A Holiday Celebration on a Spectacular Scale
Music, dance and renewal of spirit at the great turning point of the year.
Winter Solstice is a contemporary take on ancient solstice rituals, when people came together during the longest night of the year to celebrate the turning point in the Earth’s journey around the sun, and the birth of a new year. Now in its 33rd year, this cross-cultural performance within the awe-inspiring space of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine has become one of New York’s favorite holiday events.
When: Thursday, Dec. 20 – 8 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 21 – 8 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 22 – 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.
Where: Cathedral of St. John the Divine
1047 Amsterdam Ave., Manhattan
At 112th St., near Columbia University
Tickets available after Labor Day
or call OvationTix: 866-811-4111
- free download album (10 tracks)
- videos from past solstice concerts
- tickets and travel details
Recordings of the Winter Solstice Celebrations include Silver Solstice, which commemorates the 25th Annual Winter Solstice Celebration a musical feast from the cornucopia of cultures and creatures of the world, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York.
Join us as we greet the dawn with our 18th Annual Summer Solstice,
June 22, 2013, 4.30am
Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York
Wall Street Journal, 12/11/12
By STUART ISACOFF
The annual Winter Solstice revelries at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine—feasts for the ears and eyes created by the renowned saxophonist Paul Winter for the world’s largest Anglican church—are celebrating their 33rd anniversary this week for three days beginning Thursday. And “celebration” is the word. Mr. Winter’s trademark approach embraces the sounds of the Earth—from world-class cities and third-world villages to the enchanting music of the animal kingdom—in a theatrical show that typically draws an audience of up to 2,500.
There are always dramatic surprises. In the past, Mr. Winter, who is 73, has scampered up to the rafters with his soprano saxophone to serenade audiences from above, his sweet tones swirling overhead like a gently falling snow; or featured a solo percussionist striking a giant sun-gong as player and instrument were slowly levitated 12 stories to the ceiling. Performers this year will include Mr. Winter’s musical consort, the African dance troupe Forces of Nature, griot singer Abdoulaye Diabaté from Mali, vocalist Theresa Thomason, and members of Mr. Winter’s original sextet.
Abdel Salaam is the artistic director, choreographer and a co-founder in 1981 of New York’s Forces of Nature Dance Theatre. Their 25 dancers and drummers will perform at this year’s Winter Solstice Celebration, as they have for two decades. Recently we spoke with him about his life and artistic vision:
I started music lessons when I was 5 or 6, learning piano with Zelma White in a small tenement hours at 117th, between Fifth and Madison. We studied the classical composers, from Bach to Grieg and Brahms. We would study musical scale, music theory, and we would play varieties of melodies and chord changes on the xylophone or glockenspiel, and whatever we could eke out on piano. That initial introduction to music was at the instigation of my father, who was not a classical musician, but was part of the Harlem Renaissance Movement. My father took me, from a very young age, backstage to the Apollo Theater and to the Theresa Hotel when they used to have a stage, and so I heard Bird and Coleman Hawkins and a variety of people.
“Mr. Salaam has become a sophisticated
melder of dance forms … Trained in modern
dance, ballet, jazz and traditional African
dancing, he works with traditional ritual
and dance forms, moving beyond reproduction
or reanimation to dance that is not simply
African or Afro-American but a vibrant
expression of a newer culture drawn in part
from dance of the 1980s in New York. The
performers personify that newer tradition in
their skill, graciousness and lack of pretension.”
— The New York Times
After Brown versus Board of Education, they started taking two kids from each of the schools in Harlem and transferring them downtown to the more affluent schools. So I was one of two children transferred from PS 103 on 120th and Madison to PS 6 at 86th and Madison. This new school was for wealthy kids, pulling up in limousines and having charge accounts, and this blew my mind. The school had extremely well developed music programs, and in 5th grade I started studying viola. Thanks to Zelma White, I had an ear for chordal structure, melodic lines and composition. In Junior High School I met a young German American oboe player, Jimmy Hahn, trained as classical oboist, but he was a jazz enthusiast, and thanks to my father, I was too. And so in Junior High I started playing alto sax. I decided I really wanted to be a jazz musician. Even though Jimmy and I were only 11 or 12, we had membership cards to the Dome Club and we’d go to Red Garter and Birdland. In those days, there weren’t the same restrictions on young people going into a club – we weren’t drinking, we just came to listen – to people like Coltrane and Sonny Rawlins.
“After 40 years of playing only the soprano saxophone, at this year’s Winter Solstice Celebration, I’ll also be playing an alto saxophone. It’s challenging to go back and try and get the edgy sound I used to have on alto. But I love playing them both. The soprano will be featured in pieces with the Paul Winter Consort, and the alto in pieces with the Paul Winter Sextet.
“From when I was eight through my time with the Sextet, my main instrument was alto sax. During the last year of the Sextet, in 1963, I got a soprano – I just was interested in it and liked the sound – and played that on some tracks on the last two Sextet albums. Then eventually, as the Consort emerged in the late 1960s, I came to favor the soprano. This was probably because it projected more than the alto, at least the way I played it, and especially outdoors – I was doing more outdoor playing then.
As lighting designer and production manager for the Winter Solstice Celebration, Steve Shelley is charged with a monumental task: lighting a theater two football fields long and 100 feet high, with an audience on both sides of the stage, musicians and dancers moving down the aisles, and theatrical effects like the world’s largest gong and a giant replica of Earth rising twelve stories into the air. In this guest column, Steve takes us backstage:
I started lighting this show about 10 years ago, in 2001. Before that, I was also acting as production manager, so I have two hats — and that pretty much fills up the hat rack!
I call the show, which means that any time something needs to happen on the stage — a light cue or a follow-spot or the Earth Ball rising, then I give the guidance or direction, so it would be seamless to the audience.
I’m lighting in 3D, and the challenge is to try to make sure that no matter where anybody might sit, they’re able to enjoy the performance. I use saturate colors from north and south, and de-saturate colors from east and west, so that the audience, no matter what side of the stage, will see healthy skin tone on the performers – we have a cornucopia in the show, from white to black to Asian and in between. When we shift towards the dance sections or towards music that is more soulful, internal, emotive or ethereal, then it can get more colorful.