By Rob Hubbard
November 24, 2018—9:00AM | UPDATED: November 28, 2018—12:28PM: https://www.twincities.com/2018/11/24/holidays-have-plenty-of-sweets-sweet-vocal-harmonies-that-is/
If Yuletide carols being sung by a choir sounds like your ideal holiday elixir, then this is the December for you in the Twin Cities. Vocal harmonies abound, as all of our best groups have their own concerts … and a couple of them hook up with our top local orchestras, too. Here are 10 performances well worth catching, most offering the magic of that most elemental of instruments, the human voice.
VocalEssence’s Welcome Christmas
Dec. 1-9: It’s this choral colossus’ 50th season, and it has premiered new carols every year of those 50. Many of those works will be reprised at this year’s concerts, and new carols will debut from Nico Muhly, Rodrigo Cadet, Shruthi Rajasekar and this year’s carol contest winners. Founder Philip Brunelle and G. Phillip Shoultz will split the conducting duties. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, 12650 Johnny Cake Ridge Road, Apple Valley; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7, Roseville Lutheran Church, 1215 W. Roselawn Ave., Roseville; 4 p.m. Dec. 8 and 9, Plymouth Congregational Church, 1919 LaSalle Ave., Mpls.; $40-$20; 612-371-5656 or vocalessence.org.
The Singers’ What Sweeter Music
Dec. 1-9: More local lovers of classical music are discovering this exceptional Twin Cities chamber choir, thanks in part to its collaborations with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. But the accompaniment will be limited to harpist Min Kim for this concert of carols, some of them in fresh arrangements from the choir’s director, Matthew Culloton. The centerpiece is Stephen Paulus’ “Three Nativity Carols.” 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1, Annunciation Catholic Church, 509 54th St. W., Mpls.; 3 p.m. Dec. 2, Westwood Lutheran Church, 9001 Cedar Lake Road, St. Louis Park; 2 p.m. Dec. 9, Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church, 1938 Stanford Ave., St. Paul; $36-$22; 651-917-1948 or singersmca.org.
A Chanticleer Christmas
Dec. 7: It’s been 40 years since this much-decorated male vocal ensemble was founded in the San Francisco Bay area. While Renaissance and South American baroque music were its early specialties, it soon became known for commissioning new works by contemporary composers. Its most popular concerts of the year are “A Chanticleer Christmas,” a program that usually opens in ancient reverence before gradually evolving into a contemporary holiday party. Minnesota is the 12-man group’s last stop before bringing it home to the Bay for a dozen concerts. 8 p.m.; Cathedral of St. Paul, 239 Selby Ave., St. Paul; $40-$18; 651-290-1200 or fitzgeraldtheater.publicradio.org.
The Minnesota Orchestra performs J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio
Dec. 8-9: Last December, choral conducting legend Helmuth Rilling led the Minnesota Orchestra and Minnesota Chorale in the first three cantatas of J.S. Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio.” Now renowned Scottish early-music conductor Nicholas Kraemer will finish the job, leading the orchestra and chorale in the fourth through sixth cantatas, which sing of the story of Jesus’ birth up through the arrival of the three wise men. Soloists include soprano Sherezade Panthaki, countertenor Robin Blaze, tenor David Portillo and baritone Christopher Edwards. The concerts begin with Bach’s Third Orchestral Suite. 8 p.m. Dec. 8, 2 p.m. Dec. 9; Orchestra Hall, 1111 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.; $97-$27; 612-371-5656 or minnesotaorchestra.org.
Dec. 13: This group started out as something akin to a Canadian Il Divo, in that they were a quartet of handsome guys in nice suits with beautiful voices who exchanged verses and harmonized on choruses of pop tunes in several languages, adding some operatic arias to the mix. Their PBS-pledge-drive-friendly act remains the same, although they’ve reduced their numbers to three after a national anthem mishap. For the second time in nine years, they’ve released a Christmas album, so expect poppy arrangements of carols sung with lots of earnest histrionics. 8 p.m.; Mystic Lake Casino Showroom, 2400 Mystic Lake Blvd., Prior Lake; $55-$25; 952-496-6563 or ticketmaster.com.
Christmas with Cantus
Dec. 13-23: The “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” structure has been around for 100 years, but male vocal octet Cantus will update it for our times with touches of Joni Mitchell, John Rutter and Franz Biebl. 11 a.m. Dec. 13, Westminster Concert Hall, 1201 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14, Fridley District Auditorium, 6000 West Moore Lake Drive N.E., Fridley; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, Apple Valley; 11 a.m. Dec. 17, Colonial Church of Edina, 6200 Colonial Way, Edina; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18, St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, 630 Wayzata Blvd. E., Wayzata; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20, Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas, North Cleveland and Laurel avenues, St. Paul; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21, Ordway Concert Hall, 345 Washington St., St. Paul; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22, Trinity Lutheran Church, 115 N. Fourth St., Stillwater; 2 p.m. Dec. 23, Hamline United Methodist Church, 1514 Englewood Ave., St. Paul; $43-$10; 612-435-0046 or cantussings.org.
The Rose Ensemble
Dec. 15 and 21-23: December allows us an excellent example of what we’ll miss when the Rose Ensemble disbands after this season. They’re not only expert purveyors of music from around the middle of the last millennium, as evidenced by the “Tudor Christmas” concerts of circa-1500 English music. But “And Glory Shone Around” shows that they also do magnificent things with 19th-century American shape-note singing and Appalachian hymns. “And Glory Shone Around”: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15; St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, 900 Stillwater Road, Mahtomedi; $20-$10 (12 and under free). “A Tudor Christmas”: 8 p.m. Dec. 21, Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church; 8 p.m. Dec. 22, Basilica of St. Mary, 1600 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.; 3 p.m. Dec. 23, Church of the Holy Cross, 1621 University Ave. N.E., Mpls.; $38-$10 (12 and under free). 651-225-4340 or roseensemble.org.
Songs of the Season by Minnesota Composers
Dec. 20: This annual Schubert Club offering of carols and Christmas songs from Minnesota composers has become so popular that it’s burst out of the intimate confines of Landmark Center’s Courtroom 317 and will now be reprised that evening at the far more spacious Central Presbyterian Church. An expert vocal quartet will perform songs by Abbie Betinis, Bob Dylan, Jayanthi Kyle, Neal & Leandra and John Denver, among others. Noon, Courtroom 317, Landmark Center, 75 W. Fifth St., St. Paul; 7:30 p.m., Central Presbyterian Church, 500 Cedar St., St. Paul; free; 651-292-3268 or Schubert.org.
The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra performs Messiah
Dec. 20-23: Before you utter “Been there, done that” when offered the opportunity to catch a performance of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio, “Messiah,” you should know that the most exciting performances of baroque music I’ve heard by the SPCO in the last several years came when conductor/harpsichordist Jeannette Sorrell made her local debut in spring of 2017. The founder and leader of Cleveland baroque orchestra Apollo’s Fire makes 18th-century music anything but stiff and stuffy, and she’ll have at her disposal an impressive quartet of vocal soloists and local chamber choir the Singers. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20 and 8 p.m. Dec. 21, Basilica of St. Mary; 8 p.m. Dec. 22 and 2 p.m. Dec. 23, Ordway Concert Hall; $50-$5; 651-291-1144 or thespco.org.
The Minnesota Orchestra launches American Expressions
Dec. 31: The Minnesota Orchestra tends to spend January performing the repertoire of one particular composer, but, this year, it’s decided to devote it to one particular country, the U.S.A. Opening night of the “American Expressions” festival is New Year’s Eve, and it features Osmo Vanska conducting works designed for dancing by Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein and John Harbison, as well as some Stephen Paulus and the two most popular pieces by George Gershwin, “An American in Paris” and “Rhapsody in Blue,” the latter with pianist Aaron Diehl as soloist. 8:30 p.m.; Orchestra Hall; $136-$50; 612-371-5656 or minnesotaorchestra.org.
And here are 10 more from the local classical calendar that are definitely worth unwrapping:
- The Minnesota Sinfonia holiday concerts at Metropolitan State University (St. Paul), the Basilica of St. Mary and Sholom Home (St. Louis Park), Dec. 5-9.
- The National Lutheran Choir Christmas Festival at the Basilica of St. Mary, Dec. 7-8.
- The Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus presents “A Million Reasons to Believe” at Ted Mann Concert Hall (Mpls.), Dec. 7-9.
- Kantorei performs its Christmas concerts at Prince of Peace Lutheran (Brooklyn Park) and the St. Paul Seminary Chapel, Dec. 8-9.
- Exultate offers “Tidings of Joy” at Annunciation Catholic Church (Mpls.), First Lutheran Church (Columbia Heights), Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church and Lake Nokomis Lutheran Church (Mpls.), Dec. 8-16.
- The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra plays all six of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos at Temple Israel (Mpls.), Ordway Concert Hall and Benson Great Hall (Arden Hills), Dec. 13-16.
- The Minnesota Chorale sings a bilingual “Messiah” with Border CrosSing at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church (St. Paul) and Church of the Ascension (Mpls.), Dec. 14-15, and invites you to a sing-along “Messiah” at St. Olaf Catholic Church (Mpls.), Dec. 16.
- The Minnesota Orchestra revives its uniquely Minnesotan “Home for the Holidays” program with storyteller Kevin Kling at Orchestra Hall, Dec. 14-20.
- “Beauty and the Beast” is screened twice while the Minnesota Orchestra performs the music at the Minneapolis Convention Center Auditorium, Dec. 22.
- Magnum Chorum performs its Christmas concerts at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church (St. Paul) and Holy Family Catholic Church (St. Louis Park), Dec. 22-23.