ART Though there's little to be learned about the West from "In the American West, Photographs by Richard Avedon," there's quite a bit to be learned about the photographer. At the Corcoran through Feb. 16. CLASSICAL MUSIC

The world premiere of "Nature-Life" by violinist-composer Andreas Makris will be performed by the Northern Virginia Youth Symphony Orchestra, Friday night at the Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke. The Washington premiere of "Sacred Ground" by pianist-composer Keith Jarrett will be given by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Wednesday night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. To celebrate the anniversary of Antonio Stradivari, the Juilliard String Quartet (with pianist Rudolf Firkusny) will play music of Mozart, Brahms and Schumann on four of his instruments, Wednesday night at the Library of Congress.

Christmas programs this week will include the Paul Hill Chorale's Candlelight Concert, Thursday night, Saturday afternoon and Saturday night at the Kennedy Center; "Christmas With the Folger Consort," twice today at the Folger Shakespeare Library, tomorrow night and four times next weekend; two more performances of "Messiah" by the National Symphony and the Oratorio Society, this afternoon and tomorrow night at the Kennedy Center. The Oratorio Society will give a program of Renaissance Christmas music Saturday night, Sunday afternoon and Sunday night at the National Shrine. Other Christmas programs: The McLean Orchestra, this afternoon at the McLean Community Center; the Prince George's Choral Society, tonight in the Publick Playhouse, and the Fairfax Choral Society, Friday and Saturday nights at Trinity United Methodist Church, McLean. Also, two visits from Baltimore: a "Messiah" by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Friday night at Montgomery College, Rockville, and "A Renaissance Christmas Gift" by the Baltimore Consort, Saturday night at the Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church.

Other notable concerts of the week: The Washington Chamber Society in a program of piano trios, tonight at Montgomery College, Rockville; the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, this afternoon at NIH; the Canadian Brass, tonight at the Kennedy Center; pianist Antonio Barbosa, this afternoon at the Phillips Collection. DANCE

Patricia Miller and James Canfield, former Washington Ballet and Joffrey Ballet principals, now with the Pacific Ballet Theatre, will be the guest stars with the Washington Ballet in this afternoon's performance of "The Nutcracker" at Lisner Auditorium. Starting with the evening performance, regular company principals will alternate as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, as the run continues through Jan. 28. Bebe Miller: Dance, a New York troupe making its area debut as part of the National Performance Network, repeats its program at the Dance Place this afternoon. Tonight at the Jewish Community Center, the Center Dance Ensemble presents "Moments," a program of choreography by artistic director Frances Smith Cohen and guests Alcine Wiltz, Alvin Mayes and Mark Ryder; Duets, Etc., the Helen Rea-Don Zuckerman duo, will also participate. FILM

The Holiday Film Series at the American Film Institute continues today at 4 p.m. with "White Christmas," starring (who else?) Der Bingle, in a double bill with "Christmas in Connecticut," starring Barbara Stanwyck and Sidney Greenstreet, which critic Leonard Maltin called "airy fluff." Tonight at 8, the magical "Miracle on 34th Street," in a double bill with the original 1938 "A Christmas Carol." Tuesday and Wednesday, Judy Garland in "Meet Me in St. Louis."

Today and tomorrow at the Circle Theater, two Kurosawa classics, "Yojimbo" and "Kagemusha." Tuesday and Wednesday, Albert Brooks' "Lost in America," one of 1985's best.

Today and tomorrow at the Biograph, the Truffaut series continues with "Jules and Jim" and "Shoot the Piano Player," in which the young director reinvented movies and redefinedwhat we expect from them.

Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Library of Congress' Pickford theater, "A Tale of Two Cities," with a Whitman's sampler of great British supporting actors, including Christopher Lee, Ian Bannen and Leo McKern.

Among current releases, "Shoah," Claude Lanzmann's powerful documentary on the Holocaust. At the Key Theatre. POP MUSIC

Birelli Legrene, the young gypsy guitarist in whom many people hear the reincarnation of Django Reinhardt, comes to Blues Alley tomorrow; three days later, violinist Stephane Grappelli, who teamed with Reinhardt in one of jazz's most influential units, comes for a four-night stay, also at Blues Alley.

Three underrated folk eclectics come a-soloing: Loudon Wainwright at the Roxy tomorrow; Eric Andersen, whose "Blue River" remains a masterpiece of the early '70s, is at the Birchmere on Tuesday; and Tom Paxton brings his always topical self to the Birchmere on Friday and Saturday.

You can hear elements of the Washington guitar tradition with Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna) at the Roxy on Tuesday; Pete Kennedy and Danny Gatton duel at the Birchmere on Wednesday.

The name is misleading: 10,000 Maniacs, led by singer-songwriter Valerie Merrchant, is one of the most intriguing folk-rock bands to emerge since R.E.M. At the 9:30 on Friday. THEATER

For stargazers, "Aren't We All?" (at the Opera House) offers Claudette Colbert's ageless beauty and Rex Harrison's dry wit in a dated, but not charmless, 1920s drawing room comedy. For fans of the offbeat, "North Atlantic" (New Playwrights' Theatre) showcases the wildly experimental Wooster Group in a lunatic satire of military life. For devotees of story theater, "The Man Who Killed the Buddha" (Round House Theatre) takes a playful plunge into the mysteries of oriental philosophy.