As usual, we enter the Christmas and holiday season with heavier thoughts than just peace and joy on our minds, so we look to music and contemplation to soothe our perturbed spirits. The musicians and artists below keep meeting this challenge year after year in a kind of ministry of healing. If you need an infusion of good tidings to go along with your COVID booster, you’ve come to the right place. The grand old traditions continue alongside a flow of new music, zany fun and introspection combine, and young kids accompany parents and grandparents to hear carols and watch dancing snowflakes. And maybe we forget about shopping and holiday preparations for a few hours. Scan the smorgasbord below, and be amazed.
At Disney Hall
Los Angeles Philharmonic: Various programs (Dec. 3–31) — The LA Phil goes serious with its holiday offerings this year. Gustavo Dudamel leads an intriguing program that pairs Tchaikovsky’s music for Act 1 of The Nutcracker with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s jazzy take on the same score (Dec. 3–18). The orchestra is in straight pops mode for Home Alone in concert, bringing John Williams’s music and Chris Columbus’s film to life (Dec. 20–22). Touring acts provide the rest of the Christmas cheer, from a cappella group Chanticleer (Dec. 13) to Arturo Sandoval and his Big Band’s “Swinging Holiday” (Dec. 23). Visit the LA Phil’s website for the full schedule.
Los Angeles Master Chorale: Various programs (Dec. 10–19) — Another stellar ensemble calls Disney Hall home, and any night the Philharmonic’s not playing, you can count on the Master Chorale to fill the venue. The chorus is singing more festive programs than ever this December. There’s a subscription concert conducted by Associate Artistic Director Jenny Wong (“Lo, How a Rose,” Dec. 11), plus the seasonal staples: “A Festival of Carols” (Dec. 10 and 17), Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 18), and a sing-along evening that starts outside The Music Center but ends up back inside (Dec. 19).
Choruses and Caroling
Pacific Chorale: “Carols by Candlelight” (Dec. 3 and 7) and “Tis the Season!” (Dec. 18–19) — 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 the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.
Angel City Chorale: “The More the Merrier” (Dec. 3–4) — Community is what Angel City Chorale is all about, and the ensemble comes together again for another pair of performances at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Artistic Director Sue Fink leads the 150-voice chorus, plus orchestra, in this feel-good holiday program, from the traditional (“Carol of the Bells”) to the not-so (“Hanukkah in Santa Monica”).
Pasadena Chorale: “The Light of Hope Returning” (Dec. 6) — Pasadena Chorale breaks new ground with its winter concert, featuring the local premiere of Shawn Kirchner’s title oratorio. In the composer’s words, The Light of Hope Returning is a “ceremony of carols,” incorporating songs and settings that range from Christmas classics to bluegrass arrangements to original themes connecting it all. At First United Methodist Church, Pasadena.
Los Angeles Children’s Chorus: “Hope for Resolution” (Dec. 9 and 11) — Nearly 300 choristers age 6 to 18 take the stage at Pasadena Presbyterian Church for an uplifting weekend of performances. A message of unity and hope underlies the program. Artistic Director Fernando Malvar-Ruiz explains: “[The title] piece, written in reaction to apartheid, combines a Zulu melody and an Anglican chant, showing that music can be a way to bring [cultures] together.”
March of the Nutcrackers
Ballet just isn’t the same without an orchestra. There’s no shortage of Nutcracker productions across Southern California this season, but only some feature live music:
American Contemporary Ballet: The Nutcracker Suite (Dec. 1–24) — A contemporary take on the Tchaikovsky classic. The L.A. company’s Nutcracker Suite is stripped down — just the major character dances and only a handful of musicians — but all the more intimate.
Westside Ballet: The Nutcracker (Dec. 3–4) — There’s still four performances left of Westside Ballet’s Nutcracker, the longest-running production in Southern California (since 1973). Guest artists, a pre-professional cast, and the Santa Monica College Symphony Orchestra come together each year at BroadStage.
Los Angeles Ballet: The Nutcracker (Dec. 3–26) — LAB tours its Nutcracker around Southern California in December, but it isn’t until the final performances — Dec. 22–26 at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre — that the orchestra joins in.
American Ballet Theatre: The Nutcracker (Dec. 9–18) — The New York City company returns to the Segerstrom Center for the holidays. It’s a modern tradition — like ABT’s polished production itself, featuring Alexei Ratmansky’s 2010 choreography — and Pacific Symphony is on hand to play Tchaikovsky’s score.
Long Beach Ballet: The Long Beach Nutcracker (Dec. 16–23) — Artistic Director David Wilcox doesn’t skimp 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.
A Baroque Christmas
Musica Angelica: “A Baroque Christmas” (Dec. 3–4) — L.A.’s established period ensemble is making a special event out of one holiday concert this year. A gala reception and dinner pair with the Dec. 3 performance in Long Beach. For fewer frills, check out the festive program of concertos and cantatas the next day at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles.
St. Matthew’s Music Guild: Annual Holiday Concert (Dec. 9) — “Winter” from Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons sets the scene for this performance by the Chamber Orchestra at St. Matthew’s, which concludes in glorious fashion with the parish choir singing C.P.E. Bach’s Magnificat.
The Soraya: London Handel Players (Dec. 18) — Handel doesn’t have to mean grand and imposing. This close-knit British group has been interpreting the composer’s works on a smaller scale for 20-plus years, and the instrumentalists bring excerpts from Messiah, J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, and more to the intimate onstage setup at The Soraya.
Long Beach Camerata Singers: Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 22) — Sometimes a full chorus just can’t be beat. And the Long Beach Camerata Singers go big in their annual Messiah performance, partnering with the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra at the Beverly O’Neill Theater.
Jouyssance: “A Merrie Twelfth Night” (Jan. 7–8, 2023) — Keep up the holiday spirits even in the new year. L.A.’s enterprising early-music ensemble Jouyssance takes its cue from English composers of the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries — John Dunstable, William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, and others — to celebrate the days after Christmas.
New West Symphony: “Winter Spectacular” (Dec. 3–4) — Music Director Michael Christie has planned a symphonic extravaganza this season. Guest artists of all stripes, from Broadway star Laura Osnes to Ukrainian dance ensemble Chervona Kalya, join the orchestra for two performances, Dec. 3 in Thousand Oaks and Dec. 4 in Camarillo.
Segerstrom Center for the Arts: Various programs (Dec. 3 – Jan. 1, 2023) — Pacific Symphony has the classics covered each year at the Segerstrom Center, be it a kids’ version of The Nutcracker (Dec. 3) or a performance of Handel’s Messiah with Pacific Chorale (Dec. 4). Add to that a diverse lineup of pops programming brought in by the Center: There’s Mannheim Steamroller on Dec. 4, Johnny Mathis on Dec. 23, and a “Salute to Vienna” on New Year’s Day. Check out the complete calendar on the Segerstrom Center’s website.
Los Angeles Symphony: Christmas Concert (Dec. 11) — 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 Chorus and Young Artist Program. At the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.
Long Beach Symphony: Holiday Pops (Dec. 17) — Guest conductor Morihiko Nakahara leads the orchestra and the Long Beach Camerata Singers in this concert that promises “to put you and your family in the holiday spirit.” In the Pacific Ballroom at The Long Beach Arena.
Pasadena Symphony & POPS: “Holiday Candlelight” (Dec. 17) — 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. Larry Blank conducts the Symphony — plus two choruses, handbell ensemble, and guest vocalist LC Powell — in afternoon and evening performances.
Southern California Brass Consortium: “Jingle All the Way” (Dec. 4) — Hector Salazar’s brass band does things a little differently — the group’s 26 players include a harpist and several percussionists, too. The holiday concert is a time to shine, and each year, SCBC shows off new works and new arrangements of familiar favorites. At Los Altos United Methodist Church.
Philharmonic Society of Orange County: Canadian Brass (Dec. 19) — For more holiday brass, the Canadian quintet plays a light program at Irvine Barclay Theatre, presented by the Philharmonic Society. This group knows how to have fun, whether it’s trumpeter Brandon Ridenour’s arrangement of “You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” or an all-brass take on Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.
Concordia University Irvine: “The Thill of Hope!” A Concordia Christmas (Dec. 5) — An Orange County tradition that extends to all of Southern California. The seasonal showcase of voices and instruments at Concordia kicks off at Segerstrom Hall, but you can catch the program on KCET or PBS SoCal the following week.
The Music Center: 63rd Annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration (Dec. 24) — The yearly marathon performance takes over the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Christmas Eve. More than 20 instrumental 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.
Mariachi Sol de México: “Merry-Achi Christmas” (Dec. 3–4) — 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. Expect something special with everyone back on their stomping grounds for these two performances at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.
The Soraya: “Nochebuena” (Dec. 10–11) — Celebrate Christmas Eve early. The Soraya’s popular program of traditional Mexican song and dance returns for another season, along with Ballet Folklórico de Los Ángeles, Mariachi Garibaldi de Jaime Cuéllar, and more regional artists.
Mariachi Los Camperos: “Fiesta Navidad” (Dec. 23) — The L.A. mariachi ensemble throws a musical party at Segerstrom Hall just before Christmas. It’s one of Orange County’s most beloved holiday events for a reason.