‘L'Enfance du Christ’ performed at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church

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A year of planning and hard work finally came to fruition Jan. 9 as conductor John McCrary's baton signaled the beginning of the choral masterwork of Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria. What followed was a beautiful rendition of Hector Berlioz's sacred trilogy "L'Enfance du Christ" ("The Childhood of Christ"), a 19th-century oratorio sung entirely in French and rarely performed due to its level of difficulty.

"I picked (the oratorio) up a year ago, and the festival orchestra and chorus has been working on this since September," said McCrary, Blessed Sacrament music director. "The performance is special this year because we usually have this event the week before Lent in order to have one final celebration before going into the Lenten season. But this year, there was a schedule conflict with one of my soloists, which is why we are performing in the Christmas season. It works out beautifully because now we get to perform this Christmas piece involving the Holy Family's flight into Egypt."

To add a visual element to the event, McCrary commissioned religious imagery to be made to adorn the sanctuary during the concert. Iconographer Laura Clerici, a parishioner and member of the choir, painted an original icon of the Holy Family, which was displayed in front of the altar with icons of archangels Michael and Gabriel hanging on each side.

"Creating an icon is a spiritual exercise," said Clerici. "You have to go where the Spirit takes you."

In the icon, the infant Jesus holds St. Joseph's hand, a moment rarely seen in icons of the Holy Family. Raffle tickets were sold for the original work before the concert and during intermission.

Clerici's art and the orchestra's performance provided parishioners with what McCrary called "a great opportunity for the community to get together for a spiritual experience." At the close of the night's festivities, Father John C. Cregan, pastor, congratulated the performers and chose the winner of the icon raffle - Monica Haradem, an alto in the choir.

"A huge amount of credit must go to Father John Cregan," said McCrary. "His appreciation of music's vital role makes these types of performances possible."

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015