Classical music takes off during the holidays



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If you’ve had enough of the endless canned arrangements of Christmas carols and seasonal songs blaring out of metallic-sounding mall speakers, but still love music, don’t despair.


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While some of Edmonton’s classical music organizations and choirs won’t emerge from their pandemic hibernation until the New Year, there is more than enough live gigs to bring the season back to life and some joy. in musical creation.

Rooted in tradition

The month of December kicks off with a long tradition of Handel’s much-loved oratorio, The Messiah at Winspear.

The Richard Eaton Singers and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra will be joined by an excellent trio of soloists from Alberta who have performed regularly with the choir. Two of them are voice teachers, soprano Sherry Steele currently teaches voice at the University of Alberta and Calgary bass Paul Grindlay teaches at the Mount Royal Conservatory. Internationally renowned third tenor John Tessier needs little introduction and has recently returned from performing in Milan’s famous La Scala opera house. Leonard Ratzlaff, Music Director of the Richard Eaton Singers, is leading the performances this weekend, December 3 and 4 at 7:30 p.m.


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Leonard Ratzlaff will conduct the Richard Eaton Singers and Handel's Messiah of the Edmonton Symphony <a class=Orchestra this weekend.” class=”embedded-image__image lazyload” src=”″ srcset=”, 2x” height=”750″ loading=”lazy” width=”1000″/>
Leonard Ratzlaff will conduct the Richard Eaton Singers and Handel’s Messiah of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra this weekend. Photo by provided /Postmedia

Earlier in the afternoon of Friday, you can sing Christmas carols yourself at Winspear during the 20th Christmas Carol Sing-Along. The event is scheduled for 12 p.m. and admission is by donation.

Modern Favorites

ESO itself organizes a variety of Christmas concerts. Conductor Alexander Prior is used to presenting more serious traditional music, but this year he is conducting the Christmas “pops” concert, called Holiday Magic, which runs from December 18 to 22.

“It’s a new kind of thing for me to do,” says the UK-born prior. “It’s going to be fun embracing the North American style of Christmas music. I can’t wait to be there, and the blackmail aspect. I hope a lot of children will come – it will be full of Christmas magic.


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The concert features classic American songs such as Frosty the Snowman and holiday movie hits from Frozen to How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and some of Prior’s favorites, “Little Drummer Boy and the Music of Home Alone!”

An older ESO concert, A Traditional Christmas, will feature in its program a range of songs familiar to Bach, Corelli and extracts from The Nutcracker, conducted by assistant conductor Cosette Justo Valdés on December 17, 18 and 23. It’s something of a new experience for her too, as those traditional Christmas carols weren’t heard in Cuba where she grew up.

ESO continues to probe the seasonal spirit with another Winspear concert series titled Hollywood for the Holidays. Samples of Star Wars, The Sound of Music, Beauty and the Beast and The Nightmare Before Christmas will be part of the program. Lucas Waldin, a regular ESO guest in this genre of music, conducts all four performances from December 28 to 30.


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Choir songs

Cantilon Choirs returns to Winspear on December 12 at 2:30 p.m. with six separate choirs, four composed of singers aged four to 19 and two groups of adults. They will present their traditional Ceremony of Carols concert in their first post-COVID live performance.

Another choral organization with performers of all ages is Kokopelli Choirs. There are seven ensembles, for a total of almost 400 singers, and they return for a traditional and large-scale annual winter celebration concert. There will be two performances at McDougall United Church on December 21 at 2 pm and 7:30 pm Music will include the Christmas arrangement in the trenches by Allison Girvan, Norwegian Christmas carols and music by Mozart . The concerts will conclude with the premiere of a Laura Hawley arrangement of The First Snow of the Year by Canadian singer-songwriter Hawksley Workman.


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Further on, the Strathcona String Quartet is the special guest on the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta for the Augustana Choir Christmas concert, entitled Language of the Stars. It includes music by Mendelssohn and Mozart and Christmas classics performed at the Faith & Life Chapel on Augustana Campusin Camrose this Saturday, December 4 at 7:30 p.m. The concert will also be broadcast live on Youtube .

Unusual offers

Two other events have become seasonal traditions and may appeal to those looking for something a little different.

The Alberta Baroque Ensemble presents its Music concert for a festive season on December 12. There are three works: In Dulci Jubilo by the 17th century Danish composer Dieterich Buxtehude, the famous Christmas Concerto by Corelli and the Magnificat by the lesser known Francesco Durante, an 18th century Neapolitan composer.


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The ensemble will be joined by soprano Aemilia Moser and the Scona Chamber Singers, and will be conducted by John Brough.

David Lang’s original production of Little Match Girl by Pro Coro was so successful that it has become an annual event for the Edmonton Professional Choir. It is a choral work – the singers also playing percussion – based on the famous story of Hans Christian Andersen, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2008.

Pro Coro will perform the Pulitzer Prize winning production of Hans Christian Andersen's Little Match Girl on December 19.
Pro Coro will perform the Pulitzer Prize winning production of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Match Girl on December 19. Photo by provided /Postmedia

This year’s show will take place at All Saints Anglican Cathedral at 7:30 p.m. on December 19.

Finally, New Years wouldn’t be the same without Viennese music, and Winspear has its own Viennese New Years concert on January 2 at 2:30 p.m., presented by Attila Glatz Concert Productions. Entitled Salute to Vienna, it features dancers in period costumes and ESO playing familiar tunes, including, of course, the Blue Danube Waltz.

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