Beginning its second quarter century as
New York City,’s and National Public
Radio’s alternative Holiday tradition, “Paul Winter’s 26th Annual Winter
Solstice Celebration!” will be at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on
Thursday, Dec. 15, and Friday, Dec. 16, at 7:30 p.m.; and Saturday, Dec. 17, at
2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. A musical, theatrical, dance and environmental
extravaganza, the multicultural, ecumenical event celebrates the triumph of
light over darkness. It is the most popular annual secular event at St. John,
the world’s largest Cathedral.Special guests include the Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble, nine Russian village
singers and dancers; the Forces of Nature Dance Theater Ensemble, 18
African-American dancers and percussionists; and Brazilian MPB singer Renato
Braz, in his Winter Solstice debut. Also featured, in his first appearance with
Paul Winter in New York in 20 years, will be original Paul Winter Consort member
and double reed player Paul McCandless of the band OREGON. The Paul Winter
Consort and spectacular special effects symbolizing the Sun, the Earth and the
solstice tree round out the offerings.
For the 16th year, National Public Radio (NPR) will carry a broadcast of the
Winter Solstice Celebration. The broadcast, entitled “Silver Solstice” will
include highlights from the 25th Anniversary Winter Solstice Celebration in
2004, featuring the
Pokrovsky Ensemble, hand percussion master Glen Velez, Irish Uilleann piper
Spillane, and Gospel vocalist Theresa Thomason.
This anniversary Winter Solstice celebration is captured on
Silver Solstice: The
Paul Winter Consort & Friends, just released on Winter’s Living Music label. The
three–disc box set also includes ten tracks from earlier Solstice events, many
of which are also previously unreleased. The 142 minutes of music are on two
stereo CDs, and in 5.1 Surround Sound on a bonus DVD-Audio disc. Winter says the
audiophile recordings may be the “best presentation of our music ever.”
With an audience of more than 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 12 years, the NPR broadcast of the event has been
among NPR’s six most popular cultural program specials of the year. In 2004, it
was carried on 211 stations around the country.
“Paul Winter’s Winter Solstice Celebration!” takes the audience on a symbolic
journey through the longest night of the year using theatric effects that
highlight the titanic space of the Cathedral The climactic return of the sun is
celebrated by the world’s largest tam-tam gong, seven feet in diameter, which
ascends with its player to the vaulted ceiling of the Cathedral.
Another theatric effect takes advantage of the Cathedral’s 604-foot interior
length: a giant “Earth Ball,” travels over the audience as if through space, and
then rises, spinning, into the star-lit 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
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. Many of these traditions survive in our modern
seasonal customs, such as the lighting of Christmas trees, Hanukkah candles and
perhaps even the illuminated “ball” of Times Square.
The winter solstice occurs this year in New York on Dec. 21 at 1:35 p.m. EST.
For its many regulars, the Cathedral’s event has become a ritual of renewal at
the turning point of the year. It is an opportunity to reflect on the year that
has passed, a time for new beginnings and to celebrate the community of life on
In only his third U.S. appearance, Brazilian Renato Braz will be making his
Winter Solstice debut. His American premiere was in May, 2004 at the prestigious
Spoleto Festival, leading off the jazz event with MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira).
Spoleto’s program states: Like jazz, MPB “is a music of the New World — a child
of the cultures of Europe, Africa, and native Indian people brought together in
a new way. This common heritage accounts for the affinity American jazz and
Brazilian musicians have for each other’s music….”
In 2002, Braz competed against over 1,900 vocalists to win both the official and
popular juried vocal competition Premio Visa de MPB. A few weeks after making
his U.S. premiere at Spoleto in 2004, Braz performed at Paul Winter’s Summer
Solstice Celebration in New York. As that event is much smaller than the Winter
Solstice Celebration, Braz’ upcoming appearance may be his defining moment in
front of U.S. audiences.
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 voices of the Pokrovsky Ensemble
have been heard by millions as the trademark theme of the television show
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 been critically acclaimed internationally in African Dance and
Contemporary Modern Dance.
Paul McCandless was a member of the seminal Paul Winter Consort from 1969 to
1973, playing oboe and English horn. Since then, he has been a member of the
acclaimed jazz group, OREGON, with 23 albums on Vanguard, ECM and Epic, among
others. He last appeared in New York 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 Gordon Gottlieb; along
with Nexus percussionist Bill Cahn and Cathedral organist Tim Brumfield.
Tickets for the Winter Solstice Celebrations are $75 for reserved
seats, and $42 and $32 for general admission. Discounted tickets for certain
performances are available for children, students and seniors. Reserved seats
typically sell out by Thanksgiving. Tickets and travel information are available
on the internet at www.livingmusic.com. For credit card orders of tickets by phone, call TicketWeb at (866)468-7619. In a change, in-person ticket purchase at the
Cathedral may only be made on days of show.
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,
will be heard on WNYC, 93.9 FM, Sunday, Jan. 1 from 10 p.m. to midnight.
Listeners elsewhere should check local listings with the nearest NPR member
The Winter Solstice Celebrations are sponsored by Rodale and American Airlines.
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