Philly's amazing church-music concert scene is now at its Easter best

Christ Church is gearing up to debut its newest organ, the C.B. Fisk Opus 150, in a March 30 performance of Sept Chorals-Poëmes/Seven Last Words.

All across the region as Easter nears, many families begin to pull out plastic eggs, bunny trinkets, and favorite recipes for lamb or ham. Meanwhile, many churches undergo celebratory preparations of their own as they practice to put on some of their largest musical productions of the year — many of them stand-alone concerts with no church service attached.

Here are some of the larger concert happenings in the days leading up to April 1, plus one noteworthy church concert with an Earth Day focus that follows a few weeks later.

From a musical theater drama to a tribute to one of Beethoven’s greatest works to an improvisational organ extravaganza, performances of all sorts are set to unfold, some of which are free.

Seven Last Words at Christ Church

Christ Church has been home to many grand organs across its 300-plus-year history. On March 30, it debuts its newest one, the C.B. Fisk Opus 150, in a performance of Seven Last Words (Sept Chorals-Poëmes), written by French composer Charles Tournemire. The free Good Friday event is a first-chance opportunity to hear the custom-built mechanical-action pipe organ; its official dedication is set for May.

The Opus 150 will ring loud and clear in an improvisational piece from the 20th-century composer, who superimposes traditional chant tones and Hindu modes over jazz-age harmonies. The composition is intended to evoke the emotion behind the seven last words of Christ.

Poetry readings will add to the production and act as a reflection on both the music and the biblical passages portrayed. Seating is first come, first served inside the church, which holds a capacity of around 450 people.

7 p.m. March 30, Christ Church, 20 N. American St., free, 215-922-1695, christchurchphila.org.

The Bach Choir of Bethlehem Spring Concert

Camera icon COURTESY RYAN HULVAT
The Bach Choir will perform its spring concert on two consecutive dates, first in Easton then in Bryn Mawr.

The oldest Bach Choir in America will grace the area with two performances this March. The first is scheduled at Easton’s State Theatre Center for the Performing Arts. The second will be held the following night at the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church.

Director Greg Funfgeld will lead the performance of choir and brass, featuring works by William Walton and John Rutter, Morten Lauridsen, and, of course, Johann Sebastian Bach. The Bach piece of the season is Cantata 118 O Jesu Christ, mein Lebens Licht, one of the composer’s last choral works.

The other composers’ pieces are inspired by everything from Gregorian chants to music from Star Wars, promising an eclectic evening of choral music.

7:30 p.m. March 17, State Theatre Center for the Performing Arts, 453 Northampton St., Easton, $39-42 for adults, $15 for students, 610-252-3132, statetheatre.org

4 p.m. March 18, Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, 625 Montgomery Ave., Bryn Mawr, 610-866-4382 ext. 115, $39 for adults, $9 for students, bach.org

Seven Joys and Symphony No. 9 at Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul

Camera icon MICHAEL BRYANT
The Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

In the grandeur of the Roman-Corinthian-style Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, hear Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, the composer’s final complete symphony. Widely viewed to be one of his greatest, the composition will be performed by the Mendelssohn Club and Symphony C. Also on the program is the brand-new Seven Joys from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw, written as a companion piece in response to “Ode to Joy.”

Shaw’s piece gets its world premiere the previous night at Rutgers-Camden’s Walter K. Gordon Theater. While not adorned with the bronze chandeliers and sacred paintings that bedeck the basilica, the 650-seat theater is equipped with top-of-the-line acoustics. Choose a night and look forward to a musical celebration of joy.

8 p.m. March 17, Walter K. Gordon Theater, 314 Linden St., Camden, $24 and up, 856-225-6306, mcchorus.org

2:30 p.m. March 18,  Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, 1723 Race St.,$36.50 and up, 215-735-9922, cathedralphila.org/concertseries 

Savior of the World at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Music meets theater in this musical drama from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The production debuted in Salt Lake City in 2000 and plays Philadelphia as part of Parkway 100, the city’s yearlong celebration of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway’s centennial. Five free performances will take place at the meetinghouse adjacent to the Philadelphia Mormon Temple.

An interfaith cast will put on the show, designed to portray events surrounding the religious depiction of Jesus Christ’s birth and resurrection. Shows are open to those 8 and older; tickets must be reserved online.

2 p.m. or 8 p.m., depending on the day, March 16, 22-24, meetinghouse adjacent to the Philadelphia Mormon Temple, 1682 Wood Street, free, 215-755-4155, sotwphila.org.

Palm Sunday Concert at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas

Camera icon TOM GRALISH
In a file photo from April 2016, the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas hosts special guest Hillary Clinton.

The award-winning St. Thomas Gospel Choir will perform an afternoon concert on Palm Sunday at Overbrook’s African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. Guests can look forward to a characteristically energetic gospel performance from the 60-member group. Several special guests will join the choir, including the The Inter-Denominational Mass Choir for All People.

With a congregational history dating to 1792, stunning stained-glass windows, and an incredibly positive community, the St. Thomas church provides a beautiful backdrop for the Palm Sunday celebration. The congregation welcomes all to attend the 60- to 90-minute musical gathering, to be followed by an evening reception.

4 p.m. March 25, African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, 6361 Lancaster Ave., free, 215-473-3065, stthomasgc.org

Missa Gaia at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian

If the season finds you too busy to catch an Easter concert, save the date for Bryn Mawr Presbyterian’s next big performance, focused on Earth Day. Missa Gaia, which means “mass for the Earth,” will combine jazz, samba, gospel, folk music, organ improvisation, high-def video, and more in a multimedia production.

Designed to show gratitude for “God’s gifts to the Earth,” the show will also incorporate sounds from the wild, including wolf cries, bird calls, and whale whistles. The animal melodies will be superimposed over vocals from the choir and music from jazz and classical instrumentalists. Tickets are available in advance online, and walk-ups are welcome, too.

4 p.m. April 22, Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, 625 Montgomery Ave., Bryn Mawr, $20 for adults, $5 for students, 610-525-2821, bmpc.org