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Light Up the Season: Holiday Music Picks

December 3, 2013

In this season when classical music is part of popular tradition, there’s a Messiah round every corner, and you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Nutcracker dancer. So here’s your guide to the holiday concert season, nutcrackers, carols, and all.

Choruses and Carols

San Francisco Bach Choir: In dulci jubilo: A Candlelight Christmas

San Francisco Bach ChoirWe begin, as we do every year, with this San Francisco tradition, famed for the entrance of the chorus bearing lighted candles into the darkened nave of Calvary Presbyterian Church. If you’re at all moved by early music, you won’t want to pass up the chance to hear the choir sing William Byrd’s motet O magnum mysterium along with a selection of Michael Praetorius Christmas carols. And, no worries, a few well-known carols as well.

Dec. 7, 8 p.m., and Dec. 8, 4 p.m., Calvary Presbyterian Church, San Francisco, $24-$35, students $10, under 18 free. A Candlelight Christmas. Enter the SFCV contest to win free tickets.

Marin Symphony: Holiday Choral Concert

Speaking of candlelight performances, the spacious Church of St. Raphael gets lit up with members of the Marin Symphony and Marin Symphony Chorus in a local tradition that features favorite carols and — get this — abundant parking for only 50 cents an hour.

Dec. 7, 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 8, 4 p.m., The Church of Saint Raphael, San Rafael, $25-$30. Holiday Concerts by Candlelight.

Kitka: Wintersongs

KitkaIndulge in some Slavic soul with the Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble. Fresh from hunting up a new trove of melody in the Balkans, the women present a Bosnian-Muslim song from the ganga tradition (you’ll have to hear the concert to find out more about that), as well as seasonal songs from around Eastern Europe. The concert schedule ends up with the annual Community Sing, Dec. 22, in which the audience gets to sing along with favorites from Kitka’s Wintersongs songbook.

Dec. 8, 3 p.m., Fort Ross State Historic Park, Jenner; Dec. 13, 8 p.m., St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Oakland; Dec. 14, Dance Palace Community Center, Point Reyes; Dec. 15, 4 p.m., St. Bede’s Episcopal Church, Menlo Park; Dec. 21, 8 p.m., Old First Concerts, S.F.; Dec. 22, Nile Hall in Historic Preservation Park, Oakland, $10-$40 (Community Sing is free).

Masterworks Chorale: Home for the Holidays

Masterworks Chorale has something that a lot of holiday revelers have come to love: Cookies! You can get your sugar buzz on after the concert with a huge assortment of them (unless you’re attending the later show, in which case, come early). But first, there is Gustav Holst’s inventive cantata Christmas Day, music from the iconic, animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and a slew of traditional carols.

Dec. 8, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., Transfiguration Episcopal Church, San Mateo, $20-$25, students $10. Home for the Holidays.

California Bach Society: Christmas with Peter Warlock and Henry VIII

Cal BachO.K., maybe you’re thinking King Wenceslas not Henry VIII, but you can usually trust choral director Paul Flight’s inventive programming, so don’t judge this concert by its title. Early music afficionados know that the English caroling tradition begins in medieval times, in the 14th and 15th century. The CBS takes us on a full tour from ancient to modern, with a few larger-scale pieces added in along the way.

Dec. 13, 8 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, S.F.; Dec. 14, 8 p.m., All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Palo Alto; Dec. 15, St. John’s Presbyterian Church, Berkeley, $30. Christmas With Peter Warlock and Henry VIII.

A Chanticleer Christmas

One of the most popular Christmas traditions, as evidenced by the 12 concerts in 12 days the group gives in the Bay Area, beginning Dec. 13 at Oakland’s Cathedral of Christ the Light, and ending, magically in the Carmel Mission on Dec. 23. Even if you’re not a caroling afficionado, this is a concert that should be on your Bucket List.

Various locations and times, $35-$65. A Chanticleer Christmas.

Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys: A Cathedral Christmas

Grace CathedralIn the spectacular surroundings of Grace Cathedral, the choir and a full orchestra perform Britten’s cantata St. Nicholas, in a semi-staged performance honoring the composer’s centennial. And after that, carols abound.

Dec. 14, 15, 20, 22 3 p.m., Grace Cathedral, $15-$50. A Cathedral Christmas.

Magnificat: A Venetian Christmas

After a year’s sabbatical, Warren Stewart is back in the Bay Area, leading Magnificat, his group of 17th-century music specialists in a program of concerted and polychoral music from the glory years of Venice. Featuring the wind and brass band The Whole Noyse, this concert takes on major masterworks by Giovanni Gabrieli, Claudio Monteverdi, and Alessandro Grandi. Presented by San Francisco Early Music Society.

Dec. 20, 8 p.m., United Methodist Church, Palo Alto; Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m., First Congregational Church, Berkeley; Dec. 22, 4 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, S.F., $28-$35, students $10. Magnificat.

San Francisco Girls Chorus: Noel! Noel! and Hark, The Herald Angels Swing

S.F. Girls ChorusOne of the consistently strongest choruses in the Bay Area takes their popular carols concert across the Bay Bridge to Berkeley this weekend, before bringing it home to Davies Symphony Hall on Dec. 22, with the full complement of 350 girls plus Marcus Shelby and his Quintet for jazz arrangements of holiday classics.

Dec. 6, 8 p.m., First Presbyterian Church, Berkeley; $18-$36 Noel, Noel; Dec. 22, 8 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall, $30-$65, Hark, The Herald Andels Swing.

San Francisco Boys Chorus: A Not So Silent Night

Not to be outdone by the girls, the SFBC takes a concert of carols to Bing Concert Hall. The full program, featuring every level of the SFBC, takes place at Mission Dolores Basilica, and Oakland’s Cathedral of Christ the Light.

Dec. 7, 1:30 p.m., Mission Dolores Basilica, S.F., $35-$45 San Francisco Boys Chorus; Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland, Dec. 21, 8 p.m. $10-$35, ; Dec. 15, 2:30 p.m., Bing Concert Hall, Stanford University, $10-$50. A Not So Silent Night.

Pacific Boychoir: Harmonies of the Season

Pacific BoychoirFresh from their triumph in Britten’s War Requiem, the Pacific Boychoir comes through with one of Britten’s most popular works, A Ceremony of Carols. It’s hard to let the season go without hearing this piece at least once.

Dec. 13, 8 p.m., First Congregational Church, Berkeley, $17-$27. Harmonies of the Season.


American Bach Soloists

An unforgettable wedding of performance and locale. We don’t recommend criminal activity to get your hands on tickets, but tears, begging, and pleading are all fair methods. Also, call the box office.

Dec. 11-12, 7:30 p.m., Grace Cathedral, S.F., $25-$94. American Bach Soloists

Philharmonia Baroque

The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is led, of course, by a master of Handelian style, Nicholas McGegan. He has first-rate soloists at his disposal, including soprano Yulia van Doren and Bruce LaMott’s finely-tuned Philharmonia Chorale. It’s Baroque style done in an extravagantly entertaining fashion.

Dec. 14, 7 p.m., Zellerbach Hall (Cal Performances), UC Berkeley, $30-$65; Dec. 15, 3 p.m., Weill Concert Hall, Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, $40-$85. Philharmonia Baroque.

San Francisco Symphony and Chorus

SFS ChorusRagnar Bohlin’s San Francisco Symphony Chorus turns in a nuanced, finely sung performance of this masterwork every year, and they’re backed by a fairly famous orchestra.

Dec. 19-21, 8 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall, $37-$152. S.F. Symphony and Chorus.

Other San Francisco Performances

The San Francisco Symphony fits a lot under its big tent during the holiday season. Out of the dozen offerings at Davies Symphony Hall this month, may we recommend:

Peter and the Wolf: John Lithgow joins the S.F. Symphony Youth Orchestra for this children’s classic. Sat. Dec. 14.

Peabo Bryson: Colors of Christmas. The SFSO is joined by four great R&B vocalists and the First A.M.E. Oakland Mass Choir in an evening of standards and Christmas songs. Dec. 16-18.

‘Twas the Night: Ragnar Bohlin conducts the SFSO brass and chorus, with soprano Lisa Vroman, pianist Joan Cifarelli, and organist Robert Huw Morgan in a beautiful program of carols. Dec. 20-22.


San Francisco Ballet

NutcrackerOne of the most visually beautiful productions you’ll ever see, and the dancing ain’t half bad either. There are only 30,000,000 performances this month, so hurry to get tickets.

Dec. 11-29, various times, War Memorial Opera House, $20-$175, San Francisco Ballet.

Ballet San Jose

Nutcracker. Costumes are by Broadway legend Theoni V. Aldredge, and the Symphony Silicon Valley provides the music, under the baton of George Daugherty.

Dec. 11-26, various times, San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, $20-$105. Ballet San Jose.

At the Community Music Center

La Posarela: Taking off from Mexican Christmas pageant traditions, this bilingual musical brings an updated sensibility to the Nativity story. The cast of over 70 performers includes members of Community Music Center’s Latin Vocal Workshop, Mission District Young Musicians Program, Coro del Pueblo, Children’s Chorus, Senior Choruses and other guest performers. Seating is limited, because it’s a whole lot of entertainment for very little money. After the performance, there will be a small fiesta with food and a piñata.

Dec. 8, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., Brava Theater, $5-$7.

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.