New York City, USA – The Cathedral of St. John the Divine’s most popular annual secular event will take place this week, on Thursday, December 16-18. Promising a new work, a larger cast and new theatric effects, performances of “Paul
Winter’s 25th Anniversary Winter Solstice Celebration!“, at the world’s
largest cathedral, are on Thursday, Dec. 16, and Friday, Dec. 17, at 7:30 p.m.;
and Saturday, Dec. 18, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. A musical, theatrical, dance and
environmental spectacle, the multicultural, ecumenical event celebrates the
triumph of light over darkness during the Holidays. The winter solstice occurs
this year in New York on Dec. 21 at 7:42 a.m. EST.Special guests include the
Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble, nine Russian village singers and dancers, and the
Forces of Nature Dance Theater Ensemble, 18 African-American dancers and
percussionists. This is the first time that these two sizable, costumed troupes
have appeared together since 1996.
Also featured, in his first appearance with Paul Winter in 19 years, will be original Paul Winter Consort member and oboist Paul McCandless now of the band Oregon; uilleann piper Davy Spillane from Ireland; Gospel singer Theresa Thomason; the Paul Winter Consort; and spectacular special effects symbolizing the Sun, the Earth, the solstice tree, and for the first time, the Moon and planets of the solar system.
For the 15th year, National Public Radio (NPR) will carry a broadcast of the Winter Solstice Celebration. This year the broadcast will include highlights from the 2003 Winter Solstice Celebration, featuring the Pokrovsky Ensemble, mbira master Chris Berry and Uilleann piper Jerry O’Sullivan.
With an audience of over ten thousand over the four performances at the Cathedral, Paul Winter’s Winter Solstice Celebration! has become, in a giant city with many Christmas and New Year’s events, perhaps the best-attended celebration of seasonal change in New York City. Nationally, it has consistently been among Billboard magazine’s top-ten grossing events during its week of performance. For at least 11 years, the NPR broadcast of the event has been among NPR’s six most popular cultural program specials of the year.
Paul Winter’s Winter Solstice Celebration! takes the audience on a symbolic journey through the longest night of the year. The return of the sun is represented by the world’s largest tam-tam gong, seven feet in diameter, which ascends, played by a musician in a bosun’s chair, up toward the Cathedral Nave1s 100-foot-high ceiling. New this year, a “Moon Gong”–a giant Chinese wind gong with shimmering sound–will move with its player horizontally across the Narthex
of the Cathedral.
Another effect takes advantage of the Cathedral’s 604-foot interior length: a giant “Earth Ball,” moves along the aisle as if through space, and then rises, spinning, up into the vault of the Nave. Set in the round, musicians play from various points and heights including a stage, surrounded by the audience, near the middle of the Cathedral. The stage’s centerpiece is a giant, rotating “Tree of Sounds,” a 28-foot-tall spiral sculpture laden with bells, gongs and chimes.
Paul Winter’s solstice event is a modern celebration of an ancient tradition from which Christmas and New Year’s Day may have evolved. For many cultures, the long hours of darkness at winter solstice–after which the winter season begins, and the days again begin to lengthen–marked a time of mingled foreboding and expectancy. Special rituals were created to ensure that the sun’s light would return after the long winter.
The Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble performs sometimes boisterous recreations of village songs, dances and pagan rituals, some that are more than a thousand years old. The songs of Russia’s geographically-separated ethnic groups are an improvisational tradition handed down from generation to generation. To learn the essence of the village music, members of the Pokrovsky Ensemble became a part of the village, experiencing its rituals, life and music.
The Pokrovsky Ensemble and the Paul Winter Consort joined together to record in 1987 a milestone of musical glasnost, Earthbeat. Nominated for a Grammy, it was the first album of original music created by Americans and Russians together. The voices of the Pokrovsky Ensemble from the album’s opening track have been heard by millions as the trademark theme of the television show Survivor .
Forces of Nature, like the Paul Winter Consort, are longtime artists-in-residence at the Cathedral. Their mission is to create a “Living Book” from which audiences of all ages may experience the talent, histories, mythologies and accomplishments of the African Diaspora and its influence on American Dance. Co-founded in 1981 by its Artistic Director, Abdel R. Salaam, the “Forces” have created more than 50 works. Mr. Salaam and Forces of Nature have been critically acclaimed internationally in African Dance and Contemporary Modern Dance.
Davy Spillane, of County Clare, Ireland, plays the uilleann pipes, an unusual Celtic bagpipe whose bellows are held under the arms and inflated by wing-like motion. He was the featured instrumentalist in the original production, album and video of Riverdance. Spillane was a founding member of Moving Hearts, and has recorded with Van Morrison, Steve Winwood and Elvis Costello, among others.
Paul McCandless was a member of the seminal Paul Winter Consort from 1969 to 1973, playing oboe, English horn and flute. Since then, he has been a member of the acclaimed jazz group, Oregon, with 23 albums on Vanguard, ECM and Epic, among others. He as well has some 150 session credits and a distinguished solo career, including on Elektra/Asylum and Windham Hill. He last appeared with Paul Winter in 1985, at that year’s Winter Solstice Celebration.
Paul Winter Consort players will include Paul Winter, soprano saxophone; Eugene Friesen, cello; Paul Sullivan, keyboards; percussionist Satoshi Takeishi; bassist Eliot Wadopian; along with Nexus percussionist Bill Cahn and Cathedral organist Tim Brumfield.
Tickets for the Winter Solstice Celebrations are $72 for reserved seats, and $42 and $32 for general admission. Discounted tickets for certain performances are available only from the Cathedral Box Office for children, students and seniors. Reserved seats typically sell out by Thanksgiving. For credit card orders of tickets by phone, call CityTix, at (212) 581-1212. Tickets may be purchased in person at the Cathedral Box Office at (212)662-2133, which is also the best phone number for information. Tickets and travel information are available on the internet at http://www.livingmusic.com.
The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the world’s largest cathedral, is located
at Amsterdam Ave. and West 112th St. in New York City.
In the New York metropolitan area, the broadcast, produced by Murray Street, is
traditionally heard on WFUV, New York, 90.7 FM and on WNYC, 93.9 FM, though definite airings and their times could not be confirmed at this writing. Listeners elsewhere should check local listings with the nearest NPR member station.
The Winter Solstice Celebrations are sponsored by Rodale, Stonyfield Farms and
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.