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December Classical Music Preview
Christmas concerts and carols, plus holiday-free happenings this month. By Charles T. Downey
Comments () | Published December 1, 2011

’Tis the season to be jolly, and a seemingly endless round of holiday concerts is on tap to get you into the spirit. Whether you want to hear traditional carols, old favorites, or something more off the beaten path, you can find it. If you want to hear music that has nothing to do with Christmas, skip to the end for a few picks of the non–Ho Ho Ho variety.

Most Promising Christmas Concerts:

Historical music for Christmas is the best way to mark the season, at least for those whose teeth start grinding at the sound of “Jingle Bells.” The Washington Bach Consort offers a program of Christmas music from Leipzig (by Bach, Kuhnau, and Telemann) this Sunday, December 4, at National Presbyterian Church. Tickets are $38. Bach Consort musicians will also perform Bach’s cantata Darzu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes (BWV 40, for St. Stephen’s Day, or December 26) as part of the free noontime cantata series (December 6), at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (1313 New York Ave., NW).

The Folger Consort presents what may turn out to be the best Christmas concert in the city this year, with a program of Spanish Renaissance music in its beautifully decorated theater at the Folger Shakespeare Library (December 9 through 18). Tickets are $45. In a similar vein, the vocal ensemble Chantry will perform Renaissance music for “Christmas by Victoria and Byrd” (December 10 and 17) at the churches of St. Mary Mother of God and St. Bernadette’s. Tickets are $30. At St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, on Capitol Hill, the Cantate Chamber Singers will perform a concert of holiday music by Venetian Baroque composers (December 11). Tickets are $30.

Farther down our list are some other concerts of early music for Christmas, including one by the ensembles Carmina and Illuminare (December 17) at the Kentlands Mansion in Gaithersburg. Tickets are $25. The National Gallery of Art hosts a free concertof music for Christmas with countertenor Thomas Mark Fallon (December 18), in the West Building’s West Garden Court. The Maryland Boy Choir and University of Maryland Choirs present a Festival of Lessons and Carols next Friday (December 9), in the University of Maryland Memorial Chapel. Tickets are $15. The Amadeus Orchestra and Reston Chorale perform Haydn’s Saint Nicholas Mass at the Reston Community Center (December 3). Tickets are $25.


Holiday Chestnuts:

While some people can’t think of December without Handel’s Messiah, for others it has to be The Nutcracker. We recommend the short run of this evergreen ballet by the American Ballet Theater in a production by Alexei Ratmansky (December 8 through 11) at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Live music will be performed by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, the Norwood Middle School Choir, and the National Cathedral School Choir. Tickets are $45 to $150. Since the Washington Ballet has finally decided to hire a live orchestra again, thanks to a generous donation by Adrienne Arsht, we can once again recommend Septime Webre’s delightful Washington-inspired production of The Nutcracker, although no chorus is mentioned on the Web site. This production runs from December 1 through 24 at the Warner Theater. Tickets are $40 to $110.

Humperdinck’s opera Hansel and Gretel is also a December tradition in some cities, although Washington National Opera’s attempt to start one here didn’t catch on. You can try it on for size with a production from the Virginia Opera this weekend (December 2 and 4) at the GMU Center for the Arts. Tickets are $44 to $86.


Here We Come A-Caroling:

For the more traditional musical trimmings, there are many options, beginning this Friday with the annual Catholic University Christmas Concert for Charity at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (December 2), free but with a collection to raise donations for A Simple House, a ministry to the poor here in Washington. The chamber group known as the 5 Browns gives a holiday show the same night (December 2), in the Music Center at Strathmore. Tickets are $21 to $58. The Dumbarton Concerts series offers a Celtic Christmas concert in its gorgeous historical church in Georgetown (December 3 through 11). Tickets are $33.

The Cathedral Choral Society, although it had to withdraw from performances of Handel’s Messiah with the National Symphony Orchestra next month, presents concerts of Christmas music at Washington National Cathedral (December 10 and 11) and “A Dickens Christmas” (December 20) in the Music Center at Strathmore. Tickets are $15 to $65. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is also offering A Christmas Carol in concert (December 16 and 17) at Meyerhoff Hall in Baltimore, but with a mixture of classical and other styles of music. Tickets are $16 to $57.

The National Gallery of Art hosts various performing groups for free Caroling in the Rotunda events (December 10 through 18). City Choir of Washington performs a Christmas concert (December 11) at National Presbyterian Church. Tickets are $15 to $45. The Capitol Hearings offers an “A Cappella Christmas” (December 14) in the Strathmore Mansion. Tickets are $15. The Washington Chorus continues the tradition of the Candlelight Christmas concert (December 17 through 22), in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Tickets are $15 to $65. Likewise, the Choral Arts Society offers a series of events including a Family Christmas Concert (December 17) and a program of Holiday Treasures from Russia (December 19 through 24) in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Tickets are $15 to $65. Finally, the National Philharmonic and the Washington Symphonic Brass come together for a Christmas concert (December 22) in the Music Center at Strathmore. $25 to $45.


Bah, Humbug:

For music sans sleigh bells, we start with the return of music director Christoph Eschenbach to the podium of the National Symphony Orchestra (December 1 through 3), with violinist Midori in Britten’s violin concerto, plus music by Osvaldo Golijov and Dmitri Shostakovich. Tickets are $20 to $85. The rising young Pacifica Quartet performs on the free concert series at the National Gallery of Art this Sunday (December 4), as part of the ongoing complete cycle of Beethoven’s string quartets.

As for singers, don’t miss the talented British countertenor Iestyn Davies, who performs a recital with pianist Kevin Murphy (December 4) at the Phillips Collection. Tickets are $20. Bass-baritone Eric Owens returns for a recital he postponed back in September, with pianist Craig Rutenberg (December 9), presented by Vocal Arts DC in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Tickets are $45. In the early music category, Dumbarton Oaks hosts the Boston Camerata for a program of medieval music (December 4 and 5). Contact the Friends of Music coordinators directly for ticket information. There is a similar program combining Arab, Sephardic, and Christian music from the Rose Ensemble on the free concert series at the National Gallery of Art (December 11).

For chamber music, try the recital by violinist Augustin Hadelich and pianist Rohan de Silva (December 7) in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Tickets are $32. Even better is a free concert by the Borromeo Quartet and pianist Seymour Lipkin (December 17) at the Library of Congress.

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