Music on Main's Music for the Winter Solstice takes audiences from deep darkness into winter-warming light

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      A Music on Main production. At Heritage Hall on Thursday, December 15. Continues tonight

      Sometimes what you bring into a concert is almost as important as what you take away.

      Just prior to leaving for Thursday’s sold-out edition of Music on Main’s annual solstice gala, I had been reading Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways, a vibrant meditation on walking, thinking, and landscape. During several of his journeys—voyages of both the body and the mind—the author takes us close to Neolithic burial sites, often called barrows. Their entrances, he notes, are commonly aligned with astronomical phenomena, especially the path of the sun’s rays as it rises on winter or summer solstice.

      So I was already prepared to accept Music for the Winter Solstice as a journey from darkness into light, as MoM artistic director David Pay intimated in his introductory remarks, and the program did not disappoint.

      I’ll go even further: Thursday’s concert took us right into the heart of the barrow—a place of fear, spectres, confusion, and grief—and delivered us into a glorious sunrise. That we then stepped outside into a world of crisp, shining crystal only made it all the more magical.

      Magical, yes, but not perfect. On opening night, some of the performers needed a little time to settle in. Veda Hille, who does not often sing art song in public, was noticeably pitchy on Alfredo Santa Ana’s MoM–commissioned “A Short Song for the Longest Night of the Year”. Guitarist Adrian Verdejo was occasionally stiff in his negotiation of the finger-twisting stretches demanded by John Mark Sherlock’s Musiquita.

      But these early frailties only played up the heroic nature of making art—making contact, really—in dark and uncertain times. By the time violinist Caroline Shaw and pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa ventured into Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel we were ready for warmth and comfort, and the two musicians delivered with an impeccable rendering of one of the loveliest works in the modernist canon.

      More delights followed. Rodney Sharman’s brand-new for Guitar took a simple guitaristic gesture—a half-step slide up the neck—and made it the focus of a perpetually surprising piece that Verdejo, its dedicatee, premiered with aplomb. Hille introduced romantic love and physical ecstasy into the mix with her giddy and gorgeous “Let Me Die”, from the hit musical Onegin, and then reinforced the night’s into-the-underworld subtext with Eurydice, originally penned for MoM’s The Orpheus Project.

      And with its intentionally haphazard power chords, droning repetitions, and winking air of decadence, new MoM composer in residence Nicole Lizée’s “Solstice Noir”, another premiere, came off as the great lost Brian Eno carol.

      Some of us laughed, and then some of us cried during the sing-along benediction that is Shaw’s “Winter Carol”, an invitation to love that is as openhearted as the night sky it invokes.

      For the third time in as many years, Music on Main has delivered solstice magic—and seasonally themed entertainment without aesthetic compromise.