A Selection of Choral and Instrumental Music Concerts in New York for the Holiday Season

During the holidays in New York, the sounds of the season fully resonate in the city's spectacular venues such as Carnegie Hall, The Cloisters, the Met's Medieval Sculpture Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, among others, as well as in the city's many historic cathedrals and churches. Walk into any church in the next few weeks, and you're likely to catch a concert or rehearsal. Many of the events have become annual favorites, whether it's hearing The Waverly Consort play medieval music inside the halls of The Cloisters or Paul Winter's Consort howling in the solstice under the great arches of St. John the Divine Cathedral.

The musical holiday season tends to favor a standard selection of favorite carols in addition to grand works such as Handel's Messiah, but for many, including myself, there's nothing quite like Benjamin Britten's mystical and haunting A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28, a composition from 1942. For the few years prior to 1942, the English composer had been living with his lifelong partner, the tenor Peter Pears, in Woodstock, New York. In New York, he would be near his friends Aaron Copland, W. H. Auden, and Christopher Isherwood. When England entered World War II, British citizens abroad were advised to stay where they were, and in 1940 Britten and Pears moved to Brooklyn Heights.

While in New York, Britten composed music for American high school musicians, including the 1941 operetta Paul Bunyan. In 1942 Britten and Pears returned to England, though their declared statuses as conscientious objectors threatened to subject them to tribunals and assignments in noncombat duty. On the dangerous five-week voyage to England in March and April 1942, with waters full of U-boats, Britten composed A Ceremony of Carols, an unusual work featuring three treble voice parts and harp. Based on the plainsong (Gregorian chant) and medieval and 16th century poetry, Ceremony invokes a forgotten distant mysticism buried within the frosts of winter. The acoustics of a church, especially for the processional and the departing recessional, is almost necessary for the full experience.

A Selection of Choral and Instrumental Music Concerts in New York for the Holiday Season

Choir members of the Abyssinian Baptist Church
Gospel music, spirituals, and Christmas carols
Thursday, December 10, 2009, 8:30 PM
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Medieval Sculpture Hall. $60.00

The Waverly Consort: The Christmas Story
Dec. 12–13, 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.
The Cloisters, 99 Margaret Corbin Dr., near Park Dr.; 212-923-3700
Thirteen-member ensemble presents a programs of processionals, antiphons, hymns, and Mass compositions from the tenth to the fifteenth century. and features both vocal and instrumental music. Price: $45

• Grace Church, 802 Broadway. The Girls' Choir with Ladies of the Adult Choir, Grace Church. Sunday, December 13 4 p.m. Choral Evensong. Benjamin Britten's A Ceremony of Carols.

New York Philharmonic's Principal Brass Quintet and the West Point Band Brass & Percussion.
Sunday December 13 3 p.m.
Avery Fisher Hall, 10 Lincoln Center Plaza. $47, $67, $77

Trinity Church, Wall Street: Handel's Messiah
December 13 at 3 p.m. and December 14 at 7:30 p.m. $30, $40, $50.

Chelsea Community Church, 35th Annual Candlelight Carol Service. St. Peter's Church, Chelsea.
December 13, 6 p.m. Includes a reading of Clement Clarke Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas."

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center: The Brandenburg Concertos
Dec. 13 at 5 (SOLD OUT) and Dec. 16 at 7:30 (SOLD OUT) Alice Tully Hall.

A Tuba Christmas, 36th Anniversary
Sunday, December 13 3:30 p.m. The Rink at Rockefeller Center
See this post in Manhattan User's Guide for a heartwarming story about this tradition.

Quartetto Gelato: Kornel Wolak, clarinet, Peter De Sotto, tenor and violin, Alexander Sevastian, accordion and piano, Carina Reeves, cello
holiday favorites from around the world
Tuesday, December 15, 2009, 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Medieval Sculpture Hall. $60.00

Candlelight Christmas Concert. Voices of Ascension; Dennis Keene, conductor. Four centuries of Christmas music with favorite carols and a surprise guest soloist.
Tuesday, December 15. 8 p.m. Church of the Ascension (Episcopal), Fifth Ave./10th St. $55, 45, 35, 25, 10.

Empire Viols will present music by Tobias Hume, Christopher Simpson, John Jenkins, and William Boyce, gambists of 17th-century England.
Wednesday, December 16 1:15 p.m. Chapel – St. Bartholomew's Church, Park Ave./51st St. Free.

Burning River Brass
Traditional carols and selections from The Nutcracker
Thursday, December 17, 2009, 6:30 PM
The Metropolitan Museum of Art,  Medieval Sculpture Hall. $60.00

Cathedral of St. Patrick Choir, Young People’s Chorus of New York, Schola Cantorum on Hudson, The Cathedral Organs, and New York Symphonic Brass:
30th Annual A City Singing at Christmas
Thursday, December 17, 2009 - 7:00 p.m
St. Patrick's Cathedral, Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st StreetsGeneral Seating is free and open to the public.

Candlelight Carol Festival. The Riverside Choir, soloists and instrumentalists.
Sunday, December 20. 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. The Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Drive/120th St. $25, $15, $10.

Church of the Intercession, Candlelight Service with 99th annual reading of Clement Clarke Moore's"A Visit from St. Nicholas."
Sunday, December 20 4 p.m. Candlelight Service with 99th annual reading of poem (read by Tamara Tune, who plays the ME on Law & Order SVU), followed by a lantern procession to Moore's Tomb in Trinity Cemetery.

The New York City Gay Men's Chorus. Together at Town Hall: "A Holiday Celebration of the Power of Love"
Celebrating its 30th year, the chorus with be joined by Over 200 talented singers will be joined by the Tony Award-winning Victoria Clark.
Sunday, December 20, 3 p.m and 8 p.m. $39.50, $59.50, and $79.50 at Town Hall. Town Hall Box Office, 123 West 43rd Street (between Broadway & 6th Avenue)

Paul Winter Consort: Winter Solstice Concert
Dec. 17-19
Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Amsterdam Ave. at 112th St. 866-811-4111
The consort returns for four performances to the newly renovated nave of the Cathedral. Special guests include the Pokrovsky Ensemble and Forces of Nature dancers. $80 for reserved seats. General Admission seats available at $50 and $35.

The Boys of St. Thomas: Benjamin Britten's A Ceremony of Carols and John Rutter's Dancing Day
December 17 5:30-6:30p.m.
Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue at 53rd Street. Unreserved open seating.$40.

The Trinity Youth Chorus: Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols
December 18, 2008 4:30 PM
St. Paul's Chapel, 209 Broadway at Fulton Street, 10007
Admission: Free. Holiday Caroling with the audience after the concert.

West Village Caroling Walk, The West Village Chorale.
December 18 7 p.m. Meet in the school cafeteria near the rear courtyard of the Church of Saint Luke in the Fields (487 Hudson). Song sheets provided.

The Choirs of Riverside: Annual Riverside Christmas Concert Candlelight Carol Festival
December 20, 2008 6 to 8 p.m.
Nave, The Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Drive
$25/15/10. Call the Box Office at 212.870.6784 for tickets.

Images (top to bottom) of Riverside Church, St. Thomas Church (Fifth Avenue), St. John the Divine Cathedral, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and St. Peter's Church by Walking Off the Big Apple

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