12 Days of Classical Music Makes Houston's Holiday Season Very Merry

The Houston Symphony presents Very Merry Pops December 7-9, with traditional carols, festive favorites and heartwarming cheer. Come back December 21-23 for Handel's Messiah, with its joyous refrains and exultant arias.
The Houston Symphony presents Very Merry Pops December 7-9, with traditional carols, festive favorites and heartwarming cheer. Come back December 21-23 for Handel's Messiah, with its joyous refrains and exultant arias. Photo courtesy of Houston Symphony
The weather outside is frightful, but inside Houston's concert halls it's quite delightful. 'Tis the season for holiday music and our classical line-up caters to every taste. We've got an Afro-Cuban jazz ensemble, whale sounds, an a cappella chorus, a showcase by rising opera stars, TSO's The Ghosts of Christmas Eve and the best from Bach, Handel and Mendelssohn. Keep reading for our version of The Twelve Days of Classical Music.

Pedrito Martinez is both hot, hot, hot and hipster cool. The Cuban-born and New York-based master percussionist has either recorded or performed with Wynton Marsalis, Bruce Springsteen and Sting, but this time around the Pedrito Martinez Group is gracing the Wortham Theater Center stage as part of Da Camera's popular Jazz Series. The group is still riding the wave from the release of Habana Dreams, named by NPR as the No. 1  Latin Jazz album for 2016 and signifying a return to Martinez's Afro-Cuban roots. No matter how cold it is outside, there's nothing like an evening of jazz, hip-hop and funk to get the blood flowing.

8 p.m. December 1, Pedro Martinez Group presented by Da Camera, Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas, 713-524-5050,, $37.50 to $67.50.

Only in Houston could a trendy street serve as inspiration for a newly formed piano trio. It also helps that cellist Clive Greensmith had a fondness for Bordeaux Château Montrose, violinist Martin Beaver had once lived on Montrose Street in Winnipeg and Jon Kimura Parker is professor of piano at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, just a hop, skip and a jump away from lower Westheimer. With long careers that often dovetailed, The Montrose Trio formed in 2013 and it was trial by fire when they were asked to step in when Detroit's Chamber Music Society had a cancellation. They have since played all over the world and, for their stop in Houston, will be performing signature works by Haydn, Brahms and Mendelssohn.

7:30-9:30 p.m. December 6, Chamber Music Houston presents The Montrose Trio, Stude Concert Hall, Shepherd School of Music, Rice University, 6100 Main, 713-348-5400,, $20 to $85.

For actress and vocalist Ali Ewoldt, Houston Symphony's Very Merry Pops is a far cry from her two year run as the talented ingénue Christine caught in a love triangle in Broadway's The Phantom of the Opera. Very Merry Pops, a perennial family favorite led by Principal POPS Conductor Steven Reineke, is full of Christmas cheer with sleigh bells ringing, jingle bells chiming, and all of our favorite holiday carols including "Winter Wonderland," "Deck the Halls" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas." Betsy Cook Weber directs the Houston Symphony Chorus.

8 p.m. December 7-8, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. December 9, Houston Symphony presents Very Merry Pops, Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 713-224-7575,, $49 to $152.

For a more intimate performance join ROCO's principal flute, Brook Ellen Ferguson, in ROCO Unchambered: Force of Nature. It will be a showcase of nature-inspired music, including the whale sounds in George Crumb's Vox Balaenae and Michael Gandolfi's Geppetto's Workshop, about "a magic piece of wood that laughs and cries like a child." The evening also includes a new commission by composer Stephanie Ann Boyd.

5 p.m. December 8, ROCO presents ROCO Unchambered: Force of Nature, MATCH, 3400 Main, 713-665-2700,, $15 to $25.

Join the Houston Pride Band for its seasonal extravaganza with Merry and Bright, A Holiday Concert. For 30 years Houston's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community band has been entertaining audience members with its uplifting performances, and this annual concert is their favorite time of the year (and ours). They want to remind guests how the love of family and friends can help keep the season merry, bright and full of rainbow-colored joy.

7 p.m. December 8, Houston Pride Band presents Merry and Bright, A Holiday Concert, MATCH, 3400 Main, 713-521-4533,, $5 to $10.

Travel back in time to Leipzig in 1723 when Johann Sebastian Bach first performed Christmas Magnificat, BWV 243a, with its resounding trumpets, colorful vocal lines and four seasonal movements. Mercury is recreating one of Bach's most popular choral works in Bach's Christmas Magnificat, accompanied by the Houston Symphony Chorus Chamber Ensemble and featured vocalists Mary Wilson, Hannah Celeste Lu, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Zachary Wilder and Michael Sumuel. Artistic Director Antoine Plante conducts this concert that includes holiday favorites Lo, how a rose e'er blooming and Praetorius' In dulci jubilo. Dig deeper into the history and meaning of Bach's music with a pre-concert lecture that begins at 7:15 p.m.

8 p.m. December 8, Mercury presents Bach's Christmas Magnificat, Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas, 713-533-0080,, $10 to $70.

click to enlarge Da Camera presents the Pedrito Martinez Group December 1 at Wortham Theater Center, part of its Da Camera Jazz Series. - PHOTO BY DANIELLE MOIR
Da Camera presents the Pedrito Martinez Group December 1 at Wortham Theater Center, part of its Da Camera Jazz Series.
Photo by Danielle Moir
Have you ever bemoaned the fact that today's vocalists are so overproduced they don't sound the same when it comes to live concerts? There's no fakery involved when it comes to a cappella and the Houston Tidelanders Chorus, the Houston Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society, proves it time and again with their four-part harmony. The chorus, along with guest quartet Forefront and guest chorus Space City Sound, are serving up sweet harmonies in back-to-back concerts of A Stolen Christmas.

The Houston Tidelanders Chorus presents A Stolen Christmas, 2 p.m. December 8, Fishers of Men Lutheran Church, 2011 Austin Parkway, Sugar Land, and 2 p.m. December 9, MATCH, 3400 Main, 713-223-8433,, $10 to $20.

Houston Grand Opera's Studio Showcase is perfect for anybody who can't commit to just one opera. It's a curated collection of music from this season, including Florencia en el Amazonas, The Pearl Fishers, and Don Giovanni. Mix in snippets from other great operas — Eugene Onegin, Semele and Don Carlo — and you've got the perfect recipe for a cultured afternoon or evening of opera. HGO Studio Artists are professionals on the rise who have been studying with HGO Studio; come hear these talented voices of tomorrow in this special performance experience.

2:30 p.m. December 9 and 7:30 p.m. December 10, Houston Grand Opera presents Studio Showcase, Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas, 713-228-6737,, $20.

Timing is everything and, after setting a record for the earliest snow flurries in Houston, it was certainly prescient of International Voices Houston to program December Rose. This choir concert, led by Artistic Director Mark Vogel, celebrates how hope can endure in even the coldest of winters. Special guests the Sakura Japanese Women's Chorus will be joining the multicultural choir of 150 voices from almost 40 countries in this promise that brighter days will soon return.

7 p.m. December 13 and 15, 3 and 7 p.m. December 16, International Voices Houston presents December Rose, MATCH, 3400 Main, 713-521-4533,, $20 to $30.

It's hard to believe that the Trans-Siberian Orchestra has only been touring for 20 years; it seems that the band has become a rock holiday tradition for multiple generations. For this anniversary tour, they are returning to the Toyota Center with The Ghosts of Christmas Eve: The Best of TSO and More. It's an all new production featuring some of their greatest hits in a live, multi-sensory concert with dazzling lights, fire effects and plenty of multimedia bells and whistles. Relive the magic that happens in this timeless story of a runaway who finds herself in an abandoned theater.

3:30 and 8 p.m. December 21, Trans-Siberian Orchestra presents The Ghosts of Christmas Eve: The Best of TSO  and More, Toyota Center, 1510 Polk, 866-446-8849,, $48.50 to $79.50.

Experience Handel's moving setting of the greatest story ever told when Houston Symphony presents Handel's Messiah. Jane Glover guest conducts this majestic Christmas concert with visiting soloists Ying Fang (soprano), Elizabeth Deshong (mezzo-soprano), Thomas Cooley (tenor), Christòpheren Nomura (baritone), and the Houston Symphony Chorus. The powerful narrative of Christ's sacrifice for humankind and Resurrection seems tailor made for Easter but it was the Baroque-era oratorio's first part, with its uplifting message of the coming birth of Jesus Christ, that landed it on must-perform lists for Christmastime.

8 p.m. December 21-22, 2:30 p.m. December 23, Houston Symphony presents Handel's Messiah, Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 713-224-7575,, $29 to $130.
Still feeling the sting from having missed Ars Lyrica's magnificent production of Handel's Agrippina in November? The early music ensemble wowed audience members, and our critic, with its fully staged performance of the baroque opera seria. This isn't exactly a do-over, but we've got another chance to catch Ars Lyrica in their New Year's Eve concert, Baroque Razzle-Dazzle. This time the spotlight will be shining on violinist Adam LaMotte, who will be accompanied by core instrumentalists in dazzling concertos including Bach's first and third Brandenburg concertos, Brescianello's extravagant violin concerto and the Telemann Ouverture. Turn it into a full-length evening with separately ticketed dinner (7:30 p.m.) and gala (10:30 p.m.) offerings.

9 p.m. December 31, Ars Lyrica presents Baroque Razzle-Dazzle, The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby, 713-315-2525,, $23 to $75.
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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney