by Tony Frankel on December 4, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


You think that deciding which Nutcracker to see this holiday season is daunting? Selecting which vocal concert to attend is an even tougher nut to crack. Whether amateur or professional, containing sacred pieces or hummable traditionals, accompanied by orchestra or just piano, the list of worthy contenders in the Los Angeles area numbers more than 30. Allow me to whittle down your choice of choral affairs by offering the Stage and Cinema editor’s pick for the top five musical happenings based on either programming, expertise, freshness, community involvement or a combination thereof. By sheer coincidence, the performance dates are such that you can catch all five of these wonderful groups.


12.18.11.Glendale, California. Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles presents Naughty & Nice at the Alex Theatre. photo credit, Ken Hively PhotographyAttending GMCLA’s Holiday Spectaculars is more like a pilgrimage for me, and is a no-brainer when choosing my wintertime concerts. This year’s musical extravaganza, Holiday Spectacular: Festival of Carols, is the coming out event of the Chorus’s 35th Season, happening on Dec. 14 & 15. Their combination of vocal prowess with a heartfelt celebration of community is simply incomparable. One moment they make the yuletide gay with a supremely silly twist on an all-too-familiar holiday favorite (replete with colorful costumes, theatrical performances and cute choreography); the next they lovingly rip your heart out of your chest with a soul-stirring rendition of a nonsecular hymn. Firsttimers will be dumbstruck by the sterling, world-class musicality of the chorus, which numbers 240 members this year.

GMCLA-Holiday-Spectacular-POSTERAdding to the excitement is the addition of a newly-installed Artistic Director, Dr. Joseph Nadeau, conducting the Chorus and their very own youth ensemble, Outside Voices, made up of L.A.-area residents aged 14-24 from the gay community. You can expect a fabulous flourish on chestnuts such as “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and “Carol of the Bells” alongside selections from Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, which is significant for the Chorus, whose original name was the “Benjamin Britten Singers.” A promised show-stopping production number will be from the musical Elf: “Sparklejollytwinklejingley.” I can barely pronounce that, let alone sing it.


lamc-home-festivalTruly one of the best choirs on earth, LAMC is offering four holiday concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Naturally, you can see their Handel’s Messiah, which is so glorious it could raise the dead. Or you can dust off your pipes and participate in the extremely popular Messiah Sing-Along (with soloists and orchestra onstage, you’re the chorus). And don’t miss Rejoice! Ceremony of Carols on Dec. 8 at 7 pm, which will offer four seasonal classics: Britten’s entire eleven-movement A Ceremony of Carols (1942), Respighi’s beautiful cantata Laud to the Nativity (1930), a pastoral work that depicts the nativity of Jesus as the shepherds might have seen it, Stephen Paulus’s jubilant Christmas Dances (2008) in four movements, and selections from Vaughan Williams’ Nine Carols for Men’s Voices (1943).

But I’ve got my sights set on a stocking stuffer of a concert: Festival of Carols, in which the 115-member chorale, led by music director Grant Gershon, will illustrate their vocal brilliance performing beloved seasonal carols and favorites on Dec. 7 and 14 at 2 pm.

jpegYes, there’s something special about the octet of carolers on Disneyland’s Main Street, but I’m in the mood to hear LAMC detonate these nuggets of Noel gold, from “Wassail Song” to “White Christmas.” They will be backed by Lisa Edwards on the piano and John West on that Disney Hall organ, powerful enough to cause an avalanche at the North Pole. Plus, LAMC’s composer-in-residence Shawn Kirchner will premiere two new arrangements: A rhythmic and vibrant version of the French carol “Pat-a-pan” for the women and the Czech “Rocking Carol” for the men. An hour before the show, take a gander at the all-out decorations in the Disney Hall lobbies, which will be filled with the sounds of the Holiday Brass Quintet. And after you hear “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” you can join St. Nick in the lobby after the show.


Photo from PASADENA SYMPHONY AND POPS by Kay E. KochenderferPasadena Symphony’s enormously popular extravaganza, Holiday Candlelight, has been a sell-out in the past, so they have added an extra performance on Dec. 14, 2013. Not only will you witness this gorgeous and intimate lollapalooza by candlelight in the architecturally exquisite and acoustically sonorous All Saint’s Church, but you get to hear two choruses: The Donald Brinegar Singers and the remarkable Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (which will be offering its own event, the highly recommended Annual Winter Concert on Dec. 7 & 8). Added to the merry mix are the LA Bronze hand bell choir and Broadway’s Lisa Vroman as soloist. Led by conductor Grant Cooper, the Pasadena Symphony’s musicians will also have the occasion to shine with superb solos.

Pasadena Symphony's HOLIDAY CANDLELIGHT CONCERT at All Saint's Church in PasadenaAnother draw of this concert is the truly eclectic offerings: You get traditional carols, masterpieces of modern choral composition, and arrangements by the inimitable Luther Henderson and Ralph Vaughan Williams and Pasadena’s own Larry Blank and Mr. Cooper. The 19 selections include John Behnke’s “Joy to the World,” Susan T. Nelson’s “Away in a Manger,” William Mathias’s “Be We Merry in This Feast,” Morten Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium,” Patrick O’Neil’s soulful “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” and “All is Well Tonight,” written by acclaimed Pasadena composer/producer Tena Clark). Prepare to have your soul revived at this Gothic Revival-style church.


ANGEL CITY CHORALE'S JOYFUL, JOYFUL HOLIDAY CONCERT - Poster LogoThe first time I discovered the vocal proficiency, crisp articulation, and warmth that is characteristic of ACC was during an avant-garde opera entitled The Woman in the Wall. I knew at once this was a special group, and I agree with music writer and producer T-Bone Burnett’s assessment that ACC is “one of the most engaging and entertaining evenings of music you can hear in Los Angeles.” Their unique blend of musical flair, unexpected humor, and contagious cordiality can be seen at this spirited choir’s 20th annual holiday concert, Joyful, Joyful, which plays at the Wilshire United Methodist Church on Dec. 7 & 8 at 7 pm.

Angel City Chorale (photo courtesy of Angel City Chorale)Under the leadership of Sue Fink (who founded ACC at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in 1993), 160 choristers will perform a unique mix of Christmas and Chanukah favorites, as well as original compositions, in the group’s eclectic combination of styles ranging from classical to pop, incorporating contemporary, world, and gospel beats. This multi-talented, multi-cultural group also gives back to the community: On Dec. 14, they will provide their yearly Tour of Hope, in which 100 singers take to the road, offering their highly professional but extremely accessible work for the elderly, homeless and others whose lives are enriched by a loving dose of holiday enthusiasm.


celebratetheseasonMMCcoverphotoAlready in their fifth season, MMC has showcased a unique style, offering a true diversity of choral music. I was impressed at two previous concerts with their artistic excellence and creativity. They continue to grow and build a following because Artistic Director Glenn Carlos, who has a keen knowledge of diverse musical genres, chooses pieces both beautiful and remarkably arranged. Celebrate the Season plays one-time only at the Hollywood United Methodist Church on Dec. 15 at 5 pm.

MMCperformancephotoThe 44-member ensemble, which includes professional singers, will be offering “S’vivon,” a traditional Chanukah song, and “Christmas Fantasy,” a medley of holiday favorites, both in a jazzy swing rendition arranged by Carlos, who also conducts. Along with sacred works, the Chorale will offer hip and upbeat sounds of the holidays. Included in the program: A jubilant Nigerian song of praise, “Ogo ni fun Oluwa (Glory to God in the Highest),” the gorgeous “Ave Maria” by Tomás Luis de Victoria, and a unique rap-tinged take on the traditional Welsh carol, “Deck the Halls.” Compared to other L.A. Chorales, MMC is still in its infancy, but you wouldn’t know it based on their wonderful sound.

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Charlie Brown photo © 1965 United Features Syndicate

Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles
Holiday Spectacular: Festival of Carols

Alex Theatre
216 N. Brand Boulevard in Glendale
Saturday, December 14, 2013, 3:00 and 8:00 pm
Sunday, December 15, 2013, 3:00 pm
for tickets, call (818) 243-2539 or visit http://gmcla.org/

Los Angeles Master Chorale
Festival of Carols
Saturday, December 7, 2013, 2:00 pm
Saturday, December 14, 2013, 2:00 pm
Rejoice! Ceremony of Carols
Sunday, December 8, 2013, 7:00 pm
Walt Disney Concert Hall
111 South Grand Avenue at First Street
for tickets, call (213) 972-7282 or visit www.lamc.org

Pasadena Symphony
Holiday Candlelight
Saturday, December 14, 2013, at 4:00 pm & 7:00 pm
All Saints Church
132 N Euclid Ave. in Pasadena
for tickets, call 626.793.7172 or visit www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

Angel City Chorale
Joyful, Joyful
Wilshire United Methodist Church
4350 Wilshire Blvd.
Saturday, December 7, 2013, 7:00 pm
Sunday, December 8, 2013, 7:00 pm
for tickets, call 310-943-9231 or visit www.angelcitychorale.org

Metropolitan Master Chorale
Celebrate the Season

Hollywood United Methodist Church
6817 Franklin Ave.
Sunday, December 15, 2013, 5:00 pm
for tickets, visit MMC at www.metrosings.org or buy at the door

Los Angeles Children’s Chorus
Annual Winter Concert

Pasadena Presbyterian Church, 585 E. Colorado Blvd.
Saturday, December 7, 2013, 7:00 pm
Sunday, December 8, 2013, 7:30 pm
for tickets, call (626) 793-4231 or visit www.lachildrenschorus.org

{ 1 comment }

Gene in L.A. December 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm

While the “Benjamin Britten” name was talked about when the Gay Men’s Chorus was forming, they wrote to Sir Peter Pears and he declined their request. It was never the official name of the group.

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