Tomorrow at 8 p.m., Franco-American conductor and harpsichordist William Christie, along with his ensemble Les Arts Florissants, will bring Christmas music of the Baroque era to Ann Arbor.

Paul Wong
William Christie conducts Les Arts Florissants.<br><br>Courtesy of Shuman Associates Inc.

Les Arts Florissants, which takes its name from a short opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentie, is a vocal and instrumental music ensemble founded by Christie in 1979. It is one of the most well known and respected early music groups in the world. The ensemble consists of 21 vocalists and an orchestra and 25 strings. Woodwinds are also included.

Christie, the founder and present conductor of Les Arts Florissants, is also a musicologist who studied at Yale and Harvard. The ensemble focuses, primarily, on reviving and performing music from the 17th and 18th centuries. Christie”s work with Les Arts Florissants grants new interpretations to a largely neglected and forgotten repertoire and has also contributed greatly to a reawakened interest in vocal techniques of the same period.

Although Christie has a specific affinity for the French Baroque era of music (composers such as Charpentier, Rameau, Couperin, Mondonville and Campra), Les Arts Florissants has also performed music by such well-known masters as Handel, Purcell, Monteverdi and Mozart.

The performance tomorrow will be a concert of Christmas music composed by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704). Charpentier was a prolific composer who wrote music extensively for the church. He is most well known for his sacred works, although he also composed some secular pieces. The program consists of “Messe de Minuit pour Noel, H. 9 (Midnight Mass for Christmas Eve)” and “In nativitatem Domini Canticum, H. 416.”

Although it is the time of year that calls for such scared pieces, Christie has always preferred such works. “I was very much taken with sacred works from the very beginning. It seemed to me so special. I loved the idea of organs and harps and recorders, things I didn”t see and hear in a normal orchestra. It was exotic and very compelling,” Christie said.

Several of the pieces in the program tomorrow are not only sacred they are also liturgical, meaning that they were specifically written to be performed during mass.

Les Arts Florissants has a high profile, both in the concert hall and in the recording studio. During its 22 years of performing, the ensemble has released over 60 albums, including its most recent Nols, by Charpentier.

The ensemble tours widely, both within France and abroad. Lovers of Baroque period music and classical vocal music in general should not miss this one time performance, which is sure to enchant audiences and instill the Christmas spirit into the hearts of its listeners.

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