Play On, California! is our noontime spotlight on the great musicians from our Golden State. From San Diego to Sacramento and from the LA Phil to the San Francisco Symphony, we have a goldmine of local musical talent across our state. So, each weekday at noon, join Dianne Nicolini for homegrown favorites. We’re also updating this blog daily, highlighting in detail some of the incredible efforts taken on by our arts communities to share music on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, their own websites and more! If you have any favorites to add, let us know in the comments.
Five Centuries of Chaconnes… Pianist Sarah Cahill will be giving a free concert this weekend, presented by the Community School of Music and Arts in Mountain View, following the history of that dance form from its start in the Baroque Era through the years until today. Among the composers represented in the concert are George Friedrich Handel, Carl Neilsen and Henry Purcell, but also a few perhaps less-familiar names, like the French Baroque composer Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, and Cécile Chaminade. There are chaconnes by Stefan Wolpe, Sofia Gubaidulina, and also San Francisco-based Danny Clay, who wrote Still Cycles for Cahill in 2016. The free concert is Saturday (Jun 10) at 7:30 at the CSMA’s Tateuchi Hall.
Photo of Sarah Cahill by Christine Alicino
An LA-based composer named Xavier Muzik has been named the winner of the third annual Emerging Black Composers Project prize, which from this year forward will be called the Michael Morgan Prize, in honor of the late conductor of the Oakland Symphony. The prize is presented by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the San Francisco Symphony, which will give the world premiere of his work during the 2024-25 season. In addition to the performance, Muzik will receive a $15,000 commissioning fee, mentorship from committee members, and will be able to workshop his piece with musicians at the Conservatory. “Music is history and music is culture,” he says. “Composition is the practice of balancing these forces through creation, which has, for me, helped enlighten my identity.” The ten-year Emerging Black Composers Project was launched in 2020, with the first commission going to composer Trevor Weston in 2021.
Photo by JonJon Blunden
The San Francisco Symphony will be presenting a staged performance this week of Adriana Mater, an opera by composer Kaija Saariaho, who died last week. Acclaimed director Peter Sellars is partnering with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the orchestra as part of a multi-year project, and the performances (8, 10, 11) will feature mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron as Adriana, soprano Axelle Fanyo, tenor Nicholas Phan, and baritone Christopher Purves. The libretto is by Amin Maalouf, and tells the story of a mother and son facing a frightening world, with war and violence all around. “Their gritty reality is offset by their hopes and dreams for a better future, and as the music swells and receded, the protagonists must decide between a life of revenge and one of forgiveness.”
Photo of Kaija Saariaho by Andrew Campbell
Berkeley Symphony closes its season this Sunday afternoon (4) with a concert called “Enduring Stories” – Rimsky-Korsakov’s enduring Scheherazade is paired with a work by Carlos Simon called Portrait of a Queen, which picks up the storytelling baton with a Black female narrator (Leontyne Mbele-Mbong) telling the history of Black America. The concert opens with the world premiere of a piece called Lotus Prayer, a League of American Orchestra’s Women Composers Commission by Chinese-born composer Xi Wang. The concert is at Zellerbach Hall at 4.
Photo of Xi Wang by Eason Kong
Pianist Charlie Albright joins the Bay Philharmonic in concert this Sunday afternoon (Jun 4) at 3pm in Union City for a Beethoven celebration: the Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, and the ever-popular Seventh Symphony. Artistic Director and Conductor Jung-Ho Pak will lead the orchestra (formerly the Fremont Symphony Orchestra) in this performance at the James Logan High School Performing Arts Center Sunday at 3.
The first two productions of the Summer season of San Francisco Opera – Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and Die Frau ohne Schatten of Richard Strauss open this weekend (3-4). Music Director Eun Sun Kim leads a new staging of Butterfly, that’s told through the eyes of Trouble, the son of Cio-Cio-San (Karah Son) and Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton (Michael Fabiano), with 8 performances through July 1. And Sir Donald Runnicles conducts the ‘once in a generation’ Strauss – the last time it was performed in San Francisco was over 30 years ago. This production was designed by artist David Hockney. “Half-spirit and half-mortal, the Empress lives in fear of a curse: If she doesn’t acquire a human shadow in three days’ time, the spirit world will reclaim her – and turn her husband to stone.” It features Nina Stemme and Camilla Nylund, and there are five performances through June 28.
Courtesy of LA Opera / Robert Millard
The 38th Klein International String Competition takes place this weekend (3-4) with 9 semifinalist musicians selected from 111 entrants. The semi-final round begins Saturday at 10am at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and finals are at 3pm on Sunday. The competition will be livestreamed on the Violin Channel’s website. There are two entrants from California, cellist Mei Hotta and violinist Ray Ushikubo; both attend the Colburn School in Los Angeles. The 9 semifinalists range in age from 17 to 23, and include 3 cellists, 2 violists, and 4 violinists. The winners will receive cash prizes, as well as performance contracts for concert appearances with the Peninsula and Santa Cruz Symphonies, and San Jose Chamber Orchestra. Past winners of the competition include Tessa Lark, Jennifer Koh, Jennifer Frautschi, Zlatomir Fung, and Oliver Herbert.
Johanna Vogt via Unsplash
All work and no play… Opera Parallèle presents Paul Moravec’s operatic adaptation of Steven King’s novel The Shining this weekend (2-4). Set in the Colorado Rockies, the libretto by Mark Campbell tells the story of the Torrance family, caretaking the empty (or is it?) and rambling Overlook Hotel, as they discover its secrets and descend into a madness that brings horrors from the past into the present. It’s the West Coast premiere of the work, with three performances (Friday and Saturday evening, Sunday at 2) at the Blue Shield of California Theater at YBCA. It’s directed by Brian Staufenbiel, with Nicole Paiement conducting the cast that includes baritone Robert Wesley Mason as Jack Torrance, and soprano Kearstin Piper Brown as Wendy Torrance. Here’s scenic designer Jacquelyn Scott with a preview of the sets and designs:
Every year the Community Music Center celebrates “Field Day,” in honor of Gertrude Field, who founded the center, and was able to establish it as a cultural hub in the early part of the 20th Century. One highlight of recent Field Days has been the “Performathon,” which this Saturday (3) will take place from 11am until 5pm at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. The Performathon is free, but you can sponsor a musician or donate directly to help support the institution. The schedule includes choirs, solo and chamber performances of a wide variety of instruments, played by CMC students, alumni, faculty, staff, board members and supporters.
The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra finishes its season with a trio of free concerts featuring the music of William Grant Still, Frank Martin, and Felix Mendelssohn. The performances will be led by guest conductor Jory Fankuchen, violinist with the ensemble, stepping in for Cosette Justo Valdés, the incoming Music Director, who was to make her debut in that position, but has been delayed with visa issues. The Frank Martin piece is a great opportunity to see SFCO wind and brass players in solo roles: it’s a Concerto for Seven Winds, Timpani, Percussion and Strings. William Grant Still’s Panamanian Dances will open the concerts, and Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony No. 4 will close them. They’ll be at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco on Friday evening (26), First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto on Saturday (27) and in Berkeley at the First Congregational Church Sunday afternoon (28).
Jory Fankuchen, guest conductor for San Francisco Chamber Orchestra
The West Coast premiere of a work by Julia Wolfe called Her Story comes to the San Francisco SymphonyThursday and Saturday night (25, 27). They’ll be joined by the Lorelei Ensemble, a group of women’s voices, who will tell the story of the struggle for equal rights for women over the course of history. It was co-commissioned by the SFS, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Nashville Symphony and the National Symphony Orchestra, using the texts by those who were working toward equality. Giancarlo Guerrero will be conducting the concerts, which also include an orchestral favorite that tells the story of a woman using her voice and story-telling ability to survive: Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.
Photo of Julia Wolfe by Peter Serling
This Friday and Saturday (26-27), Symphony San Jose is presenting GAME ON! With the orchestra playing the scores to video games like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, Diablo, Overwatch, Assassin’s Creed, DOTA 2, PUBG, Destiny 3, Bioshock, and much more. It will be accompanied by films with visuals from the games. The performances are at 8pm at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.
Two of Jake Heggie’s one-act operas will have a performance at the Presidio Theatre this Wednesday (24) night. Another Sunrise and For a Look or a Touch, both with librettos by Gene Scheer, are presented by the Seattle-based Music of Remembrance. They tell the intimate stories of individuals from history who lived under Nazi oppression during the Holocaust. The one-night only presentation with musicians from the Seattle Symphony will feature soprano Caitlin Lynch as an Auschwitz survivor attempting to describe what happened to her, and bass-baritone Ryan McKinny and actor Curt Branom as two lovers whose relationship was forbidden under Nazi rule. “This compelling double bill highlights the redemptive power of memory, helping us appreciate those touched by the Holocaust in all their complicated humanity.”
Photo of Jake Heggie by Karen Almond
The Oakland Symphony finishes off its season on Friday (19) with a concert program called “Songs of Protest,” led by guest conductor Tito Muñoz. They’ll play the Leonore Overture No. 3 by Beethoven, Samuel Barber’s Second Essay for Orchestra, and a world premiere Oakland Symphony commission by composer Martin Rokeach. That work is called Bodies on the Line: The Great Flint Sit-Down Strike, inspired by the actions of auto workers at the end of 1936 and beginning of 1937, occupying a General Motors plant, which ultimately resulted in significant wage increases for workers, and greater power for unions moving forward. The premiere will include soloists Melody Wilson, Marc Molomot, and Morgan Smith, along with the Oakland Symphony Chorus and Pacific Edge Voices. The concert is at 8pm Friday at the Paramount Theatre.
In its next concerts, the California Symphony gives the world premiere of a piano concerto called Stargazer, by composer Viet Cuong, their Young American Composer-in-Residence. Pianist Sarah Cahill will be the soloist in the performances, led by Donato Cabrera Saturday (20) and Sunday (21) at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek. This is the third year of Viet Cuong’s residency with the orchestra – his Next Week’s Trees had its concert premiere in May of last year and Chance of Rain is scheduled to be part of their next season, in November. Also on this weekend’s program: Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, and Sir William Walton’s Symphony No. 1.
New Century Chamber Orchestra concludes its season this week with a program called Points of Origin. It includes two world premieres: Hannah Kendall’s …I may turn to salt, and an arrangement by Nico Muhly of Stranger for Tenor and String Orchestra (with guest tenor Nicholas Phan). There are also works by Jessie Montgomery, Benjamin Britten, and Ralph Vaughan Williams on the concert, which is wrapping up their 30th season. They’ll then be heading off on their second European Tour. There are performances Thursday (11) evening in Berkeley, Saturday (13) at the Presidio Theatre in San Francisco, and Sunday afternoon at the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael.
Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson will be bringing a recital of “Mozart and his Contemporaries” to San Francisco Performances Tuesday (9) at 7:30 at Herbst Theatre. He will intersperse Mozart works between those by C.P.E. Bach, Domenico Cimarosa, Haydn, and Baldassare Galuppi, who he describes as being in the same ecosystem of 18th-century music. As he writes, “It is my hope that this particular context, a mix of the celebrated and the obscure, can slightly alter our psychological attunement, removing some of the baggage we all bring with us as we come to Mozart’s music.”
Photo of Víkingur Ólafsson by Ari Magg
Symphony San Jose welcomes violinist Anne Akiko Meyers this weekend (6-7) for a concert that includes a Mariachi-inspired concerto written for her by Mexican composer Arturo Marquez (whose Danzón No. 2 was a huge hit for Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra). The concerto is called Fandango, and it’s on a program that also includes Gerald Finzi’s Prelude for String Orchestra in F minor and Brahms’ towering Symphony No. 4. The concerts will be led by conductor José Luis Gómez at the California Theatre, Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 2:30.
Sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton will be the soloists in a world premiere of a Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra this weekend (6-8) at the Santa Rosa Symphony. Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong will lead the performances of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s concerto, on the final concert program of the season, that also includes Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain and Richard Strauss’s Alpine Symphony. The concerts are Saturday at 7:30, Sunday afternoon at 3, and Monday at 7:30 at Weill Hall at the Green Music Center.
A timely Oakland Symphony performance this week, as they celebrate the Music of John Williams on Thursday, May the Fourth (be with you!) The performance at the Paramount Theatre will be led by conductor Kyle J. Dickson, and will include selections from the Williams’ greatest hits – Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harry Potter, E.T., Superman, and more. The nonagenarian composer received his 53rd Oscar nomination just this year for his score for Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans. There’s a pre-concert talk from stage by John Kendall Bailey.
The San Francisco Choral Society opens its season this weekend (29-30) with the world premiere of a chamber orchestra version of Stacy Garrop’s Terra Nostra. Artistic Director Robert Geary will be leading the ensemble, along with the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir, San Francisco Youth Chorus, and soloists. The oratorio, in its full orchestration, premiered over the course of two season in 2014-5. Garrop says “the work focuses on the relationship between Earth and mankind, the evolution of this relationship over time, and a reflection on how the relationship can be re-established to create a more harmonious balance.” The performances, which also include Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, are at Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco Saturday at 7, and Sunday afternoon at 4.
Stacy Garrop – Joe Francavilla Photography
The Dream House Quartet brings together an unusual pairing of instruments – two pianos and two guitars. The pianists are Katia & Marielle Labèque, and the guitarists are Bryce Dessner and David Chalmin. They’ll be performing at Stanford Live on Thursday night (27). They’re on their inaugural tour, playing newly commissioned works by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Philip Glass, Meredith Monk and others, as well as music by Bryce Dessner and David Chalmin. “The all-star ensemble Dream House Quartet fuses musical mastery of classical and contemporary forms.”
The Doric String Quartet and pianist Benjamin Grosvenor come together for a San Francisco Performances concert this Wednesday evening (26) with a program of works by Beethoven, Haydn, and Frank Bridge. The quartet will play Beethoven’s “Serioso” opus 95, and Haydn’s Op. 50 no. 6 “The Frog,” finishing with the Piano Quintet in D Minor by Bridge. The Doric SQ formed in 1998 – and violist Hélène Clement plays an instrument made by Guissani in 1843 – which was previously owned by Benjamin Britten as well as Frank Bridge.
Photo of the Doric String Quartet by George Garnier
Showing again their interest in music from many historical periods, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale close their season this week with “From Muffat to Mason” (Thur 27-Sun 30). The concerts, led by Music Director Richard Egarr, will open with a world premiere new work by Mason Bates called Appalachian Ayre, before turning to earlier composers: Schmelzer, Biber, and Muffat. In 2016, PBO launched its New Music for Old Instruments initiative, which has included commissioning new works from composers such as Caroline Shaw, Tarik O’Regan and George Lewis.
San Francisco Ballet brings its 90th season to a close with Romeo and Juliet, with 10 performances between April 21 and April 30. Helgi Tomasson’s production, which premiered in 1994, is “marked by its exhilarating swordsmanship and passionate dancing, set to Sergei Prokofiev’s masterful score.”
Pocket Opera continues its season with Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring for the next three weekends, with Sunday afternoon performances at the Hillside Club (23), Legion of Honor (30) and Mountain View (May 7). This is the first time the company has put on an opera by Britten, and it will be accompanied by their signature ‘Pocket Philharmonic’ of 5-12 players. It’s a comedy based on a novella by Guy de Maupassant, with the story moved to the British countryside. In the “charming tale of lost innocence, Victorian morality, and coming of age,” shy Albert is nominated to be “May King” of his village after none of the local women are deemed suitably pure.
The Marin Symphony marks the end of an era this weekend (22-23), when Alasdair Neale leads his final performances as Music Director, after more than 2 decades. The program opens with John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine, followed by Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 with soloist Jeremy Constant, and ends with Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. When he made the announcement in 2021 that he would be stepping down, he said: “The last two decades leading the Marin Symphony have been filled with joyous musical experiences, wonderful friendships and treasured memories on and off the podium. I’m so grateful for the enduring passion and commitment of the orchestra, the warmth of our audiences, and the generous support of our patrons.”
Photo by Eisaku Tokuyama
Richard Egarr leads Handel’s opera Amadigi di Gaula this weekend (20-21), in 3 performances at the Taube Atrium Theatre. In the title role is countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, for the co-production between Boston Baroque and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale. Thursday’s opening night is part of the PBO’s Spring Gala, with a sold-out show on Friday, and another on Saturday. The emotional opera is filled with “sorcery, jealous rages, desire, and hellish demons,” and also stars sopranos Deanna Breiwick and Nicole Heaston, and mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter.
Photo of Anthony Roth Costanzo by Matthew Placek
It’s a Mozart-infused weekend for the Santa Rosa Symphony. There’s a special “Opera in Concert” performance of The Magic Flute on Saturday evening (15) as the orchestra is joined by professional soloists and ArtQuest’s chorus and dancers. Then, as part of their Family Concert Series on Sunday afternoon (16), the orchestra will present “Becoming Mozart,” which tells the story of the composer from his beginnings as a child prodigy to his superstar status, with musical examples along the way. Both performances will be led by Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong.
Photo of Francesco Lecce-Chong by Silvermans Photography
The Danish String Quartet comes to Berkeley’s First Congregational Church Friday night (14) for a Cal Performances recital that continues its Doppelgänger Project. They’ve commissioned contemporary composers to write works that can be paired with some of the great works of Franz Schubert. They’ll be giving the Bay Area premiere of Rituals, by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, written to go with the only chamber work Schubert published in his lifetime, the Rosamunde quartet in A minor, D. 804. Also on the program is the Quartettsatz in C minor, and the DSQ’s own arrangement of the song “Gretchen am Spinnrade” (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel).
Photo of the Danish String Quartet by Caroline Bittencourt
Opera San Jose closes its season with Puccini’s ever-popular Tosca, with performances running from the 15th to the 30th at the California Theatre. The production marks the mainstage debut of Resident Stage Director Tara Branham, and the cast includes Maria Natale as Tosca, Adrian Kramer as Cavaradossi, and Kidon Choi as Scarpia. Joseph Marcheso will be conducting the performances.
Photo by David Allen
The Emerson String Quartet makes its final Bay Area Appearance this Friday (Apr 14) in a San Francisco Performances concert at Herbst Theatre. The ensemble is on its final tour after more than 40 years. They’ve recorded many of the staples of the quartet literature for Deutsche Grammophon, releasing more than 30 albums, and winning nine Grammy Awards. The program they’ll be bringing to Herbst this week will open with Benjamin Britten’s arrangement of Henry Purcell’s Chacony in G Minor, and then continue with repertoire staples Haydn (Op. 33 No. 5), Mozart (K.421), and Beethoven (Op. 59 No. 2).
Emerson String Quartet
Monday and Tuesday night (Apr 10-11) conductor James Conlon brings two different programs of “Recovered Voices” to the Mondavi Center – musicians from the Colburn School of Music will perform works by composers the Nazis tried to suppress. It’s part of the Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices, which aims to get the music of these composers, whose “careers and lives were disrupted or ended” heard by a wider modern audience. The programs are free to the public – with Monday’s concert including works by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Arnold Schoenberg and Franz Schreker, and Tuesday’s with Alexander Zemlinsky, Schoenberg, and Korngold.
Guitarist Jason Vieaux and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke will be teaming up for a joint concert at Herbst Theatre this Saturday (Apr. 8) presented by San Francisco Performances and Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts. The program will include a wide range of repertoire, from Franz Schubert, Manuel de Falla and Heitor Villa-Lobos to Stephen Sondheim, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Lennon & McCartney. There’s also going to be a set of songs by San Francisco-based composer Peter Scott Lewis. The concert is Saturday night at 7:30.
MTT leads the San Francisco Symphony Thursday through Saturday (March 30 – April 1) with a program of Mahler’s Symphony No. 6. It was the symphony that launched their recording project of the works of Mahler, which won a Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance in 2002. It’s a piece that has come to be known as the “Tragic” – despite it being written in happy times, fairly early in his marriage to Alma when they had two young children. Later, the death of their older daughter, and discovery that Mahler had a life-threatening heart condition made the tragic story of a hero facing his fate seem like an ominous foreshadowing.
Photo of Michael Tilson Thomas by Brigitte Lacombe
The players of the early music ensemble Voices of Music will be joined by dancers from a New York-based company for three performances in the Bay Area of Metamorphosis: A Collaboration with BALAM Dance Theatre. They’ll be presenting a new composition called “Wu Song and the Tiger” by Voices of Music Artistic Director Hanneke van Proosdij and pipa virtuoso Yihan Chen. It’s a story ballet inspired by a traditional Chinese folk tale. BALAM “combines Balinese theatre with ballet, modern and diverse cultural dance styles from around the world and historical periods.” There will also be early music on the program, and the performances are in Palo Alto (Mar 30) at the Oshman Family JCC, San Francisco (Apr 1) at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, and Berkeley (Apr 2) and the First Congregational Church.
Donato Cabrera and the California Symphony explore “Mahler’s Inner Circle” this weekend (25-26) in Walnut Creek, with a program that puts the spotlight on those near to the composer. It will open with an overture by Alexander Zemlinsky, who was a romantic rival – he sought the love of Alma Schindler, who was his composition student, and who would go on to marry Mahler. Then contralto Sara Couden will perform Alma Mahler’s Fünf Lieder, a set of five songs that was her only work published during her husband’s lifetime. The concerts will end with the Symphony No. 1 by Hans Rott, who was a classmate of Mahler’s, who died in an asylum at the far too young age of 25, after a mental breakdown. Mahler called him “a musician of genius” who was “the founder of the new symphony as I myself understand it.” Performances are at the Lesher Center, Saturday at 7:30, and Sunday at 4.
Photo of Sara Couden by Veronique Kherian
This weekend (24-25), the San Francisco Symphony presents two performances of a special screening of the film Black Panther, with live accompaniment. The score, which won an Oscar for composer Ludwig Goransson, will be conducted by Anthony Parnther, with percussionist Massamba Diop (who played on the original soundtrack) on the talking drum. The 2018 Marvel film is set in the mystical hidden nation of Wakanda, protected by its king, T’Challa, and starred Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, and the late Chadwick Boseman.
Conductor Nicholas McGegan and the musicians of the Cantata Collective will be performing Bach’s Mass in B Minor tonight (Monday the 20th) in Berkeley, at the First Congregational Church, in commemoration of Bach’s 338th birthday. The soloists will be soprano Sherezade Panthaki, alto Rhianna Cockrell, tenor Thomas Cooley, and bass Paul Max Tipton. The ensemble, made up of early music specialists, came together to perform the cantatas and large-scale choral music of J.S. Bach. They’ve begun a recording project with AVIE Records, and their first release will be the performance that they gave last year of the St. John Passion.
Photo by Laura Barisonzi
Pianist Angela Hewitt returns to the Bay Area for three recitals through Chamber Music SF this week. She’ll play a program of Scarlatti sonatas, Bach’s English Suite No. 6, and the Brahms Sonata No. 3 in F minor. The concerts will be at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek on Saturday afternoon (18), at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco on Sunday afternoon (19) and the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto Monday night (20). She’s always been an acclaimed interpreter of the music of J.S. Bach, and a few years ago began a four-year long “Bach Odyssey” that had her performing the complete cycle of his major keyboard works (spanning 12 recitals) in New York, Tokyo, Ottawa, and London, interrupted by the pandemic, but finishing last May.
Photo by James Katz
The San Francisco Girls Chorus joins with Chanticleer in three performances of “Neighbor Tones” (17, 18, 21) – a concert “full of new works and new sounds,” including the premiere of Years of Light by Ayanna Woods, who was composer in residence for Chanticleer during the 22-23 season. They’ll also perform together Desert Song by säje, and Trevor Weston’s Oh Daedalus, fly away home. The Girls Chorus will also perform works by Matthew Welch, Richard Danielpour, Ysaye Barnwell and Philip Glass. The concerts are at Herbst Theatre on Friday, in Berkeley at the First Presbyterian Church on Saturday night, and at the Mission Santa Clara de Asis in Santa Clara on Tuesday the 21st.
Photo by Carlin Ma
Hilary Hahn brings a recital of solo Bach to Davies Symphony Hall this Sunday night (Mar 12), with a program of a Sonata and two Partitas – the Sonata No. 1, and the first and second Partitas – including the famed D minor Chaconne. Her very first studio recording in 1997 was of solo works for violin by Bach, and more than 20 years later, she returned to record the remaining pieces. She hadn’t performed them formally until a few years ago, though. “Pretty much every concerto I’ve played, I’ve done a movement of solo Bach as an encore. Not as part of a plan, but I always just have it in my hands, because I’m always working on it. I don’t even carry the music with me anymore, because I just always have it in my head. It’s really beautiful music that seems to work for every audience and transforms every space I play it in.”
Taking a beloved opera on a free mini-tour around the Bay Area – San Francisco Opera’s Bohème Out of the Box has its first performances at Waterfront Park in Alameda this weekend. The live performances of La Bohème will be abridged and with piano accompaniment, and the cast that includes Adler Fellows will be presenting the work in a converted shipping container that’s been modified to be a mobile stage. There are pre-opera talks on the Friday and Saturday evening performances, and a family-friendly “First Act Workshop” preceding the Sunday afternoon show. They’re free, but require registration. Alameda’s Waterfront Park (March 10-12); Orange Memorial Park in South San Francisco (March 17-19); the Los Gatos Library (March 24-26); and Emerald Glen Park Amphitheater in Dublin (March 31-April 2).
Illustration by Brian Stauffer
The South Korean guitarist Jiji comes to Herbst Theatre this Saturday evening (Mar 11) for an SF Performancesrecital presented with OMNI Foundation for the Performing Arts. She’ll be including works by composers ranging from Claudia Sessa (a Milanese nun who was born in the late 16th Century) to those working today, like Tania Leon, Natalie Dietterich, and a world premiere by Michael Gilbertson called Guts and Guile. There are also guitar favorites by Albeniz and Paganini, as well as originals by Jiji. She plays both acoustic and electric guitars, and was the first guitarist to win the Concert Artists Guild Award in 30 years. The concert is Saturday night at 7:30 at Herbst.
Photo of Jiji by Marty Bra
A world premiere performance of a symphony written in 1938 will be on One Found Sound’s concert called “Horizon” this Saturday (Mar 4) at 8pm. The composer, Herbert Franklin Mells, is going to the be focus of a five-year project by the conductorless ensemble, performing and recording Mells’ works for orchestra which remained unpublished when he died at the age of 44. He’s best known today for several of his choral works, but he was the first Black American to receive a Ph.D centering on orchestral music. (The symphony on this concert was part of his Masters program at Indiana University). In addition to getting the music heard and performed, one of the goals of the project is to keep the music from falling into the public domain, and direct the rights of the scores to the composer’s family. The Horizon performance at Heron Arts in San Francisco will also include Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture and Reflection On a Memorial by Quinn Mason.
The ensemble Kitka presents the world premiere run of an opera called BABA: The Life and Death of Stana. It’s by Karmina Šilec, and is inspired by “sworn virgins” of the Balkans, women who have taken vows of chastity and celibacy, and live as men. “BABA brigs to light a disappearing practice of women sacrificing their sexuality and transforming themselves into men as a means of survival in an isolated, dangerous, impoverished, and intensely patriarchal and gender-binary part of the world.” There are four performances at Z Space in San Francisco, Thursday through Sunday (23-26)
San Francisco Performances’ PIVOT festival returns this week, with performances Tuesday-Thursday (21-23) in the second season of the Catalyst Quartet’s “Uncovered” series, in which they play repertoire by under-represented composers. They’ll be joined by pianist Anne-Marie McDermott on Tuesday and cellist Marcy Rosen on Wednesday. They’ll play works by Joseph Bologne (the Chevalier de St. Georges), Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Miguel Bernal-Jimenez, Rebecca Clarke, Amy Beach, Ethyl Smyth, Teresa Careño, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, Germaine Tailleferre, Antonio Carlos Gomes, and Fanny Mendelssohn. The concerts are at 7:30 at Herbst Theatre, with pre-concert programs hosted by pianist Sarah Cahill and others.
Photo of the Catalyst Quartet by Ricardo Quinones
The Santa Rosa Symphony will be led by their Conductor Laureate, Bruno Ferrandis this Saturday through Monday (18-20) in a program celebrating his French roots… There are works by composer Lili Boulanger (younger sister of the composer and composition teacher Nadia Boulanger) along with Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. Bay Area favorite and Van Cliburn competition winner Jon Nakamatsu will be the soloist for Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major. They’ll also be playing a ‘portrait of nature’ written by American composer Philip Glass, called The Canyon. Ferrandis was the orchestra’s Music Director for a dozen seasons, beginning in 2006. There’s a Discovery Open Rehearsal on Saturday afternoon, wth concerts Saturday and Monday at 7:30, and Sunday afternoon at 3 at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall.
Photo by Clay McLachlan
Voices of Music presents three concerts this weekend (17-19), showcasing chamber works from Italy and England, in a program called “Musica Transalpina” – with violinists Elizabeth Blumenstock, Cynthia Miller Freivogel, and Augusta McKay Lodge. On the program is music by Biber, Corelli, Marini, Morley, Matteis, and Purcell. On Friday (17) they’ll be at the First Congregational Church of Palo Alto at 7, Saturday at 7:30 at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, and Sunday at 8 at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco.
He just celebrated his 91st birthday this past week, but John Williams will be conducting a sold-out concert of his works with the San Francisco Symphony on Valentine’s Day, featuring the SFS premiere of his second violin concerto, written for and played by Anne-Sophie Mutter. (And he’s also recently been nominated for an Oscar for his score for The Fabelmans– one of 53 nominations he’s received, with 5 wins). Later in the week (17-19), Esa-Pekka Salonen will be back on the podium, leading the Symphony in a program that (in keeping with Valentine’s Day week) includes selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, with Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin and Bela Bartok’s second piano concerto, with Pierre-Laurent Aimard as soloist.
Photo of John Williams courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony
The New Century Chamber Orchestra will be joined by the singers of the San Francisco Girls Chorus for its concerts this Friday and Saturday (10, 11) that they’re calling “Sparkling Connections.” The shows in Berkeley on Friday and at the Green Music Center on Saturday are a prelude to the Gala dinner and concert they’ll be hosting in San Francisco on Sunday to celebrate the NCCO’s 30th Anniversary. There’s music by Lili Boulanger, Debussy, Schubert, Mozart, Haydn, and Humperdinck on the program, with music director and violinist Daniel Hope leading the ensemble.
Opera San Jose presents Verdi’s Falstaff, a comedy based on the character from Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor and scenes from Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2. It was the last opera Verdi wrote, and one of only two comic works (the other was written more than 50 years earlier, Un Giorno di Regno.) This production will feature Darren Lekeith Drone in the title role, with Megan Esther Grey as Dame Quickly, and Chanae Curtis as Alice Ford. There are six performances between Saturday the 11th and Sunday the 26th, at the California Theatre. It’s directed by José Maria Condemi, and will be conducted (except the final two performances) by Joseph Marcheso.
Photo of Darren Lekeith Drone and Chanae Curtis by David Allen
The New York Philharmonic has announced that Gustavo Dudamel will be their next Music and Artistic Director, in 2026. He’s been the Music Director at the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2009, where he’s led the symphony, and championed new music, education, and more diversity. His own background as a student in Venezuela’s El Sistema program helped shape the musician he would become, and help set his priorities on the podium, including special attention to young musicians in the Latino community, with YOLA, the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles. He’ll succeed Jaap van Zweden to be the NY orchestra’s 27th Music Director – following in the footsteps of conductors including Gustav Mahler, Leonard Bernstein, Leopold Stokowski, and Pierre Boulez. In a statement, Dudamel said: “I gaze with joy and excitement at the world that lies before me in New York City, and with pride and love at the world I have shared – and will continue to share – with my dear Angelenos over the next three seasons and beyond. All of us are united in our belief that culture creates a better world, and in our dream that music is a fundamental right. I look forward to the work ahead.”
Cellist Steven Isserlis joins conductor Richard Egarr and members of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra this week (9-12) in a program called “Old Friends Made New.” It includes both of the cello concertos of Camille Saint-Saëns, as well as their first performance of Brahms’ Second Symphony. The two concertos show different sides of the player (and composer) with both beautiful lyricism and “fiendishly difficult” passages. Isserlis has played with the PBO many times, going back many years. The concerts are Thursday at Herbst Theatre, Friday in Palo Alto, and Saturday and Sunday at First Congregational Church in Berkeley.
Photo of Steven Isserlis by Satoshi Aoyagi
This fall will mark the premiere of a new festival that will bring together musicians from all across California, with repertoire that’s been written in the past five years. The California Festival: A Celebration of New Music will launch in November, and was the brainchild of the music directors of three of the state’s ensembles: LA Phil’s Gustavo Dudamel, the San Diego Symphony’s Rafael Payare, and San Francisco Symphony’s Esa-Pekka Salonen. More than fifty organizations – orchestras, chamber music groups, choirs, jazz ensembles – will be taking part across the state. As their announcement declared: “Each participating organization will curate its own program or project under the festival umbrella, making this massive new survey as eclectic, exciting and kaleidoscopic as it is insightful and thought-provoking.”
Opera Parallele returns to Everest – this time, bringing the audience into an “immersive experience.” The company presented Everest, a “graphic novel opera” by composer Joby Talbot and librettist Gene Scheer during the pandemic. It told the story of an ill-fated attempt to climb the mountain’s summit that happened in 1996, and inspired Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air. The performances by singers including Sasha Cooke, Nathan Granner and Hadleigh Adams, were captured, and animated in the visual style of a graphic novel. The new version will put the audience in the center of the action, transporting Z Space to the snowy peaks, complete with white ponchos for the audience to wear, becoming part of the surface on which the images are projected, and surrounded by the music. There are performances from February 3-12.
Violinist Midori comes to the Bay Area to present a pair of different programs for San Francisco Performances this week. On Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon (Feb 2 and 5) she’ll be at Herbst Theatre, with programs that celebrate the 40th anniversary of her professional debut. On Thursday, she’ll mix solo works by Bach – two sonatas and a partita – with Nun Komm by Thierry Escaich, written in 2001, and Annie Gosfield’s Long Waves and Random Pulses, which was inspired by the partita she’ll be playing. Sunday’s concert, with different solo Bach selections, also pairs with newer works, Jessie Montgomery’s Rhapsody No. 1 and John Zorn’s Passagen. Since she made that New York Philharmonic debut 40 years ago at the age of eleven, she’s had a career that involves education and humanitarian projects as well as performing on concert stages throughout the world.
Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
Michael Tilson Thomas returns to Davies Symphony Hall for San Francisco Symphony concerts Thursday through Saturday (26-28) with guest soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. The concert is mostly French repertoire, with works by Claude Debussy (the beloved Prélude à L’Après-midi d’un faune and gamelan-inspired Fantaisie for Piano and Orchestra), and Olivier Messiaen (Trois petites liturgies de la Présence Divine). That work features women singers from the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, as well as the infrequently heard electronic instrument, the Ondes Martenot, played by Cynthia Millar. They’ll leave France for the Rainforest, ending with the Heitor Villa-Lobos work, Chôros No. 10, with the full Chorus, led by guest chorus director Grant Gershon.
Photo of Michael Tilson Thomas by Brigitte Lacombe
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