For the week of December 3-9…
Canadian Brass Christmas, December 4, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)
For the first time ever, the world’s most famous brass ensemble performs their Christmas show with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. The Brass (featuring original member-and Wisconsin native-tubist Chuck Dallenbach) have released a number of Christmas albums over the years, and you can bet several of those songs will be performed. In addition, the quintet just released Christmas Time Is Here, which features their takes on Vince Guaraldi’s classic jazz themes for A Charlie Brown Christmas. Combine these virtuosos with the forces of the MSO, led by their dynamic young Associate Conductor Francesco Lecce Chong, and you’ve got a sweet holiday treat!
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, now through December 29, Todd Wehr Theater, 929 N Water St (firststage.org)
The Milwaukee Rep is now into its 38th production of A Christmas Carol, but just up Water Street there’s another Scrooge-like tale that’s into its eighth production…Yes, I’m talking about First Stage’s just-opened production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, a contemporary take on Dickens’ story about a group of people, old and young, who become infused with the Christmas spirit. As is the case with most First Stage productions, this is a story that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages. And as usual with First Stage, the cast is filled with very talented young actors (including Mallorey Wallace, previously featured as Scout in the Rep’s To Kill a Mockingbird and the title character in First Stage’s Pinkalicious!) along with Milwaukee favorites including Niffer Clarke and Libby Amato. It’s a true family treat for the holidays!
Christmas Choral Concert, December 5-8, Schwan Concert Hall, 8815 W Wisconsin Ave (wlc.edu/arts)
Wisconsin Lutheran College’s annual Christmas Choral Concerts have become so popular that the annual number of performances has grown from three to four, and the house is packed for each one…and for good reason. These programs emphasize the sacred aspects of the holiday, and the music featured ranges from classical (think Mozart) to traditional hymns in dazzling arrangements (Their take on “Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming” is one of the most spine-tingling choral performances I’ve ever heard) to American folk and gospel (Nothing like a rousing rendition of “Go Tell It on the Mountain”), all performed with equal aplomb by these talented young vocalists, backed by a chamber orchestra. Professor James Nowack always has some surprises up his sleeve for the program each year, but the focus always remains the same; in other words, no “Holly Jolly Christmas” or “Frosty the Snowman” here, but a program of great and inspiring music for the season, performed in the acoustically magnificent Schwan Hall. And here’s a tip: The ticket prices make these concerts one of the best deals of the holiday season!
Festive Soiree, December 5, 6, 14, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org)
Yet another Milwaukee holiday music tradition arrives this weekend when Milwaukee’s favorite chanteuse, Robin Pluer, brings the summery sounds of her annual Bastille Days performances indoors for three shows in the intimate Bader Recital Hall at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. Not so much a Christmas show (though her rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is always a show-stopper), but a celebration featuring many of the French chansons that have made Robin such an enduring favorite on the Milwaukee scene. And she’s rounded up the usual suspects to back her for these shows: Kim and Connie of Mrs Fun, Chicago sax gal Juli Wood, guitarist Peter Roller and bayan (accordion) artist extraordinaire Stas Venglevski. By the time the show ends with her rousing take on Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love,” you’ll find yourself singing and dancing along with the band!
Holiday Pops Spectacular, December 6-8, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)
Yet another Milwaukee holiday music tradition is on tap this weekend, namely the Milwaukee Symphony Pops’ Christmas show. Former MSO Associate Conductor Stuart Chafetz leads (literally) a cast of thousands: the MSO, guest vocalist Mike Eldred, the magnificent Milwaukee Symphony Chorus, the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, the Milwaukee Youth Chorale…AND the Milwaukee Handbell Ensemble (led by Concordia University-Wisconsin Music Professor John Behnke)! I’d show up to see if there’s actually enough room on the Uihlein Hall stage for all these performers! The program features a fun mix of classical and pop Christmas music standards, and I’m willing to bet it all winds up with Handel’s glorious “Hallelujah Chorus,” a tradition started by Pops Conductor Emeritus Doc Severinsen during his many Holiday Pops performances with the MSO!
Prometheus Trio, December 9-10, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org)
Yes, it’s a busy time for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, but there’s time for the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s resident piano trio (featuring MSO violinist Tim Klabunde and cellist Scott Tisdel, along with WCM faculty pianist Stefanie Jacob) to perform their second program of the season at the Bader Recital Hall. The stellar program features music of Beethoven, Brahms, Martinu and David Amram. And as a special treat, the Trio will be joined by guest musician, MSO principal horn Matt Annin. Great chamber music, played by a great ensemble in a great venue: It’s a classical music fan’s Christmas dream come true!
Wow…with all these great festive events (along with the continuing Christmas Carol, Forever Plaid and Noises Off! at the Rep, Groucho: A Life in Revue at Next Act, and Cudahy Caroler Christmas at In Tandem), I just had to reach for my bag of peppermint holiday M&M’s…Sweet!!