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Local groups set for musical kickoff to holiday season
By Bill Gowen | Daily Herald Classical Music Columnist
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Published: 11/27/2008 12:04 AM

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The holiday music season makes its annual early arrival next week with the offering of several area events continuing through Christmas week.

Here's a glance at various area organizations' events set for Dec. 4-7. Next week, we will discuss holiday concerts scheduled mid- to late December.

Elgin Symphony Orchestra: Tony Award nominee and Rockford native Jodi Benson, best known as the voice of Ariel in Disney's film "The Little Mermaid," returns to the area at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 6, as host of Elgin Symphony Orchestra's third annual "Holiday Showcase at the Sears Centre."

Music director Robert Hanson will conduct the ESO and the Holiday Festival Chorus in a variety of holiday pieces for the entire family. The event will feature Cirque du Soleil jugglers and aerialists, Olympic ice dancing pair Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov and, before the show, a visit by Mr. And Mrs. Santa Claus.

Tickets for this one-night event at the Sears Centre arena in Hoffman Estates are available through the Sears Centre Box Office and start at $17 for children and $29 for adults. Call 1-888-SEARSTIX (732-7784), or purchase tickets online at searscentre.com.

St. Charles Singers: Acclaimed operatic and concert soprano Michelle Areyzaga will be the special guest artist when the St. Charles Singers open their 25th anniversary season with the group's annual "Candlelight Carols" concerts Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 6-7, in St. Charles and Wheaton.

"With the choral works on the program and audience singalongs between sets, the concert will offer at least 25 songs, one for each of our 25 years," said Jeffrey Hunt, founder and artistic director of the 30-voice professional chamber choir. "The program embraces traditional and contemporary carols, including jazz arrangements. Most of the songs - about three-quarters of them - will be new to our repertoire, so audience members can expect to hear a fresh and bracing Christmas program."

The concerts are at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6, at Baker Memorial United Methodist Church, 307 Cedar Ave., St. Charles, with two performances on Dec. 7 - 3 p.m., at St. Michael Church, 310 S. Wheaton Ave., Wheaton and 7 p.m. back at Baker Memorial Church.

Areyzaga, a resident of the Fox River Valley area, will perform as soloist in a special set of six songs for soprano and a cappella choir.  A member of the St. Charles Singers in the mid-1990s, she has gone on to receive wide acclaim for opera and concert appearances throughout the United States, including roles with Chicago Opera Theater, Light Opera Works, Opera Birmingham, Chicago's Silk Road Initiative, and Orquesta Sinfónica del Estado de México. She has also appeared as guest artist with Camerata Chicago, the Chicago Master Singers, and other groups.

She will collaborate with the choir in "Niño Lindo" by Venezuelan composer Alberto Grau, founder of the noted chorus Schola Cantorum de Venezuela; the lullaby "Song of Mary" by Carl Fischer and Albert Kranz; "A Hymn of the Nativity" by English composer Kenneth Leighton; and "Carol of the Birds," a traditional Spanish carol arranged by Robert Shaw and Alice Parker. She will also perform two songs by African-American composers:  "Mary Had a Baby" by legendary 20th century choral director and composer William Levi Dawson; and "Who Is the Baby?" by Auburn University's Rosephanye Powell.

In keeping with its holiday tradition, the St. Charles Singers will close the program with Sir David Willcocks' arrangement of "Silent Night."

Tickets are $30 for general adult admission, $20 for seniors 65 and over and $10 for full-time students 23 and under. To purchase, or for more information, call (630) 513-5272 or visit stcharlessingers.org

Chicago a cappella: The singers of Chicago a cappella will present "Holidays World Tour" in four performances Dec. 4-7.

The critically acclaimed ensemble will sing music for Christmas from six continents and more than a dozen nations, including works from Australia, Nigeria, Argentina, Canada, Hungary and Japan, as well as Christmas spirituals and Hanukkah music by Stacy Garrop and Robert Applebaum.

"Holidays World Tour" will take place at 8 p.m. Thursdayt, Dec. 4, at Fourth Presbyterian Church, Michigan Avenue at Delaware Street in Chicago; 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5, at Wentz Concert Hall, 171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville; 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, at Pilgrim Congregational Church, 460 Lake Street, Oak Park; and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7, at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston.

The concert will also feature pieces from Chicago a cappella's latest CD, "Christmas a cappella: Songs from Around the World," recently released by Cedille Records. A CD signing and reception with the singers will follow the Chicago performance Dec. 4.

The Dec. 5 performance will be the first professional choral concert at North Central College's new state-of-the-art Wentz Concert Hall. At that performance only, Chicago a cappella will welcome the Madrigal Singers of Naperville North High School as a special guest ensemble. Chicago a cappella is a business partner of Naperville North and is engaged in a yearlong collaboration to broaden the choral students' experience and knowledge of professional choral singing.

Tickets are $35 and $28, along qwith $22 for seniors age 62 and over and students 23 and under. Group rates are also available. Visit chicagoacappella.org or call (773) 755-1628.

William Ferris Chorale: The opening concert of the Chicago-based William Ferris Chorale's season will take place at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, in a holiday program titled "A Good Old Fashioned Christmas Concert." The location is the chorale's longtime home, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, 690 West Belmont Ave.

Guest artists include harpist Stephen Hartman and organist Richard Hoskins, with the concert conducted by the chorale's music director, Paul French. A new compact disc featuring many of the holiday works on this program is being released in conjunction with the concert and will be on sale that night for $18.

Tickets for"A Good Old Fashioned Christmas Concert" are $20, $25 and $30, and (along with the CD) can be purchased by calling (773) 325-2000. Major credit cards are accepted.