It's easy to make a choral Christmas concert emotionally satisfying; carols alone will take care of that. A Christmas program that is also artistically satisfying, however, is a reindeer of another color.
That is the challenge before the Pacific Chorale and the William Hall Master Chorale, both of which have concerts coming up at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
"One of the wonderful things about Christmas is that it's probably the hardest program to put together in any season," William Hall said in an assessment that might give Yogi Berra pause. (Hall's chorale performs Monday.)
"It's very difficult to find things that really work in a programmatic sense and make sense musically besides. You're trying to serve an awful lot of masters. . . . There are kids. There are people who come just to hear 'Drummer Boy' or the 'Hallelujah Chorus.' There is the chorale itself. The last thing is whether I'm pleased."
When you're serving many masters, a mass or a cantata or two won't do. Both groups have programmed roughly two dozen works for their holiday shows.
And not to worry, carols are included. Both ensembles will be joined by a children's chorus and brass ensemble, and interestingly enough, both conductors cited 20th century works as the concert highlights.
On Hall's "Chant Noel" are Ron Colvard's new Fanfare for Christmas, Rachmaninoff's "Rejoice! O Virgin" from Vespers No. 6, Randol Bass' Gloria and Daniel Pinkham's Christmas Cantata.
On Dec. 17, when John Alexander conducts the Pacific Chorale, the holiday celebration will include the Gloria in Excelsis Deo from Pinkham's cantata; Arvo Part's Magnificat; John Paynter's "The Rose," and Morten Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium.
"Paynter's 'The Rose' is one of the most interesting small pieces I've done in a decade," Alexander said. "It describes through choral sound the opening of a rose. That was written 10 years ago, the Part six years ago, the Lauridsen last year."
In planning the season from fall through spring, Alexander said, "the principle is one concert for the audience, one for the singers, one for the conductor. At Christmas, it's [one concert] for all of them.
"We program first for the audience, second for the singers--something different, something fun--and third for the conductor, the new works that satisfy my soul for the season."
The Pacific Chorale concert has gone through substantial changes since it was first announced.
On paper, the original agenda appeared to be an extraordinarily elegant piece of programming. Three settings of the magnificat from different periods and styles, and three settings of O Magnum Mysterium. The reason for the revision was simple: length.
"I'd programmed two hours and 50 minutes of music," Alexander said.
Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium, premiered last year by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, is included on a compact disc featuring American composers that the Pacific Chorale plans to release in June. Alexander had advertised his upcoming performance of the work as the Orange County premiere, but Hall conducted the piece at two wassail performances at Chapman University last week.
For Hall, it's a busy holiday season: Tonight, his group appears at The Pond. ("I just found out I'm narrating the Boston Pops concert because they couldn't get Mickey Mouse," he said last week). Monday is the Costa Mesa concert, and Friday is a program at the Los Angeles Music Center with the Glendale Symphony.
"All five concerts are different programs," Hall said. "It makes for some very interesting rehearsals."
The tremendous stylistic diversity one encounters at these concerts is reconciled by the subject matter--"a holiday of extraordinary joy," Alexander said.
"The first element is the seasonal element rather than the musical element," he said.
" 'Deck the Halls' is the historical, or traditional, aspect," Alexander said. "If you do 'Deck the Halls' with 'Twelve Days of Christmas,' then you have something not worth going to the Performing Arts Center to hear. If you program it with Part and Lauridsen, now there's a good reason to go to the Performing Arts Center.
"There is no way at any other time of the year you would hear 'Deck the Halls' next to Arvo Part," he said. "At the Christmas season, it is absolutely right."
* What: The William Hall Master Chorale, Master Chorale Children's Chorus and brass ensemble present "Chant Noel"; the Pacific Chorale, Pacific Chorale Children's Chorus and the brass of the Pacific Symphony present a holiday celebration.
* When: Master Chorale performs Monday at 7:30 p.m.; Pacific Chorale performs Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m.
* Where: Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
* Whereabouts: San Diego (405) Freeway to Bristol Avenue exit north. Turn right from Bristol onto Town Center Drive.
* Wherewithal: Master Chorale concert: $15-$40. Pacific Chorale concert: $20-$48.
* Where to call: For tickets to either concert, call Ticketmaster, (714) 740-2000.
MUSIC LISTINGS, Page 15