Vancouver Bach Choir

The Vancouver Bach Choir presents John Adams’ illuminating nativity oratorio El Niño (The Infant) on Dec. 15 at Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre. Hailed as “a Messiah for the modern age”, El Niño is a poetic retelling of Christ’s birth from one of the world’s most vital and prolific living composers, John Adams.

Born in 1947, John Adams is an American composer best known for works such as Short Ride in a Fast Machine (1986), On the Transmigration of Souls (2002), and the opera Nixon in China (1987). His minimal compositions make extensive use of repeating patterns, complex rhythms, and rich chords. Adams differs significantly from older generation minimalists, such as Phillip Glass or Steve Reich, in that his compositions are more developmental, contain climaxes, and integrate similar elements from Romanticism.

Leslie Dala
[Leslie Dala]

El Niño has rapidly entered the yuletide canon for choirs and symphonies around the world – and it is easy to see why,” said Leslie Dala, Music Director of the Vancouver Bach Choir. “The intelligent, emotional telling of Christ’s birth is uniquely suited to our era, drawing from many sources beyond the Bible to weave a rich musical and narrative tapestry. Adams’ version of the story is one that is not meant for just religious individuals, but humanity as a whole, encouraging us to meditate on how every precious life is its own small miracle. I am thrilled the VBC will present the Canadian premiere of this masterpiece in Vancouver.”

Like Handel’s Messiah, Adam’s El Niño follows the traditional Christmas narrative, its first half focusing on Mary’s thoughts before the birth and the second half on the events in the manger, Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, and the early life of Jesus. To tell this story, the oratorio uses text from the King James Bible as its base, and combines materials from pre-Christian prophets, Gnostic gospels, and mid-20th century Hispanic poetry. A cleverly integrated mix, in my humble opinion.

The oratorio debuted on December 15, 2000 at Paris’s Théâtre du Châtelet, performed by the Deutsches Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Kent Nagano. The Guardian’s Andrew Clement, who was on hand at its premiere, described the music as, “a powerfully effective and radiantly beautiful retelling of the Christmas story… a majestic achievement.”

El Nino poster

The Canadian premiere will feature a range of internationally acclaimed soloists, including soprano Jessica Rivera, mezzo soprano Krisztina Szabó, Baritone Gregory Dahl, and the countertenor trio of Daniel Bubeck, Steven Rickards and Brian Cummings, who also sang the same parts in the oratorio’s premiere performance in Paris. They will be joined on stage by the Vancouver Bach Choir, the Vancouver Bach Children’s Chorus, and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

Vancouver Bach Choir presents El Niño
Date: Saturday, Dec. 15, 8 pm

Venue: The Orpheum, 884 Granville Street, Vancouver
Tickets: $25-$59 (student and senior discounts available); purchase online, by phoning 604.696.4290 or in person at the Orpheum Theatre Box Office
(corner of Seymour and Smithe, open Monday to Friday 1 to 5 pm)

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