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Classical 101

The English Horn Sings Christmas Carols In St. Louis Symphony Soloist's New Recording

Celeste Boyer Photography
Cally Banham

If the English horn were a singer, it would be one of the great contraltos – Kathleen Ferrier, perhaps, or Marian Anderson.

When an English horn sounds at an orchestra concert, it’s usually because a composer has given the instrument an extended solo, a moment for the instrument to show off its rich and lustrous tone while the audience holds its breath.

The English horn – or cor anglais – was born to give beautiful melodies the Midas touch, and that’s exactly what it does again and again on Cor Christmas, a new recording of Christmas carols and songs co-produced by and featuring Cally Banham, St. Louis Symphony solo English hornist.

I recently had the chance to chat with Banham about Cor Christmas.

"I really wanted to produce something," Banham said, "that shows the carols in a way that was really pure, kind of honoring the beauty of the melodies … things that really held that up and celebrated the brilliance of these tunes."

Interestingly, Cor Christmas comes as much from Banham's passion for the tango as it does from her profession as an English hornist.

Credit callybanham.com
The cover for Cally Banham's new recording, 'Cor Christmas'

An avid dancer, Banham created the tango ensemble Cortango to perform special arrangements of tango music for dances. The group’s performance offerings grew to include an annual holiday program, featuring original arrangements of Christmas classics.

"We have these special arrangements, and that was part of the original idea – to record them," Banham said. "I thought, We’ve gotta get these down."

That idea grew to feature the English horn as a solo instrument in a full album of Christmas tunes, along with Cortango, The Trombones of the St. Louis Symphony and the Adam Maness Trio.

The result is a recording of traditional Christmas carols – "Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming;" the "Wexford Carol;" "Silent Night" – and popular holiday hits – "Christmastime Is Here," "White Christmas" – in fresh, jazzy arrangements.

Listen to my interview with Banham above to learn more about Cor Christmas and her plans for a second solo recording.

Happy listening, and happy holidays!

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.