The arts celebrate Christmas on the Hill and around the city

by Michael Caruso
Posted 12/7/23

The themes of the holiday season are on full display in cultural arts performances throughout the region. 

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The arts celebrate Christmas on the Hill and around the city


The themes of the holiday season are on full display in cultural arts performances throughout the region with an unmatched holiday staple about to take center stage. 

Philadelphia Ballet will  present 31 performances of “The Nutcracker” at the Academy of Music Dec. 8 through 30. With choreography by George Balanchine to music by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky, “The Nutcracker” is the undisputed “King of the Holiday Season.” 

“’The Nutcracker’ is our company’s largest and most dazzling production,” explained Angel Corella, company artistic director. “It features 47 company dancers and 130 School of Philadelphia Ballet students in more than 150 breathtaking costumes. There is so much that goes into each performance and everyone works extremely hard to bring the magic of ‘The Nutcracker’ to life for our audiences.”

For more information call 215-893-1955 or visit


Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, will celebrate “Christmas in Southern Germany,” Dec. 8, 9 and 10, when the ensemble will welcome soprano Clara Rottsolk as its special guest artist.

Southern Germany was the wellspring of many of our Christmas traditions. Many of our most popular carols come from the varied cities and states that comprised Germany and Austria in the past.

“This concert is very personal to me,” explained Priscilla Herreid, Piffaro’s artistic director. “It’s the music I grew up with. In my Lutheran Church, we sang from German hymnals that were full of wonderful old carols, many of which are not well known in this country. Singing from that hymnal was how I first started reading music. Those carols and hymns were used as teaching tools and were an integral part of the service as one of the effects of the Reformation.”

“Christmas in Southern Germany” will be performed in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill Saturday, Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m. For ticket information call 215-235-8469 or visit

Chestnut Hill Conductor       

Chestnut Hill’s Donald Meineke, artistic director of Choral Arts Philadelphia and organist/choir director at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square, will conduct a concert entitled “One Faith – Many Voices” at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church, Sunday, Dec. 10, at 4 p.m. The Church is located at 24th and Poplar Streets in Philadelphia.   

The program’s title refers to the existence of several non-Latin churches within the overall Catholic Church of Rome. Ukrainian Catholics – who follow the traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church but who maintain full communion with the Roman Pontiff – form the largest of these.

The program will include music from both Eastern and Western traditions and will be sung by a quartet of professional vocalists, including Meineke, a tenor.

Tickets are priced at $15 at the door. Light refreshments are included.

Patron Saint of Music

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, marked the ancient “Feast of St. Cecilia” with a Choral Evensong Sunday, Nov. 26. Parish music director and organist, Andrew Kotylo, led his Adult Choir and organ scholar Andy Brown in a program of music both traditional and contemporary in honor of the patron saint of music.

Sunday’s Choral Evensong, celebrated according to Rite I of the Book of Common Prayer and officiated by the parish’s rector, the Rev. Eric Hungerford, featured music by Louis Vierne, Gerre Hancock, Joanna Forbes L’Estrange, Herbert Howells and Marcel Dupre. Together Kotylo’s musicians proffered exemplary renditions of music both old and new.

The liturgy’s “moniker score” was Howell’s anthem, “A Hymn for St. Cecilia.” With a text written by Ursula Vaughan Williams (the widow of one of England’s greatest composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams). With exquisite delicacy, the words trace the life and martyrdom of Saint Cecilia, and also consider the legacy and inspiration her life has been for musicians ever since.

Howell’s “Hymn to St. Cecilia” requires a choir that can produce a large, full-bodied, immaculately tuned, seamlessly blended body of choral sound to make its fullest impact. That’s precisely what it received from Kotylo, his choristers and Brown Sunday evening.

The same forces gave memorable interpretations to L’Estrange’s contemporary settings of the traditional texts of the “Magnificat” and “Nunc dimittis,” catching the unaffected joy of the first and the autumnal assurance of the second. Kotylo, himself, at the Church’s mighty Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ, proffered resounding readings of Vierne’s “Adagio” from “Symphonie III” at the opening voluntary and Dupre’s “Prelude and Fugue in B major” at the closing.

The winter musical season will be busy at St. Paul’s Church. The parish will present its annual “Festival Service of Lessons and Carols” Sunday, Dec. 17, at 5 p.m.; “Lessons and Carols for the Feast of the Epiphany” Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024, at 5 p.m.; and its next Choral Evensong Sunday, Jan. 28, at 5 p.m. There are also a host of visiting choirs and ensembles performing Christmas programs at St. Paul’s Church. For more information visit

Local Episcopal Churches continue to foster the writing of new sacred choral music. Earlier Sunday morning, I attended the Choral High Mass for the “Feast of Christ the King” at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Locust Street, perhaps the region’s leading “High Church/Anglo-Catholic” parish. The choir sang the “Communion Service of St. Alban” by Gary Davison, born in 1961.

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