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Classical music for the holiday season in Chicago

From medieval chant to baroque masterpieces to recently composed works, the Chicago-area classical music scene provides no shortage of ways to celebrate the holidays. Some programs are annual favorites while others are new offerings to discover.

Amid all the variety, one work remains a Chicago-area staple: George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah,” with several groups offering their takes on the beloved oratorio.

Here is a look at 10 programs worth checking out during this festive season:

  • Nov. 19, “Messiah,” Bella Voce and Sinfonia, Andrew Lewis, conductor, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 939 Hinman Ave., Evanston (bellavoce.org).
Bella Voce Chorus and Sinfonia 2018_joe-mazza-brave-lux

The Bella Voce Chorus and Sinfonia (pictured in 2018).

This 40-year-old choral group offers a historically informed performance of the most famous oratorio of them all with accompaniment provided by a 20-member period-instrument ensemble. When presented during the Christmas season, elements of the oratorio dealing with Christ’s Passion are often cut, but this will be the complete version, running about three hours. 

  • Dec. 1, “Holiday Baroque,” Rembrandt Chamber Musicians. Epiphany Center for the Arts, 201 S. Ashland; and Dec. 3, Alice Millar Chapel, Northwestern University, 1870 Sheridan Road, Evanston. Visit rembrandtchambermusicians.org.

This baroque program, which includes works by George Frideric Handel, Alessandro Marcello and Antonio Vivaldi, will feature three members of this Chicago chamber ensemble who also serve as principal musicians in the Lyric Opera Orchestra. They will be joined by seven guest artists, including archlutenist Brandon Acker, Musical America’s Young Artist of the Month for March 2023.

Chanticleer returns this holiday season for its annual concert.

Chanticleer returns this holiday season for its annual concert.

Todd Rosenberg Photography

  • Dec. 5 and 6, Symphony Center Presents “A Chanticleer Christmas,” Chanticleer, Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut. Visit cso.org.

Chanticleer’s yuletide visits to the Windy City have been an annual tradition since 2000 with only the exception of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 12-member a cappella group will perform holiday works from past and present, always freshening its program each year for returnees.

Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus is presents its holiday concert on Dec. 8 and 10.

Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus is presenting its holiday concerts on Dec. 8 and 10.

  • Dec. 8, “The Big 4-0, ho, ho!,” Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus. Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells; and Dec. 10, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd. Visit cgmc.org.

The chorus celebrates its 40th anniversary with a program drawing on favorites from its past holiday concerts, including arrangements from its current artistic director, Jimmy Morehead, and contributions from the group’s alumni. “This choral show honors how far we have come as an LGBTQIA+ organization and proves that we are still here,” a press release states. 

  •  Dec. 9, “Messiah.” Holy Name Cathedral, 735 N. State; and Dec. 10, Alice Millar Chapel, Apollo Chorus of Chicago. Visit apollochorus.org.

Founded in 1872 the aftermath of the Chicago Fire, this well-respected, all-volunteer ensemble has presented “Messiah” every December since 1879. Featured as soloists for this year’s edition are soprano Katelyn Lee, mezzo-soprano Lindsey Adams, tenor Sam Krausz and bass Bill McMurray.

  • Dec. 14, “Holiday Brass and Choral Concerts,” Music of the Baroque Chorus and Brass Ensemble, Andrew Megill, conductor. Grace Lutheran Church, 7300 Division St., River Forest; Dec. 15, St. Michael Church, 1633 N. Cleveland; Dec. 16, Saints Faith, Hope & Charity Church, 191 Linden St., Winnetka; and Dec. 17, Alice Millar Chapel, Evanston; Visit baroque.org.

This annual favorite, which almost always sells out, takes listeners on a holiday musical journey from the Middle Ages to the present, with chant, choral music and works for brass.

  • Dec. 15, “A Latin American Christmas,” Newberry Consort. St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Evanston; Dec. 16, Mother of the Americas Catholic Church, 2226 S. Whipple; and Dec. 17, St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church, 4220 N. Sheridan. Visit newberryconsort.org.

After four years of presenting “A Mexican Christmas,” the Newberry is expanding the geographical scope of its Christmas program, focusing on 15th- through 18th-century music from Peru, Spain, Guatemala, Panama, and the indigenous cultures of the Americas. The concerts will be multilingual, integrating New World dialects with traditional Spanish. 

  • Dec. 15, “Holidays of Light,” Chicago Sinfonietta, Chelsea Tipton, conductor. Auditorium Theatre. Visit chicagosinfonietta.org.

The Chicago Sinfonietta has long made diversity a central pillar of its mission. Ranging from Christmas classics to traditional Jewish and Latin-American offerings, this program will showcase that variety. Included will be Lukas Richman’s “Hanukkah Festival Overture,” Duke Ellington’s “Nutcracker Suite” and Victor A. Vanacore’s arrangement of “Feliz Navidad.” 

Vocalist Ashley Brown performs in Merry, Merry Chicago! with Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2017. The program returns to Symphony Center in December.

Vocalist Ashley Brown performs in Merry, Merry Chicago! with Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2017. The program returns to Symphony Center in December.

Copyright Todd Rosenberg Photography

  • Dec. 15-17 and 22-23, “Merry, Merry, Chicago!,” Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Wilkins, conductor, Ashley Brown, soloist. Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center. Visit cso.org.

Members of the CSO present a family-friendly yuletide tribute with plenty of season favorites like “Joy to the World,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Sleigh Ride.” Joining in the fun is vocalist Ashley Brown, who originated the title role in the Broadway production of “Mary Poppins.”

MatthewPolenzani. © Fay Fox

Matthew Polenzani is among the soloists for the “Messiah” presented by th Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus,

  • Dec. 21-23, “Messiah,” Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Andrew Davis, conductor. Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center. Visit cso.org.

For these programs, the CSO has brought in heavy-hitters, starting with Davis, who was music director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2000-21. In addition is a top-notch group of soloists, including tenor Matthew Polenzani and bass John Relyea. The orchestra will perform Davis’ slightly abridged version of the oratorio, which includes significant portions of all three parts and runs about 2½ hours.



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