Franz Schubert is certainly in the pantheon of great composers. In his short life, he composed countless piano pieces, nine symphonies, an opera, all sorts of Masses and liturgical works and hundreds of songs. But Schubert never composed music specifically for Christmas. There is, however, a serene spirituality to his music that is in keeping with the Christmas season.
The Sacred Arts Chorale led by Rebecca Johnson will celebrate this spirit with “A Schubertian Christmas” Sunday, Dec. 17, at the Simpson House.
The Sacred Arts Chorale, comprising nine singers and piano accompanist Charles Dickinson, will perform music by Schubert, as well as a couple of pieces by Felix Mendelssohn and César Franck. Guitarist Braulio Bosi also will provide some interludes.
The Sacred Arts Chorale may not be that well known, but cognoscenti recognize Johnson and her singers as a refined choir that sings exquisite repertoire. The choir is sponsored and supported by the Central Baptist Theological Seminary.
“We’ve been around for a while,” Johnson said. “Our original goal was to help those folks who were going into full-time ministry have a broader understanding of sacred music. That’s how it started eight or nine years ago.
“My husband (Robert Johnson) is the provost at Central Seminary, and he had long wished for a broader understanding of music in sacred settings, especially in what small Protestant churches in the Midwest were providing. He was looking for something beyond praise bands and those kinds of things. Not that there’s judgment on any of that.”
Schubert’s music will almost certainly never be performed by a praise band. There’s a meditative, almost ethereal quality to much of his music that doesn’t fit in with raucous contemporary church music. A good example is his famous “Ave Maria,” which will be performed by the Sacred Arts Chorale.
The original text of Schubert’s “Ave Maria” was a German translation of a poem from “The Lady of the Lake” by Scottish poet Walter Scott. Although each stanza begins with “Ave Maria,” the rest of the poetry is secular. It was only later that someone arranged the entire “Ave Maria” prayer to fit Schubert’s music. It’s that version that has made “Ave Maria” Schubert’s greatest hit and a wedding staple.
“Schubert’s music is stunningly gorgeous,” Johnson said. “We started snooping around and found one piece after another that made us cry, it was so pretty.
“In my mind I saw some of those paintings of the salons of Paris where there’s an elegance and a gentleness about the whole setting. And there was a lightness and a gentleness to the music we kept finding. It felt like a stepping aside of the usual Christmas carols. Just a little different, intimate and sweet.”
2 p.m. Dec. 17. Simpson House, 4509 Walnut St. The concert is free; first come, first seated. 913-667-5734.
‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’
Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” has become an unlikely holiday classic. With a lead character who is a skeleton and a supporting cast that includes mummies and vampires, it’s not your typical Christmas fare.
One of the film’s more appealing aspects is Danny Elfman’s memorable score, which the Kansas City Symphony will perform live when “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is shown Dec. 22 and 23 at Helzberg Hall.
What began as a poem Burton wrote in 1982 eventually became a stop-motion animated film in 1993. “Nightmare,” which features ghouls, goblins, zombies and a kidnapped Santa Claus, was a hit for Disney, grossing $76 million dollars and becoming the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for best visual effects. Burton’s stunning visual style and Elfman’s classic score should pack even more of a punch when backed up by the Kansas City Symphony.
7 p.m. Dec. 22 and 23 and 1 p.m. Dec. 23. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $45-$90. 816-471-0400 or kcsymphony.org.
Hearing Handel’s “Messiah” performed on original instruments is a bracing experience. Colors and textures are heightened, and the intricate details of Handel’s score come into full focus. Spire Chamber Ensemble and Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Ben Spalding, will present its authentic performance of “Messiah” Dec. 20 at Helzberg Hall.
Spire’s “Messiah,” performed on period instruments, has become an anticipated annual tradition. Spalding’s quest for authenticity has a perfect venue in Helzberg Hall, whose acoustics help bring out all those details that make the work so special. Kansas City is lucky to have a period instruments orchestra so we can experience this masterwork as Handel intended.
7 p.m. Dec. 20. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $31.50-$51.50. 816-994-7222 or tinyurl.com/y9tv6f49.
You can reach Patrick Neas at email@example.com and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at www.facebook.com/kcartsbeat.