David Lang's choral masterwork "The Little Match Girl Passion" is not a lighthearted Christmas piece. Hans Christian Andersen's 1845 tale actually makes the heart ache.
"Still, it's beautiful," says Trey Davis, director of the Baton Rouge-based, professional choral group Red Shift. "And it's the 10th anniversary for 'The Little Match Girl Passion.'"
The choir will perform the work Saturday, Dec. 16, at St. Anna's Episcopal Church in New Orleans, followed by a concert Sunday, Dec. 17, at St. Margaret Episcopal's Church in Baton Rouge. A preperformance talk will take place one hour before each event.
Lang's composition is the piece that launched Red Shift as a choral group.
Davis is the associate director of Choral Studies at LSU and winner of the Julius Herford Dissertation Prize for his research on “The Little Match Girl Passion.” In 2015, he conducted vocalists from throughout the U.S. in a Louisiana premiere of the composition.
The concert was a success, so much so that it inspired Davis to form a professional choir to perform other innovative works, including in 2016 Kile Smith’s “The Consolation of Apollo," which includes messages from the Apollo 8 moon mission on Christmas Eve 1968 as the astronauts became the first to leave Earth’s orbit, circle the moon and photograph the entire Earth.
Now it's back to "The Little Match Girl Passion," which begins with a poor, young German girl selling matches on the street on a freezing New Year’s Eve. She hides in a nook on the street rather than go home, fearing her father will beat her for not selling the matches. A falling star in the night sky reminds her of her late grandmother’s story of how such a sign means a dying person is about to go to heaven. The girl strikes a match and sees her grandmother’s face, then her grandmother appears and carries the girl’s soul to heaven after she dies of hypothermia.
Andersen believed the reunion of the girl and her grandma made for a happy ending, and Lang cited Johann Sebastian Bach’s sacred oratorio, “St. Matthew’s Passion,” for his composition.
"This performance will be special, because it's the first time we'll be doing the expanded version," Davis says.
And singers from throughout the country will be coming to Baton Rouge to sing it.
"When we formed Red Shift, we opened our auditions nationwide," Davis says. "We have members from the area, but we also have them coming in from Manhattan, Detroit, Chicago and Phoenix to sing this piece."
Twenty singers in all will tell "The Little Match Girl's" story and sing postmodern Christmas carols written from a child's point of view, along with "Auld Lang Syne" to commemorate "The Little Match Girl's" New Year's Eve setting.
"And the choir will be accompanying themselves in this concert," Davis says. "Each section of the choir will be playing a different instrument while the other sings. It's a different way of performing, and it creates different textures."
'The Little Match Girl's Passion'
Red Shift's performance of David Lang's choral masterwork of the Hans Christian Andersen tale
WHEN & WHERE: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, at St. Anna's Episcopal Church, 1313 Esplanade Ave., New Orleans; 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, 12663 Perkins Road, Baton Rouge. A talk will precede each concert one hour before the performance.
ADMISSION: $20; $15, students
TICKETS/INFO: redshiftchoir.org. Tickets also available at the door.