For most orchestras, it’s just about the music. For the Jubilate Deo Chorale and Orchestra, a large non-profit classical ensemble founded in 1991 by two Catholic priests in the Camden diocese, it’s also about faith. And that means a Jubilate Deo Christmas concert—like the group’s Sunday, December 2, Celtic-themed extravaganza at the Kimmel Center—celebrates Christmas as something much more than just a commercial holiday.
“We try to integrate faith into the arts and common culture,” says Ron Matthews, Jubilate Deo conductor and music director. “The spiritual aspect is part of our mission. The orchestra is about 21 years old. (Msgrs.) Louis Marucci and his brother Carl were the founders. Louis was the executive director, and he took over more of the administration and creative planning. Carl was one of the primary directors.”
After 10 years, Carl stepped down. Matthews took over the helm after reading about the job opening in a music union newspaper, and passing a rigorous interview and review process.
Jubilate Deo performs year-round, of course—but Christmas is special. Matthews explains, “In one sense, the season facilitates our mission. We can be who we are because it’s the nature of the season.”
The theme of this year’s Christmas concert, billed as “A Celtic Christmas at the Kimmel,” also ties in with the group’s inherently spiritual mission. In case you’ve somehow missed all of the Black Friday advertising, in many quarters Christmas has nothing to do with the birth of Christ. In Celtic lands, Matthews says, Christmas historically is a more subdued affair, with a far greater emphasis on the Nativity.
This is not the first time Jubilate Deo has integrated Celtic culture into a performance.
““We actually had done a Celtic theme, I think it was two years ago,” Matthews says. “We had some young local Celtic dancers, and we had a penny whistle and Celtic harp. This is a theme we have used periodically, but this performance is the first fully intentional and integrated one.”
Celtic music has been much more popular over the last decade or so, probably beginning with Riverdance, but you also have to give credit to all of the Irish and Scottish bands and performers who took the ball from Riverdance and ran with it. Matthews understands the appeal.
“There’s a grounded energy and authenticity to Celtic music,” says Matthews, who also serves as chair of the Fine and Performing Arts Division and Music Department at Eastern University. “Because of the interest in world music over the last four or five years, with some prominent groups playing Celtic music, there are some great arrangements out there that feature high-energy, Celtic themes. It’s a good bridge to the classical.”
The Kimmel concert features many holiday pieces that come from—or stem from—the Celtic tradition, such as The Wexford Carol, I Wonder As I Wander, A Celtic Silent Night and Celtic Christmas Celebration. The performance also includes many non-Celtic holiday classics, both sacred and secular, such as The Little Drummer Boy, O Come Let Us Adore Him, and It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. There will also be three new pieces, including one by Matthews. If you like Irish-style dance, there will be plenty of that. And if you want to join in on some of the best-known Christmas carols, you’ll have a chance to do that as well.
The Jubilate Chorale will be joined by the Eastern University Ensembles and Church of the Saviour Festival Choir, bringing the number of singers in the overall choir up to 200.
The concert begins at 3 p.m. on Sunday, December 2. You can learn more and get tickets by visiting the Jubilate Deo website.