2021 Bay Area Holiday Classical Music: Concert Halls, Churches to Showcase the ‘Messiah’ and More

American gospel singer Yolanda Adams, shown here performing for the 40th anniversary of “A Capitol Fourth” on PBS on July 4, 2020, is scheduled to perform with the San Francisco Symphony this holiday season.

There are a handful of musical vigils that are always associated with Christmas. Handel’s “Messiah” is of course at the top of the list, along with other seasonal Baroque works by Bach and Corelli.

As music organizations and their audiences prepare to return for in-person performances after too long an absence, these familiar strains will be heard throughout the Bay Area.

But that’s not all – concert halls and churches promise to resonate again with Christmas carols and seasonal favorites, the sounds of jazz and pop and soul and opera, all proclaiming at least a temporary return to musical normality.

Singer and actor Darren Criss

San Francisco Symphony

As befits an organization with a lot of diverse musical irons on fire, the San Francisco Symphony vacation offerings don’t easily come together under one stylistic umbrella. Spread over nearly an entire month, they begin on December 8 with a soulful program featuring singer Yolanda Adams and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir and continue with a New Years program featuring Darren Criss.

Between the two, Grant Gershon will direct two performances of Handel’s “Messiah” (December 10 and 11); Edwin Outwater and Peaches Christ Host Holiday Gaiety Event on December 17th; Alan Cumming recounts “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” with guest conductor John Mauceri (December 21); And much more.

December 8-31. $ 20 to $ 175. Davies Symphony Hall, 401 Van Ness Avenue, SF 415-864-6000. www.sfsymphony.org

Artistic Director Paul Flight Photo: Bach Society of California

California Bach Soloists

Bach is on behalf of the group, but the California Bach Soloists and artistic director Paul Flight made the right decision to spend the holidays with Heinrich Schütz, Bach’s predecessor of exactly a century. Schütz’s “Christmas Story”, for solo singers, choir and instrumental ensemble, tells the story of the Nativity through lively, sometimes humorous and vibrant music. Christmas songs and carols from all over the world complete the program.

8:00 p.m. December 3. St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 1111 O’Farrell St., SF 8:00 p.m. December 4. All Saints Episcopal Church, 555 Waverley St., Palo Alto. 4 p.m. December 5. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 2300 Bancroft Ave., Berkeley. $ 10 to $ 30. 650-485-1097. www.calbach.org

Conductor and harpsichordist Richard Egarr Photo: Marco Borggreve

Baroque orchestra and choir of the Philharmonie

After dodging baroque music for much of their first season of live concerts together, music director Richard Egarr and the orchestra will celebrate the holiday season with the majestic and intensely expressive ‘Christmas Oratorio’. The performances feature a star-studded lineup of vocal soloists – soprano Lydia Teuscher, contralto Avery Amereau, tenor Gwilym Bowen and bass baritone Ashley Riches – as well as the splendours of the Philharmonia Chorale.

7 p.m. December 9. 7:30 p.m., December 10. Bing Concert Hall, Stanford. 7 p.m., December 11 4 p.m. December 12, First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way, Berkeley. $ 32 to $ 130. 415-295-1900. www.philharmonia.org

Grace Cathedral

Christmas musical festivities at Grace Cathedral have added vibrancy this year, as the Cathedral Choir celebrates its 75th anniversary. The traditional program of Christmas carols and sacred music will be performed five times between December 11 and 21.

But there are also other programs in the lineup: a December 13 program of music for brass and organ, “Soulful Joy” (December 20) with harpist Destiny Muhammad and a series of family songs.

December 11-23. $ 15 to $ 70. Grace Cathedral, 1100 California St., SF www.gracecathedral.org

The Chanticleer Men’s Choir Photo: Lisa Kohler


The men’s choir offers an astonishing repertoire, ranging from Renaissance polyphony and jazz to contemporary classical and spirituals. The group can take inspiration from all of this and do so for their annual Christmas program, which manages to be both traditional and adventurous.

December 12-23. $ 35 to $ 79. Locations in Oakland, Berkeley, Petaluma, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara and Carmel. 415-252-8589. www.chanticleer.org

Conductor Jeffrey Thomas Photo: Gene Kosoy

American Bach soloists

Music Director Jeffrey Thomas offers a full menu of holiday music for the final weeks of the year, starting with a December 15 Christmas program featuring a sample from Handel’s “Messiah” as well as music by Corelli. and Charpentier. The complete “Messiah” will follow on December 16 and 17, with soprano Nola Richardson, mezzo-soprano Sarah Coit, tenor James Reese and bass Alex Rosen. Finally, Rosen is joined by soprano Liv Redpath for a New Years Eve (well, afternoon) program of opera arias by Handel, Purcell and more.

December 15-17. Grace Cathedral, 1100 California St., SF 4 p.m. December 31. Herbst Theater, 401 Van Ness Ave., SF $ 25- $ 125. 415-621 7900. www.americanbach.org


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