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Seasonal suggestions in the land of 10,000 singers

December is a singing month, especially here in the land of Lutherans and other choristers. Over the next week or so, I’ll try to pass along some suggestions for choral concerts, a few at a time. Here goes:

VocalEssence presents ‘Welcome Christmas!’
One of the most talked-about programs — which will wrap up this weekend — is by a group founded more than 30 years ago by conductor and irrepressible impresario Philip Brunelle to push new and seldom-heard choral music.

True to their calling, Brunelle & Co. are offering four premieres in a series of concerts that opened last weekend. The piece on the program that everyone is raving about is “El Nino de los Andes” (The Child of the Andes) by Ecuadorian composer Diego Luzuriaga. I hope to get to one of this weekend’s performances, but I’ve already heard from several people who insist that it shouldn’t be missed.

Luzuriga’s piece is described as a semi-staged cantata for six actor/soloists, choir and a chamber-sized instrumental ensemble. The subject is the nativity, as might be expected, but it also draws from the Andean mythology of Pachamama – or Mother Earth — and mixes in a Cinderella-like plot. Equally unique is the instrumentation, which includes native instruments that are seldom heard in North America, especially in a context like this.

The program also includes winners of the organization’s annual carol contest in which composers are challenged to write for specified instruments and voices. This year, the contest required carols for chorus and French horn.

Times and places: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Trinity Lutheran Church, 115 N. Fourth St., Stillwater; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Normandale Lutheran Church, 6100 Normandale Road, Edina; 4 p.m. Sunday, Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis. Tickets: $20-$40, with students half price. To order, go online or call 612-371-5656.

The Singers: ‘What Sweeter Music’
I heard this group of about 40 a cappella singers for the first time last weekend and was thoroughly impressed by the balanced precision and seamless dexterity. Matthew Culloton, a former assistant to Dale Warland, founded the group five years ago after the famed Warland Singers disbanded. They’ve done a lot in five years, including a handful of recordings.

Their annual Christmas concert has a number of familiar carols, most of them in unfamiliar arrangements, including some by Culloton. There are other choral composers in evidence, too, including Swiss composer Frank Martin, along with Z. Randall Stroope and Minnesota’s own Stephen Paulus. But best of all, it’s hard to imagine a cleaner, clearer performance.

Times and places: 7 p.m. Saturday, Wayzata Community Church, 125 E. Wayzata Blvd; 2 p.m. Sunday, Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church, 1900 Wellesley Ave., St. Paul. Tickets: $10-$25. Online or 651-917-1948.

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