December 1, 2020
Santa will be delivering presents to doorsteps instead of slipping down chimneys. The Hanukkah lamps will have to burn in the temples for nine days instead of eight because oil suppliers are backlogged with orders. And the Whos down in Whoville will not join hands to sing “Fa-who-fores,” instead meeting each other on over 200 separately recorded calls using a low-latency internet app and expert sound-mixing. On the plus side, Covid is putting a crimp in the Krampus’s plans.
Yes, the holiday season will be a little different this year, but it will not be without music. Everybody in the arts industry has had to pull in their horns but that does not mean no horns will be blown. And as long as that happens, SFCV will be there to share it with you. Forthwith, and without further delay, we present our 2020 holiday music guide.
Orchestras, Nutcrackers, and More
San Francisco Symphony
The orchestra’s annual “Deck the Hall” concert has been downsized to 16 instrumentalists (and one accordionist), 12 choristers (plus the San Francisco Boys Choir), and no live audience members. Conducted by Daniel Stewart, hosted by Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, and narrated by Raj Mathai, the concert will be televised by NBC Bay Area on Dec. 5 and 19, and by Telemundo 48 on Dec. 6, plus available online.
The “Season in Song” concert, livestreamed and on Walnut Creek TV on Dec. 12 at 7 p.m., boasts two superior vocalists, Kelley O’Connor and Nicholas Phan. Accompanied by the orchestra’s brass quintet, the concert includes a few rarities in among the favorites and, like most of the concerts listed here, lasts only about an hour.
Merola Opera Program
“A Very Merola Holiday Recital” streams from the program’s website on Dec. 12 and features several recent graduates, all of whom were launching prominent careers when the pandemic hit.
Opera San José
Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers, based on an unpublished Terrance McNally play, only partially qualifies as holiday fare, but what the hey. Starring Susan Graham, it’s a big deal.
San Francisco Ballet
Immutable natural law decrees that in December there must be Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. SF Ballet provides it this year with Nutcracker Online, which features a high-definition stream of the 2008 KQED broadcast of Helgi Tomasson’s production and ancillary activities for the family.
Smuin Ballet is streaming a virtual version of The Christmas Ballet this year. There are a lot of holiday-themed items in this mélange, but there are also a bunch of premieres and recent work from Amy Seiwert, Cassidy Isaacson, and others. There are three separate programs playing Dec. 11–24.
SF Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band
The Dance-Along Nutcracker is the only title in this list to be trademarked. What is it? “Each year, the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band blends Tchaikovsky’s classic The Nutcracker ballet with an entertaining theme. The talented cast sings and dances their way through a parody version of The Nutcracker. And when the “Dance Along!” sign flashes, the audience is invited to put on their tutus and sashay along with the cast.” It’s not hard to guess what this year’s theme will be. The performance streams on Dec. 12–13.
Cal Performances has planned a gala New Year’s Eve musical celebration which involves music from all of the artists presented in the fall At Home series. Thursday, December 31 at 2 a.m. (PST) until Saturday, January 2 at 4 a.m. (PST).
Festival Napa Valley
“Songs of Gratitude” streams on Dec. 5 at 6 p.m. and “features performances by pianist Audrey Vardanega, the Friction String Quartet, opera singers Kelley O’Connor, Nicholas Phan and Lisa Delan, traditional Mexican roots folk ensemble Los Cenzontles, Jookin’ dancer Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles, cellists Matt Haimovitz and Starla Breshears, and chanteuse and harpist Lucinda Belle, along with a remote vocal ensemble featuring the talents of Napa County high school choristers.”
2017 MacArthur Award-winner Taylor Mac performs Holiday Sauce … Pandemic! at 7 p.m. on Dec. 12, online. It’s described as “blend[ing] music, film, burlesque, and random acts of fabulousness to reframe the songs you love.
Old First Concerts — Golden Bough
Celtic roots musicians Margie Butler, Paul Espinoza and Kathy Sierra accompany themselves on a variety of traditional instruments in a set of rare Celtic winter songs and some well-known carols. The concert streams Dec. 20 at 4 p.m.
The 35th annual Christmas Revels, Unruly Magic: A Spirited Celebration of the Winter Solstice, will be online Dec. 12–13 at 1 p.m., Dec. 18 at 7 p.m., and Dec. 19–20 at 1 and 5 p.m. Blending archival footage with newly-filmed pieces, this year’s edition will include favorites such as Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, a reading of “The Shortest Day,” Lord of the Dance, and Sussex Mummers’ Carol, as well as a fair number of local roots musicians.
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
If you’re looking for an inclusive, nondenominational approach to the holidays, you might try The Muse Hour, which features a concert by Pink Martini’s pianist/founder Thomas Lauderdale and its lead vocalist China Forbes. The concert includes a live, moderated Q&A session with audience members afterward. Dec. 12, 7:30 p.m.
(Virtual) Choruses and Caroling
Wintersongs, celebrating the musical traditions of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, is going online one song at a time, Dec. 1–31. Newly produced music videos will feature archival highlights, bits of community workshops, remixes, seasonal songs, and stories from Kitka singers, mentors, and collaborators from around the globe: one video per day.
The men’s chorus has had their mesmerizing holiday concert, “From Darkness to Light,” filmed by Independent Spirit Award nominee Frazer Bradshaw (with support from Stanford Live). The musical selections are out of the ordinary, contributing to the specialness of this show. It’s available for streaming Dec. 15 – Jan. 1, 2021.
San Francisco Bach Choir
Another beloved local holiday tradition gets a tech facelift when “Comfort and Joy” streams live on Dec. 13 at 5 p.m. In addition to The Whole Noyse Renaissance wind band, the concert will include an alphorn player (really: I just report the news) and the Velocity Handbell Choir, as well as traditional holiday music, visual art, audience singalongs, and a world premiere.
San Francisco Girls Chorus
SFGC once again shows off its virtuosity and versatility in its 2020 winter concert, “Island Holiday.” Streaming on the Chorus’s YouTube channel on Dec. 20 at 3 p.m. and including all four levels of instruction, the concert features a SFGC world premiere, Angélica Negrón’s Cosecha, a work inspired by the botanic illustrations of fellow Puerto Rican artist and educator Rosaura Rodríguez, which showcase plants, fruits, vegetables, and herbs native to the island. Also on the bill, in addition to favorite carols, is the premiere of a scene from Matthew Welch’s choral opera Tomorrow’s Memories, based on the 1924–1928 diary writings of Filipina immigrant Angeles Monrayo.
iSing Silicon Valley
As reported in this week’s Music News item, the “[email protected]” concert will include all 215 choristers singing a couple of contemporary selections as well as traditional carols and songs. The concert is Dec. 19 at 4:30 p.m.
Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir
Robert Geary leads PEBCC in music from around the world in their virtual “Candlelight Concert” on Dec. 12 at 4 p.m. The hourlong concert will include the talents of the Finnish children’s choir Vox Aurea.
Ragazzi Boys Chorus
Ragazzi shows off its brand-new tech, Ragazzi Virtual Studio, which allows them to sing together remotely in real time. “Beyond the Stars” streams live on Dec. 13 at 4 p.m.
Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys
“A Cathedral Christmas” is scaled down to solos and quartets with an appearance by the Camerata and, of course, the massive cathedral organ. The concert of classic carols streams Dec. 12 – Jan. 5, 2021.
Young Women’s Choral Projects
Susan McMane’s eight-year-old organization won Chorus America’s Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence. The whole choral school will sing virtually in “Ring in the New,” along with guest artists Continuo (Ragazzi’s Young Men’s Ensemble), Sonos Handbell Ensemble, and violinist Melissa Kleinbart from the SF Symphony.
San Francisco Choral Artists
Magen Solomon’s breadth of repertory usually makes the SFCA concert a December highlight. Yes, some traditional carols (no worries on that score), but in “The Rose of Winter: Songs of Mary,” Solomon promises a range of music “from medieval England to classical Boston to S.F. today” with much unusual music along the way. The Quadre Horn Quartet joins the distanced choir. The streaming premiere is Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. and the concert will be available through Dec. 31.
The Choral Project and San José Chamber Orchestra
Musicians from The Choral Project and SJCO present “Winter’s Gifts: Treasures,” a celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Diwali, featuring a new performance of Ola Gjeilo’s Across the Vast, Eternal Sky. Much of the concert will be archived recordings of the previous 16 years of collaboration between the two organizations. The concert streams on Dec. 19 at 7 p.m.
SF Gay Men’s Chorus
(At) Home for the Holidays streams on Dec. 24 at 5 p.m. and features guest artists Laura Benanti, Bianca del Rio (Season 6 winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race), Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil (first openly gay prince in the world), plus conductor Jessica Bejarano, singer-songwriter Matthew Nathanson, and others.
Los Angeles Master Chorale
The singalong tradition lives in the privacy of your own home. In “Holiday Karaoke,” LAMC’s interactive, livestreamed event, the concert comes with an instructional video that prepares you to sing along with the chorus. The program of holiday favorites streams on Dec. 17 at 6 p.m. on Zoom.