December 2, 2012

Classical Beat: Stockingful of local Christmas concerts offers wide variety of music

By Christopher Hyde

This weekend marks the beginning of the Christmas season for Maine music lovers, with the Choral Art Society's 25th annual Christmas at the Cathedral concert, continuing at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

This year's program features soprano Suzanne Nance, music director of MPBN, and a new work from composer Kevin Siegfried for brass quintet and chorus.

The Portland Brass Quintet has become a regular feature of this concert, and Siegfried wrote "Vidimus Stellam" with the cathedral's acoustics -- particularly suited to brass instruments -- in mind. 

Music director Robert Russell programs a satisfying mix of the old, the traditional and the new -- always with a surprise in mind -- and the cathedral setting is among the most beautiful and spacious venues of the season.

The recessional "Silent Night" is not to be missed, even if the Austrian government prohibits its performance except on Christmas Eve.

Tickets are $20 to $30. Call 828-0043 or visit choralart.org.

Although there are usually quite a few children at Christmas in the Cathedral, the concert best suited to younger audiences is the Portland Symphony Orchestra's "Magic of Christmas" Dec. 14-23.

Music director Robert Moody's program seems designed with excitement in mind, as there are more rousing orchestral works than usual, from Greig's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" to Bizet's "Farandole."

It will also feature magician Lynn Dillies, known as America's premier female illusionist; the award-winning Windham Chamber Singers; and the 130-voices-strong Magic of Christmas Chorus, a group of volunteers who are members or friends of the Portland Community Chorus. 

Tickets are $31 to $61. Call 842-0800 or visit portlandsymphony.org or porttix.com.

The thinking man's (or woman's) Christmas concert has to be that of the relative newcomer on the scene, the St. Mary Schola. Founded by Bruce Fithian, it features baroque, Renaissance and earlier music performed on period instruments, and a small, professional chorus, including counter-tenors. The works will be interspersed with appropriate readings from the King James Bible to Gerard Manly Hopkins, with a stop at Milton.

The surprise this year is "Meine Seele ruhmt und preist," which has been ascribed erroneously to J.S. Bach as Cantata 189 but was actually composed by G.M. Hoffman. 

Although most of the works are unusual and of antiquarian interest, what makes every program special is the rediscovery (to most audience members) of mystical, well-written and melodic music whose polyphonic style is so old as to be new.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Kennebunkport South Congregational Church; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11 at Cathedral of St. Luke in Portland; and 4 p.m. Dec. 16 at St. Mary the Virgin in Falmouth. Tickets are $15 ($12 for students and seniors), and will be available at the door and at stmaryschola.org.

For those listening for the "still, small voice" in the midst of Muzak and novelty songs, the best place to go is the Christmas concert of Renaissance Voices, an a cappella choir under the direction of Harold Stover.

Although the programs are slanted toward early music, they also include traditional carols and often contemporary music, such as this year's "The Little Road to Bethlehem" by 20th-century English composer Michael Head.

The concerts will be at the Cathedral of St. Luke in Portland at 8 p.m. Dec. 15 and at 2 p.m. Dec. 16. Tickets may be purchased at the door for $15 ($5 for students) or in advance for $12 at renaissancevoices.org.

This year, the program may also be heard on Dec. 9 at the Sanford-Springdale Museum. Call 342-2797 for information.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, He can be reached at:

classbeat@netscape.net

 

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