It's a grand month for seasonal singing, December is, and here in the Bay Area, it may well be that the week already upon us is the very grandest.
First, we have those accomplished troubadours of international repute, the Bay Area-based a cappella ensemble Chanticleer, already making the rounds of the churches, missions and cathedrals hereabouts with its annual, eagerly awaited "A Chanticleer Christmas" program. Twelve gifted men, who have been dubbed a functioning "Orchestra of Voices," weave their tenor, bass and baritone lines seamlessly into a polyphonic stream of gorgeous music from across the ages. Franz Biebl's iconic "Ave Maria" is a surefire staple, demanded of them every year at this time. Also on this year's program are Praetorius' "Est is ein Ros entsprungen" ("Lo, how a rose e'er blooming"), Poulenc's "O magnum mysterium," works by Arvo Pärt and Spanish composers and carols and gospels arranged by Joseph Jennings, the ensemble's former music director, and others.
The group's Berkeley concert is behind us, alas, but for my money, the very best place to see them is in the gargantuan, lofty nave of Oakland's Cathedral of Christ the Light, 2121 Harrison St. That concert takes place at 8:15 p.m. Friday, and an added bonus for concertgoers is that the cathedral is launching its third annual Creche Festival that same evening. Local floral designers and artists have created Nativity scenes for each of the meditation chapels in the cathedral, and downstairs in the Event Center, viewable before and during intermission, will be up to 50 other creches created by parishes from all over the Diocese of Oakland, now celebrating its 50th year.
The remainder of Chanticleer's holiday program run takes place at these venues: St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco at 8 p.m. Saturday and Dec. 23; St. Vincent Church in Petaluma at 4 and 8 p.m. Sunday; the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento at 8 p.m. Tuesday; the Carmel Mission at 6 and 8:30 p.m. Dec. 21; and Mission Santa Clara at 6 and 8:30 p.m. Dec. 22. Tickets, $30-$65, are at 415-392-4400 or 800-407-1400 or www.chanticleer.org.
human ANGELS WE MAY HEAR ON HIGH: Accomplished choral director Susan McMane, rather unceremoniously edged out of her job as music director of the San Francisco Girls Chorus last season after 11 years, is back with a new project and ensemble of her own called the Young Women's Chorus of San Francisco. And if the lineup on her board of artistic advisers is any indication, she appears to have some heavy-duty backing indeed. S.F. Symphony Chorus director Ragnar Bohlin is on board, as are mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade and soprano Zheng Cao, former S.F. Symphony Chorus director George Vance, and S.F. Opera cellist, chamber musician and soloist Emil Miland, among others.
Having had an inaugural fundraising concert back in October, the group of about three dozen young singers ages 12 to 18 is ready for a formal debut this weekend in Oakland and San Francisco. "Celestial Voices -- Heavenly Music for the Holidays," with McMane conducting and harpist Karen Gottlieb and pianist Ron Valentino providing accompaniment, takes place at 8 p.m. Friday at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Oakland and 8 p.m. Saturday at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in San Francisco. The program is a mix of traditional and contemporary works and features the premiere of composer (and advisory board member) Frank La Rocca's "Nunc Dimittis," which McMane describes as "full of contrasts, moments that sound like ancient plainchant, others that contain counterpoint like mysterious angels speaking, and still others that have bold, solid harmonies creating a beacon of light." Benjamin Britten's gorgeous "A Ceremony of Carols" is on the bill, rounded out by works by Mendelssohn, Handel, Verdi and more.
Tickets, $10-$28, are available at 415-312-7787 or www.ywcp.org.
MORE GLORIOUS SINGING: None of us will have to drop big bucks or even leave home for this extravaganza, an operatic smorgasbord featuring some of the finest sets of pipes in the world. At noon Sunday, KQED Channel 9 will rebroadcast the 37th annual Richard Tucker Music Foundation gala telecast, an event that is unfolding Thursday at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall in New York. This year's Tucker Award winner is the fabulously gifted soprano Ailyn Pérez, a 2005 alum of San Francisco Opera's Merola program and the Chicago-born daughter of Mexican immigrants who becomes the first Latino winner in the history of the award. The lucky woman gets to appear on stage with her hubby, tenor Stephen Costello, the 2009 recipient, which makes them the first husband-wife awardees as well. Other dazzlers in the two-hour "Live From Lincoln Center" telecast include baritones Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Gerald Finley, mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina, tenor Marcello Giordani, bass Ildar Abdrazakov and bass-baritone Erwin Schrott. Broadway star Audra McDonald hosts.
Perez and Costello, by the way, are appearing in San Francisco Opera's just-announced new season, in the starring roles in Verdi's "La Traviata." And Abdrazakov will be the devil jumping up in the company's season-opening production of Boito's "Mefistofele."
Contact Sue Gilmore at email@example.com.