I've noticed a healthy trend as we approach Christmas this year . The shopping arcade in the town where I live is still, as I write, a seasonal music-free zone, unlike last year when all the cosy pap began bombarding us not long after August Bank Holiday. Pity the poor shop workers.
Our concert halls and other performing venues largely have the grace to restrain themselves to the month of December, concentrating the Christmas message much more meaningfully.
Symphony Hall can be forgiven for slipping in a Christmas celebration just a couple of days ago, having to fit into the touring schedule of the Choir of King’s College Cambridge, reviewed today on page 34. The venue gets into the swing in earnest with the traditional annual Handel’s Messiah from the City of Birmingham Choir and the CBSO, Adrian Lucas conducting (December 6, 7pm).
Devotees of the oratorio might like to make it to Birmingham Town Hall on December 10 at 7pm, when the performance is repeated, this time in such an historic venue.
Before then, though, the Town Hall hosts Ex Cathedra and the Fretwork viol consort for a programme bringing An Elizabethan Christmas, including works by William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Tallis, and director Jeffrey Skidmore will have plenty of other appropriate surprises up his sleeve (December 8, 4pm).
Looking further ahead, Ex Cathedra presents its much-loved Christmas Music by Candlelight in the atmospheric Georgian, box-pewed St Paul’s Church at the heart of the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham’s Hockley (December 18, 19, 20, 21 at 7.30pm).
Audiences are invited to bring along their own mulled wine and mince-pies for interval festivities.
Before then, audiences around the region can enjoy this traditional event: Shrewsbury’s St Chad’s Church (Tuesday); All Saints Church, Leamington Hastings (December 7); St John’s Church, Hagley (December 10), and, further afield, an intriguing presentation of the programme set in the architecturally very special surroundings of Westminster’s St John’s, Smith Square, in London (December 16).
And Ex Cathedra is indefatigable, slotting in a celebration of Santa Lucia, the Swedish celebration of light, at Birmingham Cathedral on December 9 (6pm), with a big input from Birmingham Conservatoire.
Another of our region’s major choirs, the Birmingham Bach Choir, presents Carols by Candlelight at St Francis’ Church in Bournville (December 14, 6.30pm). All proceeds are in aid of St Mary’s Hospice in Selly Oak.
The choir is again active on December 22, when they invite us to participate in a service of Nine Lessons and Carols at St Paul’s Church (4pm).
St Philip’s Cathedral in the very centre of Birmingham offers a huge programme of seasonal events throughout December, and one which looks particularly intriguing is Comedians and Carols on December 8.
This is winningly described as “a Christmas comedy show with sing-along carols, featuring Paul Kerensa, Hannah Silvester, Annette Fagon, comedy magician Mandy Muden and comedy folk band, Folk On”.
What a wonderfully joyous enterprise from a Church of England which desperately needs to engage people as far as it can reach (7pm).
Further afield, the ever-enterprising Leamington Music series promotes Gabriel’s Greetynge with Joglaresa, Celebrating Yule with voices and medieval instruments. Here your mulled wine and mince-pies are cheerfully provided (St Mary’s Church Warwick, December 10, 7.30pm).
And Leamington Music hosts a perennially welcome return of the Mellstock Band to the almost impossibly atmospheric Lord Leycester Hospital in Warwick’s High Street.
This Christmas Hearth programme brings “a seasonal mix of jovial songs, dance music and hearty carols, with readings from Hardy, Dickens, Clare, George Eliot and more”. Sounds like fun, and listen out for the totally authentic concertina (December 18, 7.30pm).
Christopher Monks’ Armonico Consort is having a busy time of it, beginning with A Venetian Christmas at Warwick’s St Mary’s Church on Tuesday (7.30pm).
After touring around the region with festive programmes, the Consort returns to St Mary’s for Carols by Candlelight (December 23, 7.30pm).
Still on the fringes of our region, Leominster’s elegant Lion Ballroom is the venue for The Musicke Companye’s (dubious ancient spellings come tumbling out of Christmas crackers at this time of the year) A Yuletide Tale, a fascinating blend of baroque music interspersed with poetry and prose readings (December 22, 3pm).
So much else is going on, but we return to Birmingham and the CBSO Centre in Berkley Street, where the fizzing little Berkley Salon Ensemble and the CBSO Youth Chorus present A Palm Court Christmas Party! (December 19, 1.10pm).
Already by this time Symphony Hall will be tumbling with seasonal events, not least the four CBSO Festive Favourites concerts, Simon Halsey conducting, Mark Williams presenting. Check out www.thsh.co.uk/classical for all of these.