Post image for Music Preview: SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY’S CHRISTMAS CONCERTS (Davies Symphony Hall)

by Tony Frankel on November 30, 2019

in Music,Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


We all know that San Francisco Symphony can easily be labeled one of our country’s best orchestras, but it’s a no-brainer to visit them this season given the amazingly diverse options you have this year. Here are my favorites. (And through Monday, Dec 2 at 11:59pm you can get 50% off all seats to the most popular Holiday concerts of the season — use promo code BLACKFRIDAY at checkout.)

First, due to health-related issues, India.Arie has cancelled her debut performances with the SF Symphony on Dec 10 and 11. But fear not! Holiday Soul is still on. SFS is bringing in R&B megastar Brian McKnight to join The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir and their powerhouse harmonies to Davies Symphony Hall for a high-spirited concert of soul, jazz, & Christmas classics. Don’t miss your chance to experience their vocal fireworks and foot-stomping energy in a holiday concert that’s sure to lift your spirits.

Yes, you’ve probably seen this iconic film before. Perhaps many times. But the showing on Dec. 3 & 6 of It’s a Wonderful Life with a live symphony playing Dmitri Tiomkin’s score is a revelation. Although the movie wasn’t a big success upon its release, it became year after year an all time classic film. Director Frank Capra called his old friend Tiomkin, a Russian-born composer with a solid classical education, to write the soundtrack. (Capra previously worked with Tiomkin on You Can’t Take It With You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Meet John Doe.) Tiomkin wrote a wonderful score for Wonderful Life, interweaving original themes and quotes of popular music to great effect. The American popular song “Buffalo Gals” is used as the base for the main theme, a perfect choice that without any doubt has contributed to the enduring popularity of the film.

As sometimes happens, the director made lots of changes in the editing room. He cut several cues (letting those scenes play without music) and rearranged where certain cues appeared; he removed sections of cues, and even tracked in music written for other films. So the score traditionally associated with It’s a Wonderful Life was not exactly as Tiomkin originally intended. He was less than pleased and it led to a rift between the two men. In his autobiography, Please Don’t Hate Me, Tiomkin called it “an all-around scissors job.”

So the film was released in 1946 with many of Tiomkin’s musical cues either cut or re-ordered. In this presentation, conductor Justin Freer has restored Tiomkin’s score, allowing a complete rendering of this masterful and touching music. Freer says: “Frank Capra’s Christmas classic has been burned into our social consciousness and continues to stand the test of time. Dimitri Tiomkin’s equally classic score conjures up such joy, tragedy, and redemption. It is with great pleasure that we can now hear all of Tiomkin’s original and unused music restored and played live alongside one of the most admired films ever made.” You even get a live chorus.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Cheyenne Jackson is easily one of the most winning performers around. There are Broadway stars who simply cannot perform in concert without coming off as a cardboard cutout. Handsome, self-effacing, loquacious, and convivially humble, Jackson radiates charisma — especially when on stage, where every time I have seen him he is dazzling. The consummate performer and committed social activist has his career dance card filled, bopping between Broadway (Xanadu, Finian’s Rainbow), TV (American Horror Story), and concerts (Music of the Mad Men Era). The latter tour, which called for elegance and ravishing 1950s and ’60s vocals, suited Jackson so well that he recorded a CD (Renaissance). The man is extremely comfortable in his body, and he has it all: looks, personality, talent, a flexible voice — an unstoppable recipe for stardom.

Joining him on Dec. 4 is the ever-wonderful Megan Hilty, who also performs as if just for friends in a living room. “Cabaret can be thought of as stuffy or archaic, but it doesn’t have to be,” Hilty said in the LA Times. “There are opportunities for humor and heart, improvisation and connection. I feel the highest compliment I have been given is when people say to me, ‘I want to be your best friend.’” And while the two have performed together before (and will again), this is a RARE opportunity to hear these sweet show-biz folks performing holiday favorites.

And if you’re looking to make the yuletide even gayer than normal, she’s ba-a-a-a-a-a-ack! Peaches Christ returns with Holiday Gaiety, joining Conductor Edwin Outwater who will co-emcee with the comedian, er, comedienne. This lighthearted, entertaining, uproarious, old-fashioned camp-fest variety special returns to offer a wide assortment of holiday hits and seasonal surprises. Maybe we’ll even meet Daddy…I mean…Father Christmas. Come for the drag queens, stay for the fruitcakes! Yule be glad you did.

And while there is no better way to celebrate the season than SF Symphony warming up your yule log, this year’s special guests for Gaiety will ensure that it doesn’t go out. Other performers include Ana Gasteyer, Coco Peru, Courtney Act, Patricia Racette & Beth Clayton, Elliot Franks, performance ensemble Fou Fou Ha, Sister Roma from The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and Kylie Minono as Mrs. Claus.

for tickets to these and other shows, visit SFS

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