Tune Into the Holidays in Santa Fe

Wherever we may find ourselves over the holiday season, making merry simply wouldn’t be the same without a musical backdrop. A familiar carol heard in the distance, the strains of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker welling up, a haunting Baroque composition sung a cappella … these are the beautiful sounds that accompany the distinctive quality of a holiday spent in Santa Fe.

It’s our festive good fortune that talented performers of all stripes have chosen to make the City Different their permanent home. And the fact that guest artists from all over the world welcome an opportunity to perform here is an additional blessing, particularly at the holidays, when Santa Fe sparkles with color, excitement, and music.

Hallelujah for Handel

We know the holidays have well and truly begun when the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra and Chorus treat us to the annual performance of Handel’s Messiah. As always, this festive holiday tradition takes place at the Lensic on November 24, under the baton of conductor Tom Hall, with an informative preview talk taking place before the performance. I love that the program always includes the words so I can follow, and I’d like to meet the person who doesn’t like to hum along to the Hallelujah chorus!

It takes a village, or at least a whole chorus, to bring Handel’s Messiah to the stage of the Lensic in Santa Fe.
It takes a village, or at least a whole chorus, to bring Handel’s Messiah to the stage of the Lensic in Santa Fe.

The 30th season of the Symphony takes the holiday spirit to towering heights, with a glittering performance of Christmas Treasures at the fully bedecked Lensic. This concert of choral favorites, conducted by Joseph Young, includes holiday favorites from the Middle Ages all the way to the 20th century, with standards like Irving Berlin’s White Christmas and a suite from the movie Polar Express – there’s one for the kiddos! Be sure to mark this December 15th performance on your musical calendar. This all-ages performance is a sure bet for bringing a melodious close to the afternoon, and you can close out a magical day with a festive Sunday dinner downtown.

It’s a BIG Sing, and You’re Invited to Sing Along

The Santa Fe Desert Chorale, in its 31st season of choral concordance in Santa Fe, has become one of our most beloved musical groups, and they pay back the love with a return of The Big Sing, a local hit when it was inaugurated in 2012. This concert of song features performers of all ages, with appearances by the University of New Mexico Concert Choir and the UNM Children’s Chorus, in addition to the Desert Chorale led by its esteemed director, Joshua Habermann. Each of the three choral groups performing collected its own set of seasonal selections to infuse our hearts with holiday spirit. The Santa Fe ambiance of the venue, Cristo Rey Church on Canyon Road, adds to the flavor of this one-day only performance on December 15. And throughout the concert, the audience will be invited to sing along – I don’t know about you, but I am always ready to bust out some Silver Bells!

The Santa Fe Desert Chorale makes the rafters ring in Santa Fe’s beautiful Basilica Cathedral of St. Francis
The Santa Fe Desert Chorale makes the rafters ring in Santa Fe’s beautiful Basilica Cathedral of St. Francis

Not content with just a community sing-along, the Desert Chorale also brings their annual Carols and Lullabies concerts to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis for five stirring performances in December — and there’s a truly spiritual uplift on hearing an ancient lullaby echo through the rafters of our beautiful Cathedral. For those of you looking to lighten the holiday mood up a bit, here’s just the ticket: The Lighter Side of Christmas benefit concert for the Chorale on December 17 at Lewallen Gallery in the Railyard. This fa la la la laugh-inducing evening culminates in a silent auction famous for offering enticing treats on which to bid. The Chorale then winds up the year with sass and swing with a special New Year’s Weekend Concert December 28-31 by Voasis, the Chorale’s new contemporary a cappella ensemble, produced by Deke Sharon of NBC’s The Sing-Off. And if you’re really looking to step out for New Year’s, Warehouse 21 is a super-stylin’ venue for sassy selections with which to usher on 2014.

Nutty for the Nutcracker? Me Too!

I’ve seen The Nutcracker more than once, and I’ll see it again and again, because it’s simply part of my holiday tradition. And it only gets better every year, as the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet grows in stature and competence. Tchaikovsky’s memorable music forms a luscious backdrop for sugarplums and Russian dancers, snowflakes, and an epic battle between the King of the Rats and the stalwart Nutcracker, who fortunately wins every time. It’s always a delight to see the students of ASFB’s ballet school learn to face an audience and take their bows – that’s an artistic community in action. Two performances each day December 21-22 leave plenty of room for other holiday activities, so be sure to get the balletomanes in your family on board.

The King of the Rats — or as we might call him in Santa Fe, El Rey de Ratons — will never defeat the Brave Nutcracker
The King of the Rats — or as we might call him in Santa Fe, El Rey de Ratons — will never defeat the Brave Nutcracker

Going for Baroque

The Loretto Chapel, famous for its miraculous staircase, offers the perfect architecture and ambiance for a concert of baroque music and Santa Fe Pro Musica takes full advantage of the backdrop for A Baroque Christmas. This beloved chamber orchestra has been delighting Santa Fe audiences for over 30 years, and the holiday concerts are a highly anticipated part of our holiday tradition. From Friday, December 20 straight through to Christmas Eve, Pro Musica offers two concerts nightly, alternating between a pair of fabulous mezzo-sopranos, Deborah Domanski and Dianna Grabowski. The program includes works by Baroque masters Bach, Telemann, and Handel, along with a selection of traditional carols guaranteed to bring old memories to new life. A very important heads up: Since the Loretto Chapel is an intimate (read: limited seating) venue, these concerts will definitely sell out to those whose holiday décor includes beautiful music.

The sonic glories of Baroque composers come annually to the beautiful Loretto Chapel thanks to Santa Fe Pro Musica
The sonic glories of Baroque composers come annually to the beautiful Loretto Chapel thanks to Santa Fe Pro Musica

Concerts to Cherish from Christmas to New Year’s and Beyond

I am so thankful that the Santa Fe Concert Association has been treating music-lovers like me to world-class talent for an astonishing 76 years, and this year’s slate of performances is no exception. The Association kicks off the winter season with A Celtic Holiday Concert at the Lensic on December 2, when The Leahy Family, eight Canadian brothers and sisters who’ve have been playing together all their lives, will set feet to tapping and hands to clapping with joyous and accomplished musicianship. Even when there’s a hint of a mournful minor key, Celtic music just makes me feel happy.

Hark to the holiday spirit with a merry Celtic mood when Santa Fe Concert Association welcomes the Leahy Family.
Hark to the holiday spirit with a merry Celtic mood when Santa Fe Concert Association welcomes the Leahy Family.

I’m totally psyched to hear The King’s Singers, the renowned ensemble of masculine voices, in their one-night-only performance at the Cathedral Basilica December 6. Their musicality melds in a medley of anything and everything from Mozart to Henry Mancini — guess we’ll just have to wait and see — I mean, hear — what’s on the music stands.

SFCA celebrates Christmas Eve with a festive concert at the Lensic, when conductor Joseph Illick leads the SFCA Orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 and welcomes soloist Caroline Goulding to perform a Beethoven Violin Concerto. The Concert Association’s holiday spirit toasts New Year’s Eve at a Lensic concert December 31, with guest soloist Claire Huangci, said to have “the fastest fingers in the world” joining Mr. Illick to perform Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos, and a rendition of Brahms’ Second Symphony.

A Gala New Year’s Eve Dinner and Dance are in the works too, with fun and friends, drinks, dinner, and dancing to tunes by local favorite Soulstice — stay tuned to the SFCA website to hear more!

And if holiday music keeps you at home this year, the Concert Association still has something up the conductor’s sleeve when 2014 rolls round. Rossini’s The Barber of Seville is on the boards for January 10-12 in the stunning setting of the historic Scottish Rite Center. How often do you get to see a real Masonic temple so lovingly and vibrantly re-purposed? And best of all, these opera performances are free, yes, free!

Wrapped up in white, the architectural beauty of Santa Fe's St. Francis Cathedral is a holiday delight.
Wrapped up in white, the architectural beauty of Santa Fe’s St. Francis Cathedral is a holiday delight.

Harmonious Holidays Happen in Santa Fe
Are you hearing a delightful ditty already? Feel your feet tapping to a festive tune? Then make tracks to Santa Fe to compose magical musical memories for playback all year long. As J.K. Rowling says in Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, “Ah, music … a magic beyond all we do here!” Santa Fe is tuned to the enchantment of holiday harmonies, and the more who join our party, the merrier it will be.

Clear the Table and the Floor: Dinner and Music in Santa Fe

I like a combination plate — don’t you? I don’t just mean mixing tacos and tamales on the same plate in Santa Fe’s culinary mecca, but changing dinner out from typical to terrific by mixing music into the meal. A 403-year-old town like Santa Fe has had centuries to nurture musical talent, thus, luckily for us, melodic strains lilt from balconies all over town. If it’s dinnertime, head for a place where music makes the meal magical.

Dinner Theater Is Served

See Kenny at the keys and taste pulled pork sliders at La Casa Sena Cantina

The sugar daddy of dinner music is the Broadway Songbook, and La Casa Sena Cantina has been Santa Fe’s Broadway daddy for years. The cantina is open daily 11 am–9 pm, but if your reservations are at 6 pm, a dose of terrific tunes is included as the Cantina’s energetic performing waitstaff serves up a nightly choral cavalcade. Chef Patrick Gharrity has put together a tasty menu of reliable standards – yes, the green chile cheeseburger makes an appearance – along with weekly specials and even a four-course beer dinner. The Cantina is located in the beautiful Sena Plaza on East Palace Ave.

Tapas with a Tuneful Touch

Taberna marries Spanish tapas and music for a night of tasty music

Spanish flavors include much more than our world-famous green chile. The New World is rooted in the Old World, and a hallmark of Old Spain is the tasty little plates known as tapas. Chef James Campbell Caruso first charmed Santa Fe diners in 2006 with his intimate tapas spot, La Boca. In 2012, he expanded his composition by opening Taberna La Boca, around the corner from the flagship La Boca on West Marcy Street. Taberna’s configuration lends space for enhancing the mood with music, so sounds of Spain can pair with delicious Spanish cuisine.

On Saturday evenings at 7 pm, Santa Fe favorite Nacha Mendez plays traditional and original music from around the Spanish-speaking world. And on Fridays, you might find the lively keys of Pedro Romero’s accordion offering accompaniment. If your Taberna time is early (5-6 pm) or late (10-11 pm), you may forego the music, but you’ll enjoy happy hour prices. 

The Lively Heart of a Classic

Keep the party going at La Fiesta Lounge at La Fonda at the Plaza

Rich history means historic hotels, and Santa Fe has more than one. It’s accurate, though, to honor La Fonda on the Plaza as the Grand Dame of the Plaza. Chef Lane Warner has been at the helm since 1993, and his tenure reflects the long-standing love affair that every Santa Fean has with La Fonda. The menu at the naturally-lit La Plazuela was renovated along with the dining room, and nothing could be more essentially Santa Fe than a meal in the welcoming heart of the hotel. But if you have music and a margarita on your mind, head over past the front desk to La Fiesta Lounge, where you’ll find entertainment nightly. The design is Santa Fe, but the music runs the gamut from country swing to sweet soul. Get in before the music starts (7:30 or 8 pm) to find a perfect perch from which to watch locals two-step with visiting pals.

La Fonda is located on the corner of the Old Santa Fe Trail and East San Francisco Street, and for fine dining at La Plazuela, it’s a good idea to make reservations. For La Fiesta Lounge and the Bell Tower Bar, located upstairs for enjoying a magnificent Santa Fe sunset, just park your pony and head on in.

Pianissimo, Please

Visit Vanessie’s to hear Bob Finney share some mellow melodies

Loud or soft, racy or romantically inclined, tunes you know and tunes you’ll love, that’s what you’ll hear at Vanessie. This classic downtown piano bar attracts locals and visitors four nights every week; check in advance, since start times vary. Vanessie’s menu sings the continental classics, with starts and sides fit for sharing, and I suspect it’s the fine cuts of steak that draw a consistent crowd.






When the Cowgirl Is Rockin’ You Should Come a-Knockin’

Cowgirls servin’ and cowgirls singin’ at Cowgirl Santa Fe

You may not be a cowgirl, but Cowgirl Santa Fe knows you’re hankerin’ for some Wild West fun with your food. This palace of BBQ (not to worry, salad-eaters and vegetarians, Chef Patrick Lambert has you covered) serves up mighty portions along with a showcase of local musicians. Enjoy a frosty frozen margarita at a 5 pm happy hour on Fridays, kick back on Saturday afternoon with Dixieland and a mint julep, or rock out at 8 pm with some of Santa Fe’s best talent. There’s even a Tap Room for sampling more than one cool beer.

After a First Friday Artwalk in the Santa Fe Railyard, take a short stroll to the Cowgirl, on South Guadalupe, but make reservations to join this popular party at prime hours.


El Farol: Canyon Road’s Cantina

El Farol is a Canyon Road staple for eating and music in Santa Fe

Perched at the corner of Canyon Road and Camino del Monte Sol, El Farol has been a locals’ hangout for as long as I can remember, with an authentically Santa Fe vibe in a historically accurate setting. It’s a special treat when dancers Joaquin and Marisol Encinias and guitarists Vicente Griego and Ricardo Anglada step in with the fiery footwork and musical flare of flamenco to match the Latin menu. Catch the passion on Saturdays at 8 pm through June; from July through August, performances move to Sundays and Thursdays at the same hour. You’ll need to make reservations for a 6:30-7 pm dinner seating in order to savor this quintessentially Spanish experience. A stroll on Canyon Road is beautiful at all times of the year, and this spicy summer scene will keep the body and soul humming.


Perfect Pitch at Pranzo

David Geist tickles the ivories at Pranzo with the biggest smile in Santa Fe

Parla Italiano? Powder your face before ordering your vino at Pranzo, and you’ll get an Italian lesson in the ladies room. This Italian grill and pasta palace is sweetly situated in the Santa Fe Railyard. Owner Michael O’Reilly just scored a coup by luring back Pranzo’s original chef, Steven Lemon, after a 25-year absence. A wide-ranging selection of Italian specialties can be enjoyed in the convivial dining room or cozy bar, but Pranzo has stepped onstage upstairs with live music.

Head up one flight to the Geist Cabaret, where the effervescent David Geist hosts a piano party most Fridays and Saturdays. His talent and charm give diners that extra dollop of delight, and you’ll notice a crowd of regulars gathering for a tuneful meal.

Call ahead to see who’s at the keyboard. Dinner reservations will include a song and a smile. Pranzo is located on Montezuma Avenue, just to the west of Guadalupe Street.

Dinner Never Falls Flat in Santa Fe

Sing for your supper? You won’t have to, since these more-than-just-dinner establishments have established a winning recipe for a night out in Santa Fe. You’ll find that the performing arts are alive and well in the City Different, with its many different choices for having your cake and eating it too, served up by a variety of terrific local talents.