At the holidays, Symphony Center is the place to be, with events for everyone

When it comes to holiday music, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and its presenting arm, Symphony Center Presents, have all the bases covered with programs offering the old and new, sacred and secular and familiar and unfamiliar. Here is a quick overview of the many seasonal options, which all take place at Symphony Center, except where noted:

Nov. 24-26, Fantasia in Concert. This CSO at the Movies program gives audiences a chance to view segments of the landmark cinematic accomplishment and its sequel, Fantasia 2000, on the big screen and hear the accompanying classical selections performed live by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under Emil de Cou. Although neither one was conceived as a holiday film, the timing of these concerts on Thanksgiving weekend provides a fun way for families to launch the holiday season.

Nov. 25, Vienna Boys Choir, Christmas in Vienna. There might be no more famous choral group in the world than this ensemble, which traces its storied history to an imperial decree from the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I in 1498. It maintains two ensembles, one of which is on the road at any given time. For this Symphony Center Presents Special Concert, the program will combine Austrian folk songs, classical masterpieces, Christmas hymns and holiday carols.

Dec. 4, Bach Marathon. J.S. Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos have no direct connection to the yuletide, but performances of the works have become a holiday tradition with many ensembles, including the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the CSO’s pre-professional training arm. But this year, Ken-David Masur, Civic’s principal conductor, is adding what he calls a “little twist” to the annual custom. Instead of all six Brandenburg Concertos, the finale concert at Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut, will feature three of those works, as well as two of Bach’s cantatas, Nos. 40 and 110, both written for the Christmas season. Joining the Civic players will be members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus.

Dec. 5-6, A Chanticleer Christmas. The 12-member, male a cappella vocal group annually performs 25 or so holiday concerts nationwide between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Each year since 2000, except for the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020, Chanticleer has made a yuletide stop here for a Symphony Center Presents Special Concert. “We love coming to Chicago, and every year, our Christmas tour starts on the East Coast, and we wind our way back,” Music Director Tim Keeler told Experience CSO in 2022. “We would never miss a stop in Chicago.” As usual, Chanticleer will perform at Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut. 

Dec. 8-10, Home Alone in Concert. This 1990 comedy, filmed at several locations around suburban Chicago, is set at Christmastime. It draws of plenty of laughs for its slapstick encounters between two burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) who are foiled by an 8-year-old boy (Macaulay Culkin) whose family left him at home when they flew off to Europe. For this CSO at the Movies program, members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under Richard Kaufman, will perform the Oscar-nominated score by Hollywood great John Williams while the movie is screened above the stage.

Dec. 5-17 and Dec. 22-23, Merry, Merry, Chicago! Vocalist Ashley Brown, who originated the title role of Mary Poppins on Broadway, will serve as soloist for this CSO Special Concert, an annual, family-friendly holiday revue, performed by members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, led by Thomas Wilkins. Featured will be yuletide favorites such as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Joy to the World,” “This Little Light of Mine” and “The Polar Express” Suite.

Dec. 19, Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass. While not a Christmas concert per se, this annual offering always occurs during the holiday season and is always festive in spirit. The event showcases the CSO’s brass section, which has built an international reputation for its bold, shining sound. As usual, this concert will be led by Michael Mulcahy, a member of the CSO trombone section since 1989.

Dec. 21-23, Handel’s Messiah.  With the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, this program features Davis’ orchestration of the famed oratorio, which uses percussion as sleigh bells, tam-tam, glockenspiel and marimba. Davis’ slightly abridged version consists of all three parts of the work and has an expected running time of 2½ hours with intermission. The vocal soloists are soprano Joélle Harvey, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano, tenor Matthew Polenzani and bass John Relyea.