Sing Along Messiah, TafelmusikFor a classical work that features in only 19 of the 123 concerts in this issue’s listings that involve a choir (or choirs), Handel’s Messiah still commands a lot of Christmas concert attention. (I think the rule is I am allowed to say “Christmas” if I use “Messiah” in the same sentence.)

Continuity: One part of its enduring appeal around here has to do with the major ensembles who have been offering it up every year, religiously you might say, for decades, in multiple performances. Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Choir are staging three regular performances, December 14, 15, and 16, with their chart-topping (and sometimes heart-stopping) Sing-along Messiah the following evening, with Tafelmusik Chamber Choir’s Ivars Taurins in his perennial role as Herr Handel calling the orchestral shots. 

Not to be outdone, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra weighs in from Dec 17 to Dec 23, with five performances over a six day span, accompanied by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir – a reversal of the original relationship between the TSO and TMChoir. Arguably the TSO would not exist were it not for the fact that the TMChoir, founded 30 years before the current iteration of the TSO, needed a reliable house band for the grand performances of the great oratorios that the newly opened Massey Hall, Toronto’s rival to Carnegie, lent itself too. 

(A brief aside: the phenomenon of the choir as chicken, with the symphony orchestra as egg, had another profoundly important, and sorely missed, incarnation in this part of the world: the oratorio-driven needs of Kitchener-Waterloo’s Grand Philharmonic Choir led directly to the formation of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, and the symbiosis between the two led in turn to the building of Kitchener’s Centre in the Square – one of the region’s best big concert halls.)

Change: another of the Messiah’s enduring fascination has to do with the extent to which the more the work stays the same, the more it is capable of change. At the level of the big symphonic-scale productions, a lot of the buzz, and the one-upmanship, revolves around who is conducting the work in any given year. But, even more so, around who the four soloists in a given year are going to be. “Did you see KW-S has Ben and Suzie and Daniel and Teddy this year?!” That kind of thing.

At a less frivolous level, though, part of the work’s enduring appeal has to do not with changes of artistic personnel but with the capacity of the work itself to morph and change. It somehow renders itself performable on every imaginable scale, adjustable to a whole spectrum of motivations for presenting it, from high art to the visceral need of communities, including communities of faith, to come together and immerse in joyful noise during the winter’s darkest days. 

The brief list of what’s on offer this year gives a taste of this diversity, but before getting there, one last thought. Handel, unlike Bach, was a musical entrepreneur, with showmanship built into him the way a shark has cartilage instead of bone. Very early audiences in England actually never forgave him for making a public spectacle of what, in all decency, should have been private devotion. But thinking of his Messiah as purely theatrical misses the point. Harpsichordist/conductor Trevor Pinnock tells the story of an English aristocrat in attendance at a performance complimenting Handel on the “entertainment.” “I should be sorry if I only entertained them,” Handel replied.

David Perlman can be reached at

Nineteen Messiahs

(See the listings for details)

Dec 02 | 1:30 and 4:00pm: Pax Christi Chorale. Children’s Messiah. A 60-minute, family friendly, casual concert. Pax Christi Chorale; Pax Christi Chorale Soloists; Student Orchestra; Elaine Choi, conductor. Pay what you can. 

Dec 03 | 3:30: The Edison Singers. Abridged performance. 90 mins. Soloists & full orchestra; The Edison Singers; Noel Edison, conductor. $50; $30(st/18 and under).

Dec 08 | 7:30: Elmer Iseler Singers. Messiah by G. F. Handel. Elmer Iseler Singers; VIVA Chamber Singers; Amadeus Choir of Greater Toronto; Linda Tsatsanis, soprano; Hillary Tufford, mezzo; Michael Colvin, tenor; Jorell Williams, baritone; $55; $50(sr); $35(under 30).

Dec 09 | 7:30: Kingston Choral Society. Sing Along Messiah. Sit among the KCS choristers by section, or with friends and family. Bring your score and join in the fun, or just come & enjoy the wonderful music. Brian Jackson, guest conductor. $30(adults/sr); $20(st); Free(16 and under).

Dec 14, 15, 16 | 7:30: Tafelmusik. Handel: Messiah. Rachel Redmond, soprano; Cameron Shahbazi, countertenor; James Reese; tenor; Enrico Lagasca, bass-baritone; Tafelmusik Chamber Choir; Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra; Ivars Taurins, director. From $50.

Dec 15 | 7:30: St. James Cathedral. Messiah by G. F. Handel. St. James Cathedral Choir; Chapel Choir of Trinity College, U of T, orchestra and soloists. During the performance artists from OCAD will paint canvases based upon the themes of the libretto. $25

Dec 16 | 7:30, Dec 17 | 3:00: Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. Handel’s Messiah. Bach Elgar Choir. $20-$45. 

Dec 17 | 2:00: Tafelmusik. Sing-Along Messiah. From $59. General admission. Seating by vocal section.

Dec 17 | 3:00, Dec 18, 19, 20, 21, 23 | 8:00: Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Messiah. Lauren Snouffer, soprano; Krisztina Szabó, mezzo; Colin Ainsworth, tenor; Joshua Hopkins, baritone; Toronto Mendelssohn Choir; Dame Jane Glover, conductor. From $41. 

Dec 18 | 7:00: Peterborough Singers. Handel’s Messiah. Lesley Bouza, soprano; Lillian Brooks, mezzo; Joshua Wales, tenor; Graham Roginson, bass; Ian Sadler, organ; Paul Otway, trumpet; Douglas Sutherland, trumpet. $40; $10(st).

Dec 22 | 7:30: Guelph Chamber Choir. Handel’s Messiah. Ineza Mugisha, soprano; Jennifer Enns Modolo, alto; Owen McCausland, tenor, Stephen Hegedus, bass; with period instruments. $45; $40(sr); $10(ages 16-30); $5(ages 15 and under).


There is almost NO date between Dec 1-23 when you will not find a seasonal choral concert in our listings. And some days when you will find ten or more. So below, we’ve included a few that are after January 1, to whet your appetite and get you browsing. But for January be sure to keep checking our updated listings online.

Jan 14 | Vesnivka Choir. Ukrainian Christmas Concert. Vesnivka Choir; Toronto Ukrainian Male Chamber Choir. The concert will include traditional and contemporary Ukrainian Christmas Carols (Kolyadky) and New Year songs (Shchedrivky). Joined by guest artists Zoloti Struny - a vocal ensemble of young musicians who play the bandura. This is Ukraine’s national instrument—a plucked-string instrument that combines elements of the zither and the lute. (Toronto)

Jan 20 | SoundCrowd. Billy Joel vs Elton John. Arrangements of songs by “The Piano Man” and “The Rocket Man”, performed by this large-scale (up to 80 singers) a cappella vocal ensemble, go head-to-head. And the audience gets to decide the winner! (Toronto)

Jan 26 | VIVA Singers, Flying Machine. Sounds intriguing, yes? This is a performance by their SATB Chamber Singers. (Toronto)

Feb 03 | Soundstreams. Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir returns to Soundstreams for the sixth time. Led by its founder Tõnu Kaljuste, the EPCC is in the top rank of the world’s greatest vocal ensembles, famous as the foremost interpreters of music by their beloved countryman Arvo Pärt. Works by Pärt, Palestrina and the world premiere of Omar Daniel’s Antarktos Monodies. (Toronto)

Feb 07 | Royal Conservatory of Music, Vocal Concerts Series. Los Angeles Master Chorale, staged by Peter Sellars. Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien (Music to Accompany a Departure) was composed during the terrible ravages of the 30 Years War, and it was dedicated to the memory of one of his dearest friends. The music speaks with both quiet emotion and enormous depth of feeling. (Toronto)

Compiled by WholeNote Staff

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