Maestro Robert Shaw will unwrap the Christmas season’s first musical gift at 8 p.m. Friday when he conducts the San Diego Symphony and the San Diego Master Chorale in a concert of three different settings of the “Gloria” by Vivaldi, Beethoven and Poulenc.
But the Symphony Hall show is just one of many this season, which spans the familiar (Handel and Bach) to the not-so-familiar (a 13th-Century mystery play). Shaw, one of the country’s leading interpreters of choral music, is the symphony’s recently appointed principal guest conductor. His juxtaposition of Vivaldi’s typically Baroque cantata with Poulenc’s lush, contemporary orchestral version of the “Gloria” is typical of the conductor’s insight into the vast choral repertory. This concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. All shows are at Symphony Hall.
The majority of local Christmas programming, however, follows more familiar paths. As usual, J. S. Bach and Handel lead the list of favored composers. This year, various versions of Handel’s “Messiah” may be heard in La Jolla and North County.
On Dec 10, Martin Wright (better known as San Diego Opera’s intrepid chorus master) will conduct the musical forces of La Jolla Presbyterian Church in matching “Messiah” performances at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.
The following Sunday, Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m., Donald Barra and his San Diego Chamber Orchestra will perform a special one-hour “Messiah,” appropriately at the Church of the Nativity in Fairbanks Ranch.
For some unknown reason (divine intervention, perhaps?) the once ubiquitous “Messiah” sing-alongs have faded into apparent oblivion; none of the local organizations that have sponsored these congenial events has scheduled any sing-alongs this season.
J. S. Bach’s “Magnificat,” a traditional Christmas musical rite in German-speaking countries, will be performed by two local groups.
At 8 p.m. Saturday, the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus, under David Chase, will sing Bach’s “Magnificat” along with Respighi’s rarely heard cantata “Laud to the Nativity.” This program, at UC San Diego’s Mandeville Auditorium, will be repeated twice on Dec. 3 at 3 and 8 p.m.
Daniel Ratelle will conduct the First Unitarian Church Chorus in Bach’s “Magnificat” at 5 p.m. Dec. 10. Ratelle and company will also offer Bach’s less familiar “Missa Brevis” in G Minor on the same concert.
Among the more unusual seasonal options, a performance of the 13th-Century mystery play “Herod and the Innocents,” by the New York Ensemble for Early Music, stands out. The visiting musicians will enact this medieval musical pageant at 8 p.m. Dec. 5 in the aptly atmospheric setting of San Diego’s Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. Paul.
Another rare musical gem is Robert Elmore’s “Incarnate Word,” presented at downtown San Diego’s First Presbyterian Church. This oratorio by the late American organist and composer (First Presbyterian Church resident organist Robert Plimpton was a protege of Elmore) will be conducted by Myron Tweed at 5 p.m. Dec. 10 and at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11.
Among the carol-laden musical confections, the “Many Moods of Christmas,” arranged by Robert Shaw and Robert Russell Bennett, ranks near the top of the list.
On Dec. 3, at 5 p. m. and at 7:30 p.m., the combined Chancel Choir and Masterwork Chorale will carol sweetly under the direction of Robert Cooper at the First United Methodist Church in San Diego’s Mission Valley.
Two musical events immediately following Christmas at Hillcrest’s Words & Music book store extend the season’s festivity and look to the New Year.
On Dec. 30 at 8 p.m., the vocal ensemble Bacchanal Baroque will sing a Renaissance sampler titled “Songs of Love and of the Season.”
On New Year’s Eve at 7:30 p.m., Pacific Lyric Opera Company will present a semi-staged version of Johann Strauss’ operetta “Die Fledermaus.” Company director Anne D. Young will accompany a youthful cast, including soprano Patricia Minton Smith and tenor Steve Williams. Food will be served, and all guests can drink a champagne toast to the New Year--just as they do in the operetta.