It’s hard to believe we’re just two and a half weeks to Christmas already. Between some unseasonably warm days, and the early Thanksgiving day this year, I’m feeling a bit out of sync with my usual holiday heartbeat. This is a tremendous time of year for choral music, and DC has a wealth of offerings from the small and intimate Washington Men’s Camerata to the big choir of Choral Arts Society of Washington or the Cathedral Choral Society.
We’ve got a good guide that follows here for where you can find your Christmas Choral cheer.
This Weekend (December 7th – 9th)
If you are of the non-traditional mindset, you will find no better opener to your choral season than the Washington Revels. Part stage show, part musical genius, the Revels are a highlight of the year. Mummers, a horn dance, ghosts of the past, they’re all part of this show, so don’t miss it. This one takes over Lisner Auditorium this weekend and the next. Tickets run $18-45 and these shows sell out, so plan ahead.
In contrast to the externally extravagant and ornate revels, the Washington Men’s Camerata saves its detail for the music, which it performs with pinpoint accuracy. Frank Albinder, formerly of SF’s Chanticleer, helms this group of 60 men and their arrangements are nothing short of stellar. They perform in Alexandria on Saturday night at 8pm, and then in Bethesda on Sunday at 4pm, before returning to DC next weekend at The Church of the Epiphany downtown. Tickets run $25 per person, or $60 per family of 4, with student discounts available.
Next Weekend (December 14th – 17th)
This is the busiest weekend in choral music that I’ve ever seen, thanks to the awkward Tuesday placement of Christmas this year.
Falls Church’s Choralis remains the best choir outside of the District, and their traditional Classic Brass Christmas is splitting duties this year between The Falls Church Episcopal on Friday night and National Presbyterian Church on Nebraska Avenue. Maestra Gretchen Kuhrmann’s best liturgical moments may come at Easter, but her Christmas is second to none as well. Look for some former Army Band and Army Trumpets in her brass section, as well. Don’t forget the raffle, which means you would get to conduct one of the singalong carols. Friday’s show features her chamber ensemble, Ēchos, and Saturday the Cantus Youth Choirs. Tickets run $30-55. If I were you? Take Friday’s show. It’s worth the trip to Falls Church, and I prefer the chamber choir to the youth choir.
The Folger Consort is one of the foremost groups for period music in the US, and their Christmas program is always a step or two off the usual beaten path, which means I often beat a path to their door to add to my Christmas repertoire. This year’s concert series runs (almost) nightly from the 14th through the 23rd, and features early laude worship music from 14th century Italy. Tickets are $50, and Friday’s show comes with a pre-show discussion on the style and the form. An awesome educational opportunity.
Choral Arts Society of Washington is in the first full season under the baton of new conductor Scott Tucker, who replaced their original director, the great Norman Scribner. Reviews for the CASW under Tucker have been strong, but as part of other performances, none solo so far have been reviewed. Look for this one to set the tone for the new era. Also go because they’re performing in the Concert Hall, home to the brand new Rubenstein Family Organ, a masterwork of engineering that made its debut late last month. Sunday’s 1pm concert is billed for families, and Monday’s 7pm program is followed by their formal gala, so expect black tie (tickets sold separately). Tickets are $15-70
There are fewer than five living Bach scholars with more knowledge than the Cathedral Choral Society‘s J. Reilly Lewis, and the precision of Bach’s intricate works carry well to the British Christmas that the CCS often favors. This year, they are premiering a new carol by British composer Ben Parry, along with the Langley High Madrigals. If you love the high church environs of the Cathedral (and really, how can you not?), then hie thee hence. You will not be disappointed by the sonic environment at the Cathedral, nor by the formal procession, nor by the sound of the immense choir. Tickets run $30-65.
Holiday Period (December 21st – 24th)
There are few things that say Christmas as much as Handel’s Messiah, and this week has no shortage of performances. The NSO, assisted by the University of Maryland Concert Choir, and four soli (including a countertenor!) will handle Handel for four nights in the Concert Hall. Tickets run $10-85.
In addition, the annual tradition of a volunteer singalong will be returning to the Concert Hall under the baton of Arlington’s Barry Hemphill. This is the 31st year of the free concert, which issues tickets beginning at 6pm in the Hall of Nations for the 8pm show. This is a fantastic show, and free in the spirit of Washington. Come early to make sure you get a ticket, the line starts forming in the afternoon.