Manuscript page from Handel's "Hallelujah" Chorus. Photograph courtesy Lilly Library.
While Handel’s Messiah has become a Christmas tradition over the years, quite why it has is puzzling, since the oratorio, an assemblage of texts from the Bible, is focused primarily on the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, making it generally more appropriate for Easter. However, a holiday tradition it is, so here are your options if you wish to hear Messiah this December. You never know—you could witness something along the lines of the most epic mistake ever heard in the Hallelujah chorus for your trouble.
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, December 2 and 3, Meyerhoff Hall, Baltimore
Edward Polochick conducts, with the Concert Artists of Baltimore Symphonic Chorale, and Karen Clift, Krisztina Szabó, Nicholas Phan, and Stephen Powell as soloists. It’s a fairly long trip from Washington, but the acoustics at the Meyerhoff are some of the best in the region. $20 to $65.
Choirs and Orchestra of Washington National Cathedral, December 2 through 4, National Cathedral
Michael McCarthy conducts, with Gillian Keith, Marianne Beate Kielland, Rufus Müller, and Nathan Berg as soloists. This annual performance is generally quite beautiful, but the cavernous space of Washington National Cathedral can be less than satisfying for listening, generally getting worse the farther you’re seated from the performers. $25 to $85.
National Philharmonic, December 10 and 11, Music Center at Strathmore
Stan Engebretson conducts, with the National Philharmonic Chorale, and Jennifer Casey Cabot, Kendall Gladen, Matthew Smith, and Kevin Deas as soloists. This is a good option to introduce that young person in your life to Messiah, because those aged seven to 17 qualify for a free ticket when accompanied by an adult. $32 to $79.
National Symphony Orchestra, December 15 through 18, Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Matthew Halls conducts, with the University of Maryland Concert Choir, and Kiera Duffy, Matthew Shaw (countertenor), James Gilchrist, and Neal Davies as soloists. The NSO generally offers the best performance in the area, highlighting different styles of interpretation each year. That means that in some years, like this one, you get a fairly generic version of the most overplayed oratorio of all. $20 to $85.
Less promising and more far-flung performances are legion: the Landon Symphonette at the Landon School in Bethesda (December 3, $18); the Loudon Chorale (December 3 and 4, $10.60); the Reston Chorale (December 6 and 13, $10); the College of Southern Maryland Chorale and Chesapeake Choral Arts Society (December 10 and 11, $10) in La Plata; the Annapolis Chorale at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis (December 16 through 18, $37); Baltimore Choral Arts Society at Goucher College in Baltimore (December 16, $25); and a number of free performances at local churches, such as Calvary Baptist Church (December 2), Metropolitan A.M.E. Church (December 4), Fairlington United Methodist Church in Alexandria (December 4), the Central Maryland Chorale in the Lutheran Church of Saint Andrew in Silver Spring (December 11), and the Gaithersburg Community Chorus at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg (December 10 and 11).
Some of those free performances encourage the audience to sing along; a few will even rent you a score for a small fee. Bigger sing-along performances of Messiah include the George Mason University Center for the Arts (December 11, $10) and the very popular free sing-along in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, with the KC Opera House Orchestra (December 23). Tickets for the latter event will be distributed earlier in the day at the Kennedy Center.