It’s a busy time of year on the classical music scene, as ensembles get ready to spread musical joy during the holiday season.
But first, there’s time for an opera! Engelbert Humperdink’s Hansel and Gretel brings the wicked witch and her gingerbread children to the Davenport Theatre stage, November 20–22. Presented in English by Opera at Western, and based on the familiar Grimm brothers’ fairly tale, this is “definitely a family opera,” says director Theodore Baerg. In fact, the production includes 12 local children in addition to a talented cast of Western Music students. Hansel and Gretel is the first of three student opera productions in this academic year, as Opera at Western presents Verdi’s Falstaff January 29–February 7, and a year-end opera and musical theatre gala performance on March 11. www.music.uwo.ca
The Karen Schuessler Singers begin their 23rd season with Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, November 21 at Wesley-Knox United Church. Composed in 1999 and dedicated to the victims of the Kosovo Crisis, The Armed Man explores the horrors of war, but ends with an expression of hope for peace in the new millennium. “I first heard this work at Lincoln Centre in New York,” says Schuessler. “It makes a powerful statement with music that is just rhapsodic.” This performance features guest soloist, contralto Gabrielle Heidinger Baerg, as well as a multimedia presentation that Schuessler says will “enhance and enrich the experience.” www.kssingers.com
Serenata Music continues its all-Canadian 2015/16 season on December 6 at Wolf Performance Hall, when violinist Mary-Elizabeth Brown joins forces with pianist Anastasia Rizikov for an afternoon concert of works by Schnittke, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. “I’ve watched both of these artists develop over the years,” says Serenata Music’s Renée Silberman.
Londoners may remember Mary-Elizabeth Brown as the associate concertmaster of Orchestra London. Today, she lives in Montreal where she was recently appointed concertmaster of the McGill Chamber Orchestra. “I like to keep in touch with musicians who have made a mark here in London,” comments Silberman.
Toronto’s Anastasia Rizikov is a rising young star on the Canadian and international music scene. “She’s a 16-year-old who can play anything,” says Silberman. “I first heard her when she was 10. She was breathtaking then and continues to be breathtaking now. She’s a very worthy young artist who deserves to be heard.” www.serenatamusic.com
For many people, the holiday season just wouldn’t be the same without a performance of Handel’s Messiah. And this year, London Pro Musica picks up the baton from Orchestra London and Fanshawe Chorus London to present this beloved seasonal work, December 9 at St. Paul’s Cathedral. “London Pro Musica has been the choir component of this annual event for many years,” says LPM member Jenny Nauta. “This year, with the changes in the orchestra scene, we have joined in a full partnership with The Musicians Of Orchestra London in presenting this program.” The community-based choir and the WePlayOn musicians will be led by conductor Dr. Vicki St. Pierre and joined by soloists Erin Bardua (soprano), Laura Puwell (mezzo soprano), Asetha Tennekoon (tenor) and Matthew Cassils (bass).
“There is such a feeling of optimism moving forward that this performance is sure to reflect the valued relationship between our choir and the musicians,” notes Nauta. “Then there is the added enhancement of performing Messiah at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The sound will be magnificent.” www.londonpromusica.ca
The Musicians of Orchestra London also make a guest appearance with the Amabile Boys & Men’s Choirs, December 5 and 6 at St. Peter’s Cathedral Basilica. “A Candlelight Christmas” will be led conductor Brian Jackson — another face familiar to local concertgoers. “Honoring the British traditions of caroling, the music celebrates the life of King’s College composer and conductor Sir David Willcocks, who passed away this fall, and the 70th birthday of his protégé, John Rutter,” says conductor Carol Beynon.
The seasonal sounds continue December 12 when the Junior Amabile Singers & Amabile Da Capo Choir join forces for “Have Yourself a Movie Christmas” at New St. James Presbyterian Church, and December 13 when the Amabile Young Women’s Ensemble present “Alleluia” at First St Andrew’s United Church. www.amabile.ca
Ballet-lovers are in for a holiday treat when Canada’s Ballet Jörgen brings The Nutcracker, A Canadian Tradition to Centennial Hall, December 21. Founded in 1987, Canada’s Ballet Jörgen is the country’s fifth-largest dance company and one of the few with a truly national reach, presenting original works in more than 50 communities each year. This twist on the traditional Nutcracker moves the story to rural Ontario and uses backdrops inspired by The Group of Seven painters while remaining true to Tchaikovsky’s well-loved score. “My goal in creating this production was to recreate the Nutcracker so it would fit in a Canadian context but still tell the basic Nutcracker story,” writes artistic director Bengt Jörgen in his program notes. www.balletjorgen.ca
Nicole Laidler has been writing about London’s cultural scene for more than a decade. See what else she’s been up to at www.spilledink.ca