Three centennials of notable but far from mainstream composers have been celebrated this year: Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992); Leroy Anderson (1908–1975); and Elliott Carter, who turns 100 on December 11.

In Seattle, Messiaen has been honored at chamber-music performances throughout the year. Yet only the just-concluded series of Messiaen's complete organ music at Saint Mark's and St. James cathedrals achieved the aim of a centennial celebration: convey the composer's essence. Organists Joseph Adam, J. Melvin Butler, and Clint Kraus captured the French composer's transcendent combination of eruptive fanfares, birdsong-inspired hymns, and serene drones.

Anderson's light, amiable pieces are being performed at pops concerts across the nation, but they need no centennial revival. His songs, especially "Sleigh Ride," remain a staple of holiday radio and orchestras (see the Seattle Symphony listing below). Even with corny lyrics, I love "Sleigh Ride." Giddy, skidding string lines frame evocative sleigh bells and clip-clop percussion, which foreshadowed the signature sound of Phil Spector and Pet Sounds–era Brian Wilson. I swear that KRWM 106.9 FM, home of "Continuous Christmas Favorites," plays it at least once an hour.

Still thriving at 100, Carter is in the unprecedented position of living to see his own centennial, a grand celebration with revivals and premieres around the world. On Friday, as part of the Washington Composers Forum "Transport" concert series, cellist Alexander Ezerman and pianist Cristina Valdés tackle Carter's 1948 Sonata for Cello and Piano, an impassioned—and relatively accessible—work that hints at the fierce rhythmic complexity heard in his landmark string quartets of the 1950s.

This weekend, the Esoterics commemorate both Messiaen and Carter. Along with the latter's Mad Regales composed in 2007, this a cappella ensemble performs "To Music" and two vocal pieces by Messiaen, "O sacrum convivium" and the chanting, mysteriously hieratic Cinq Rechants set in French and peppered with Sanskrit syllables.

Symphony orchestras and chamber groups won't have any blockbuster centennials to celebrate in 2009; nor is anyone yet advocating for the lesser figures: Vagn Holmboe (1909–1996) or his fellow Dane, the serialist Gunnar Berg (1909–1989). No relation to Alban Berg (1885–1935), Gunnar Berg's tedious Piano Concerto demonstrates how "12-tone" music earned an undeserved reputation for being formulaic crap. Instead, look forward to the centennials of Samuel Barber (1910–1981), John Cage (1912–1992), and Witold Lutosawski (1913–1994), and the bicentennial of Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847). Or content yourself with recordings by legendary jazzmen born in 1909: Lester Young, Art Tatum, Ben Webster, Machito, and Benny Goodman. recommended

Alexander Ezerman performs Fri Dec 12, Chapel Performance Space, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, 789-1939, 8 pm, $5–$15 sliding-scale donation.

The Esoterics sing Sat Dec 13, St Joseph Catholic Church, 732 18th Ave E, 8 pm, $15/$18; and Sun Dec 14, Holy Rosary

Classical, Jazz & Avant Calendar

Thurs 12/11


Associate conductor Carolyn Kuan leads the band in Tchaikovsky's first symphony, nicknamed "Winter Dreams." Also on the docket: Vivaldi's Oboe Concerto in C major, RV 447 and the Concerto Grosso in C minor, op. 6, no. 8 by Handel (don't worry, Messiah shows up in a couple weeks). Ben Hausmann is the oboe soloist in the Vivaldi, which, like most of his oboe concertos, is mostly merry and light. Also Fri Dec 12 and Sat Dec 13 at 8 pm. Morning kiddie concerts on Dec 13 at 10 and 11:30 am feature excerpts of the Tchaikovsky symphony, Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride," and other seasonal favorites. Also Sun Dec 14 at 2 pm, but without the Handel. Benaroya Hall, 200 University St, 215-4747, 7:30 pm, $17–$105.

Fri 12/12


Named after the great guitarist Django Reinhardt, this quintet recaptures the sleek, winsome sound of violinist Stéphane Grappelli and Reinhardt's Quintette du Hot Club de France. Who can resist languid, vibratoless violin melodies that glide along a bed of beguiling guitar strums? The absence of a drummer is a blessing, too, creating space for rhythmic interplay. For this noontime concert, they saunter through holiday and klezmer tunes. City Hall, 600 Fourth Ave, 684-7171, noon–1 pm, free.


Seattle experimental label Aphonia Recordings presents a live soundtrack to Phantom of the Opera—not the Andrew Lloyd Webber schlocksical but the 1925 silent film starring Lon Chaney Sr., whose skeletal grin, rotted golf-ball eyes, and leprous, ski-jump nose still give me the creeps. With Derek M. Johnson, Rachel Carns, Heather Hall, and Daniel Buscher, who reprise their performance from the 25th Olympia Film Festival. Gallery 1412, 1412 18th Ave, 8 pm, free but donations accepted.


SCC's holiday concert skirts standard fare with John Rutter's "Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind," the evergreen "Fantasia on Christmas Carols" by Ralph Vaughan Williams, "Three Nativity Carols" by Stephen Paulus, and more. SCC also tackles "Winter" for voices, harp, string orchestra, and sitar by Eric Whitacre, who deftly burnishes his smoothly tonal works with hints (creamy clusters, trapdoor modulations, sudden pauses) of the avant. Also Sat Dec 13 at 8 pm. Saint Mark's Cathedral, 1245 10th Ave E, 363-1100, 8 pm, $10/$20/$25.

Sun 12/14


Every era teems with overlooked Christmas music: I'm listening to the Concerto Pastoral of Johann Christoph Pez (1664–1716) as I type this. Here, flutist Jeffrey Cohan and harpsichordist George Shangrow inaugurate an ongoing series surveying compositions from the Renaissance to today. Soprano Linda Tsatsanis joins them for Telemann's "Vor des lichten Tages Schein," a pocket cantata written for the second Sunday before Christmas. Another Telemann cantata—he wrote scads of them—"Was gleicht dem Adel wahrer Christen," excerpts from the Christmas Oratorio by J. S. Bach, and variations on "What Child Is This" by an anonymous 18th-century composer round out the program. Blessed Sacrament Church, 5041 Ninth Ave NE, 800-281-8026, 2 pm, $15 suggested donation.


This choral ensemble serves up a bevy of Brahms ("O Lord, tear open the heavens"), Hugo Distler, and two rarely heard carols for choir, oboe, and cello by Gustav Holst, composer of The Planets. St. James Cathedral, 804 Ninth Ave, 782-2899, 7:30 pm, $18/$20, students pay as able.