Holiday Arts Guide 2019: Classical music has many flavors of the sounds of the season
Not one “Messiah,” but a few, including a bilingual version. Holiday fare sung in sweet harmony by ensembles of various sizes. And some carols that swing. That’s what’s in store for you as you head out to hear music of the season this December. Here are 10 performances well worth venturing into the elements to experience.
The Chenault Duo
Dec. 3: Elizabeth and Raymond Chenault were already each accomplished organists when their careers took a turn in 1979. That’s when an English composer created a duet for them to perform for one organ, four hands. It started a whole new branch of organ music that’s resulted in new works by 25 composers and the duo creating arrangements in a variety of styles. Now that they’ve retired from their positions at Atlanta’s All Saints Episcopal Church, they’re free to take their artistry on the road. They’ll crowd the bench at the restored Northrop Auditorium organ for a program of holiday fare. 7:30 p.m.; Northrop Auditorium, 84 Church St. S.E., Mpls.; $20; 612-624-2345 or Northrop.umn.edu.
The Minnesota Orchestra’s “Messiah”
Dec. 6-7: The dueling “Messiahs” have returned. There was a time when the Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra would each present performances of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio, “Messiah,” each December, before the Minnesota Orchestra chose to allow the more baroque-oriented SPCO the honor for several years. But your options are opening up again, as Scottish conductor Nicholas Kraemer — who led the Minnesota Orchestra in last December’s performances of half of J.S. Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” — returns to lead the orchestra, the Minnesota Chorale and four vocal soloists in Handel’s liturgical magnum opus. 8 p.m.; Orchestra Hall, 1111 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.; $140-$12; 612-371-5656 or minnesotaorchestra.org.
Dec. 7-15: This fall’s unseasonably early cold may have inspired you to wonder how those of the Nordic countries deal with such weather every year. Well, one of the things they do is sing, and choral colossus VocalEssence will give you a sense of the soundtrack at a “Welcome Christmas” program full of carols from Norway, Sweden and Finland, including a suite of carols by a Norwegian composer getting a lot of attention, Kim Andre Arnesen. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, 12650 Johnny Cake Ridge Road, Apple Valley; 4 p.m. Dec. 8 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13, Plymouth Congregational Church, 1919 LaSalle Ave., Mpls.; 4 p.m. Dec. 15, Roseville Lutheran Church, 1215 W. Roselawn Ave., Roseville; $40-$20; 612-371-5656 or vocalessence.org.
The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra plays the Brandenburgs
Dec. 12-14: It’s an SPCO holiday tradition… that really isn’t holiday-related. Unless you consider J.S. Bach’s six “Brandenburg” Concertos to have been a gift to the Margrave of Brandenburg. But they were really more like a job application — one that was evidently ignored and only discovered over a century later. But they remain among the instrumental masterpieces of the baroque era, and the orchestra’s musicians will break up into various smaller groups to play the first five, joined by harpsichordist Jory Vinikour. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church; 8 p.m. Dec. 13, Wayzata Community Church, 125 Wayzata Blvd. E., Wayzata; 8 p.m. Dec. 14, Ordway Concert Hall, 345 Washington St., St. Paul; $50-$5; 651-291-1144 or thespco.org.
Christmas with Cantus
Dec. 12-22: Three stories drive the songcraft when the eight harmonizing men of Cantus present their annual holiday program: “The Little Match Girl,” “Christmas; or the Good Fairy” and “The Nutcracker,” in case you’d like the dance-free version. 11 a.m. Dec. 12, Westminster Concert Hall, 1213 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13, Fridley High School Auditorium, 6000 W. Moore Lake Drive N.E., Fridley; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church; 2 p.m. Dec. 15, Hamline United Methodist Church, 1514 Englewood Ave., St. Paul; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17, St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, 630 Wayzata Blvd. E., Wayzata; 11 a.m. Dec. 18, Colonial Church of Edina, 6200 Colonial Way, Edina; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20, Ordway Concert Hall; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21, Trinity Lutheran Church, 115 N. Fourth St., Stillwater; 3 p.m. Dec. 22, Summit Center for Arts and Innovation, 1524 Summit Ave., St. Paul; $43-$10; 612-435-0055 or cantussings.org.
Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
Dec. 13: If you prefer your holidays with a sense of swing, you’re unlikely to find arrangements of seasonal songs that swing as much as what this group presents on its “Big Band Holidays” program. Trumpeter Marsalis may be your host and most famous member of the group, but he and music director Marcus Printup are joined by 13 other top-notch players, decking the hall with charts that cook. 8 p.m.; Orchestra Hall; $148-$50; 612-371-5656 or minnesotaorchestra.org.
Dec. 13: This Canadian group has found success in the “classical crossover” field by taking on many of the stylistic trappings of opera and oratorio, but using them on pop songs in various languages. For their holiday program, the three exchange solos and harmonies on a collection of lushly arranged carols and songs of the season. 8 p.m.; Mystic Lake Casino Showroom, 2400 Mystic Lake Blvd., Prior Lake; $219-$29; 800-982-2787 or mysticlake.com.
The Rose Ensemble
Dec. 15: If you’re saying, “Wait a minute; I thought the Rose Ensemble was no more,” well, that was the impression the St. Paul-based early music vocal consort gave before its farewell concert in June. But the Rose folks had committed to a couple of tours before it would dissolve, and one of them stops through the Twin Cities, where the group will perform its beloved “And Glory Shone Around” program, which features 19th-century carols of the Appalachians. So this is expected to be the group’s last local performance … we think. 7 p.m.; St. Joan of Arc Catholic Community, 4537 Third Ave. S., Mpls.; $25-$10; 651-225-4340 or roseensemble.org.
he St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s “Messiah”
Dec. 19-22: Again, you have your choice between this and the Minnesota Orchestra version of Handel’s oratorio, but the SPCO is the group that’s long made a specialty of baroque music. And they’re hosting some impressive guests, including multi-Grammy-nominated harpsichordist and conductor Jory Vinikour, as well as soprano Yulia Van Doren, countertenor Reginald Mobley, tenor Ben Bliss and baritone Theo Hoffman. And the choir is the Singers, which has established an impressive chemistry with the SPCO over the past few seasons. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19 and 8 p.m. Dec. 20, Basilica of St. Mary, 1600 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.; 8 p.m. Dec. 21 and 2 p.m. Dec. 22, Ordway Concert Hall; $50-$5; 651-291-1144 or thespco.org.
The Minnesota Orchestra’s New Year Celebration
Dec. 31-Jan. 1: Would you rather say farewell to 2019 with conductor Osmo Vanska and the orchestra or ring in 2020 on New Year’s Day with them like they do in Vienna? Well, you get your choice of either, as they’ll present the same program on the evening of New Year’s Eve and the following afternoon. Alto saxophonist Jess Gillam will join Vanska and company for a program that features music by Peter Maxwell Davies, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Hannah Kendall and Benjamin Britten, among others. 8:30 p.m. Dec. 31, 2 p.m. Jan. 1; Orchestra Hall; $155-$29; 612-371-5656 or minnesotaorchestra.org.
And here are 10 more that you should strongly consider:
- The Bach Society of Minnesota performs four J.S. Bach cantatas, including three from the “Christmas Oratorio,” at St. Paul’s St. Thomas More Catholic Church (Dec. 7) and Corcoran’s St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (Dec. 8).
- The Singers perform their annual “What Sweeter Music” collection of traditional and contemporary carols at Minneapolis’ St. Olaf Catholic Church (Dec. 7), St. Louis Park’s Westwood Lutheran Church (Dec. 8) and St. Paul’s Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church (Dec. 15).
- The National Lutheran Choir presents its annual “Christmas Festival” at the Basilica of St. Mary (Dec. 13-14).
- The Minnesota Chorale and Border CrosSing collaborate on “El Mesias,” their second annual bilingual “Messiah,” at Minneapolis’ Church of the Ascension (Dec. 13) and St. Paul’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church (Dec. 14).
- The Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus is joined by the Bells of the Lakes handbell ensemble for a collection of seasonal fare, including the premiere of a new Hanukkah piece, at Ted Mann Concert Hall, Dec. 13-15.
- Kantorei is another accomplished Twin Cities-based choir that always presents a beautifully sung holiday program, which they’ll perform at Minneapolis’ St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (Dec. 14) and St. Mary’s Chapel at the St. Paul Seminary (Dec. 15).
- The Minnesota Orchestra’s “Home for the Holidays” concerts feature storytelling, carols and comedy — all with a focus upon how the holidays are celebrated in Minnesota – with help from raconteur Kevin Kling and Theater Latte Da artistic director Peter Rothstein at Orchestra Hall, Dec. 14-19.
- Carols by Minnesota composers are presented by a group of excellent area singers, led by composer Abbie Betinis, twice on Dec. 19: Noon at Landmark Center’s Courtroom 317 and 7 p.m. at St. Paul’s Central Presbyterian Church.
- One Voice Mixed Chorus is joined by acclaimed young St. Paul-based poet Donte Collins for “Singing Darkness to Light” at Hamline University’s Sundin Music Hall, Dec. 19 and 21.
- “It’s a Wonderful Life” will be screened at Orchestra Hall while the Minnesota Orchestra performs Dimitri Tiomkin’s score, Dec. 21-22.
CLASSICAL GIFT WISH
If I were giving one of these shows as a gift, I’d love to take my jazz bassist brother Tom to catch the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra concert at Orchestra Hall. I’m sure he’d really enjoy the quality of the musicianship and could talk about the particular players and what’s interesting about the arrangements. Alas, he’s probably playing in New York that night while this New York-based band is here.