An awe-inspiring masterpiece expressing both the mystery and majesty of the season.
The Canadian Mennonite University Festival Chorus presents J.S. Bach’s magnificent Christmas Oratorio, Weihnachtsoratorium, BWV 248 — a musical telling of the nativity story and the major feast days celebrated as part of the 12 days of Christmas.
“This oratorio is, in fact, six cantatas in one,” says Dr. Janet Brenneman, Associate Professor of Music and conductor of the performance. “You get the whole Christmas story."
Assembled in 1734, Bach’s Nativity-to-Epiphany cycle draws on pre-existing sources — including three secular cantatas — and was composed as part of his duties for two Leipzig churches, St. Thomas and St. Nicholas.
“Performing Bach is a breath of fresh air,” says tenor soloist and CMU alumnus Nolan Kehler. A versatile and varied singer, the music also marks a return to his roots in more ways than one.
With performances in Winnipeg and Gretna (near his hometown of Altona), Kehler calls it a “homefield advantage,” noting that it is particularly special to reunite with CMU to sing music that is “in the blood."
“For me to come back to that fold, to see people that I came up with in the CMU school of music and in the choir... there’s not really a word to describe how special that is.”
In 1965, it was the Christmas Oratorio that united the Mennonite Brethren Bible College and Canadian Mennonite Bible College to first perform together as the Mennonite Festival Chorus. In 2017, it was brought under the umbrella of the CMU Festival Chorus, says Brenneman.
“It is a very wonderful place for current students, for alumni, for community members... and family members (to sing),” she says, mentioning that her own daughter will be performing in the mass choir of 57.
“Just a wonderful feeling of CMU being together in community.”
Dubbed the CMU Festival Orchestra, a 22-piece ensemble with concertmaster Nathan Poole performs alongside the chorus in this festive work.
Bach’s Christmas Oratorio will take place at First Mennonite Church (922 Notre Dame Ave) in Winnipeg on Friday, December 9 with a second performance in Gretna on Saturday at Buhler Hall.
“These works don’t often get to southern Manitoba – we expect southern Manitoba to always drive to us to hear our concerts and performances – it's a way of bringing CMU into that community.”
To purchase tickets, visit: www.cmu.ca/festivalchorus