Concerts capture the spirit of the season

The greatest and most magical gift this holiday season is the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s return to Symphony Hall just in time for a very busy concert schedule.

After all, what is Christmas without the ASO’s production of Handel’s “Messiah”? The tradition began in 1951, when 71 area choruses joined the orchestra to perform the three-part oratorio, which debuted in Dublin in 1742 and draws text from the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. Henry Sopkin, the orchestra’s first music director, conducted it, and it has been performed nearly every year since. This year the ASO, the Chamber Chorus and four soloists will perform part one of Handel’s masterpiece on Dec. 4-5. Norman Mackenzie conducts.

Joseph Young conducts the Atlanta Symphony Youth Ensemble in the ASO Kids’ Christmas program on Dec. 7. Rounding out the performance of carols and other Christmas classics will be performances by child choirs and dancers, and a visit from Saint Nick.

The spirit of Robert Shaw prevails over Christmas with the ASO, a program created by the former music director. The program is comprised of serious works and spirituals ranging from excerpts from Bach’s B-minor mass to Benjamin Britten to “O Holy Child.” The program, presented Dec. 11-13, features more than 400 musicians, the ASO Chorus, the Morehouse College Glee Club and the Gwinnett Young Singers.

“A Very Merry Holiday Pops” arrives Dec. 19-20. ASO principal pops conductor Michael Krajewski will lead the orchestra, joined by the All-City Chorus and Atlanta native Reginald Smith Jr. as “The Grinch,” in a program of contemporary holiday music.

All performances are at Symphony Hall in the Woodruff Arts Center at 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. Tickets are $25-$99. For information call 404-733-5000 or visit

But the ASO isn’t the only game in town. Here are some other holiday concerts on tap:

Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus

“Tied up with Strings” is the title of the chorus’ 34th annual holiday concert, a reference to the string quartet which will accompany the 100-voice ensemble. The program ranges from traditional carols, such as “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” to a medley from Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” Other features include two settings of the Jewish folk song “Hine Ma Tov.” The focal point of the concert will be a new setting of the “Gloria” text by composer Craig Courtney. The Saturday performance will be followed by a free ice cream social. Dec. 5-6. $35. The Cathedral of St. Philip, 2744 Peachtree Road NW, Atlanta. 404-320-1030,

Atlanta Baroque Orchestra

For a complete and authentic “Messiah” experience, consider this polished ensemble, which performs on period instruments, joined by the Cathedral Schola of the Cathedral of St. Philip. Artistic director Julie Andrijeski described the Schola as a “smaller, impeccably trained chorus,” with roughly the same number of singers as Handel used in the 1742 Dublin premiere. The size of the orchestra also replicates the original. This performance will include all three parts of the oratorio. This is also a rare local opportunity to hear Atlanta superstar counter-tenor David Daniels, one of the soloists. Dec. 13. $25. The Cathedral of St. Philip, 2744 Peachtree Road, NW, Atlanta. Dec. 14. $25. St. David’s Episcopal Church, 1015 Old Roswell Road, Roswell,

Atlanta Master Chorale

This excellent ensemble celebrates both its 30th anniversary and its 30th holiday concert, featuring a varied program ranging from classical (Rachmaninoff) to clever arrangements of Christmas chestnuts. The concert will also feature a new composition by Artistic Director Eric Nelson, “The Infant Child,” based on a poem by Kathryn McCain Lee of Atlanta. Dec. 13-14. $30. Schwartz Center, Emory University, 1700 North Decatur Road, Atlanta. 404-727-5050,

Spivey Hall

The Children’s Choir program is a 21-year tradition at Spivey Hall featuring performances by the Spivey Hall Young Artists, Spivey Hall Children’s Choir and Spivey Hall Tour Choir. Expect a variety of holiday favorites and an audience sing-along with the hall’s magnificent Fratelli Rufatti organ. Dec. 12-14. $25. Spivey Hall, Clayton State University, 2000 Clayton State Blvd., Morrow. 678-466-4200,

The Michael O’Neal Singers

This well-regarded ensemble has two very different concerts planned for the holidays. On Dec. 7, “A John Rutter Christmas” features choral works by the British composer, including a number of carols. Special guest is the Atlanta Symphony Brass Quintet. And if you’ve ever wanted to sing Handel’s Christmas classic, you’ll get your chance Dec. 21 at “Messiah Sing-along.” $22. Roswell United Methodist Church, 814 Mimosa Blvd., Roswell. 770-594-7974,