Now, don't get me wrong; I'm taking my family to The Nutcracker again this year. There are lots to choose from: San Francisco Ballet's is the dean, but there's also Marin Ballet, and the San Jose Youth Ballet, among others. But if you're "Nutcrackered" out, or if you want to take your family to another musical event that's actually geared towards kids (rather than just a "family-friendly" concert), here are a few suggestions.
The event of the season is definitely the new staging of Lemony Snicket's The Composer is Dead at Berkeley Rep. Daniel Handler (creator of, among other things, the wildly successful A Series of Unfortunate Events books) got together with Bay Area composer Nathaniel Stookey to produce this "musical mystery tour" through the orchestra, introducing young audiences to the instruments in the style of Peter and the Wolf, but with an enormously clever whodunit as the framework. The San Francisco Symphony recorded it a couple years back (it's available as a book/CD combo), and now legendary clown/actor/performance artist Geoff Hoyle has teamed with Berkeley Rep's Tony Taccone, the puppeteers of Phantom Limb, and some other creative friends to present this interactive, live, stage-and-film version of the piece. The original is entertaining enough; this setting promises to bring down the house. Berkeley Rep presents The Composer is Dead through January 15, 2011 at the Roda Theatre. For tickets and information visit berkeleyrep.org.
Speaking of Peter and the Wolf, few things get kids energized about classical music and dance as much as seeing other young people performing at a high level on the big stage, and the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra is one of the best in the country. Broadway star Eden Espinosa (Elpheba -- the green one -- in Wicked) narrates Prokofiev's musical fable with the SFSYO on Saturday, December 11, 2010 at 1pm and 4pm at Davies Symphony Hall, and Sunday, December 12, 2010 at 3pm at the Flint Center in Cupertino. For tickets and information visit sfsymphony.org.
On the Peninsula, the California Youth Symphony's holiday concert features more very talented young people playing classical and seasonal favorites at the Smithwick Theater at Foothill College on Sunday, December 12, 2010. Tickets are available at cys.org.
If your favorite young dancers want to see what they're working towards, join The Ballet Joyeux for their narrated holiday ballet Once Upon a Christmas, the story of an elf named Roho who saves Christmas. At the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, December 21 at 7pm and December 22 at 2pm and 7pm.
The San Francisco Symphony has a couple of other holiday concerts you can enjoy with the whole family, including a new presentation of the animated film The Snowman with live orchestra on December 18 at 7pm. This film has been a holiday tradition in the U.K. since it was first shown in 1982; it was nominated that year for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, and was No. 71 on the list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programs. This concert also includes a holiday sing-along, as does 'Twas the Night, a sing-along party with the Symphony and Symphony Chorus on December 22 and 23 at 7:30pm, and December 24 at 2pm. All these concerts are at Davies Symphony Hall; learn more and order tickets at sfsymphony.org.
Engelbert Humperdinck's fairy-tale opera Hansel and Gretel has been a holiday favorite around the world ever since its premiere in Germany at Christmastime in 1893. It has been a tradition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for over a decade, with performances in schools as well as in the concert hall. The opera's original three acts have been distilled into a single, one-hour act geared specifically toward younger audience members, but which still retains all the magic and melody of the complete opera. There are two performances: Saturday, December 11 at 1pm and 4pm, and it may be the best bargain around; tickets are just $5 each. There is also a special party after the 4pm performance to benefit the conservatory's Scholarship Program. Tickets for the party are $50 for kids, $75 for adults, but you get refreshments (cookies and punch for kids, wine and cheese for adults), craftmaking, and a chance to meet the characters. Find out more at sfcm.edu.
I've written before about the Oakland East Bay Symphony's Let Us Break Bread Together concerts, but it bears repeating: it's one of the highlights of the holiday season in the East Bay, celebrating the whole community by adding African-American, Jewish and Eastern Orthodox music to the holiday program. This year's guests include the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, the Pacific Boychoir, the awesome klezmer band Kugelplex, and the renowned Mt. Eden High School Concert Choir. You even get to sing -- and dance -- along. Let Us Break Bread Together is Sunday, December 12, 4pm at the Paramount Theater in Oakland. Find out more and order tickets at oebs.org.
No matter what holiday you celebrate, music has always been a part of the season. So have a very merry musical holiday season and a happy and harmonious new year!