Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel makes his debut with the San Francisco Symphony Thursday night March 20, 2008 at Davies Hall in San Francisco.
Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel makes his debut with the San Francisco Symphony Thursday night March 20, 2008 at Davies Hall in San Francisco. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Contra Costa Times)

The weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Year can be the doldrums for classical music, as many organizations briefly shut down and take a rest. Not in the Bay Area, where the preholiday musical fare ranges from seasonal Vivaldi and Handel opuses to the bracing perpetual motion of György Ligeti's Piano Concerto. Here are a few "best bets," selected from the thicket of possibilities on all sides of the Bay:

  • Not since the rise of Leonard Bernstein -- eons ago -- has a young conductor generated such excitement and won such wide popular approval as has Gustavo Dudamel. Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m. in Berkeley, he arrives with the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela to rock the house with "A Celebration of Music from Latin America." The 31-year-old has a way of showing that technical clarity and emotional weight can be two sides of the same coin. Expect him to dial the heat up and down for two programs at Zellerbach Hall (on the UC Berkeley campus), featuring works by Carlos Chávez, Julián Orbón, Silvestre Revueltas, Esteban Benzecry, Heitor Villa-Lobos and Antonio Estévez.

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    $30-$175 per program; 510-642-9988, www.calperformances.org.

  • San Francisco Opera fans know there's always a bonus in store at the company's productions: the chance to see the superb young singers nurtured by SFO's Adler Fellowship Program. Friday at War Memorial Opera House, you can see all the 2012 Adler singers, teaming up for a gala concert dubbed "The Future Is Now." Can we have a drum roll, please? The Fellows include sopranos Marina Harris and Nadine Sierra; mezzo-sopranos Laura Krumm and Renée Rapier; tenor Brian Jagde; baritones Joo Won Kang and Ao Li; and bass-baritone Ryan Kuster. And that's not all. The San Francisco Opera Orchestra, conducted by Giuseppe Finzi, will perform with the singers throughout this very rich program: works by Mozart, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Rossini, Strauss, Gounod and Massenet. 7:30 p.m., 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. Tickets: $25-$60; 415-864-3330, www.sfopera.com. ($15 student tickets available at the box office, starting at 11 a.m.)

  • Pianist Peter Serkin possesses the rare ability to make listeners experience familiar music in new ways; and to make it not only fresh, but revelatory. Next week, this distinguished musician makes a rare stop in the South Bay to perform Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 with Symphony Silicon Valley. His deep thinking and gritty physical stamina should serve him well when he sits down to perform this demanding work. George Cleve conducts the program, which also includes Tchaikovsky's "Pathétique" Symphony. 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, California Theatre, 345 S. First St., San Jose. $39-$79; 408-286-2600, extension 23, www.symphonysiliconvalley.org.

  • With her creative programming and knack for recruiting exciting young soloists, Berkeley Symphony conductor Joana Carneiro keeps throwing down the gauntlet to other Bay Area music programmers. Dec. 6, she leads the orchestra in a new work by 21-year-old, Berkeley-bred composer Dylan Mattingly (a protégé of John Adams) as well as Ligeti's Piano Concerto (with soloist Shai Wosner) and Schumann's Symphony No. 2. 8 p.m. Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley. ($15-$68; www.berkeleysymphony.org) More contemporary flavors arrive Dec. 12-16, when Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and her exceptional New Century Chamber Orchestra perform "Sogno di Stabat Mater for Solo Violin, Viola, Vibraphone and String Orchestra" by Lera Auerbach, NCCO's featured composer this season. The program also includes works by Handel, Vivaldi and Clarice Assad: Dec. 12, Center for Performing Arts, Menlo-Atherton High School, 555 Middlefield Rd., Atherton; Dec. 13, First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way, Berkeley; Dec. 15, Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco; Dec. 16, Osher Marin JCC, 200 N. San Pedro Road, San Rafael. Details and tickets ($29-$59) at www.ncco.org.

  • Handel's "Messiah" is much-loved -- -- and ubiquitous -- at this time of year. If you're looking to experience a top-notch performance, several candidates are available. Masaaki Suzuki leads the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale in two performances: 7 p.m. Dec. 8 (First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way, Berkeley) and 3 p.m. Dec. 9 (at snazzy new Weill Hall, Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park). The award-winning early music group will be joined by four excellent soloists, including soprano Sherezade Panthaki. (Berkeley, $68; Rohnert Park, $35-$90; www.philharmonia.org.) Dec. 13-15 at Davies Symphony Hall, Ragnar Bohlin conducts the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus with soloists including soprano Joélle Harvey. ($15-$146; 415-864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org.) Dec. 20-22, again in San Francisco, conductor Jeffrey Thomas and the American Bach Soloists return to Grace Cathedral (1100 California St.) with Handel's popular opus. You can't beat the venue, and the top-shelf soloists will include soprano Mary Wilson and countertenor Ian Howell. $20-$94; www.americanbach.org.

    Contact Richard Scheinin at 408-920-5069, read his stories and reviews at www.mercurynews.com/richard-scheinin and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/richardscheinin