Performing Arts: Cyrus Chestnut

by patrickmccoy

Review of the jazz pianist’s concert and more holiday performances.

Jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut delights the crowd at Evermay Mansion during a recent holiday concert. (Photo by Ben Powell)

The S and R Foundation got ahead of the frenzy of  holiday concerts and began early with its Overtures Holiday Concert Series. After the successful launch of the summer series of concerts that was presented in the Georgetown’s Evermay Mansion, series founders Sachiko Kuno and her husband Ryuji Ueno turned their attention to a series centered around a holiday theme. It began November 2, with guitarist Yotam Silberstein.

WL Performing Arts took in an evening with jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut, which opened the holiday season last month. Chestnut’s appearance was a co-presentation with the DC Jazz Festival. The music room of the historic home was transformed into an intimate supper club, complete with cocktail tables, tea candles and dim lights. Chestnut dazzled the crowd with his improvisations of familiar hymns and jazz standards often interpolated with a classical theme. Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” and an invention by Bach were masterfully injected in a few of the offerings of the evening. Having his roots in the church, traditional hymns such as “O How I Love Jesus” and “Amazing Grace” were treated to a rhythmic swing. If there is ever an opportunity to hear the great pianist live, you should go running. His touch at the piano is a transformative experience. Once serious faces became full of joy, thanks to heartfelt music that poured from the jazz musician’s soul. The series of concerts continue on December 7 with violinist Yura Lee and concludes with pianist Ryo Yanagitani on December 14.

Get in the holiday spirit with more performances around town:

A Joyous Celebration of Music for Christmas
Ben Holt Memorial Branch of the National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc.
Sat. Dec. 8, 3 p.m.
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
1514 15th Street, N.W.
(202) 667-4394

Members and guest performers of the local organization will present a free concert of holiday music, featuring excerpts from Gian Carlo Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors” alongside a potpourri of seasonal favorites. Performers will include Detra Battle, Marvin Mills, Marquita Lister, William Jones, Kelvin Page, Edrie Means Weekly and Marc Schlosberg among others. Chartered in 2010, the local branch is named for the late  D.C. native Ben Holt, who sang at the Metropolitan Opera and numerous concert halls locally and abroad. Recently, the branch presented the acclaimed organist Dr. Mickey Thomas Terry in a full organ recital.

Sing We All Nowell! Music for Christmas
Thomas Circle Singers
Sun. Dec. 9, 4 p.m.
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
4900 Connecticut Ave.
(202) 966-5489
20; $15 for seniors and students

The holiday concert being presented by the Thomas Circle Singers will serve a twofold purpose; not only will it be an entertaining evening of music, but the concert is also aimed at raising awareness and funds for local nonprofits. Proceeds from the concert will benefit Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place. “Making a difference is so important, especially during the holiday season,” said TCS Artistic Director James Kreger. “TCS is a special kind of organization – a choral group with a dual mission to perform diverse choral works and raise money and awareness for organizations that address the needs of our city’s underserved residents. With Sunday’s concert, we are so happy to be able to present an innovative holiday program and use our voices to make a difference.” Featured in the concert are choral works by Paul Manz, Felix Mendelssohn, Arvo Part, Daniel Pinkham, Michael Praetorius, Richard Dirksen, William Mathias, Gustav Holst, David Willcocks, and others.

Florence: Christmas Music of the Trecento
featuring Trio Eos
Sun. Dec. 14-23 (various times)
The Folger Theatre
401 East Capitol St., S.E.

Florence: Christmas Music of the Trecento features instrumentalists Christa Patton, Mark Rimple, and Mary Springfels. Soprano Michele Kennedy will be featured with the vocal ensemble Trio Eos. In this performance, the vocalists will perform 14th century ceremonial songs called laude, which were popular in the homes of the city’s courtiers, learned clerics, and middle-class urbanites of that time. Hear these works performed, accompanied by period strings and winds.

A Candlelight Christmas
The Washington Chorus
Sat. Dec.15,  2 p.m., (The Kennedy Center)
Thurs.Dec. 20, 7:30 p.m. (The Music Center At Strathmore)
Fri. Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. (The Music Center at Strathmore
Sat. Dec. 22,  1 and 4 p.m. (The Kennedy Center)
The Kennedy Center
2700 F Street, N.W.
( 202)342-6221
The Music Center at Strathmore
5301 Tuckerman Lane
North Bethesda, MD
(301) 581-5100
The Washington Chorus continues its rich holiday tradition of festive carols performed with organ, brass and timpani, complete with candlelight procession. This year, the chorus will enjoy the accompaniment of the new Casavant organ at The Kennedy Center. Music Director Julian Wachner will lead the chorus in a variety of music which is sure to put any listener in the spirit of the holidays. Soaring descants, majestic accompaniment and festive sounds are all trademarks of this performance. Joining them will be the Marriotts Ridge High School Madrigal Singers from Howard County, MD for all five concerts.

A Family Christmas
Choral Arts Society of Washington
Sun. Dec. 16, 1 p.m.
An Enchanted Christmas
Mon. Dec. 17, 7 p.m.
Mon. Dec.  24, 1 p.m.
The Kennedy Center
2700 F Street, N.W.
(202) 244-3669

Two distinct programs mark the offerings of holiday music by the Choral Arts Society of Washington. A Family Christmas is a fun combination of music and theater for the entire family. Directed by former Associate Conductor Joseph Holt, the audience will be treated to festive seasonal music with special guest appearances by Santa, Frosty and Rudolph. This concert is perfect for children 5-years-old and above. Discover the spirit and joy of the season through this family concert. The second offering, An Enchanted Christmas, will mark the formal debut of  Scott Tucker as the new music director. This special yuletide evening will honor Canada with carols old and new. The concert on the 17th will be followed by the annual holiday gala. Joining in the performance will be organist Paul Leavitt, soprano Carrie Henneman and the Choral Arts Orchestra.

Petersburg, Va. native Patrick D. McCoy received a B.M. in vocal performance from Virginia State University and an M.M. in church music from the Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Va. He has contributed arts and culture pieces to CBS Washington, The Afro-American Newspaper and the newly published book, “In Spite of the Drawbacks” (Association of Black Women Historians), which includes his chapter on legendary soprano Leontyne Price. McCoy has interviewed some of the most acclaimed artists of our time, including Renée Fleming, Denyce Graves, Norman Scribner, Julian Wachner, Christine Brewer and Lawrence Brownlee. Listen to these interviews and others at Blog Talk Radio. McCoy may be reached via email at and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy.

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