5 concerts to lift your holiday spirits

Madison overflows with seasonal classical music
5 concerts to lift your holiday spirits
Photo courtesy of Madison Ballet
The Madison Ballet, accompanied by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, will again stage "The Nutcracker."

Madison Symphony Orchestra

Maestro John DeMain is set to conduct his 25th annual “Madison Symphony Christmas” and it promises to feel like another large family joining in celebration. All of our favorite members of the MSO extended family will be back: The Madison Symphony Chorus, Madison Youth Choirs and the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir. The two featured soloists this year are soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez (named one of opera’s “25 Rising Stars” by Opera News magazine), and Sun Prairie native baritone Kyle Ketelsen, who continues to garner bravos on stages from the Metropolitan Opera to major houses in Europe. The programs of Nov. 30 and Dec. 1-2 include the usual favorites, with special selections from Schubert, Bach and Mozart. Don’t forget to bring your Santa hat!

Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since Andrew Sewell and his Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra began presenting Handel’s masterful “Messiah” at Blackhawk Church. This year the performance will be on Friday, Dec. 7, with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra joined by the WCO Chorus and Festival Choir of Madison and soloists Sarah Lawrence, Johanna Bronk, Gene Stenger and Peter Van de Graaff.

Madison Bach Musicians

For anyone who wants to hear more Christmas music than the usual suspects, one of the best bets for the past seven years has been the Baroque Holiday Concert by the Madison Bach Musicians. Their eighth go-round takes place Saturday, Dec. 8, at 8 p.m. at the First Congregational Church. Artistic director Trevor Stephenson’s ensemble of authentic instrument players will be joined by vocal soloists Hanna de Priest, Margaret Fox, Ryan Townsend Strand and Matthew Chastain in a fascinating mix of music by Josquin des Pres, Heinrich Schutz and J.S. Bach.

Madison Choral Project

Another great place to hear music off the beaten path is at a concert by Albert Pinsonneault’s Madison Choral Project. Not only does Bert — as he is affectionately called by one and all — select wonderful music for his select ensemble of about 25 singers, but he is always thinking outside the box. Thus he gives us this year, Dec. 15-16, at Christ Presbyterian Church, “Hope Is in the Future.” The concerts not only offer gems from composers such as Timothy C. Takach (currently MCP’s composer in residence), Kevin Puts and Maurice Durufle, but also a number of African-American spirituals. But wait, there’s more: Seeds of hope will also be heard in the writings of six students from southern Wisconsin, from grades sixth through high school.

Madison Ballet

For so many youngsters, the first love of classical music comes at Christmas when they see and hear Tchaikovsky’s magical ballet, “The Nutcracker.” Madison Ballet once again presents its enchanting production of “150 dancers, live music, a 25-foot tree, an epic battle and 100 percent chance of snow.” With Andrew Sewell and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra providing the music, there’s also a 100 percent chance that some youngster will fall under the spell of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her flock of snowflakes and colorful characters for the first time — and many older folks will be warmed by this masterpiece anew. Performances will be held on Dec. 8, 9, 15-16, 22-24 and 26 in Overture Hall at the Overture Center for the Arts.

Greg Hettmansberger writes about jazz, opera and classical music for madisonmagazine.com.