After an absence of I think three years, Cal Performances is bringing back The Hard Nut, Mark Morris's profound and masterly version of The Nutcracker. When I describe it to people who haven't seen it, all I tell them is that it's not a parody of the Nutcracker, but it's own thing, and you should take it on its own terms. If you are one of the people who has never seen it, here's your chance: 15 - 24 December at Zellerbach Hall.
The SF Jazz Center has the magnificent Dianne Reeves in a Christmas-themed program from 30 November through 3 December.
Paul Flight leads the California Bach Society in a celebration of Christmas in Poland and the Baltic Countries, which promises some rare works both new and old, from composers such as Mikolaj Zielenski, Arvo Pärt, and Veljo Tormis; you can hear the results on 1 December at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco, 2 December at All Saints' Episcopal in Palo Alto, and 3 December at St Mark's Episcopal in Berkeley.
The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players are continuing their annual participatory performance of Phil Kline's Unsilent Night on 9 December at Mission Dolores Park in San Francisco; I haven't been to one of these but have heard lovely things about it, and you can find out more here.
San Francisco Performances presents the male vocal quartet New York Polyphony at St Mark's Lutheran on 3 December in a program called Sing Thee Nowell, featuring works by Philippe Verdelot, Camille Saint-Saëns, Peter Maxwell Davies, Alexander Craig, and others.
Theater of Yugen is reviving A Noh Christmas Carol, which is exactly what it sounds like, except it includes elements of other Japanese theatrical styles, like kabuki and butoh, as well as Noh. I saw this show a couple of times when they first did it years ago, and Dickens's famous Victorian story of ghosts and redemption translates very well into the traditional Japanese forms. If you're looking for a refreshing take on a holiday classic, you can check it out from 1 to 24 December.
Christian Reif leads the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra in Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, with Zachary Quinto as narrator, on 10 December.
Lacuna Arts Chorale returns to Old First Concerts on 15 December for a program of new choral music for the holidays, including works by Emma Lou Diemar, Morten Lauridsen, Theodore Morrison, Paul Mealor, and Abbie Betinis.
Messiahs & One Christmas Oratorio
Nicholas McGegan leads the forces of Philharmonia Baroque in Messiah, with soloists Yulia Van Doren (soprano), Diana Moore (mezzo-soprano), James Reese (tenor), and Philip Cutlip (baritone), on 8 December at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, 9 December at First Congregational in Berkeley, and 10 December at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park.
As part of their Great Performers series, the San Francisco Symphony presents Masaaki Suzuki leading the Bach Collegium Japan in Bach's Christmas Oratorio, with soloists Sherezade Panthaki (soprano), Jay Carter (countertenor), Zachary Wilder (tenor), and Dominik Wörner; that's in Davies Hall on 9 December.
Ragnar Bohlin leads the San Francisco Symphony performances of Messiah on 14 - 15 December, with soloists Layla Claire (soprano), Tamara Mumford (mezzo-soprano), Leif Aruhn-Solen (tenor), and Morris Robinson (bass).
And if you have the pipes for it you can also join a Sing-It-Yourself Messiah sponsored by the Golden Gate Symphony and led by Urs Leonhardt Steiner. Please note you'll be singing the choruses, not the whole thing, as they do have soloists: Yi Triplett (soprano), Erin Neff (alto), William Wiggins (tenor), Richard Fey (bass), and Franklin Beau Davis on trumpet, and it's a very nice touch that they list the trumpeter among the soloists. That's 11 December at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, and on 17 - 18 December there is the pub crawl version, at respectively the Southern Pacific Brewing Company and The Homestead in San Francisco.
American Bach Soloists gives its annual performances of Messiah in Grace Cathedral on 13 - 15 December; Jeffrey Thomas conducts, with soloists Suzanne Karpov (soprano), Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen (countertenor), Zachary Wilder (tenor), and Hadleigh Adams (baritone).
The Curran Theater presents Bright Star, a musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, from 28 November to 17 December.
42nd Street Moon presents The Secret Garden, the recent musical with book and lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon, directed by Dyan McBride, from 6 to 24 December at the Gateway Theater.
The African-American Shakespeare Company presents its own adaptation of Cinderella from 22 to 24 December at Herbst Theater in San Francisco.
The San Francisco Opera ends its fall season (before returning in the June with Wagner's Ring) with the final performances of Turandot and Girls of the Golden West. You can also catch the latest Adler Fellows in their final concert together on 8 December with James Gaffigan conducting the Opera orchestra.
The San Francisco Conservatory of Music presents Britten's The Rape of Lucretia on 8 and 10 December; performances are free but reservations are required.
On 7 December in Zellerbach Hall guest conductor Gemma New leads the Berkeley Symphony in the west coast premieres of Chasing Light by Rene Orth and Abstractions by Anna Clyne, as well as Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Liszt's Totentanz with pianist Conrad Tao.
Conductorless chamber ensemble One Found Sound plays works by Rameau, Brahms, and Ginastera on 8 December at Heron Arts in San Francisco.
Guest conductor Cyrus Ginwala leads the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony in Copland's Outdoor Overture, the Prokofiev Piano Concerto #3 with soloist Roger Woodward, and the Shostakovich 5, on 16 - 17 December at the Taube Atrium Theater.
Early / Baroque Music
If you want to hear a baroque oratorio that doesn't feature the Hallelujah Chorus, Philharmonia Baroque is presenting a rarity: Handel's Joseph and His Brethren. Nicholas McGegan conducts, with soloists Sherezade Panthaki (soprano), Gabrielle Haigh (soprano), Diana Moore (mezzo-soprano), Abigail Levis (mezzo-soprano), Nicholas Phan (tenor), and Philip Cutlip (baritone). Performances are 14 December at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, 15 December at First United Methodist in Palo Alto, and 16 and 17 December at First Congregational in Berkeley.
The San Francisco Symphony presents Christian Tetzlaff playing some of Bach's sonatas and partitas for solo violin in Davies Hall on 17 December.
Modern / Contemporary Music
The San Francisco Conservatory of Music New Music Ensemble presents a free concert on 1 December; Christopher Rountree leads the group in De Staat by Louis Andriessen, Sear by Tina Tallon, Corpus Callosum by Andrew Tholl, and Tuning Meditation by Pauline Oliveros.
The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble is performing a free concert on 3 December at the CARe Doug Adams Gallery at 2465 Le Conte Avenue in Berkeley, in conjunction with the gallery's current show, Seeds of Contemplation: Works by Arturo Araujo; the ensemble will be performing Testy Pony by Eve Beglarian, Chaconne by Dallapiccola, and additional music by Glière and Bach.
Cal Performances presents flutist Claire Chase in two concerts (4:30 and 8:30) of new music she has commissioned, part of her on-going project of commissioning new works for solo flute until we reach the centennial of Varèse's 1936 piece Density 21.5. I assume the program is different for the two concerts though that's not really clear on the site. The program will be at the Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive.
Cal Performances presents tenor Simon O'Neill, along with fellow tenors Pene Pati and Amitai Pati and pianist Terence Dennis, in recital on 3 December in Hertz Hall, performing Beethoven, Donizetti, Rossini, Wagner, Richard Strauss, Mozart, and Cilea.
Violinist Alexander Barantschik, pianist Anton Nel, and Peter Wyrick of the San Francisco Symphony play piano trios by Schubert and Mendelssohn at the Legion of Honor on 3 December. While you're up there you can also catch the Klimt / Rodin show.
The Telegraph Quartet, San Francisco Conservatory of Music's quartet-in-residence, presents a free program of Beethoven and Schoenberg on 9 December.
Cal Performances presents the Takács Quartet and pianist Garrick Ohlsson in a program of Mozart, Shostakovich, and Brahms, in Zellerbach Hall on 10 December.
Cal Performances presents the Ragamala Dance Company in Written in Water, based on an ancient Indian board game, on 2 - 3 December in Zellerbach Playhouse.
Cal Performances presents Camille A. Brown & Dancers in BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play on 8 - 10 December in Zellerbach Playhouse.
The other day, killing time before a concert, I wandered into the Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive and caught enough of Martin Wong: Human Instamatic to convince me that I needed to go back when I had more time. You have until 10 December to check out the show.
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is running A Day of Silents on 2 December at the Castro Theater. As usual there is a great program with live musical accompaniment showcasing the richness of silent cinema, starting with Lotte Reiniger's delightful Arabian Nights mash-up The Adventures of Prince Achmed (the earliest surviving full-length animated film) to William Dieterle's Geschlecht in Fesseln (Sex in Chains), which, despite its lurid-sounding title, is actually a high-minded social message film about prison reform and what we can call situational same-sex relations. Check out the full schedule here; you can buy either individual tickets or an all-day pass.
And if you want to get a jump on their annual festival, running from 30 May to 2 June 2018, the SFSFF is selling an all-Festival pass at a big discount until 1 January 2018.
The Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive has a series highlighting the last 70 years of Polish animation, running from 3 to 20 December.
And thus another year melts away into the past. . . .