Calvary’s candlelight concert will feature Arabic music as well as caroling and jazz

Last year’s service and concert (Photo courtesy of Calvary/St. George’s)

Last year’s service and concert (Photo courtesy of Calvary/St. George’s)

By Sabina Mollot

On Sunday, December 6, Calvary-St. George’s Church will continue one of the oldest church traditions in the country with its 127th annual holiday candlelight service and concert.

The event, which will feature a broad mix of traditional and contemporary music in different styles as well as Christmas caroling, will also for the first time, include some Arabic music with Arabic instruments. This was planned by the parish’s music director, Egyptian-born Kamel Boutros, in a sign of peace between different cultures following the recent terrorist attacks.

Joshua Encinias, an executive assistant at the Episcopal parish, said the concert each year is a mix of old and new in its musical program. The candlelight is an old Anglican tradition from the United Kingdom, he explained, with Calvary’s candlelight caroling event being the first known concert of that type in the United States.

“It branched out from here,” said Encinias. Additionally, since it’s historically been free, drawing a crowd has never been a challenge. Part of the draw has been Boutros, an opera singer and composer who’s been with the church for the past decade, as well as the mix in musical styles.

“There’s something for everybody,” said Encinias. “There’s going to be jazz and classical. It’s high class music, it’s middle class music.”

Yet another draw is the American Sign Language interpretation, and deaf people often make up a significant part of the audience.
This year, Arabic multi-instrumentalist Zafer Tawli will perform “Out, Ney and Req.” and the Children’s Chorus, who performed last year, will return.

The program also includes performances of John Rutter’s “Gloria,” pieces by Antonin Dvorak, Harry Burleigh, Gustav Holst and jazz arrangements by Alex Nguyen, an organizer of the monthly “Jazz in the Cave” concert series at the church, along with plenty of congregational caroling.

Arlene Harrison, president of the Gramercy Park Block Association, will do a reading, among other local dignitaries.

The Rev. Jacob A. Smith, priest-in-charge at Calvary, called the candlelight event “a concert and spiritual experience that could not happen elsewhere in New York City.

“Last year we had our largest attendance in many years,” he added, “and we have every reason to believe that this year’s service will attract even more people.”

Last year, the venue (St. George’s) was packed with 600 celebrants, Encinias said.

This year’s event starts at 4 p.m. with a candlelight service at St. George’s Church, 4 Rutherford Place on Stuyvesant Park, between 16th and 17th Streets. The prelude begins at 3:40 p.m.

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