Christmas is coming, and Fairfax area choral and orchestral groups have begun performing their annual holiday concerts. This weekend, two of the area's most respected vocal ensembles, Voce and the Reston Chorale, will try to summon the spirits of Christmases past and present. Between the two groups, four concerts will be performed over two nights in Herndon, Reston and Great Falls.

Reston Chorale artistic director Frederick Wygal said local audiences are lucky to have a variety of choral music at their disposal each holiday season.

Between first-rate suburban ensembles and outstanding major choruses in the District, Wygal described the Washington area as "the choral capital of the world."

The Reston Chorale's performances Saturday night at the Reston Community Center at Hunters Woods will feature a musical version of "A Visit From Saint Nicholas," (" 'Twas the Night Before Christmas") by David Ott and Virginia composer Daniel E. Gawthrop's "Peace of Heaven" with words by the composer's wife, Jane Griner. The song celebrates a message of hope in an unsettled world, Wygal said.

The program continues with "A Musicological Journey Through the Twelve Days of Christmas," which interprets the familiar song in 12 musical styles, including Wagnerian opera, Gregorian chant, Sousa march and Tchaikovsky ballet. A performance of Handel's "Messiah" ends the concert.

Voce, which some critics have said is Northern Virginia's best vocal ensemble, has been performing chamber choral music throughout the Washington area since 1989. The group, under the direction of Kenneth Nafziger, starts the weekend's music with "Let's Sing! Celebrate Christmas," tomorrow at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in Herndon.

The program will feature carols from around the world and seasonal works by two U.S. composers -- Daniel Pinkham's "Christmas Cantata" and Randol Alan Bass's "Gloria." The choir will be accompanied by members of the U.S. Army band on organ, brass and percussion. Voce will perform the same concert Saturday night at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Great Falls.

"The unique thing about this program is that it involves choir, organ, brass, percussion and some audience singing as well," said Nafziger.

The instruments create a celebratory atmosphere, partly because people are conditioned to expect these sounds during the holidays, but also because of an intrinsic human response that associates feelings of joy with them, the director said.

With shorter days and colder temperatures becoming the norm, Nafziger said, there is something in people that responds to "festive and exuberant sounds that lift us out of where the calendar season takes us."


Advance tickets for Voce's performances are $18 for adults, $13 for seniors and $5 for students. Tickets are $2 more at the door. Saint Timothy's Episcopal Church is at 432

Van Buren St. St. Francis Episcopal Church is at 9220 Georgetown Pike (Route 193). For more information, call 703-277-7772.

Tickets for Reston Chorale's performances are $20; $15 for seniors and youth. The Reston Community Center is at 2310 Colts Neck Rd. For more information, call 703-834-0079 or visit

The acclaimed Voce singers perform tomorrow and Saturday at St. Timothy's and St. Francis Episcopal churches.Frederick Wygal, Reston Chorale artistic director, calls this area "the choral capital of the world."