HOLIDAYS : Gifts of Note : Concerts across the Valley highlight the festive sounds of Christmas and Hanukkah in a variety of musical styles.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Steve Appleford writes regularly about music for The Times

Old and new traditions in holiday music re-emerge this December in venues scattered across the San Fernando Valley, mixing the sounds of Christmas and Hanukkah in styles that range from classical to pop.

The season offers local ensembles a chance to connect with area listeners, including those who might not otherwise get out to hear the music of Handel or Mendelssohn.

"Music is very important for the holidays," says Ann Marie Aubuchon of the Pierce College music department, which is offering two holiday musical events in December. "It's just so natural to present these concerts, to help people celebrate the holidays with music."

Adds Maryann Mendenhall, director of the Granada Hills Chorale: "Every time you hear the music, it all comes back, all those happy, wonderful memories of your youth and childhood."

For the young and hip, the hottest ticket this year will certainly be the "KROQ Acoustic Christmas" at the Universal Amphitheatre, an annual charity event that gathers some of the best of modern rock bands to perform short acoustic sets and attracts fans from across the Southland. The Dec. 10 show offers performances by the likes of Bad Religion, Liz Phair, Hole, Jesus and Mary Chain, and Mazzy Star, playing sets that mix their own hits with occasional holiday songs. Most of the artists donate their time. Proceeds are distributed to local charities.

Tickets cost $25 (plus service charges) and are available through Ticketmaster. Call (213) 480-3232.

Another holiday-themed musical event that is usually a sellout well before the performance is the annual Christmas concert by the Angeles Chorale, conducted by John Alexander and celebrating its 20th anniversary season. On Dec. 4 at the Glendale Auditorium, the vocal ensemble presents "Ring in the Holidays," which will include sing-alongs with several familiar holiday carols.

At the beginning of the 7:30 p.m. concert, the chorale will continue its tradition of singing two or three selections while gathered in the aisles surrounding the audience. "It gives (listeners) a different appreciation for what the harmonies of a piece are like, what the sound of a human voice is really like," says Julie Bussell, a singer and administrative director for the chorale. "They hear the individual vocal sections as well as the whole choir."

Tickets range from $7 to $25. The Glendale Auditorium is located at 1440 E. Broadway. For more information, call (818) 760-7449.

As always, local college campuses are playing host to many of the more traditional musical events of the season. The Cal State Northridge music department is presenting a mixture of carols, jazz and classical music. It begins Dec. 1 with "Holiday Potpourri . . . A Little Bit of Christmas, a Little Bit of Jazz," performed by the CSUN Jazz Vocal Ensemble and conducted by Bill Lyons. Show time is 8:07 p.m. in the campus Studio Theatre, in the speech and drama building.

On Dec. 4, the CSUN Concert Youth Orchestra and Junior Youth Orchestra will perform "A Concert for Children." The combined ensemble, which brings together two groups of elementary and junior high school players, will perform for an audience of their peers.

"It's become a tradition every holiday time," says Rose Mathias, spokeswoman for the CSUN music department. "It's a way to get more youth interested in musical instruments."

On Dec. 11, the CSUN Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, composed mostly of senior high school students, will perform selections from Handel's "Messiah," Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on Greensleeves" and a Christmas carol sing-along.

Both Youth Orchestra performances begin at 4 p.m. in the University Student Union. Tickets are $6.50, and $3.50 for students and seniors. For more information on CSUN concerts, call (818) 885-2488.

Songs in Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish and English will be performed Dec. 3 and 4 when the Moscow Synagogue Choir presents a Hanukkah concert at the University of Judaism in Bel-Air.

Music ranging from classical to folk will be performed, said Helen Ezra, an administration assistant at the university. "It's a real symbol of renewal of the Jewish tradition in the (former) Soviet Union."

The Dec. 3 concert begins at 8:30 p.m.; on Dec. 4, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. in Gindi Auditorium, 15600 Mulholland Drive. Tickets are $18 to $23. For more information, call (310) 476-9777.

At Pierce College in Woodland Hills, "A Festival of Carols" is performed Dec. 7 by the Pierce College Choir and the California Brass Band in the campus Performing Arts Building. The 8 p.m. program mixes sing-alongs of Christmas carols and Hanukkah music.

Tickets are $4, and $3 for students and seniors. For more information, call (818) 719-6425.

On Dec. 17, the Pierce College Premier Chorale performs selections from "The Nutcracker," Gian Carlo Menotti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors" and other seasonal works.

Tickets for the 8 p.m. show are $10 for general admission, $8 for students and seniors and $4 for children 12 and younger. For more information, call (818) 753-3306.

The Symphony of the Canyons will be joined for its Dec. 2 concert by 10-year-old violin prodigy Howard Zhang on a Mendelssohn violin concerto. Other selections include works by Wagner, folk songs and an original classical work.

"This is going to be the best performance that we've ever given, just because we have this child prodigy," says Mimi Hiller, a cellist with the symphony. "I mean, a 10-year-old playing Mendelssohn . I'm not even worthy to hold his violin. We expect there will be a large audience."

Conductor Robert Lawson added: "Howard is very musical. He has the musical soul of a musician. Not only does the technique come through, but the music comes through. That's a real gift."

The 8 p.m. concert is presented in the College of the Canyons Dining Hall, 26455 N. Rockwell Canyon Road, Santa Clarita. Admission is $7.50, $5 for children 12 and younger. For information, call (805) 259-7880.

Lawson is also musical director and conductor for the Santa Clarita Valley Youth Orchestra, whose members--musicians ranging in age from 8 to 25--perform two concerts in December.

First, at 2 p.m. Dec. 4, the Youth Orchestra offers a free 30-minute presentation as part of tree-lighting ceremonies at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, 23845 W. McBean Parkway. The group will perform selections by Handel and other composers, along with several holiday songs.

"This is a really incredible group of kids," Lawson says of the orchestra, which was established to train and educate young musicians. "And the more opportunity the community has to see these shining jewels perform, the better."

On Dec. 17, the 70-piece orchestra performs music that includes Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring," Igor Stravinsky's and "Pulcinella Suite." The concert is in the College of the Canyons Dining Hall. Admission is free, although donations of $3 are requested from adults. Call (818) 259-7800, Ext. 415.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Granada Hills Chorale will fill its annual holiday concert Dec. 17 with selections the ensemble has performed throughout its history, including folk carols, Vivaldi's "Gloria" and Hanukkah songs.

"There are people from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds in the chorale," says director Mendenhall, referring to the tendency of the 35-voice group to mix the sounds of other cultures into performances. "We realized that's what our country is all about."

The Granada Hills Chorale performance begins at 7 p.m. at Northridge Community Church of the Nazarene, 10650 Reseda Blvd. Admission is $3; free for children 12 and under. Call (818) 360-2209 or (818) 886-1817.

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