We are only a week into December but already a week into the annual feast of classical holiday programming. Last weekend alone, a handful of noteworthy concerts were scheduled to take place, including the 34th annual Tuba Christmas as well as programs by the University of Victoria's Philomela Women's Choir, the Victoria Children's Choir, the Linden Singers and the Sooke Philharmonic's orchestra and choir (an early entry among local ensembles this year in the annual December Messiah-off).
The highest-profile concerts this weekend will be the three presentations of A Sentimental Christmas (see full story below), the annual Christmas program in the Victoria Symphony's pops series, conducted this year by its music director, Tania Miller, and featuring the Victoria Children's Choir (Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; Royal Theatre; $35-$80).
Also on Saturday evening, at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oak Bay, the DieMahler String Quartet, formed in 2010 by violinist Pablo Diemecke, will serve as the core of a choral-and-instrumental program of seasonal favourites, joined by St. Mary's own choir plus guest vocal, organ and trumpet soloists (7 p.m.; $25/$22.50). The program will include, besides a few non-classical items, works by Bach, Handel, Mozart and Tchaikovsky, as well as Charpentier's Messe de minuet pour NoÃ«l - a late-17th-century French-Baroque gem that, by coincidence, the Victoria Children's Choir performed in its own concert on Monday.
On Saturday afternoon, the chamber choir Vox Humana will offer the first of its two holiday programs, In the Bleak Midwinter, joined by baritone Nathan McDonald and organist David Stratkauskas (3 p.m., Church of St. John the Divine; $20/$15, 25 and under free). The title is taken from some famous words of the Victorian English poet Christina Rossetti: "In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan/Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone." (Those of you who need hip waders these days just to walk out into the back yard might wish to pause here to reflect longingly on that remark about the Earth standing hard as iron.)
Vox's concert will open with an English setting of Rossetti's poem, part of a program that favours English composers but, typically for this ensemble, explores music from many countries - Canada, the United States, Wales, Sweden, Poland, Latvia. Alongside arrangements of traditional carols and works by some big names in modern music (Britten, Willan, Rut-ter, Tavener) will be more obscure fare of the sort that Vox enjoys programming, including music by living composers like Jan SandstrÃ¶m, Rihards Durba and Pawel Lukaszewski (a "big name" if measured by the ruler, at least).
The other Vox holiday program will be its annual presentation of A Child's Christmas in Wales, which in past years has fallen on Christmas Eve but will be offered a little earlier this year, and repeated (Dec. 22, 3 p.m., St. Mary's Anglican Church, Saanichton, $20/$15, 25 and under free; Dec. 23, 3 p.m., Alix Goolden Hall, by donation). The Dec. 22 performance will mark the second of three performances Vox is giving this season in a pleasant church setting in Saanichton, part of its long-range plan to introduce itself to various neighbourhoods in the Greater Victoria area.
As in the past, Dylan Thomas's beloved story will be read by the Welsh-born Melville Jones, interspersed with carols, some of them arranged (as part of a continuing, multi-year commission from Vox) by the Welsh-Canadian composer John Metcalf.
Vox's conductor, Brian Wismath, was recently also named music director of the Victoria Choral Society, whose 78th season began last month when it joined the Victoria Symphony to perform Mozart's Requiem under Miller's baton. Wismath is now preparing the choir for another collaboration with the Victoria Symphony, in its annual pair of performances of Handel's Messiah, this year under guest conductor Michelle Mourre, who was formerly resident conductor of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the Brandon Chamber Players (Dec. 14, 8 p.m.; Dec. 16, 2: 30 p.m.; Farquhar Auditorium, University of Victoria; $35-$55).
For more details about the concerts, go to victoriasymphony.ca, diemahlerenterprises.com
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