Holiday season brings a wide spectrum of musical celebrations

Two Messiah performances lead the local programs

By Peter Alexander Dec. 1 at 3:52 p.m.

What is one thing COVID has not closed down this year? The flood of Holiday-themed concerts in December.

This is in stark contrast to last year, when there were virtually no live concerts anywhere. Holiday music-making, if any, was done online. But now Boulder has returned to near normal, and there is no space or time to give individual coverage to all the concerts. Here is a compilation of most local classical concerts, all of them available for live attendance and some with streaming as well (details and ticket information are below; check each group’s Web page for COVID requirements):

Boulder Ballet Nutcracker (2018). Image by Amanda Tipton Photography

The Nutcracker returns to Longmont in performances by the Longmont Symphony and Boulder Ballet (Dec. 3–5). Performances of this perennial family favorite also include a sensory-friendly “Gentle” Nutcracker performance that will be under one hour with both dramatic and musical elements as well as lighting adapted for special needs children.

Boulder Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker almost had to be cancelled for the second year running, until supporters of the ballet and the symphony raised funds to support the performances. LSO executive director Catherine Beeson released a statement, saying “The thought of our communities having to miss a second year of this holiday tradition was too disappointing to consider. We are so grateful to Boulder Ballet and LSO patrons, supporters and sponsors who stepped up to fill the gap.”

The CU Holiday Festival (Dec. 3–5), featuring CU College of Music ensembles, is one of the oldest musical traditions in Boulder, dating back decades. Performing groups this year will be the Holiday Brass, the Holiday Festival Orchestra, Chamber Singers, Holiday Festival Choral Union, West African Highlife Ensemble, Holiday Festival Jazz, and the Magari Quartet.

The 2013 Holiday Concert put on by the College of Music in Macky Auditorium at the University of Colorado Boulder. (Photo by Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado)

There will be some very familiar Holiday music—“Ding, Dong Merrily on High,” “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and the perennial favorite, Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.” But there will also be some unusual selections, including the Spanish villancico “Ríu, ríu, chíu,” the Gloria from the Misa Criolla (Creole Mass) by the Argentinian composer Ariel Ramírez, and a Nigerian Christmas song, “Betelehemu” (Bethlehem). The program will conclude with the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

The Holiday Festival often sells out. That may be different this year, with COVID restriction still in place, but check availability before making plans.

There will be two performances of Handel’s Messiah  in Boulder this year: One by conductor Cynthia Katsarelis with the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and Boulder Chamber Chorale (Dec. 4), and one by conductor Zachary Carrettin and performers of the Boulder Bach Festival (Dec. 17 and 19).

Both organizations will present only the Christmas portion of Messiah; Pro Musica Colorado will add the “Hallelujah” chorus. Theirs will be the more traditional style of performance, with full chorus. The Boulder Bach Festival will present Messiah with only one on a part in both orchestra and chorus; in other words, the choral parts will all be sung by a quartet of vocal soloists rather than a traditional chorus.

The Ars Nova Singers will present their Holiday program, “Made Merry,” in Denver (Dec. 10), Longmont (Dec. 12) and Boulder (Dec. 16 and 17).

Harpist Kathryn Harms

Under the direction of Thomas Edward Morgan, the Ars Nova Singers will be joined by guest artist Kathryn Harms on harp. The program follows the usual pattern for Ars Nova Holiday concerts: a mix of new arrangements and recent compositions with more traditional tunes. 

Featured works will include Variations on “Lo How a Rose” by Hugo Distler, a prominent composer of sacred music in early 20th century Germany, whose short life illustrates the tragedy of his times. Torn between his revulsion for the Nazi regime and the prominent positions he was granted, he took his own life in 1942 at the age of 34. 

Other works on the program are Morgan’s arrangement of “What Child is This?,” Benjamin Britten’s arrangement of “In the Beak Midwinter,” Jeffrey Van’s arrangement of the Mexican carol “El Rorro” (The babe) and contemporary English composer Jonathan Dove’s setting of “The Three Kings” by Dorothy Sayers.

The Longmont Symphony’s annual Candlelight concert, this year titled “A Baroque Christmas,” will be presented at 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19 at the Westview Presbyterian Church in Longmont. Elliot Moore will conduct, with soprano soloist Ekaterina Kotcherguina.

Music by familiar Baroque composers will comprise the majority of the program, including Corelli’s Concerto Grosso op. 6 no. 8, known as the “Christmas Concerto” and J.S. Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto. Kotcherguina will sing arias from Handel’s Messiah, including “I know that my redeemer liveth” and “Rejoice Greatly.”

She will also sing “The Holy City,” a Victorian-era ballad that was extremely popular and widely performed around the turn of the 20th century, and that has been called “the most pirated piece prior to the internet.” Published under the name Stephen Adams, it was actually the work of English composer and singer Michael Maybrick.

According to legend, the song got a group of drunken prisoners released by a judge, it was mentioned in James Joyce’s Ulysses, and via a spiritual titled “Hosanna” its melody found its way into Duke Ellington’s Black and Tan Fantasy. It continues to be performed, often under the title “Jerusalem.”

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Longmont Symphony and Boulder Ballet
Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker

7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3
1 and 4 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 4
1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5: “Gentle Nutcracker”
4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5

Vance Brand Civic Auditorium
Tickets

CU College of Music ensembles
“Holiday Festival 2021”
Featuring College of Music faculty with student choirs, bands and orchestras

7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3
1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4
4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5

Macky Auditorium
Tickets

Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor
With the Boulder Chamber Chorale and vocal soloists
George Frideric Handel: Messiah

7:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 4, First United Methodist Church, Boulder

Tickets for in-person and live-streamed performance

Ars Nova Singers, Thomas Edward Morgan, conductor
“Made Merry”

7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10, St. Paul Community of Faith, Denver
4:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 12, United Church of Christ, Longmont
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 16, First United Methodist Church, Boulder
7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 17, First United Methodist Church, Boulder

Tickets for in-person and streamed performances.

Boulder Bach Festival, Zachary Carrettin, conductor
George Frideric Handel: Messiah

7:30 pm. Friday, Dec. 17
2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19

Broomfield Auditorium
Tickets

Longmont Symphony Orchestra, Elliot Moore, conductor
“Candlelight: A Baroque Christmas”

4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19, Westview Presbyterian Church, Longmont

Tickets

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