Christopher Morley previews some Christmas musical highlights.
There’s an overflowing brantub of festive musical goodies bursting out all over Birmingham and beyond over the Christmas season.
Symphony Hall is obviously chock-full of Christmas events, with tomorrow (December 17) bringing the opening of the annual fortnight-long beanfeast presented by Raymond Gubbay’s excellent and efficient agency.
This is “Carols by Candlelight” (more of those later), with the Mozart Festival Orchestra in full period costume (it was wonderful to see them a few years ago, all on their mobile phones, outside the stage door in the ICC Mall) and the Mozart Festival Chorus.
Saturday (December 18) sees the first of a positive marathon of CBSO Festive Favourites, with two concerts now, and continuing on Tuesday and Wednesday (December 21 and 22). Simon Halsey conducts the orchestra and its choruses, and the television venturer and superhuman rower Ben Fogle presents.
New Zealand soprano Hayley Westenra brings Christmas Wishes to Symphony Hall on Sunday (December 19) evening, along with her own band and the Raven String Quartet. Local interest is added with the appearance of the Edgbaston High School for Girls Junior Choir and special guest artist Rhydian Roberts, the Birmingham Conservatoire graduate who achieved such enormous acclaim on The X Factor a few years ago.
Across at Birmingham Town Hall on Monday (December 20) the Canoldir Male Choir is joined by the Langley Brass Band and soprano Elizabeth Donovan for “Christmas Variations”, then back at Symphony Hall next Thursday the London Concert Orchestra kicks into its marathon stint here with Christmas Carol Singalong, Sophie-Louise Dann the special guest singer.
To return to Symphony Hall for the duration, the acclaimed choral conductor David Hill conducts the LCO, the Birmingham Choral Union and the Lichfield Cathedral Girls Choir for “Christmas Eve Classics” on the afternoon of that special day, and the LCO rapidly returns to action on December 27 with Last Night of the Christmas Proms. Stephen Bell conducts, joined by soprano Camilla Roberts and tenor James Edwards.
On the afternoon of Tuesday December 28 the bewigged Mozart Festival Orchestra returns for The Four Seasons by Candlelight, well-loved works by Handel, Albinoni, Stanley, Pachelbel, Clarke and Bach preceding the eponymous Vivaldi climax. The same evening, the London Concert Orchestra gives us John Williams – the Greatest Movie Music, with the popular radio personality Paul Gambaccini as presenter.
The LCO returns on Thursday December 29 for The Sound of Musicals, with Jessie Buckley the special guest, but things turn a whole lot more serious on Thursday December 30, when the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra takes the stage for an all-Beethoven programme.
Leeds International Piano Competition 2009 first-prizewinner Sofya Gulyak is the soloist in Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, and the City of Birmingham Choir joins the solo vocal quartet for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the Choral. Christopher Warren-Green, once a charismatic concertmaster for various illustrious orchestras, conducts.
January 31 brings a New Year’s Eve Gala to Symphony Hall, with afternoon and late evening performances from the London Concert Orchestra conducted by Anthony Inglis. And New Year’s Day itself sees the Johann Strauss Orchestra and Dancers, plus soprano Amy Freston, presenting a Johann Strauss Gala (3pm), with David Juritz directing from the violin in the traditional Viennese manner.
The same evening, the London Concert Orchestra and Chorus are conducted by Richard Balcombe in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. A starry cast is headed by Alistair McGowan as the Mikado himself.
And the season of goodwill draws to a close on Friday January 7 with two Viennese New Year concerts (why is it that New Year seems to be the property of the Scots and the Viennese?) from the CBSO, with violin soloist Chloe Hanslip. Roberto Minczuk conducts.
But the Christmas theme lingers on a little while longer, with a visit from the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre presenting Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker on Saturday January 8, and two performances on Sunday January 9. The sensational ballerina Irina Koleniskova stars (all Symphony Hall and Town Hall details on 0121 780 3333).
St Paul’s Church at the heart of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter is the venue for the most traditional of Christmas fare, including the Birmingham Bach Choir offering a Service of Nine Lessons and Carols at 4pm on Sunday (December 19) (details on 0844 8884415). One day earlier, however, Saturday night (December 18) sees the first of a four-night run of Ex Cathedra’s ever-popular sequence of Christmas Music by Candlelight, with repeat performances on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Bring your own mince pies and mulled wine to enjoy in the cosy box-pews (0121 780 3333).
Tuesday (December 21) sees the CBSO Centre in Berkley Street in festive mood when the Berkley Salon Ensemble invites you to A Palm Court Christmas Party, complete with the CBSO Youth Orchestra (1.10pm, 0121 767 4050). The same evening, the English String Orchestra presents a Christmas Concert at the comfortable and accommodating Number 8 arts centre in Pershore High Street (7.30pm, 01386 555488).
And finally, the ESO Wish You A Merry Christmas, joined by the St Michael’s Singers from Coventry, at the Artrix in Bromsgrove (lots of safe, well-lit free parking) on Wednesday (December 22, 7.30pm)