Neither audiences nor performers will be taking holiday concerts for granted this year. After a season of events curtailed by the pandemic — moved online or just plain canceled — 2021 has relieved the drought with the return to live performances. Annual traditions, from countless Nutcrackers to many Messiahs, will seem extra special this year. And while most of the groups featured in our holiday guide have been back in the concert swing of things for a bit now, a handful are taking their first steps onstage post-shutdown with these performances.
So there are a lot of musical celebrations to choose from and this guide is here to help. Find performances in the Los Angeles area below: choruses and caroling, Baroque classics, mariachi bands, and more — as always at SFCV, we emphasize the music.
(Please note: Check the health-and-safety protocols of the performance before purchasing your tickets. Different venues have different requirements for attendees, although most are requiring proof of vaccination and full masking for the duration of the event.)
At the Orchestra
LA Phil: Various programs (Dec. 10–31) — The holiday performances at Disney Hall kick off with Home Alone in concert, the LA Phil playing John Williams’s score (Dec. 10–12). The orchestra may take the rest of the month off, but a full lineup of touring acts keeps the mood festive, from a cappella group Chanticleer (Dec. 14) to gospel star CeCe Winans (Dec. 17) to Arturo Sandoval and his Big Band’s “Swinging Holiday” (Dec. 21). Pink Martini closes out 2021 in signature style with two New Year’s Eve performances: a touch of Vegas, a touch of Paris, and everything in between. Visit the LA Phil’s website for the full schedule.
Pacific Symphony: Various programs (Dec. 4–21) — The Orange County orchestra has all the Christmas classics covered. The ensemble partners with Festival Ballet Theatre for a kids’ version of The Nutcracker, two matinee performances Dec. 4. Next, the group revels in Handel’s Messiah, joined by a quartet of soloists and Pacific Chorale (Dec. 5). Pacific Symphony gets into the pops spirit with “Midtown Men Holiday” (Dec. 17–18), and members of the orchestra play with organist Todd Wilson for the “Holiday Organ Spectacular” (Dec. 21). All programs at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.
LA Opera: Cinderella (Dec. 1–12) — It’s not strictly a Christmas story, but the fairytale feeling of Rossini’s La Cenerentola is sure to brighten the season. LA Opera’s family-friendly production plays four more performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, including one that streams online for audiences anywhere (Dec. 1).
Choruses and Caroling
Los Angeles Master Chorale: “Festival of Carols” (Dec. 4 and 11), Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 19), and 40th Annual Messiah Sing-Along (Dec. 20) — L.A.’s choruses are working overtime this December. The city’s premier group, Los Angeles Master Chorale, sings two programs: a tour of carols and folksongs from around the world, and then that indisputable choral favorite — plus its sing-along version the next night. The Master Chorale is back at its home venue, Disney Hall, for these annual performances.
Pacific Chorale: “Carols by Candlelight” (Dec. 4 and 8) and “Tis the Season!” (Dec. 19–20) — Robert Istad’s group reprises two favorite programs in Orange County. The hushed, sacred atmosphere of Our Lady Queen of Angels is backdrop for “Carols by Candlelight,” but it’s bright lights and holly jolly for “Tis the Season!” — and you can expect a visit from Santa too — at Segerstrom Hall.
Angel City Chorale: “Light up the World” (Dec. 4–5) — Community is what Angel City Chorale is all about, and the group makes its return to the stage with these performances at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Artistic Director Sue Fink leads the 160-voice chorus, plus orchestra, in a feel-good holiday program, from the traditional (O Magnum Mysterium) to the not-so (“Bohemian Chanukah”).
March of the Nutcrackers
American Ballet Theatre: The Nutcracker (Dec. 10–19) — The New York City company comes to the Segerstrom Center for the holidays. It’s a modern tradition — like ABT’s polished production itself, with 2010 choreography by Alexei Ratmansky — and Pacific Symphony is on hand to play Tchaikovsky’s score.
American Contemporary Ballet: The Nutcracker Suite (now – Dec. 24) — A fittingly contemporary take on the classic. The L.A. company’s Nutcracker Suite is stripped down — just the major Act 2 dances and only a handful of musicians — but all the more intimate.
Westside Ballet: The Nutcracker (Dec. 4–5) — There’s still three performances left of Westside Ballet’s Nutcracker, the longest-running production in Southern California (since 1973). The Santa Monica College Symphony Orchestra joins the pre-professional cast at The Broad Stage.
Long Beach Ballet: The Nutcracker (Dec. 17–19) — Artistic Director David Wilcox hasn’t skimped on the production demands. Long Beach Ballet’s Nutcracker has a cast of more than 200, plus a full orchestra in the pit, onstage pyrotechnics, and even a live horse. At the Terrace Theater.
Los Angeles Ballet: The Nutcracker (Dec. 23–26) — LAB tours its Nutcracker around Southern California in December, but it isn’t until the final performances — Dec. 23, 24, and 26, at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre — that the orchestra joins in, conducted by Andrea Quinn.
Bach and Handel
St. Matthew’s Music Guild: “A Baroque Christmas” (Dec. 3) — Along with selections from the Messiah, the Chamber Orchestra at St. Matthew’s plays music of Michel Corrette, the composer of six Symphonies des Noël that riff on popular carols of the 18th century.
Philharmonic Society of Orange County: The Complete Bach Brandenburg Concertos (Dec. 11) — Holiday Bach is a regular thing for The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. The group brings its completist’s program to Segerstrom Hall this season, presented by the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.
Musica Angelica: “A Baroque Christmas” (Dec. 11–12) — L.A.’s period-performance group has Bach, Handel, and Corrette planned too, plus concertos by Telemann and Francesco Manfredini. Soprano Teresa Wakim and trumpeter Siegfried Koch join as soloists for these performances, Dec. 11 in Long Beach and Dec. 12 in Los Angeles.
Southern California Brass Consortium: “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (Dec. 5) — Hector Salazar’s brass band does things a little differently — the group’s 26 players include a harpist, and percussion too. The holiday concert is a time to shine, and each year, SCBC shows off new works and new arrangements of familiar favorites.
Philharmonic Society of Orange County: Canadian Brass (Dec. 10) — For more holiday brass, the Canadian quintet plays a light program at Segerstrom Hall, presented by the Philharmonic Society. Just one of the numbers in the group’s repertoire: trumpeter Brandon Ridenour’s arrangement of Tchaikovsky, The Canuckracker.
New Hollywood String Quartet: Vienna Holiday Concerts (Dec. 17–19) — The L.A. quartet rings in 2022 a little early with this three-concert series at Rothenberg Hall that takes inspiration from a city famous for its New Year’s concert. The program? Mozart and Schubert, of course, including some absolute chamber standards: Schubert’s “Trout” quintet, Mozart’s “Dissonance” quartet, and more.
The Music Center: 62nd Annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration (Dec. 24) — The yearly marathon performance is back in person at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 2022. More than 20 ensembles, choirs, and dance companies — from classical to gospel to mariachi — join in the three-hour event, which is also broadcast online and on PBS SoCal.
Musco Center for the Arts: “A Southern California Christmas” (Dec. 19) — Orange County’s answer to L.A.’s annual celebration. Now in its fourth year, the program at Chapman University’s Musco Center features more than 150 musicians, singers, and dancers, from the Orange Community Master Chorale to the Southern California Brass Consortium to Anaheim Ballet.
Holiday Pops and More
New West Symphony: “Tales of Winter” (Dec. 4–5) — Music Director Michael Christie has planned more than your average pops concert. The performances — Dec. 4 in Thousand Oaks and Dec. 5 in Camarillo — borrow their name from the world premiere on the program, a new piece by Pauline Frechette. But there’s plenty that’s traditional too, from Tchaikovsky to Rimsky-Korsakov to Sleigh Ride.
Los Angeles Symphony: Christmas Concert (Dec. 12) — Holiday music is just a fraction of the LA Symphony’s December concert. Music Director Hyun Sang Joo also conducts Korean art songs and classic opera excerpts, starring singers from LA Opera’s Young Artist Program. At the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.
Long Beach Symphony: Holiday Pops With the Camerata Singers (Dec. 18) — Camerata Artistic Director James Bass leads both orchestra and singers in this concert promising “raucous renditions of your seasonal favorites” at The Long Beach Arena’s Pacific Ballroom.
Pasadena Symphony and POPS: “Holiday Candlelight” (Dec. 18) — The annual program at Pasadena’s All Saints Church sells out quickly, the orchestra warns. And it’s no wonder with the number of musicians involved. Jenny Wong conducts the Symphony — plus three choruses, handbell ensemble, and vocal soloist — in afternoon and evening performances Dec. 18.
Mariachi Sol de México: Merry-Achi Christmas (Dec. 4–5) — Mariachi master José Hernández tours this program from California to Texas every year. But his two bands, Sol de México and Reyna de Los Angeles, call L.A. home, so they’re on their stomping grounds for two performances at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.
The Soraya: Nochebuena (Dec. 10–11) — Celebrate Christmas Eve early! The Soraya’s popular free event is an evening of Mexican song and dance, this year featuring singer-songwriter Lupita Infante, along with Ballet Folklórico de Los Ángeles and Mariachi Garibaldi de Jaime Cuéllar.
Spanish Harlem Orchestra: Salsa Navidad (Dec. 12) — The New York salsa and Latin jazz band brings the heat even during the winter holidays. The group reprises its high-energy Christmas program at the Segerstrom Center this year, after a first performance in 2019.
Mariachi Los Camperos: Fiesta Navidad (Dec. 22) — The L.A. mariachi ensemble throws a musical party in Segerstrom Hall just before Christmas. It’s one of Orange County’s most beloved holiday events for a reason.