The Live Arts Maryland season-opening classical concerts last month became an elegant prelude to two beloved holiday traditions offered by Anne Arundel County's largest performing arts group.
The group, consisting of the 170-voice Annapolis Chorale, the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra and the Annapolis Youth Chorus, along with several stellar soloists, will offer two performances of the annual Celebration of Christmas concert on Dec. 8 and 9 at Maryland Hall — featuring the return of guitarist Piotr Pakhomkin.
Next up will be three weekend performances from Dec. 16-18 of Handel's "Messiah" at St. Anne's Church that will feature tenor Adam Caughey, who impressed audiences in his performance of Mendelssohn's "Lobgesang" — the centerpiece of the opening classical concert.
At the performance, Live Arts music director J. Ernest Green introduced audiences to a major, largely undiscovered work by Felix Mendelssohn. Filled with optimism in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg's invention of the printing press, the joyous grandeur of "Lobgesang" proved ideally suited to the vocal strengths of the Annapolis Chorale. Their voices soared in praise to God with their opening notes and rose still higher when Caughey delivered a recitative "Sing praise all ye redeemed" that displayed his vocal power and dramatic flair.
Earlier in the program. after two selections from Monteverdi's "Vespers of 1610," Green's programming talents were displayed with classical guitarist Pakhomkin's performance of Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez." In his 1939 composition, Spanish composer Rodrigo captures the romance of a Spanish garden.
This hypnotic work instantly draws us, intriguing us in its second-movement dialogue between guitar and solo instruments — especially the oboe.
Most importantly, Pakhomkin's formidable talents are uniquely suited to Rodrigo's "Concierto," making us want to hear it again. Apparently, several of us had a similar response, as Green shares: "Many asked me after our November concert if Piotr would be back with us for Christmas. I'm very happy to say that he is — literally by popular demand."
Always a sell-out, the annual Celebration of Christmas concert to be presented at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8 and 8 p.m. Dec. 9 at Maryland Hall is a highlight of the season for Green and his singers.
Pakhomkin will undoubtedly brighten festivities with his performance of Antonio Vivaldi's "Guitar Concerto in D" and when accompanying Chorale singers for a carol medley.
The sound of the 170-voice chorus accompanied by the Chamber Orchestra is incomparable in favorites like "Sing We Now of Christmas." Also on the program are popular songs like "White Christmas" and orchestral favorites including Bizet's "Farandole" and Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride" that grow livelier and more enchanting each year. Special selections will be offered by the Annapolis Youth Chorus. Everyone is invited to join in a special carol sing-along finale, where audience members can participate under the baton of Green.
Scheduled on the following weekend are three performances of Handel's "Messiah" by the Annapolis Chorale's Chamber Chorus and Chamber Orchestra in the near-perfect acoustics and historic beauty of St. Anne's Church. At 8 p.m. Dec. 16, the performance includes Part 1 and "Hallelujah Chorus." The performance at 8 p.m. Dec. 17 adds carols and madrigals, and Sunday at 3 p.m. includes a carol sing-along.
"What sets our 'Messiah' performances apart from all the others is the particular energy and excitement our singers bring to each concert. They love singing 'Messiah,' and its beauty and power always bring out our best," Green says. "With the acoustics at St. Anne's, the music enfolds the audience."
Those who return each year often discover something new to admire. I heard the best "Messiah" performance last year after discovering Brandie Sutton, the finest soprano I've heard so far in Annapolis.
Sutton will return as "Messiah" guest soloist and will be joined by mezzo Madeleine Gray, with Caughey as an added bonus. Always a major contributor, baritone Shouvik Mondle's voice of great tonal beauty, power and expressiveness will complete the excellence of the program.
For more information, visit liveartsmaryland.org. To order tickets to any performance, call the Maryland Hall Box Office at 410-280-5640 or online at marylandhall.org.
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Another long-standing favorite local holiday concert tradition is the Stef Scaggiari and Sue Matthews Christmas Show now offered at O'Callaghan's Annapolis Hotel for two performances at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 17. For reservations, call 410-269-0777 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for information on this concert and others on Dec. 9, 11 and 18 at 49 West.