Classical Holidays in Washington, D.C.: A Beginner's Guide




I composed this article, in its original format below, to introduce a different audience to the basics of classical music in D.C. this holiday season. In reality, the recommendations below are probably applicable anywhere, just with different specific groups and performances involved. For the experienced reader, this article may not add much, but it's a good revue of what's out there and will bring joy to anyone, classical music lover or not.

The D.C. area offers many options across genres for classical music around the holiday season. Perhaps it bears an important note that the classical music tradition, coming as it did out of Europe, is tied largely to Christian traditions. Nevertheless, the music borne from this background offers both moving and delighting evenings built around stories of universal human value.


Perhaps the most iconic classical piece of the season is Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker, replete with charming music that has extended far beyond the worlds of classical music and ballet. Whether the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies," the music of the Snow Queen, or the "March of the Wooden Soldiers," the music holds something for all ages. While the Joffrey Ballet’s performances at the Kennedy Center have past, the Washington Ballet will be performing the work from December 3rd through December 27th at the Warner Theatre. Indeed, in this telling of the story, Georgetown, cherry blossoms, and both George Washington and King George III join the fun for a local flavor.

A lesser known work compared to The Nutcracker, Englebert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, originally in German but performed in English translation with English titles by Washington National Opera from December 12th through December 20th, is the iconic equivalent of the opera world. A quick look at photos from the production promises the bright, light, and cheery production one would expect for this beloved tale. While the story does follow the original Grimm brothers’ fairytale more closely than some other interpretations, the opera is still geared toward the casual visitor and serves well for younger relatives, just like The Nutcracker.
Stepping away from the stage, the music of G.F. Handel’s Messiah has also escaped containment within the classical realm and sublimated into broader culture. Most notable, of course, is the famous chorus "Hallelujah." While the piece does clock in at two and a half to three hours and is firmly classical music, the interplay of chorus and soloists keeps the evening diverse. The National Symphony will perform the work December 17th through December 20th. For those more familiar with Messiah already, on December 23rd the Kennedy Center will host a sing-along Messiah.
For a broader repertoire of music, there are countless orchestral and choral groups in the D.C. area offering performances throughout December.

Speaking of the Kennedy Center, no fewer than three such performances by different groups will take place at that location. More choral groups will be performing, as well, at the National Cathedral and scattered across the city (including Choralis, to which I belong!). The style is not limited to classical choral, however, as U.S. military bands will also perform music with holiday cheer. To find more information on these types of performances, the Washington Post is particularly helpful, but a simple scan of Google can help point you in the right direction.

No matter what your particular interest, there is sure to be a concert over this holiday season in the D.C. area that will appeal and provide an evening of wonder.

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