Oh Happy Day!
Do mi sol do! Solveig Steinhardt vocalizes along to some of Berlin’s best Christmas concerts.
Vocalize your Christmas spirit with these Christmas concerts.
BY SOLVEIG STEINHARDT
One Christmas Eve, a young girl named Clara crept downstairs to peek at one of her presents but found herself at the start of a night of magical adventures as the Christmas tree grew and toy soldiers came to life to fight the Mouse King. Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, is undoubtedly one of the most-performed shows of the Christmas season because it has all the elements of this festive time of year: it brings back memories of childhood, recalls the magic and mystery of the long, lit-up nights surrounding the winter solstice, and through the lightness of ballet, it expresses the silence of winter.
But The Nutcracker, on this Christmas season at the Deutsche Oper (see p.60), is only one slice of the much wider range of what we like to define “Christmas music.” What would the yuletide be without choral music, for example? From carols to gospel to Bach, most of us will swear that we can’t get into
the Christmas spirit without some good polyphonic harmony. If that’s the case for you, a Harlem Gospel Night show at the Apostel-Paulus-Kirche in Schöneberg (5–28 December. www.ev-apostelpauluskirchengemeinde.de) is sure to elevate the spirit as well as the mood, especially if followed by a crisp cold walk on nearby Akazienstraße with a stop-over at bar La Vendemmia for a glass of red wine.
If you are serious about soaking up the spirit the German way, however, then you must book a ticket for one of the many representations of J.S.Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, which shouldn’t be too hard a task: last time we checked, the city program listed 35 different renditions by as many vocal groups, each performing the oratorio various times (www.musikinkirchen.de). Chances are, no December day will pass without a Christmas Oratorio performance somewhere in Berlin. Written for the Christmas season of 1734, this joyous
masterpiece tells the whole story of the nativity, from the annunciation to the arrival of the kings, with choirs, orchestra pieces, solos, and exuberant trumpets. Originally meant to have an educational purpose, oratorios are a late-Renaissance genre, composed in vernacular language rather than in Latin in order to reach as many people as possible and, unlike opera, never including any scenic representation.
But if you feel the need for some extra entertainment, then head to the Berliner Dom, where controversial director Christoph Hagel, known for mixing Mozart with breakdance and producing operas in U-Bahn stations, has combined the intense spiritual contemplation of Bach’s music with contemporary dance and cinematic elements, employing the entire cathedral as a stage for dozens of dancers and acrobats, who will be depicting the birth of Jesus with their bodies. (All month at the Berliner Dom, Am Lustgarten, S+U Alexanderplatz.
Far left and far right: Hagel's representation of Bach's Christmas Oratorio. Center: A gospel performance at the Apostel Paulus Kirche.