Christmastime in the concert halls

  • by Philip Campbell
  • Tuesday December 4, 2018
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December is always a busy month. Between holiday parties, shopping and work, it can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming. There is a real need for moments of live musical entertainment and personal reflection amidst the ubiquitous soundtrack of Christmas cheer. Luckily, there is something for everyone as we look forward to an exceptionally active calendar of concerts in San Francisco.

If you can't go a month without opera, the San Francisco Opera's delightful presentation of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's "It's a Wonderful Life" continues through Dec. 9 at the War Memorial Opera House. The classic Frank Capra film has been given the full SFO treatment and makes a great start to Yuletime festivities.

Returning by popular demand, adventurous Opera Parallele makes the season bright with a fresh take on Rachel Portman's charming musicalization of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's beloved novella "The Little Prince." Performances Dec. 7-9 at Marine's Memorial Theatre in San Francisco of the Academy Award-winning English composer's mystical opera come with a twist, in collaboration with the San Francisco Girls Chorus. A timely feminist touch has the principal characters played by women and girls. With digital magic, animated illustrations, and a cast of fantastical characters, Opera Parallele explores Saint-Exupery's enchanted universe looking for answers to some of life's biggest questions.

What would December be without a trip to Davies Symphony Hall and performances of Handel's glorious sacred oratorio "Messiah?" The beautifully decorated lobbies welcome listeners in for a holiday tradition that features returning English conductor Jane Glover, this year Dec. 14 & 15. Local favorite, tenor Nicholas Phan joins her with soprano Ying Fang, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong, baritone Joshua Hopkins (currently appearing at SFO as George's brother Harry in "It's a Wonderful Life"), and Ragnar Bohlin's superb SFS Chorus.

As long as you're casting an eye on DSH, you should note busy San Francisco Girls Chorus will follow its Opera Parallele engagement with "Holidays at Davies" on Mon., Dec. 17, at 7:30 p.m. SFGC and Artistic Director Valerie Sainte-Agathe will present music from around the world, as well as traditional Christmas carols and Jewish folksongs. The legendary Kronos Quartet & Musae join them for the program, which includes the West Coast premiere of Michael Gordon's "Exalted."

The San Francisco Symphony's own slate of seasonal events could not be more eclectic, ranging from the traditional to outrageous camp. The month started with a screening of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" with the SFS, and continued with Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser conducting the annual "Deck the Hall" concert featuring members of "Beach Blanket Babylon," San Francisco Boys Chorus, Ian Robertson director, and many other young local performers. Coming up, in rapid and dizzying order:

"Holiday Soul" with Vanessa Williams and Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Dec. 7 & 8.

Annual Youth Orchestra Holiday Concert. Sunday matinee, Dec. 9, with Christian Reif conductor, and actor Richard Dreyfuss narrating Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf."

The night of Dec. 9 features Mariachi Sol de Mexico de Jose Hernandez in "A Merry-Achi Christmas." Anyone who has ever experienced a Mexican celebration of the season can expect a wonderful night of joyous music-making.

Erik Ochsner conducts another screening with live orchestra Dec. 11 & 12, when director Richard Curtis' "Love Actually" gets the luxe SFS soundtrack treatment.

Edwin Outwater wedges in between movie offerings, conducting members of the SFS in "Holiday Brass," Sun., Dec. 16, 7:30 p.m.

The big screen lights up again Dec. 19, 20 & 21 with a major presentation of John Williams' beloved score for the original Chris Columbus "Home Alone." Randall Craig Fleischer conducts Young Women's Choral Projects of San Francisco, Susan McMane director; the Ragazzi Boys Chorus, Joyce Keil artistic director; SFS Chorus, Ragnar Bohlin director; and the SFS.

On Dec. 22, the Midtown Men (original cast of "Jersey Boys") sing holiday hits and pop hits from the Beatles, the Rascals, the Turtles, Motown, and of course, the Four Seasons. The SFS doesn't appear in this presentation, but it's a safe bet to expect the talented quartet will bring a back-up band.

The DSH Christmas roster wraps on Dec. 23 with Ragnar Bohlin conducting San Francisco Girls Chorus, SFS Chorus, Jonathan Dimmock organ, and members of the SFS brass section in "'Twas the Night: A Festival of Carols." It sounds intimate and traditional as can be, which should ease everyone into Christmas Eve.

But wait, there's more: "New Year's Gaiety: Peaches Christ and the San Francisco Symphony" arrives at DSH New Year's Eve with members of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, HomoPhonics affiliate ensemble of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, comedian and vocalist Jane Lynch, Cheyenne Jackson, and Varla Jean Merman set to tear down the Christmas decorations. Edwin Outwater appears as conductor and co-emcee. Edwin and Peaches were the instigators behind last year's "Holiday Gaiety," and they're rarin' to go again!