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Streaming for All Ye Faithful and Secular Holiday Music Fans

December 14, 2020

As a rule, we tend to appreciate good things fully only when losing them, and that’s so true for the usual torrent of holiday shows now eliminated by the coronavirus pandemic. Memories of dancing sugarplums and of the reluctance to stand for the “Hallelujah Chorus” bring to mind the lilting quintet from A Little Night Music:

Ah, how we laughed! Ah, how we cried!
Ah, how we laughed! Ah, how we wept!

Instead of the huge SF War Memorial being packed for 30 performances of The Nutcracker, dozens of Messiah concerts, A Christmas Carol and its many versions, we still have streamed opportunities to celebrate together while apart. “God bless us, everyone.”

All times below are Pacific Standard Time. Prices, when not noted, should be available on the websites. Many events are only available at the time of the original livestreaming, and are available afterwards at the originating site, with this intriguing exception:

Cal Performances is making its New Year’s Eve Musical Celebration available to stream for the entire duration of New Year’s Day around the world. This is how it works: The show is streamed beginning at 2 a.m. PST on Dec. 31, when the new year begins in Samoa and part of Kiribati, and will remain available until 4 a.m. PST on Jan. 1, when it becomes 2021 in the Outer Islands of Baker Island and Howland Island, an hour away from Midway and Pago Pago. Those people have the misfortune of waiting the longest for 2020 to end.

The program is hosted by Nathalie Joachim and consists of performances recorded especially for this occasion. Among the participating artists: the Tetzlaff Quartet, David Finckel and Wu Han, Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott, Leif Ove Andsnes, the Dover Quartet, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, and Matthew Whitaker.

Tickets are $15 for a single viewer (on the honor system, of course). Sorry to say, my favorite Berkeley holiday event, Mark Morris’s The Hard Nut, an homage to the Tchaikovsky’s score, was streamed on Dec. 12 in the morning, and is no longer available.

There is another Cal Performances event in the future, streamed three times — Dec. 17 at 5 p.m., Dec. 18 at 7 p.m., and Dec. 19 at 1 p.m. — Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol, a co-commission with Cal Performances.

In the play, streamed from Chicago, holiday skeptic Aunt Trudy has been tasked with presenting her family’s annual Christmas Carol puppet show from the isolation of her studio apartment — over a Zoom call while the family celebrates Christmas Eve under lockdown. But as Trudy becomes more absorbed in her own version of the story, the puppets take on a life of their own, and the family’s holiday call transforms into a cinematic adaptation of Dickens’ classic ghost story. Manual Cinema’s production features hundreds of paper puppets, miniatures, silhouettes, and an original music score performed live.

Among streamed Messiah performances, American Bach Soloists’ free livestream is available on Dec. 19, at 5 p.m. Handel’s Messiah in Grace Cathedral is conducted by Jeffrey Thomas, with soloists soprano Mary Wilson, countertenor Eric Jurenas, tenor Kyle Stegall, and baritone Jesse Blumberg, featuring trumpeter John Thiessen. The concert stays up on YouTube after Dec. 19.

For the Nutcracker, a version of which has filled the War Memorial during the holidays ever since the building went up in 1932, there is a splendid video version from San Francisco Ballet, now being streamed through Dec. 31.

Nutcracker Online opens with a virtual reality-style Opera House where you can hang out before watching Nutcracker and enjoy interactive activities along the way: a photo booth where you can download Nutcracker-themed images, an opportunity to learn some of Nutcracker’s choreography, a special Nutcracker-themed podcast, an activity book packed with puzzles and games, a Nutcracker history video, and a chance to browse the SF Ballet Shop.

As for the cost, streaming is great news. SF Ballet Nutcracker prices have been on the high end for years, especially in recent seasons. With orchestra seats upward of $300 and no discount for children, a family of four might have spent over $1,000 last year, but now — sitting home — the cost is $49 for 48 hours of viewing time between now and Dec. 31.

Across from the empty War Memorial stands the deserted Davies Symphony Hall, but SF Symphony holiday activities are persisting through several streaming opportunities.

There is a festive virtual Deck the Hall celebration, hosted by Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, conducted by Daniel Stewart, and narrated by NBC’s Raj Mathai, marking the event’s 40th anniversary with a program of holiday music and audience sing-alongs. It’s available free on both TV (Dec. 19 at 3:30 p.m. and Dec. 25 at 11 a.m. on NBC Bay Area) and on-demand streaming.

The program includes selections from The Nutcracker, holiday favorites arranged for string quartet, klezmer holiday music, and performances by musicians of the SF Symphony, organist Jonathan Dimmock, members of the SF Symphony Chorus directed by Ragnar Bohlin, and the SF Boys Chorus directed by Eric Choate.

What is it like to record during the pandemic? SF Symphony Chorus bass-baritone Chung-Wai Soong told SF Classical Voice:

In advance, the SFS team gave us clear and detailed health and safety procedures that we were to follow. We were told to not arrive more than 15 minutes before our scheduled time, and to refrain from congregating backstage before and after our session.

We were to wear masks, practice social distancing, and [maintain] hand hygiene while in the building. When I showed up at the Grove Street stage door, there was temperature screening with a contactless temperature kiosk at the stage door.

Opened the camera app on my smartphone, pointed it at the QR code posted by the stage door, tapped the web address that appears over the QR code, entered all my contact information.

Following the prompts, I answered a series of health screening questions: if I have Covid, or have come into contact with anyone with Covid, etc. Showing the green “Access Granted” screen to security, I could enter the building.

Dressing rooms on the stage level served as recording rooms for one person. I was briefed by a technician on the whole process, how far to sing from the mic, and so on.

As the engineer was overlooking several people recording at the same time (but in separate rooms), we were told that the recording would run continuously, so we could just stop and start on our own. We were told to “slate” and number each take to help them keep track. I also annotated verbally to them what I was doing or going to do. We were allotted one-hour sessions, and although I was recording only three songs, I needed all that time for multiple takes.

When it was time to exit, I had to sign out through Safe Site Check-in. Once again, using the camera app on my phone, pointed it at the Exit QR code posted to register my exit.”

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].