An animated holiday classic, a Grammy-winning choir, mulled wine & cocoa to sip at your seat… Get the scoop on what to expect when you come to one of the California Symphony’s holiday concerts.

Before the Show

Free, family-friendly fun…

From Sesame Street to the Simpsons and rubber chickens, Tchaikovsky’s classic has been given some interesting treatments through the years. Here’s our pick of 11 of the best (and the worst.)

Spoiler alert: Yes, there are rubber chickens.

1. The Simpsons — Cause Christmas Eve is Here

“Why should I care it’s all humbug.” — Montgomery Burns

2. Sesame Street

Elmo gets down with Jamie Foxx for The Nutcracker Mash.

3. Walt Disney’s Fantasia

The classic 1940 Walt Disney film featured dancing animated fairies, fish, flowers, mushrooms and leaves. No actual nutcracker is ever seen in this version.

4. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

Mackenzie Foy, Morgan Freeman, Keira Knightley and Helen Mirren star in Disney’s latest holiday film.

5. Pentatonix — Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

Part of their 2014 holiday album, the a cappella quintet gave their signature treatment to the Nutcracker classic.

6. Barbie in the Nutcracker

Barbie plays the role of Clara. What else can we say?

7. Line Rider — Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies

There’s something so satisfying about these…

Cadence Strange, 12, gets up at 5:30 a.m. to make the two-hour commute from Pittsburg by bus and BART to Oakland, where he attends the Pacific Boychoir Academy. In addition to taking regular classes, Cadence spends three hours a day studying music theory, learning to sight-read, and rehearsing choral works in Latin and German.

Tavian Roberts, 12, is a student at the Pacific Boychoir Academy in Oakland, the only full-time boys’ chorus school on the west coast of North America. The choir school integrates a full academic curriculum with daily musical instruction for boys in grades 4–8. Tavian sings with the choir for the California Symphony’s ’Tis the Symphony holiday concerts, Saturday, Dec. 22, at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek.

Rich, satisfying, and smooth. That’s not just the sound that California Symphony’s Catherine Matovich makes when she plays her viola. Here, Catherine shares her recipe for mulled wine—the perfect, warming, spiced beverage of the season.

What You’ll Need…

  • 2 bottles of red wine, preferably Cabernet
  • 1 bottle Muscat Canelli or similar wine
  • 1 orange studded with 20 whole cloves
  • 1/2 an entire nutmeg
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 cup Grand Mariner + 3 tablespoons
  • Orange slices


In a large, stain-proof kettle or soup caldron, simmer all ingredients. Can also be made in crockpot, set on low for minimum of 2 hours.

Kim Rooker is the Bay Area’s go-to expert in productions featuring movies with the soundtrack played by a live orchestra for over a decade. We go behind the scenes with Kim to learn how the orchestral, live movie magic comes together—so the images you see on screen stay in time with the music.

Walking in the Air: The conductor’s version of the movie includes a running clock to help him stay on track with the video.

Music Director Donato Cabrera writes from Linz, Austria, on a day commemorating the end of World War One.

The announcing of the armistice on November 11, 1918, was the occasion for large celebrations in the allied nations.

What do thimbles have to do with Katherine Balch’s next composition for the California Symphony? Read on for an update on the concerto she is writing for violinist Robyn Bollinger that is set to premiere at the 2018–19 season closer.

Left: Robyn Bollinger. Right: Katherine Balch with Robyn and thimble.

Now entering the second year of her three year residency with the California Symphony, we connected with Katherine Balch to see what she’s been up to since we saw her at the May concert, and to find out how the concerto she’s writing for violinist Robyn Bollinger is progressing.

Robyn Bollinger and Katherine Balch enjoying the Boston Symphony Orchestra on the lawn at Tanglewood Music Center, where Katherine was a fellow this summer.

California Symphony goers know her as the sharply dressed orchestra executive who addresses the audience before every concert. To peers in the field, she is a thought leader and sought-after speaker, with a reputation for challenging traditional thinking and established practices in orchestra management. Since becoming Executive Director in 2014, the California Symphony has been Aubrey’s proving ground to try new patron loyalty and marketing strategies—and with audiences growing, performances added to satisfy demand, and a growing family of donors at all levels of support, we think she may be onto something.

Executive Director Aubrey Bergauer. Clockwise from left: Playing tuba at Rice University, TX; practicing in sixth grade (sitting on a pile of books so she could reach the mouthpiece!); with Music Director Donato Cabrera; presenting at a League of American Orchestras conference in July.

California Symphony

World-class, professional orchestra based in Walnut Creek, supporting music education & young composers since 1990. Here’s where we get to share what we do…

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