1. The Bach Christmas Oratorio opens in the most exuberant fashion: trumpets, timpani, chorus and pure joy. I used to start my Christmas concerts with the Atlanta Symphony with this piece and it seemed to put us all in a festive mood.
2. Silver Bells? Me? It was my father’s all-time Christmas favorite, that’s why.
3. Messiah performances began to shift toward “period-practice” while I was just getting my feet wet in the music business. I was so impressed with the scholarly work Sir Charles Mackerras had done on Messiah that, when his recording came out (I was probably a sophomore in college) I was bowled over. Janet Baker knocked my socks off with this performance of this aria, which used to be taken far too slowly and probably far too seriously.
4. Also when I was a college sophomore: the Georgetown University Glee Club was invited to sing for Pablo Casals’ 95th-birthday celebrations in Puerto Rico. I was the pianist. After we had sung a small concert at his home on the morning of his birthday, he sat down beside me at the piano and played the “Carol of the Birds,” following which he said to me, “That is a song of my homeland but I think Brahms or Bach would be proud of it, don’t you?” Yessir.
5. I was introduced to Chadwick’s “Symphonic Sketches” by my mentor and friend Paul Hume, the late music editor of the Washington Post. The movement called “Noel” lodged itself in my brain and in my heart; I liked to include it in my Atlanta Symphony Christmas concerts, too.
6. Schwarzkopf’s Christmas Album (also, as it happens, with Sir Charles Mackerras at the helm) delights me year after year.
7. Ditto, Leontyne Price with Herbert von Karajan. If you’re gonna sing “O Holy Night,” then you need to sound this glorious. I live for Price’s clear-throated, heaven-touched high notes in this one.
8. I didn’t know Ives’ “Christmas Carol” until I joined Chanticleer. Since I am fond of Ives and love Chanticleer, it’s a good combination. Ives could be quite a trickster but he keeps his high jinx almost to himself in this song. It’s a sweet, Christmas lullaby that moved me a great deal when I first heard “our boys” sing it.
9. This beautiful French carol was part of my first Chanticleer Christmas. Our friend Michael Bresnahan, who was in the ensemble at the time, sang the solo. The sweetness of the piece, the elegance of the men’s voices, the simplicity of Michael’s approach moved me a great deal and I love hearing this song at Christmas.
10. Come on, what could be better?
11. Speaking of great movies (Blue Hawaii with Elvis, Meet Me in St. Louis with Garland) I had no idea this was coming when I first saw it. Oh, I already knew the song, I just didn’t know that Judy was about to sing it. It is something I shall never forget. Nobody sings it better.
12. The Atlanta Symphony Christmas concerts conducted by Robert Shaw invariably ended with this plea for peace that he shared with Bach, and with all of us. When Mr. Shaw died, it was an honor for me to be asked to take on his Christmas concerts and so I continued the tradition of ending with “Dona Nobis Pacem.” I can’t imagine a musical Christmas that doesn’t somehow begin and end with Bach.