Waterford Cathedral: Lions Club 32nd Annual Christmas Concert
THE Lions Club Christmas Concert has been running for 32 years now and the quality of the performance always attracts a massive audience – in the nave, the aisles, and the galleries and even on the streets where big screens run the performance.
In this year of Covid, it’s an all-ticket sell-out with a live stream – courtesy of Waterford in your Pocket (still available on Facebook by the way) – and the crowds watching outside are bigger than ever.
This Covid Christmas Concert is beyond daunting. Lots of Zoom practices for choirs – that sing with masks from the upper-left gallery – and orchestral players that have been practicing on their own for several weeks and, also, for four hours prior to performance in the Cathedral on the day. “Isn’t it just wonderful,” beams Tops and Panto legend Patsy Sheridan in his Santa-red Lions Club sweatshirt “to see all those young and old players playing together? It’s just what Christmas is all about.”
The combined Waterford choir and orchestra remind us that ‘It’s a Most Wonderful Christmas’
Despite all of the problems, this is the best Lions Club concert for years despite the need for scaling back on players and audience. Sadly, this year, WLR will not be broadcasting this ever-popular concert that is tuned into by many Déise folk scattered far and wide around the globe due, I have no doubt, to current restrictions.
The orchestra with Eimear Heaney is in top-form, the ensemble choir is right on the money and soloist Róisín O’Grady sparkles. We have also found a host in the vastly-experienced musician and radio-host Liam Walsh that is a true heir to the much-loved and fondly missed Billy McCarthy whose love for music and church all combined in his memorable performances as MC.
The variety of Christmas music on offer is breathtaking. I number eight separate carols in composer Larry Anderson’s opening ‘Christmas Festival’ whose words are on the tips of everyone’s tongues. The opening chords of ‘Joy to the World’ thunder around the cathedral and are just the ticket for today’s Waterford Lions Club celebration of Christmas with jingle-bells tingling and sleigh-bells ringing out Santa’s chimney-arrival that is now only thirteen sleeps away before three booming chords of the Adeste. The massed choir’s hushed ‘Come All Ye Faithful’ whispers its way from the upper gallery across the church and leads us nicely into Róisín O’Grady’s reverential and joyous ‘Ye Shall Feed His Flock’ from the Messiah. Róisín’s performance reminds me of what must have been a magical debut for Handel’s ‘Messiah’ at the New Music Hall in Fishamble Street at noon on April 13th, 1742, when gentlemen were asked to leave their swords outside and the ladies to abandon their hoops to make way for the packed attendance.
The ‘Christmas Song’ brings smiles to all of us thinking of all the gags about the chess nuts roasting/boasting/toasting that are doing the rounds this year while a new and rather special Kevin O’Carroll arrangement of ‘O Holy Night’ receives only its second performance. Róisín O’Grady’s ‘O Holy Night’ is everything we want it to be: rich, colourful, controlled with those delicious top notes leaving us in awe of this soprano’s voice as she ranges over the accompaniment.
The combined Waterford choir and orchestra remind us that ‘It’s a Most Wonderful Christmas’ yet with a snazzy-brassy razzle-dazzle medley of all-time Christmas favourites – ‘Home for Christmas’, ‘Santa Claus is comin’, ‘Merry little Christmas’, ‘Frosty the Snow Man’, and ‘Winter Wonderland’. Leroy Anderson’s ‘Sleighride’ comes with bells and whistles and clip-clops and a messy horse ‘wheeeee’ before we settle into some gentle carols.
MD Kevin O’Carroll’s arrangement of Dan Forrest’s Silent Night is a magical piece of reverence and joy that transports us to a different space and would make any Christmas special. Orchestra leader Eimear Heaney’s gentle violin introduction, Marian Ingoldsby’s hypnotic metronome-like counter-melody on piano and soloist Róisín O’Grady’s powerful, soaring performance leaves a hush in the church that reminds us of that magical first performance 202 years ago when ‘Silent Night’ was first heard by Austrian villagers attending Christmas Eve mass in St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf. This brilliant piece is appropriately dedicated to all those who have lost their lives during Covid.
This concert would never have been possible without the dedication and hard work of Musical Director, Kevin O’Carroll — resplendent in a dashing white suit and a thousand kilowatt smile that would light up any dark cathedral on a winter’s day. Kevin’s determination, dedication and sometime stubbornness have everyone on board for the last 32 years and I’m delighted to hear the thunderous applause that greets such a gifted musician for whom failure is never an option.
Today’s afternoon concert is a triumph of the human spirit over adversity.