Go beyond 'Deck the halls’ with this guide to classical holiday concerts in Baltimore
By Elizabeth Nonemaker
Nov 26, 2019 | 5:00 AM
The only thing that might be more polarizing than talking politics at the Thanksgiving table is holiday music: Generally, you either hate it or you love it. Fans might look forward to December playlists for their warmth and cheer; but their counterparts dread them for the same reason. But are our seasonal songs really as monochromatic as we seem to think? Here’s a roundup of classical holiday concerts in the greater Baltimore area that will satisfy a multitude of tastes, from traditional Christmas choral music to tuba music.
The Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra: A Suite Holiday Treat
Harford County’s Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra has something for everyone at this holiday concert: Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s jazz interpretations of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” Suite, a selection from Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio,” arrangements of Hanukkah tunes by the orchestra’s own Brian Folus. Of course there’s a finale singalong. The Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra is one of the region’s longstanding community orchestras, and this program is an example of their commitment to fresh programming.
7:30 p.m. Dec. 7 at Bel Air High School, 100 Heighe St., Bel Air. $10 to $20,www.ssorchestra.org
Bach in Baltimore Performs Handel’s 'Messiah’
With his ensemble Bach in Baltimore, Maestro T. Herbert Dimmock has been serenading Baltimore-area audiences with Baroque music for over three decades, energized by a particular love for sharing detailed interpretations of the musical material. In Handel’s “Messiah,” for instance, Dimmock points to Handel’s use of “the joy motive” — two sixteenth notes and an eighth note that you can hear on the choir’s repetition of “Hallelujah” in the famous chorus — as a technique believed to “compel [listeners] to feel happy.” Handel fans in both Baltimore and Ellicott City can enjoy Bach in Baltimore’s performance of this holiday classic.
7:00 p.m. Dec. 7 at First Lutheran Church, 3604 Chatham Rd., Ellicott City and 3:00 p.m. Dec. 8 at St. Casimir Church, 2800 O’Donnell St., Baltimore. $10 to $40,bachinbaltimore.org
It’s “The Nutcracker” — but with acrobats, contortionists and jugglers instead of ballet dancers. The Los Angeles-based circus arts group Troupe Vertigo joins the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, led by Nicholas Hersh, for four nights of gravity-defying Christmas magic. Tchaikovsky’s suite might be the most performed piece of classical music ever, and yet repeated hearings don’t dull the beauty of this work. Swapping in the dazzling routines of acrobats is a testament to its flexibility as a piece of music — no pun intended.
8:00 p.m. Dec. 12 at Strathmore Music Hall, 5301 Tuckerman Ln., Bethesda; 8:00 p.m. Dec. 13 and 3:00 Dec. 14-15 at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St., Baltimore. $17.50 to $75.bsomusic.org
Christmas for the Kids: The Baltimore Scrooge
The Baltimore Choral Arts Society, in addition to their annual Christmas concert on Dec. 3, offers a family-friendly holiday program in collaboration with performer Z Smith, otherwise known as Pepito the Clown. Together they offer a Baltimore-style twist on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”: Think Edgar Allan Poe, Old Bay and lots of clowns. Organizations that help underserved children in Baltimore should inquire about free tickets.
3:00 p.m. Dec. 15 at The Gilman School’s Alumni Auditorium, 5407 Roland Ave., Baltimore. $13.baltimorechoralarts.org
Annapolis Symphony Academy Holiday Concert
The Annapolis Symphony Academy, a program that fosters musical development in youth through both private instruction and ensemble training, puts on their holiday concert featuring the work of composers like Samuel Barber and J.S. Bach — and, in a special treat, the young, Pennsylvania-based cellist and composer Ajibola Rivers. The Academy will give the Annapolis premiere of Rivers’ “Festival Gigue,” a work for string orchestra.
The Virginia-based Heifitz International Music Institute is, primarily, a six-week summer festival for string players of exceptional promise, but since 2013, alumni have brought their talents to wider audiences through the institute’s touring program Heifitz On Tour. As part of a circuit of seasonal music, Heifitz players come to Baltimore to offer a program combining classics with Yuletide favorites, featuring works by Vivaldi, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák and more.
3:00 p.m. at the Linehan Concert Hall on the campus of UMBC, 1000 Hilltop Cir., Baltimore. $5 to $20. my.umbc.edu
Gospel Christmas with Cece Winans and the Morgan State University Choir
Singer CeCe Winans is among gospel music’s brightest stars. Despite racking up an impressive collection of awards — including 12 Grammys — over a 25-year career, Winans has never been tempted to rest on her laurels: The music keeps coming. Winans joins the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Morgan State University Choir for two evenings of gospel Christmas music, including selections from the holiday album “Something’s Happening!”, Winan’s latest release.
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8:00 p.m. Dec. 19-20 at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St., Baltimore. $45 to $90.bsomusic.org
35th Annual Merry Tuba Christmas
The first Merry Tuba Christmas event took place in New York City in 1974; tubist Harvey Phillips organized this public happening as a tribute to his late tuba instructor William Bell. Since then, Merry Tuba Christmas events have become an international affair, and Baltimore players are celebrating their 35th year of participation. Interested tuba and euphonium players can register to join the concert up to the day of the performance; interested audiences don’t have to pay a dime to hear dozens of their favorite local low brass players perform holiday favorites.
3:30 p.m. Dec. 21 at the Baltimore Inner Harbor Amphitheater, intersection of Light and Pratt, Baltimore. Free.tubachristmas.com
A Capella Group Six13 Kick Off Hanukkah
Six13, the a capella vocal ensemble named for the 613 commandments of the Torah, has garnered an impressive YouTube following alone for their reinterpretations of hit songs. In their renditions, everything from Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” to “The Circle of Life” become Jewish songs that walk the line between pop culture parody and earnest hymnody. But Six13’s mission is clear: They aim to foster pride in Judaism while having a great time. Now Maryland audiences can enjoy Six13’s talents live at The Gordon Center, just in time for Hanukkah.
3:00 p.m. Dec. 22 at The Gordon Center, 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., Owings Mills. $20 to $30,jcc.org
Elizabeth Nonemaker covers classical music for The Baltimore Sun as a freelance writer. Classical music coverage at The Sun is supported in part by a grant from the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The Sun makes all editorial decisions. Nonemaker can be reached at email@example.com.