Mathes returns to the stage for annual Christmas celebration

Greenwich’s Rob Mathes will take to the stage on Dec. 20 and 21 for his annual Christmas concert, marking its 20th year.

Greenwich’s Rob Mathes will take to the stage on Dec. 20 and 21 for his annual Christmas concert, marking its 20th year.

It’s been a Greenwich Christmas tradition for decades now, and once again Rob Mathes is inviting people to hear the songs of the season with his annual Christmas concert next weekend.

This will be the 20th concert and it is slated for Friday, Dec. 20, and Saturday, Dec. 21, at the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College. A Greenwich resident and a Grammy nominee, Mr. Mathes has worked with some of the biggest names in music as a producer and composer and been a vital part of some of the industry’s most prestigious events. It’s his annual Christmas show that has made him so well known in the community as he takes the stage with what he calls “an all-star group of New York City musicians” to perform his original music as well as arrangements of beloved holiday classics.

And due to the significance of 20 years, Mr. Mathes said, he has big plans for the show.

“It’s a pretty big milestone for us,” Mr. Mathes said. “We’ve got an amazing choir all set. We usually have 30 voices, and this year we’re going to have 90. These are people I grew up with and people I’ve met along the way who have sung in choir choruses, and we’re adding in about 50 kids from Rye Country Day School. I think it’s going to make such a beautiful and joyful sound. The sound of kids singing choral music is extraordinary, I think.”

But it isn’t just the choir that is being added this year. Mr. Mathes is also excited about the possibilities of a seven-piece horn section made up of two trumpets, two trombones and three saxophones. He’s also planning on playing some of his biggest holiday hits from concerts past and bringing in arrangements that he hasn’t done in years. All of this will come together in a concert of music that Mr. Mathes can’t wait to perform.

“It’s a musical love fest for us every year,” Mr. Mathes said. “I consider this a musical laboratory I get to work in, and we’re able to do so many things. We’re able to do standards. We do the songs that people have heard from us before and love. We even do Dylan covers. We’re able to perform so many things that really reflect the themes of the season. It’s a real pleasure to be able to go out there and celebrate the season by performing the best music we can over the last 20 years.”

This concert is just one part of a busy holiday season for Mr. Mathes that rivals Santa Claus’s for the sheer number of places to be. When he spoke to the Post on Monday, Mr. Mathes had just returned from being the musical director for the Kennedy Center honors in Washington, D.C., over the weekend, a job he’s had for 10 years and one he won an Emmy for last year; he was set to return there this week to oversee Christmas in Washington. When he gets back from that, he can finally begin work in earnest on next week’s concert.

That means a lot of intense rehearsals next week, because this is not just something Mr. Mathes and the other musicians do casually. They want to spread the joy of the season through an entertaining and meaningful concert.

“It’s not just putting on a cute Christmas concert,” Mr. Mathes said. “It’s like a combination of a Duke Ellington sacred concert with a midnight Mass feel meets a singer-songwriter night at the Bitter End. People will be able to enjoy great music performed by experts in their fields.”

The concert also gives him the chance to perform, something Mr. Mathes loves to do. He’s written 1,000 songs in his life, and several have become hits for other singers. He has worked closely with icons like Elton John and Sting, whose new album he just co-produced, as well as Bruce Springsteen, with whom he recently finished doing new orchestrations. He’s composed music and been nominated for several awards for that, but he started out dreaming of being a performer.

New music from Mr. Mathes, entitled Flesh and Spirit, will be available on iTunes in the days before the concert.

Mr. Mathes admits that it would be the obvious thing to talk about how quickly the years have gone by since his first concert in town, but it wouldn’t be the truthful thing. This concert requires round-the-clock work at Christmastime and that’s a lot to take on.

“You expect to hear someone say, ‘Gosh, it’s gone by in a flash,’ but 20 years is a long time,” Mr. Mathes said. “I began doing these concerts when I was doing commercial jingles and hadn’t done any notable records yet. I was just a local bar musician back then. I’d play in Port Chester and Norwalk and in Greenwich at Thataway Cafe. Most of the places I played in are gone now. And over the years as we did the concerts, I started getting my first breaks. I paid my dues and I met people like Bono and did the Music Cares programs during Grammy week to honor artists. I met all these people and built up my career as a music producer and director and arranger. It’s been an immense amount of work to try and raise a family and stay on top of things, and we’ve kept doing these concerts because Christmas is the focal point of all things joyful. It’s my reward to myself to be able to get together and play exquisite music.”

Mr. Mathes said he remains grateful to have this opportunity because it isn’t just a chance for him to perform. It’s a way to give back to a charity. The profits from the concert will all benefit the Rwanda Project: Through the Eyes of Children, a passion project of David Jiranek, a Greenwich resident who toured the war-torn African country after the 1994 genocide and was so struck by the children he met that he helped teach them about photography so they could record their own lives as part of a rebuilding and recovery effort.

Mr. Jiranek inspired Mr. Mathes with his work, and when Mr. Jiranek died suddenly in 2003, Mr. Mathes donated the concert profits to his charity. This year he’s doing it again, and people attending can know they’re helping a good cause and learn more about it online at Rwandaproject.org.

Tickets for the event are still available and may be purchased online at Artscenter.org or by calling 914-251-6200. More information about Mr. Mathes may also be found online at Robmathes.com.

 

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