, Newburyport, MA

December 19, 2013

Joyeux Noel

Boston Camerata brings 'A French Christmas' to Newbury

By Jim Sullivan

---- — Even though they spend the rest of the year traveling the world, the members of the Boston Camerata make sure they spend the holidays at home.

“There is a very deep anchor in this place,” said Anne Azema, artistic director. “And it sort of anchors you in the season in a beautiful way.”

An Amesbury resident, Azema worked her way up from soprano to her current position, taking over for husband Joel Cohen in 2008. She is excited not only to be home but to be presenting the company’s annual Christmas concert, “Noel, Noel: A French Christmas,” at Newbury’s First Parish Church this Saturday. The group will also perform the show in Cambridge today and Lexington tomorrow.

“Yes, we are world travelers, but we are very happy to come back here because this is where our home is,” Azema said. “It is very important for us to perform once a year in our own community.”

Featuring music from the Middle Ages to the dawn of the Baroque period, “A French Christmas” is Camerata’s 10th local Christmas production and will feature contralto Deborah Rentz-Moore; bass-baritone Donald Wilkinson; countertenor Michael Collver; brass players Steven Lundahl, Brian Kay and Lisa Malmut; soprano Camila Parias; tenor Daniel Hershey; and bass Joel Frederiksen. And while the music is centuries-old, the energy level of the performance is not.

“We do older music, but we are a very energetic ensemble,” Azema said. “Our performance style is not full of cobwebs. We are a very lively bunch.”

Speaking to the French tendency to export their finest things, this weekend’s concerts will intentionally mix the “higher” forms of musical expression, such as Gregorian chants, in the first act with the more common folk songs in the second, “lower” act.

“The first part is a reflection on this mystery of what happens during this season,” Azema said. “It’s the story of a wait. We are in the coldest part of the year, and you have a wait for something strange and new, a search for light, a search for something anew. That’s really the first part.

“The second part is, of course, the Christmas story. It is very simple, but at the same time is very complicated in its craft. Think of it as a beautiful, simple house or a beautiful landscape. There is a very real, pure, simple moment where you can access the most important stuff about this season.”

Founded at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in 1954, the Boston Camerata is one of the world’s best-known early music ensembles and spends most of its time recording and touring in North America and Europe.

“Being able to connect via music to something else is what we offer,” Azema said. “This year, we happen to offer it through French music because there is a bridge between popular, folksy type of things and the more aristocratic or beautifully crafted music. This is what Christmas does to us. It allows us to bridge the different parts of ourselves and the other people around us. That’s the beauty of it for me.”

Azema also said the concert will be a unique chance for people to leave the hustle and bustle of the mall behind and get into the spirit of the season itself in a picturesque New England setting.

“This is a time of year where we are hearing all the same music and all the same elevator, bland stuff,” Azema said. “If you want to spend a moment where you can actually sit down and have a moment for yourself and your family thinking about what is happening right now during this time of the year, this is the concert to go to.”

If you go

What: Boston Camerata presents “Noel, Noel: A French Christmas”

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

Where: First Parish Church, 20 High Road (Route 1A), Newbury

How much: $34 for adults, $10 for students. Tickets available at 617-262-2092 or