Yes, two different choirs are mounting performances of J.S. Bach's Christmas Oratorio. Surprisingly, neither group duplicates the other's effort. Maybe that's one of the miracles of Christmas. Or maybe it's just a sign that holiday concerts aren't quite as interchangeable as they initially seem.
Let's start with the strange case of the Bach oratorio. It's a two-and-a-half-hour work made up of a half-dozen individual church cantatas, which were intended to be performed on six separate occasions back around 1730 or so. The oratorio doesn't have to be given all in a single marathon, so a couple of Tucson groups have divvied the thing up.
On December 3 at 7 p.m., the Tucson Masterworks Chorale and a pickup orchestra will offer the first three cantatas at Grace St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 2331 E. Adams St. It's a tidy little package of Advent music, in case you're marking your liturgical calendar. General admission costs $10.
The oratorio's remaining sections ring out December 9, 10 and 17 courtesy of the Arizona Repertory Singers and members of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Jeffry Jahn. The concerts take place, respectively, at the Catalina Foothills High School Auditorium, the Pima Community College Proscenium Theatre and Green Valley Presbyterian Church. All tickets cost $20.
It's Bach's contemporary George Friderick Handel who really cornered the holiday music market. No December can go by without two or three performances of at least big chunks of his oratorio Messiah. Messiah mania begins in Tucson December 4 at 7:30 p.m. with the 24th annual Community Messiah Sing-In. The indefatigable Jahn will wield the baton for this do-it-yourself version, in which the audience of 2,000 serves as the chorus. Bring your own score, or rent or purchase one at the otherwise free event at Grace Chapel, 6180 E. Pima St.
If you prefer a more passive approach to Handel's greatest hit, Alan Schultz will lead the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra and chorus in Messiah excerpts and other holiday works December 10 at 3 p.m. That's at Saddlebrooke's Mountainview Country Club Auditorium, off Oracle Road about a mile past Catalina.
One other classical work that has become a December standby is Gian Carlo Menotti's one-hour opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, about a crippled shepherd boy and his gift to a certain infant in a manger some 2,000 years ago. The 1951 work, sung in English, is suitable for the whole family, even preschoolers. It's become the traditional holiday offering at the Pima Community College Proscenium Theatre, 2202 W. Anklam Road. Curtain times are 7 p.m. December 1 and 2 p.m. December 2. Tickets cost $8, with various discounts.
Lots more holiday music is coming our way; here are a few of the highlights.
The Sons of Orpheus, Tucson's male choir, is putting on a benefit for the Community Food Bank November 30 at 7 p.m. at the Berger Performing Arts Center. That's at the west end of the Arizona Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd. The show includes appearances by the UA Balalaika Orchestra, members of the Tucson Boys Chorus and students from ASDB. You can partake of this varied fare by donating non-perishable food items at the door.
Jahn and the Arizona Repertory Singers, as if they didn't have enough to worry about with their share of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, are relaxing with a lighter program that includes English and Spanish carols December 3 at 2:30 p.m. The concert is at St. Odilia's Church, 7570 N. Paseo del Norte, not far from Tohono Chul Park. General admission is $8. They'll repeat the program December 21 and 22 at Mission San Xavier del Bac.
The PCC Chorale and College Singers offer sacred and secular music of the season December 3 at 3 p.m. at the PCC Proscenium Theatre, for a modest $4.
One of the most unusual holiday programs takes place at 7:30 December 10 at San Xavier. It's a program of Renaissance music of New Spain in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe; most of the music was written in Mexico in the 16th and 17th centuries in Náhuatl, the language of the conquered Aztecs. It's performed by David Shaul's Camerata Tucsón, a group of eight vocalists and six period-instrumentalists. The suggested donation of $35 will, in part, go toward the mission's exterior restoration.
Desert Voices, Tucson's gay and lesbian chorus, presents Celtic holiday pieces, music to celebrate the winter solstice and more in a concert called Love and Light. It's December 8 and 9 at 8 p.m. at the PCC Proscenium Theatre, and costs $15 at the door.
Way out at the Arizona Folklore Preserve, south of Sierra Vista, Arizona State Balladeer Dolan Ellis is concocting a couple of southwestern holiday concerts. Christmas in the Air gets things started at 2 p.m. December 16 and 17; An Arizona Christmas follows that up at 2 p.m. December 23, 29 and 30. The suggested donation is $8 for adults. For reservations and directions, call (520) 378-6165.
The Tucson Symphony Orchestra, having done the right thing by Bach, shakes loose just before Christmas with its Swingin' Winter's Evening show. Five By Design, a quintet of jazz vocalists, will join the orchestra for a program that evokes the 1940s stylings of the Modernaires and the Pied Pipers. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. December 22 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. December 23 at the TCC Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. Tickets range from $13.75 to $33.
Much more holiday music is in store, ranging from a Hanukkah concert December 17 at the Tucson Jewish Community Center to a Reveille Gay Men's Chorus program called Ye Merry Gentlemen! December 15 and 16. Check our music listings every week for more information.