Holiday cheer: Concerts and gatherings to make spirits bright


As temperatures drop, the days grow shorter and the nights longer, it's harder to rely on sunshine for warmth and light. Instead, it's the time of year for drawing together to generate our own brilliance. There's no better way to celebrate the season than by gathering to enjoy live music, dance and theater: our most radiant expressions of what it means to be human.

This holiday season, Midpeninsula communities offer up a bounty of performing-arts events to warm hearts and make spirits bright. Read on for some of the best and most beloved shows on the calendar, and get ready for some joyous celebrations.

Pacific Ballet Academy's 'Nutcracker'

Now in its 24th year, the Pacific Ballet Academy's "Nutcracker" is an annual holiday favorite. Students of all ages and levels rehearse for months to prepare for the performance. The huge cast this year features special guests Tom Means and John Inks both former mayors of Mountain View as well as professional soloists.

Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St.

When: Friday, Nov. 28-Saturday, Nov. 29, at 1 and 6 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 30, at 12:30 and 4 p.m.

Cost: $26-$30

Info: Go to or call 650-903-6000.

TheatreWorks' 'Peter and the Starcatcher'

Billed as a "whimsical, swashbuckling prequel to Peter Pan," this musical production is based on the best-selling novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. On the high seas, the young heroes and heroines encounter pirates, shipwrecks, mermaids and magic. You might even find out how Peter Pan learned to fly.

Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto

When: Wednesday, Dec. 3-Saturday, Jan. 3; Tuesdays and Wednesdays, at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays, at 8 p.m., Saturdays, at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sundays, at 2 and 7 p.m., with a special holiday schedule Dec. 22-28.

Cost: $19-$74

Info: Go to or call 650-463-1960.

Western Ballet's 'Nutcracker'

Under the artistic direction of former San Francisco Ballet soloist Alexi Zubiria, Western Ballet offers up a classical rendition of this Christmas favorite. Rumor has it the youngest audience members will spend intermission doing their best Sugar Plum Fairy impressions in the lobby. Each performance is followed by a sweet tea reception.

Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St.

When: Friday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 6, at 1 and 7 p.m.

Cost: $25-$30

Info: Go to or call 650-903-6000.

Peninsula Women's Chorus' 'Portal to the Season'

Founded in 1966, this 50-voice female choir has toured internationally and brought challenging choral music to area audiences for nearly half a century. Their "Portal to the Season" features the hauntingly beautiful "Nigra Sum" by Catalan composer Pablo Casals and the tightly woven harmonies of Joshua Himes' "There is no Rose." A sing-along follows the Dec. 13 performance.

Where: Saint Mark's Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto, and Valley Presbyterian Church, 945 Portola Road, Portola Valley

When: Saturdays, Dec. 6 and 13, at 2:30 p.m. in Palo Alto; Sunday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m. in Portola Valley

Cost: $10-$30

Info: Go to

'Sing and Play the Bing'

For those who can't get enough of the Women's Chorus, there's another chance to catch them at this free event on the Stanford campus. Now in its third year, "Sing and Play the Bing" celebrates the cultural diversity of the Silicon Valley. The 2014 lineup showcases the choir alongside San Jose's Chinese Performing Arts of America and members of Tezkatlipoka Aztec Dance and Drum.

Where: Bing Concert Hall, 327 Lasuen St., Stanford

When: Saturday, Dec. 6, at 7:30 p.m.

Cost: Free; tickets available at the door

Info: Go to or call 650-724-2464.

Palo Alto Art Center's Holiday Family Day

Children age 5 and up, along with their families, are invited to this afternoon of holiday-themed art-making and creative activities. Participants young and not so young will also have a chance to interact with Art Center artists-in-residence as they prepare for their January exhibition.

Where: Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road

When: Sunday, Dec. 7, 2-4 p.m.

Cost: Free

Info: Go to or call 650-329-2366.

Ragazzi Boys Chorus' 'Wintersong'

From Edward Elgar's "The Snow" to Disney's "Frozen," the Ragazzi Boys Chorus brings songs old and new to this vocal celebration of winter. The family-friendly concert features more than 100 boys and young men age 7 to 18. "Wintersong" opens with a meditative rendition of "Alleluia" and closes with a rousing sing-along of traditional Christmas carols including "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger."

Where: Messiah Lutheran Church, 1835 Valota Road, Redwood City

When: Sunday, Dec. 7, at 5 p.m.

Cost: $10-$30

Info: Go to or call 650-342-8785.

Schola Cantorum's 'Joyeux Noel' and Messiah Sing-Along

Francophiles will flock to this classical choir's French twist on the holidays. Schola Cantorum's "Joyeux Noel" features Marc-Antoine Charpentier's "Midnight Mass for Christmas," as well as popular carols with a French flavor. The choir of 90 voices will be accompanied by a live orchestra: the Sinfonia Schola Cantorum. One week later, the group will present its annual Messiah Sing-Along.

Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St.

When: Joyeux Noel: Sunday, Dec. 7, at 3 p.m.; Messiah Sing-Along: Monday, Dec. 15, at 7:30 p.m.

Cost: $18-$30

Info: Go to or call 650-903-6000.

Smuin Ballet's 'Uncorked: The Christmas Ballet'

Whether you like your ballet classical or contemporary, Smuin's "Uncorked" promises to please every palette. The show begins with traditional toe shoes and tutus, then lets down its hair with a post-intermission collection of fresh, playful works that capture the holiday spirit.

Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St.

When: Wednesday, Dec. 10-Sunday, Dec. 14; Wednesday-Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m.

Cost: $23-$71

Info: Go to or call 650-903-6000.

Peninsula Youth Theatre's 'The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming'

What is a latke, and why is it screaming? These questions and many more will be answered in this world premiere production, based on the beloved children's book by Lemony Snicket. The show stars Peninsula Youth Theatre's teen actors, who will stay after the performance for an audience talk-back.

Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St.

When: Friday, Dec. 12, at 9:30 and 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 13, at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

Cost: $10-$12

Info: Go to or call 650-903-6000.

Dance Connection's 'Nutcracker'

Dance Connection Palo Alto, along with the studio's youth ensemble, presents its 16th annual "Nutcracker." Ballet dancers age 7 and up audition to take part in the holiday production, which will have four performances danced by two separate casts. This year, Kennedy Herron and Kim Li share the role of Clara, with Julian Moran and Josh Wilson as the Nutcracker Prince.

Where: Spangenberg Theatre, Gunn High School, 780 Arastradero Road, Palo Alto

When: Friday, Dec. 12, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 13, at 2 and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 14, at 3 p.m.

Cost: $15-$27

Info: Go to

The Gryphon Carolers' Holiday Concert

Palo Alto's oldest music store, Gryphon Stringed Instruments, holds its 32nd annual holiday concert, featuring the Gryphon Carolers and Gryphon All-Star band. This ainít the place for traditional carols only; they'll be singing and playing holiday tunes that hail from Ireland to Brazil, and plenty of places in between.

Where: Canada College Theater, 4200 Farm Hill Blvd., Redwood City

When: Saturday, Dec. 13, at 7 p.m.

Cost: $10-$25

Info: Go to or call 650-493-2131. Tickets also available at the door.

Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra's 'Holiday Extravaganza'

The Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra, along with Pacific Ballet Theatre, presents a concert of favorite holiday music, including excerpts from Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" and Handel's "Messiah," featuring soprano soloist Shawnette Sulker. The show also includes guitarist Yuri Liberzon playing Beatles tunes and members of PACO's youth ensemble, the SuperStrings Orchestra.

Where: Cubberley Theatre, Cubberley Community Center, 4000 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto

When: Sunday, Dec. 14, at 3 p.m.

Cost: Free, tickets available at the door

Info: Go to

Kitka's 'Wintersongs'

Kitka, the critically acclaimed women's vocal ensemble based in Oakland, comes to the Peninsula following an East Coast tour of "Wintersong," a program of seasonal music from Eastern Europe. The group brings folkloric music of various ethnic and spiritual traditions, and presents songs in both ancient polyphonic styles and innovative new arrangements.

Where: St. Bede's Episcopal Church, 2650 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park

When: Sunday, Dec. 14, at 4 p.m.

Cost: $10-$35

Info: Go to or call 510-444-0323.

Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir's 'South Bay Gospel Concert'

If you like to raise your voice in joyous song, you'll want to join the exuberant crowd at this holiday gospel music concert. Under the direction of Terrance Kelly, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir is a multiracial, multicultural group of singers whose joy in their art form won't be contained. Audience participation is encouraged.

Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St.

When: Friday, Dec. 19, at 7:30 p.m.

Cost: $28-$36

Info: Go to or call 650-903-6000.

New Century Chamber Orchestra with the San Francisco Girls Chorus

In their first-ever collaboration, San Francisco's New Century Chamber Orchestra and the city's Girls Chorus present a concert of classical music and traditional carols. Among the works on their program are "Winter" from Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," John Rutter's "Nativity Carol" and Arcangelo Corelli's Concerto Grosso in G minor, known as the "Christmas Concerto."

Where: First United Methodist Church, 625 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto

When: Friday, Dec. 19, at 8 p.m.

Cost: $15-$61

Info: Go to or call 415-392-4400.

Magnificat's 'Cavalli: Venetian Christmas Mass'

The San Francisco Early Music Society presents Magnificat Baroque Ensemble in a performance of Francesco Cavalli's grand and celebratory "Missa concertata," along with Gregorian chant, sacred motets and instrumental works. The performance of 17th-century music incorporates dramatic gestures and passages of "secco recitative": a style of delivery from early Italian opera.

Where: Saint Mark's Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto

When: Friday, Dec. 19, at 8 p.m.

Cost: $30-$35

Info: Go to or call 510-528-1725.

Bayer Ballet's 'The Snow Queen'

Mountain View's Bayer Ballet Academy takes a leap away from Nutcracker tradition to tell a different wintertime story: Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen." When the queen casts a spell on a young boy, his friend sets out to save him, encountering robbers, crows and dancing icicles along the way. Bayer Ballet students age 3 to pre-professional are trained in the Vaganova method of Russian ballet.

Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St.

When: Saturday, Dec. 20, at 5:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 21, at 2:30 p.m.

Cost: $30-$40

Info: Go to or call 650-903-6000.

California Pops Orchestra's 'Pops Holiday Celebration'

Looking for a chance to wear your best holiday duds (or show off that ugly Christmas sweater)? The California Pops Orchestra welcomes festive attire at its fun-filled holiday concert. The family-friendly performance will feature jazzy holiday suites, sing-along carols and music from the Bing Crosby classic, "White Christmas."

Where: Smithwick Theatre, Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills

When: Sunday, Dec. 21, at 3 p.m.

Cost: $15-$47

Info: Go to or call 650-856-8432.

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