Sound the trumpets and ring the bells. It’s time again to celebrate the holidays with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Center Presents.
The sister organizations offer an array of musical ways to mark this special time of the year, ranging from Handel’s timeless masterpiece, Messiah, to the orchestra’s heartwarming revue, Merry, Merry Chicago! Along with the Vienna Boys Choir and Chanticleer, two famed choral ensembles making repeat appearances, Symphony Center will welcome guest soloists such as vocalist Storm Large and soprano Amanda Forsythe.
And they might have little directly to do with the yuletide, but what better way to enjoy time with family than screenings of two contemporary cinematic classics with live performances of their familiar scores by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Given this special treatment will be “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”
Here is an overview of the full line-up, which begins Thanksgiving weekend and runs through Dec. 23:
Nov. 23-25, “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” in Concert, conductor Richard Kaufman, and Dec. 7-9, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” conductor Justin Freer, CSO at the Movies and CSO Special Concerts.
What do these two beloved contemporary films have in common? Their unforgettable scores were both created by John Williams, arguably the greatest film composer of our time. “John is a composer who is not only an extraordinary writer of music and theme, but he is also an amazing dramatist,” said conductor Richard Kaufman. “So that when he looks at a film, it’s not only his ability to write the music, but it’s also his ability to understand dramatically what the music does for a film.” During these concerts, audiences will have the rare opportunity to watch these movies on a big screen at the same as they hear the film scores performed live by the Chicago Symphony.
Nov. 24, Christmas in Vienna, Vienna Boys Choir, SCP Special Concert.
The Vienna Boys Choir is arguably the best known and most beloved such ensemble in the world. Although boys were singing in Vienna’s Imperial Court a few centuries earlier, the choir was formally established by royal decree in 1498. The group was re-established in the 1920s as a private organization, and its ever-changing roster of members have embarked on more than 1,000 tours since. Today’s choristers, who range in age from 9 to 14, are divided into four choirs, which take turns performing worldwide. The one set to visit Chicago will present a holiday-focused program ranging from classical selections by Felix Mendelssohn and Camille Saint-Saëns to lighter fare such as “Jingle Bell Rock.”
Dec. 4-5, Chanticleer in A Chanticleer Christmas, Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut, SCP Special Concert.
Chanticleer, the acclaimed male a cappella ensemble based in San Francisco, returns to the Symphony Center Presents series for its 18th consecutive year. “We look forward to the annual Chicago visit with much happiness,” said music director William Fred Scott. “We feel that we have made great friends in Chicago over the years.” Although A Chanticleer Christmas follows a similar format from year to year — candle-lit Gregorian chant and Renaissance music, followed by Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria (1964), international offerings and familiar American carols — the program is never the same. This year’s program will feature Peter Bloesch’s “Behold, a Simple, Tender Babe,” which Chanticleer is premiering as part of this tour.
Dec. 14-16 and 21-23, Merry, Merry Chicago!, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Young Naperville Singers, vocalist Storm Large, narrator David Lively and conductor Michael Krajewski, CSO Special Concerts.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra sets aside some of its usual formality and celebrates the season with these warm, family-friendly concerts. Taking part this year will be vocalist Storm Large, whose multifaceted career includes regular appearances with the pop group Pink Martini, which mixes pop, jazz, classical and world music. She will be heard in such favorites as “The Christmas Song” and “O, Come All Ye Faithful,” as well as two of her own tunes, “Hotel Christmas” and “Stand Up for Me.” Also featured on the program will be the Young Naperville Singers, and don’t be surprised if a big, red-suited fellow with a white beard makes an appearance.
Dec. 19, CSO Brass, SCP Special Concert.
The Chicago Symphony’s powerhouse brass section, which has an international reputation of its own, will be front and center in this annual showcase. The full program has not yet been announced, but it will include selections by Gustav Holst and Astor Piazzolla, as well as a suite from The Nutcracker.
Dec. 20-23, Messiah, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conductor Matthew Halls, soprano Amanda Forsythe, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, tenor Nicholas Phan and baritone Joshua Hopkins, CSO Main Series/CSO Special Concert.
Along with Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Handel’s famed oratorio has become a beloved holiday staple. Matthew Halls will make his CSO guest conducting debut during the ensemble’s performances of this masterwork. A former artistic director of the Oregon Bach Festival, Halls has led such major American ensembles as the Cleveland and Philadelphia orchestras. Halls typically conducts two weeks of Messiah performances each year, and this December, he will be conducting the work with the St. Louis Symphony before coming to Chicago. “I adore the piece and never tire of performing it,” he said. “Yes, it does come around every year, and it wouldn’t be quite the same without it.”
He suspects the version heard in St. Louis will sound a bit different than the one in Chicago. “One of the nice things about that piece, Hall said, “is that you can constantly rethink it and explore things you’ve not looked at before.”
Complete holiday programming information is available at cso.org/holidays.