5 classical holiday performances that celebrate the season

'Tis the season to soak up holiday music.
5 classical holiday performances that celebrate the season

No matter how much we grumble about the cold weather, the mall crowds or online shopping glitches, Madison music lovers can always count on a stocking-full of musical choices to cheer us through the holiday season.

First up is one of the most popular events, “A Madison Symphony Christmas.” Conductor John DeMain always invites a huge roster of guests, and the concerts on Dec. 2, 3 and 4 should deliver smiles and ovations again. The Madison Youth Choirs return along with the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir, and this year’s guest soloist is soprano Sylvia McNair. (When yours truly first encountered her, singing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1989, she was on the verge of stardom.) Since then she has made herself equally at home at the Metropolitan Opera or on Broadway, and will also feel the same ease in “O Holy Night” or “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” We’ll also get to enjoy Suzanne Beia’s artistry as soloist in Vivaldi’s “Winter” from the “The Four Seasons,” and perennial favorites the “Hallelujah Chorus” and audience sing-along will be enjoyed.

Next, enjoy the choruses and arias of Handel’s “Messiah” under the direction of Andrew Sewell and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra on Dec. 9. They return to Blackhawk Church with a quartet of fine soloists and the Festival Choir of Madison.

WCO members will have to schedule their holiday shopping carefully, because they also begin a long stretch of performances of Tchaikovsky’s cherished “The Nutcracker,” accompanying Madison Ballet. Performances run Dec. 10-26 at Overture Hall and there are few special gifts for a young music lover better than a ticket to experience this classic live. When the WCO returned to partner with Madison Ballet two or three seasons ago, the move back to live music made all the difference in this fine production. As the Ballet puts it, audiences will see “150 dancers, a 25-foot tree, an epic battle and a 100 percent chance of snow.”

On Dec. 10, listen to a newer holiday musical tradition (that has established itself very quickly) in the Madison Bach Musicians’ Baroque Holiday Concert. The 8 p.m. concert at the First Congregational Church features cantatas by J.S. Bach and Alessandro Scarlatti, with selections by Biber, Josquin, Telemann and others. Conductor Trevor Stephenson’s musicians continue to set the standard for beautiful and insightful interpretations of older music–and don’t miss his sure-to-be-entertaining pre-concert lecture at 7:15 p.m.

And if you want a beautiful classical program to revive you closer to the big day, make your way to the Middleton Performing Arts Center on Dec. 21 for the Middleton Community Orchestra’s Holiday Concert. They might not be playing Christmas music, but the holidays are all about family, so it’s appropriate that the husband-and-wife pairing of conductor Kyle Knox and MSO concertmaster Naha Greenholtz will be in charge. Greenholtz will perform Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto” under Knox’s direction, and he will also conduct some of the “Slavonic Dances of Dvorak,” and “Symphony No. 2” by Brahms.

Holiday wishes to all–and check back next week for a classical gift-buying guide!