival, the Artists Series at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, and the Connecticut Early Music Festival. The ensemble has held a residency at Dartmouth College and was featured on WCVB television’s “Chronicle” program and 99.5 All Classical radio’s “Live from Fraser” program.

For more information, visit www.oldpostroad.org, email [email protected], or call 781-466-6694.