’TIS THE SEASON, they say, to be jolly. And, as the multitude of listings in this double issue of The WholeNote collectively make apparent, there are many musical ways to be jolly in December and January.

There’s the traditional choral approach, as choirs in and around Toronto present their annual Christmas concerts. Once again, the hills will ring with the glories of Handel’s Messiah – big performances, small performances, and of course the sing-along variety. (For a list of Messiah concerts in December, see blog entry entitled “The Trumpet Shall Sound,” on our website, www.thewholenote.com.)

But Handel’s perennial favourite is just the tip of the vocal iceberg. In December’s listings you’ll find everything from period performances of masterpieces by Monteverdi, Gabrieli and Praetorius to Broadway showtunes. And at what other time of the year would you get to join in singing with tenor Richard Margison and soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian? (December 18, Yorkminster Park Baptist Church.)

Some choirs are looking beyond the expected Christmas repertoire. This year, the Nathaniel Dett Chorale’s Indigo Christmas celebrates Kwanzaa on December 15; and several choirs will be singing Chanukah music.

Instrumental ensembles aren’t about to take a back seat to singers, and many orchestras have big concerts planned. Selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker – the orchestral “equivalent” of Messiah, in terms of popularity – aren’t hard to find. But there’s much more out there than dancing Sugarplum Fairies: look for a diverse array of seasonally themed concerts from just about every orchestra in Southern Ontario.

Jazz musicians also want to get in on the act, and have found ways of making the holiday season their own. Jim Galloway, one of our regular jazz writers, points to some Yuletide performances in his column.

There’s never quite been an operatic equivalent of Messiah or The Nutcracker: a work that’s so durable it can be reliably trucked out every Christmas. Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors perhaps comes closest to this mark – you can hear it on December 4 at the Church of St. Timothy. For those looking for a holiday family show, there’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas at the Sony Centre, from December 17 to January 2. And of course New Year’s Day has its “official” operetta: Die Fledermaus will be staged by Toronto Operetta Theatre from December 28 to January 7.

This brings us to the new year. After a brief lull, Toronto’s musical life springs back to life in January. As usual, the TSO can be relied upon to warm up the month with a series of Mozart concerts from the 19th to the 30th. And at the end of the month, the Canadian Opera Company welcomes audiences to the Four Seasons Centre with Mozart’s Magic Flute. January is also the month for the University of Toronto’s annual New Music Festival (beginning on the 23rd) – which, as our contemporary-music columnist Jason Van Eyk points out, is becoming an increasingly prominent event in the city’s musical calendar.

Just as December will ring out 2010 in fine style, January looks like the beginning of a very musical 2011.

—Colin Eatock, managing editor

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