Jacqueline Kaskel, Contributing Photographer

Each December, the halls of Battell Chapel are filled with people from across New Haven and beyond, inaugurating the holiday season with the Yale Camerata Annual Advent Concert. This year, at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 12, camerata members and Interim Conductor André Thomas will perform the concert virtually.

The Yale Camerata Annual Advent Concert is hosted by the Institute of Sacred Music, and will premiere on YouTube and Facebook. The concert will feature 14 pieces, which according to Thomas, is “unheard of” in a virtual setting. The program incorporates works by composers including Michael Fink, Benjamin Britten and Thomas himself.

This year’s concert “is completely different … and it speaks to the resilience of people wanting to make art and create in this period,” said video designer and singer Camilla Tassi DRA ’22.

The pandemic has also introduced other novelties: The concert includes performers between the ages of 16 and 88 who are scattered across the world, from California to Alabama to France. Some of the performers are high school students from the Morse Chorale — a branch of the Music in Schools Initiative founded by the Yale class of 1957 — and others are Yale alumni. Thomas described the group members as “incredible and resilient,” citing the example of a woman who joins rehearsal at midnight from Paris. 

The concert’s program will explore both the African American celebration of Christmas and Advent and the Western European music tradition in an attempt to still capture the spirit of coming together for the holiday season.

The program also represents a wide range of music, including works by Black and female composers who have traditionally been underrepresented in classical music. Thomas and Tassi noted that audiences can especially look forward to a movement from 20th-century Black female composer Margaret Bonds’ “Ballad of the Brown King” with text written by Langston Hughes. 

But rehearsing and recording music in a virtual setting introduced several challenges. The camerata singers attend three-hour rehearsals on Zoom every Tuesday, where they sing muted while Thomas conducts. Each long rehearsal is split into blocks to include virtual visits from guest conductors and composers. Thomas told the News that he often questioned, “Are they getting it? Are they grasping it?” Yet as the singers began to submit recordings of their pieces, Thomas admitted that each submission “got better and better … so, I guess I’m kind of excited.”

Since Thomas is currently in Florida, he conducts the camerata singers virtually over Zoom while Principal Assistant Conductor Joe Lerangis MUS ’25 conducts the instrumentalists on behalf of Thomas in New Haven. The two will then work together to compile the recordings.

Lerangis said it is difficult to coordinate the members’ performances and navigate “labyrinthian Google Drives” which include different guide tracks. Lerangis said that rehearsals are a “tough job,” because they have to ensure the instrumentalists are both in sync with each other and with the singers’ audio.

This year’s concert will be the first Advent concert not led by the camerata’s founder and former conductor Marguerite Brooks, who retired last year. Lerangis said Brooks was “almost virtuosic,” noting that she used to spend several hours a day working on the concert’s music, organizing the event and “making everything just right.”

But Lerangis and Tassi are optimistic about this year’s virtual production under Thomas’ direction. Lerangis said working with Thomas is a privilege, since he is one of the top conductors in the country, while Tassi hopes the concert will create a sense of community and belonging during these isolating times. 

“It really shows that humans don’t need to be in one physical place together … to be able to come together and make something like this happen,” Lerangis said. “It’s amazing to realize that when we, as humanity, put our mind to something, we can really crush barriers between each other and make something beautiful happen.”

Jacqueline Kaskel | jacqueline.kaskel@yale.edu