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.

Terence Blanchard’s opera Fire Shut Up in My Bones opens the season of the Metropolitan Opera in New York Monday night. It’s the first time in the company’s 138-year history that it’s presenting an opera written by a Black composer. The work is based on the powerful memoir by Charles Blow about growing up in the South, with a libretto by Kasi Lemmons, and starring baritone Wil Liverman, and sopranos Angel Blue and Latonia Moore. When we spoke with Blanchard earlier this year (he was nominated for best original score for Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods) he said that he’s honored to be the first at the Met, but that it’s “time for us to open up those doors. There are a lot of other people with stories to tell.” As he discovered with his opera Champion, stories about different communities speak to a broader audience – and his background as a jazz trumpeter and film composer might help bring new audiences into the opera house.  Here’s Wil Liverman singing an excerpt from a dress rehearsal:

An unlikely recording artist, Colette Maze, has recently released her sixth album of solo piano works at the age of 107. She released the first one back when she was 90. When she was born in 1914, Claude Debussy was still alive, and she’s been playing since she was five years old. Maze, who dreamed of being a concert pianist, studied at the conservatory with Alfred Cortot, and later with Nadia Boulanger, a link to the traditions that they represent. She lives in a Paris apartment that has four pianos – that’s where the albums have been recorded. She spent much of her life as a piano teacher and player at music schools, and still practices several hours a day, which has helped to keep both her fingers and her mind nimble. She says “Staying young isn’t a question of age… Either you’re young or you’re not.”

San Francisco Symphony’s multimedia platform, SFSymphony+ is offering an assortment of free music as they begin their season. From the “Currents” series that they launched last summer, showing the intersection of other cultures’ traditions with classical music, there’s a profile of Koto player Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, who introduces her instrument and plays with Symphony musicians. There’s also a performance, in front of an audience this June, of Esa-Pekka Salonen leading the orchestra in Schumann’s “Rhenish” symphony. And pianist Jeremy Denk introduces and curates an eclectic Soundbox concert called “Delirium,” that’s inspired by old writings about medicine and healing. The music is separated by title cards with passages, some of which seem hopelessly outdated, and others that seem timely. Denk plays chamber works on both piano and harpsichord, as well as solo works by Schubert and Mozart; he’s joined by both instrumentalists and singers as they perform works from Marin Marais to Missy Mazzoli. 


Photo of Jeremy Denk by Shervin Lainez

The Los Angeles Master Chorale gives its first two concerts with audiences this weekend, returning to the Walt Disney Concert Hall for Invitation.” For the first performance, on Saturday, teachers were invited with a free ticket for all that they did during the past year and a half, and on Sunday, subscribers got a free ticket, by way of thanks for staying with the ensemble during rough times. The music on the program will be celebrating the return to live performance, including pieces by LA-based composers Shawn Kirchner and Nilo Alcala, and finishing with the aptly titled “Sure On This Shining Night” by Morten Lauridsen, and “Together At Last” by artist-in-residence Reena Esmail. Grant Gershon and Jenny Wong will lead the singers, Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening.


Photo by Jamie Pham

Chanticleer returns to live concerts this week, after the longest break in their performance history. “Awakenings”, a program that’s a celebration of returning and rebirth, with works from the Renaissance through contemporary commissions. There are two special event concerts in San Francisco (on the 25th and Oct. 2nd), amid the high-ceilings and chandeliers of the Green Room at the War Memorial, and concerts in Sacramento (Sep 26) and Santa Clara (Oct 1). This is the ensemble’s 44th Bay Area Season, and as they say, “Finally disentangled from our isolation, we return with a renewed sense of community and purpose. It’s time to come together. It’s time to celebrate. It’s time to sing!”


Photo by Mojo Movies via Unsplash

For 15 years, YOLA, Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, has been providing instruments and music lessons for young people in the LA area. The fifth YOLA site, the Beckmen YOLA Center in Inglewood, is their first dedicated facility for the program. This week they welcomed students to the center for the first time. The building itself is designed by Frank Gehry, who created the iconic design of Walt Disney Concert Hall. In addition to space for classes, lessons and activities, there’s a performance space with a stage that’s the same size as Disney Hall’s, and has acoustics designed to replicate the sound of that space. They’ll be offering free after-school music programs for kids, as well as serve as a place where music teachers from across the country and around the world can come together to share their expertise and learn from one another. Gustavo Dudamel, the driving force behind YOLA says: “This building is the realization of a beautiful dream: to create a space where young people can have access to beauty.”


Photo courtesy of LA Phil

With more than 20 years on the podium at the Marin Symphony, Alasdair Neale has announced that he’s going to be stepping down after the 2022-23 season. He’s planning to relocate to Paris with his husband, where he’ll be closer to family in Scotland. Prior to taking the job at Marin Symphony, he had been an Associate Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, and Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra. Although he’ll also be leaving his job as Music Director of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, he’ll keep his ties with the annual Sun Valley Music Festival. The first Marin Symphony Masterworks concerts of this season will be November 6th and 7th, with Jessie Montgomery’s Banner, the first symphony of Johannes Brahms, and soloist Orli Shaham playing the Schumann Piano Concerto.


Photo of Alasdair Neale by Eisaku Tokuyama

The Hear Now Festival is going to be celebrating its 10-year anniversary with an online festival called “The Virtues of the Virtual.” Spread out over the course of seven evenings, (Sep 23-26, and Oct 1-3) they’ll be presenting for free on their YouTube channel 27 works by Los Angeles-based composers. They’ll be performed by resident ensembles the Lyris Quartet, Brightwork newmusic, and HEX vocal ensemble, among others. Each of the pieces will be briefly introduced by the composers. The first concert’s lineup includes Thomas Kotcheff, Theodore Haber, Alexander E. Miller, and Hitomi Oba. The festival describes the works this way: “The twenty-seven composition in HEAR NOW 2021 have been generated by the inner need of the artists, and in this moment when fear, calculation and uncertainty are pervasive, this music will be experienced for what it is– audible luminosity!”


Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi via Unsplash

San Francisco Opera is releasing a new digital series of short videos called the “Atrium Sessions,” with young singers performing brief works in the Taube Atrium Theater. The performances were filmed in the early part of this year, when live performances with audiences were impossible. The collection of selections, which already include works by Gabriela Lena Frank, Claude Debussy, and Hector Berlioz, will be added to through October 11th, and available for free on the Opera’s social media platforms and website.


Photo of baritone Edward Nelson courtesy of San Francisco Opera

A memorial concert celebrating cellist Lynn Harrell’s life and music-making is scheduled for Tuesday night at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Throughout his long career, Harrell was a sought-after soloist, as well as chamber music partner. Among the guests at “Lynn Harrell: In Remembrance” will be violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, who he frequently performed with, and Yefim Bronfman (via video) will also be there. Those three performed as a trio, and opened Carnegie Hall’s season in 2019 with Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. Conductor and composer John Williams will also take part, as well as singers Christine Brewer and Rodney Gilfry… and many LA-based musicians Harrell mentored and made music with. Harrell died at his home in Santa Monica at the end of April, 2020.

Photo by Chad Batka

Welcoming audiences back to live performances – and the ballpark. Opera in the Ballpark is back Friday night, with “Live and In Concert: The Homecoming.” Instead of a complete opera being simulcast from the War Memorial Opera House stage, it’s a program of arias and duets with soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen and mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton. Leading the San Francisco Opera Orchestra is their new Music Director, Eun Sun Kim. That trio last appeared together in the critically acclaimed production of Rusalka in 2019, the first time Eun Sun Kim led the orchestra. Hoyt and Dianne will be hosting at Oracle Park, and admission is free to watch on the DiamondVision screen in the outfield.

Photo of Eun Sun Kim by Marc Olivier LeBlanc

When the pandemic had forced the cancellation of countless performances, many dancers and choreographers were looking for ways to continue to bring their art to audiences. Films.Dance created a series of short films that were released on a regular schedule, and they’re going to be beginning a second season on Monday. For the next 15 weeks, every Monday morning they’ll release a new short dance film. More than 250 artists and 25 countries will be represented in this season’s works. LA-based choreographer Jacob Jonas is the creative director of the project, and it’s co-presented by four theaters, two of them in California: The Soraya, Stanford Live, Chicago’s Harris Theater and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Flower Piano returns to the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park, after a year’s interruption. A dozen pianos are brought to locations around the gardens, and will be available for members of the public to play, when there aren’t scheduled performances from area pianists. It will run from the 17th to the 21st, including a three-hour Saturday afternoon “Twelve Piano Extravaganza,” with all of the locations having simultaneous recitals. This will be the sixth Flower Piano, the brainchild of Mauro Ffortissimo and Dean Mermell, who have overseen the project each year. Included among the family-friendly related activities is creating a piano-inspired community art piece with Messy Art Lab. There are also scheduled performances by musicians from the San Francisco Symphony, SFJAZZ High School All-Stars and Ensemble SF. 

The Ojai Music Festival will be getting underway in just a week, on Thursday the 16th, with “Prelude to a Festival” at the Libbey Bowl. This is the 75th anniversary season, and it was delayed until September to allow in-person events. This season’s Music Director is John Adams, who has programmed concerts with an eye to the future, both in performers and composers. Multi-instrumentalist Rhiannon Giddens, Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson, and the Attacca Quartet are just a few of the players, and there are composers like Gabriela Ortiz, Dylan Mattingly, Samuel Adams, and Gabriella Smith. There are also musicians from the LA Phil New Music Group and LACO at the Festival, which runs through Sunday the 19th.


Photo by Musacchio Ianniello Pasqualini

A series that kicks off this Saturday night at Old First begins with some Sci-Fi inspiration… “The Illustrated Pianist,” the first concert in the Ross Mckee Foundation’s “Current” Series, is made up of works that were inspired by different stories in Ray Bradbury’s 1951 collection The Illustrated Man. There’s a multimedia component as well, with “adaptive visuals” provided by artist Cory Todd. The second program, called “Cross Rhythms,” is a collection of new music by women and composers of color, who had a weekly Zoom call last year organized by pianist Sarah Cahill. On the 25th, the third concert will be Stephen Prutsman, who will be playing “Prog to Bach and Bach Again” – with repertoire from J.S. Bach’s Baroque and piano transcriptions that Prutsman has created from Prog Rock bands like Yes, Genesis, and Gentle Giant.


Photo by Jayson Hinrichsen via Unsplash

Giving a close listen to Rachmaninoff and Schubert at Festival Mozaic’s Fall series in San Luis Obispo… Music Director Scott Yoo, along with cellist Robert deMaine and pianist John Novacek, will be offering three chances to get to know the music with their Fall Series “Notable Encounter Experience” from the 24th to the 26th of September. There’s a performance/discussion about the Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata called “Notable Insight” that Friday; the next day, at “Notable Dinner” a discussion and performance of Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 1 is accompanied by a three-course dinner with wines. Finally, on the 26th, the Chamber Concert brings the two works together at the Harold J. Miossi Cultural and Performing Arts Center at Cuesta College.  


Photo by Kate Lemmon

Last season the Steinway Society of the Bay Area launched a virtual “Home Concert Hall” series, making the concerts available during a slightly longer window than the range of traditional in-person concert dates. They’re going to be starting this season with more virtual concerts, beginning with Claire Huangci. She’ll play an all-Beethoven program, with the famous “Moonlight Sonata” followed by Franz Liszt’s transcription of the Sixth Symphony, his “Pastorale,” and ending with an arrangement by Ferdinand Ries of the final movement of the Eroica Symphony. Huangci began studying in Philadelphia with faculty from the Curtis Institute of Music at age six, when her parents got the family a piano. Since it was around the time of her birthday, she always thought of it as a birthday present for her. The stream of her concert will be available to ticket holders between the 17th and 20th of September.


Claire Huangci

Yo-Yo Ma brings the complete Bach unaccompanied Cello Suites to the Hollywood Bowl once again on Tuesday the 14th. LA was one of the few stops on his “The Bach Project” tour that remained when concerts began to be cancelled in 2020. The entire tour was to be 36 concerts on 6 continents, including some community involvement along the way. The Unaccompanied Suites are a staple of most cellists, but few have recorded them three times, and have the stamina to program an entire concert of them. When he played the Suites at the Hollywood Bowl back in 2017, Alex Ross of the New Yorker wrote: “Almost no one made a sound. Almost no one moved… It was as if music had stilled the world.”


Photo by Jason Bell

An opera about dear friends who were at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum – but who shared a love for opera, and the Constitution. Scalia/Ginsburg was written by Derrick Wang, who at the time had already earned two music degrees, and was studying law. He was reading the writings and dissents of Antonin Scalia, which struck him as particularly dramatic in their language, and frequently diametrically opposed to him, the writings of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The contradiction of two friends who agree on so little also seemed to be the stuff of operas. He decided to let their words speak for themselves, and actually was able to present scenes from the opera to both of the justices in 2013. This weekend at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek, Solo Opera presents two performances, accompanied by a chamber orchestra, with tenor Christopher Bengochea, and soprano Nikki Einfeld in the starring roles.

Here’s the late Justice Ginsburg speaking about the work:

Looking at the tradition of the Catholic Mass, through Western European, African-American, and 21st Century traditions… Bass-baritone Davóne Tines brings the West Coast premiere of his “Recital No. 1: Mass” to Monday Evening Concerts in a program this Wednesday night at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. There are works by J.S. Bach, Julius Eastman, as well as a traditional spiritual arranged by Moses Hogan, and pieces written for Tines by contemporary composers Tyshawn Sorey and Caroline Shaw. In the 2015/16 season he performed works by Shaw and Kaija Saariaho with the Calder Quartet and the International Contemporary Ensemble at the Ojai Music Festival.


Davóne Tines

Setting an example with a bit of showmanship… Ivan Fischer, the conductor of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, led a free outdoor concert last week in Hungary, to try to encourage people to get vaccinated against Covid – and what better way to show that encouragement than to get his booster mid concert? While conducting some music of Leonard Bernstein, Fischer took off his jacket, showing that his shirt had a small square of material missing near his shoulder. A doctor then administered the shot (in his non-baton wielding arm). Members of the orchestra also got into the spirit of the occasion by taking quick-result tests during the concert. 

Thursday night at 7pm, Francesco Lecce-Chong, Music Director of the Santa Rosa Symphony, revives something he did periodically during the past year – hosting an edition of “Thursday Night Live,” a chance to interact with the community through his Facebook and YouTube pages. He’ll use the time to give a special preview of the music and concerts that are upcoming this season, talk about some of his ideas for the future, and respond to “AMA”  (Ask Me Anything) questions. The season launches October 2-4 at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall, with a program of works by Elgar, Mozart, Libby Larsen, and Gabriella Smith (who grew up in the Bay Area, and whose Symphony No. 1 premieres with the Santa Rosa Symphony in January). They’ve recently announced that they’re going to be offering a virtual subscription this season for six of the eight Classical Series concerts. That should be good news to some of the new fans from around the country and world that the orchestra added while streaming their programs last year.


Photo by Silvermans Photography

Robert Istad and the Pacific Chorale return for a season of five in-person programs, beginning on the Segerstrom Concert Hall stage on October 30th. Their 54th season includes premieres and newer works as well as staples of the choral repertoire. The season is bookended by world premieres by Tarik O’Regan. In that first concert, his The Stillness Unchained is programmed with the West Coast premiere og Damien Geter’s Cantata for a More Hopeful Tomorrow and Rachmaninoff’s Vespers (All Night Vigil). Their Candlelight and Family Holiday programs return in December. “Songs for the Soul” in March includes Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir, as well as recent works by Dale Trumbore and Caroline Shaw. The season ender in May has the West Coast premiere of Frank Ticheli’s Until Forever Fades Away, and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ powerful Dona Nobis Pacem with musicians from the Pacific Symphony.


Photo by Drew Kelley

When you’ve heard a piece of your music sung by more than 17,500 singers, hearing it performed by a few dozen doesn’t sound like it would be as exciting. But Eric Whitacre, whose “Virtual Choir 6” sang his piece “Sing Gently” back in 2020 was particularly excited by a performance in May of this year, when singers from both Northern and Southern California were able to interact with each other in real time. With young musicians from the Ragazzi Boys Chorus, the San Francisco Girls Chorus and the Orange County-based Southern California Children’s Chorus came together to sing a treble arrangement of “Sing Gently.” They were using technology by JackTrip Labs to make it possible, and a recently-released short documentary shows how it was used to allow them to sing from their own homes.

LA Opera’s production of Il Trovatore will be on sets that are brand new – unexpectedly. The sets were to be sent from the Opera Monte-Carlo in Monaco, with plenty of time to get them before rehearsals were to start. But due to delays and congestion trying to get into the Port of Los Angeles, they remain in containers on a ship. Rather than risking cutting it too close and not being ready for rehearsals, they decided to rebuild new sets in the ten days that they had before those rehearsals were to start. The technical crew has been working long days flat out in order to get them ready in time. The production opens on the 18th of September, and fortunately, the costumes and props were sent by air, and arrived safely long ago.

The canon of Western classical music has been dominated by male composers for hundreds of years, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been many women writing music as well. A musicologist in Spain has created an interactive map that shows just how many there are, and have been. By clicking the photo of a woman composer (located on the map where she was born) her biography pops up, along with links to websites and streaming services where samples of her work can be found. Sakira Ventura told The Guardian in an interview, “I’m 28 years old and nobody ever spoke to me about female composers. So I want to do what hasn’t been done for me, I want my students to know that Mozart and Beethoven existed but also that there were also all these female composers.” She says there are already more than 500 composers on the map, and she expects to add at least another 500.


svmusicology.com

A parking lot in Santa Monica will be the site of The Broad Stage’s production of Birds in the Moon this week. It’s the West Coast premiere of the chamber opera by composer Mark Grey and librettist Júlia Canosa i Serra. The set is a specially designed shipping container that has its own video, lighting, and sound systems. The musical score will be provided by the Friction Quartet. Although the reduced personnel and outdoor performance venue might lead you to think they were inspired by Covid, this production and approach was imagined before last year. The thought was to be able to bring performing arts to places that are either underserved or don’t have a traditional theater. Birds in the Moon tells a fable of a mother and daughter experiencing the challenge of migration brought on by climate change. The title comes from a 17th-century scientist who had the hypothesis that birds, when they migrated, went to the moon. The performances run through Saturday. 


Photo by Deborah O’Grady

Symphony Silicon Valley teams with Opera San Jose this Saturday and Sunday for “Strike Up the Band” – a pair of free outdoor concerts in celebration of the Labor Day weekend. Peter Jaffe will conduct the concerts on the Tower Lawn at San Jose State University this Saturday at 7, and Sunday at 5:30. The programs are different both nights, made up of operatic and symphonic favorites. The one piece that will be the same is Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which will have local favorite (and Van Cliburn Competition gold medalist) Jon Nakamatsu as the soloist. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs or blankets, and a picnic dinner if they want. This celebration of the return to live music comes before Opera San Jose’s first production this fall, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart and Salieri, which will begin streaming  on September 30th. And JoAnn Falletta opens the Symphony Silicon Valley Classics series in early October.

Photo of Jon Nakamatsu by Maggie Estes

A sampling platter from the six groups that make up the collective Chamber Music LA… They’re presenting “MusicBox” at Noon on Wednesday, with selections from Pittance Chamber Music and Jacaranda Music (works by Andre Previn and William Grant Still), Camerata Pacifica and the Colburn School (a quartet by Joseph Bologne, a trio by Edouard Destenay, a Chopin scherzo, and And Legions Will Rise by Kevin Puts, a trio for violin, clarinet, and marimba), and Salastina and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra present Mariachitlan, inspired by Mariachi music, and some symphonic Mendelssohn. The virtual performances are free, but require registration. The music will be available online for a week after the premiere.

The Schiller poem “Ode to Joy” that Beethoven set in the final movement of his Ninth Symphony has a new translation by the former US Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith. And that’s the text that will have its live-performance premiere tonight at an Esplanade concert in Boston by the Handel and Haydn Society. Marin Alsop will be conducting, and the translation – one of many – was her idea as a way of celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday during the 2020-21 season. She was going to be conducting the Ninth on six continents, and as part of the Global Ode to Joy Project, it would be newly translated into the local language. Tracy K. Smith’s text was to have premiered at a Carnegie Hall concert. Her words take into account the need for all people to work toward harmony – including repairing our damaged environment: “Earth, forgive us, claim us, let us / Live in humble thanks and joy / Let our hearts wake from our stupor / Let us praise you in one voice.”

Instead of a live performance, the young singers, stage directors and coaches of the Merola Opera Program have made a concert film called Back Home: Through the Stage Door. It celebrates their return to the stage of Herbst Theatre, even to an empty house, where they can perform together. It will be available for the public to watch for free as of the evening of the 27th. There are arias and scenes by some composers less familiar to opera lovers than others: Dominic Argento, Carlisle Floyd and Poulenc, along with staples Bellini, Handel and Mozart. Along with all the other technical and artistic lessons the Merolinis have learned this year, they’ve also had to learn to be more adaptable than ever to a changing performance environment. 

On June 26th, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra ended the 18-month silence at Walt Disney Concert Hall, with its first live-audience performance. There were only about 700 invited, vaccinated people in the audience, but the concert was recorded, so it could be shared in the second season of LACO’s SummerFest. It starts tomorrow at 5pm, with the first work they played on the concert: Music Director Jaime Martín leads them in Alberto Ginastera’s Variaciones concertantes, a piece that has solos from just about every instrument in the orchestra. The performance will premiere on YouTube, and later will also be on the LACO website. Their second virtual series will include the works from that Disney Hall concert, and also the first in-person concert they presented at The Huntington Library. SummerFest episodes will be released every two weeks through October 22nd.


Photo of Jaime Martín from IMG Artists

Noe Music returns to in-person concerts with five performances that span time, instrumentation and geography. Their season opener has the St. Lawrence String Quartet and pianist Stephen Prutsman playing the Piano Quintet of Erich Wolfgang Korngold on September 19th. That’s followed by the Andres-Kaplan Duo, pianists Timo Andres and David Kaplan, playing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. In March, an eclectic trio offers “From Persia to Iberia” – harpist Bridget Kibbey, Persian singer Mahsa Vahdat, and percussionist John Hadfield. The final two concerts, in May are the Bay Area debut of the young, prize-winning Callisto Quartet in the beginning of the month, and a “Spring Celebration” with the Baroque ensemble called Ruckus


Photo of St. Lawrence String Quartet by Marco Borggreve

Two Southern California organizations are receiving Classical Commissioning program grants from Chamber Music America. A dozen total grants were announced, totalling almost $210,000. The LA-based Lyris Quartet are going to have a work written for them and soprano Sharon Harms by composer and double bassist Chris Castro. He teaches at Sacramento State. Synchromy, a musicians’ collective in Pasadena, will have Carolyn Chen write a piece for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion. The grants, which are funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, support professional ensembles and presenters, “for the creation and performance of classical contemporary chamber works by American composers.”


Photo of Lyris Quartet by Nikolaj Lund

The first time the San Francisco Symphony was able to play together in concert as an entire orchestra this summer, it was with soloist Augustin Hadelich, playing the Brahms Violin Concerto. He says there was a huge amount of excitement among the players and audience, but it felt very special because of how close to normal it felt. He’s learned not to take the ability to perform live for granted. As all other musicians, he had had a string of cancellations in 2020. And as many other musicians, for consolation, and to perform for others by himself, he turned to the music of J.S. Bach. This led to a release this spring of the Sonatas and Partitas, a project he had imagined would be a few years down the road. He’s been returning to these foundational pieces again and again since he first began learning and playing them, as a 7 or 8 year old. In recent years, he’s gotten a baroque bow, which he thought would be difficult to switch to, but he found that for this repertoire, the lighter bow has a bounce to it that achieves the proper articulation naturally. When he wasn’t playing Bach, he was also exploring the work of Eddie South, a Black American violinist whose tune “Black Gypsy” Hadelich thinks is a great encore piece… although in live performance, he won’t be able to accompany himself as he does here!

A world premiere musical-theatrical work with poetry, dance, and references to both J.S. Bach and Sam Cooke… This Wednesday through Sunday, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, the American Modern Opera Company and Stanford Live present Matthew Aucoin’s The No One’s Rose at the Bing Concert Hall. It’s been percolating for more than six years, in collaboration with a team of instrumentalists, singers, and dancers. The PBO is joined by singers Davóne Tines, Julia Bullock, Paul Appleby and Anthony Roth Costanzo, and dancers choreographed by Bobbi Jene Smith. The work  was inspired by the poetry of Paul Celan, writing about the aftermath of a catastrophe – for him it was World War II and the Holocaust, but the upending of normal order for the past year and a half has made those poems resonate again. AMOC’s Artistic Directors are Zack Winokur (who’ll direct these performances) and Matthew Aucoin, and their mission statement describes developing and producing “a body of discipline-colliding work.”

Their upcoming season will have the theme of fairy tales, and Pacific Opera Project will begin with Rossini’s Cenerentola, or Cinderella. It’s a one-night-only performance this Friday night at The Ford. There are some differences between the opera and the story we grew up with – for one thing, it’s not a wicked stepmother, but instead a wicked stepfather, Don Magnifico, who is making life difficult for her… And instead of a glass slipper, it’s a bracelet that’s at the center of the plot. The three other operas in the season will be Hansel and Gretel at Forest Lawn – Glendale in November; Tchaikovsky’s final opera, Iolanta in March at the Aratani Theatre in Little Tokyo; and then in the summer it will be Stephen Sondheim’s celebration and deconstruction of fairytales, Into the Woods


Photo – Pacific Opera Project

Michael Morgan, Music Director of the Oakland Symphony, has died at the age of 63. He had been admitted to the hospital last week for an infection. Earlier this year, in May, he underwent successful kidney transplant surgery at UCSF. Leading the ensemble for 30 years, he made their concerts more inclusive and representative of the diverse population of Oakland. While still a student at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, he spent a summer at Tanglewood, studying with Gunther Schuller and Seiji Ozawa. He would be selected by Sir Georg Solti to become Assistant Conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Leonard Bernstein invited him to make his debut conducting the New York Philharmonic in 1986. Quite recently, Michael Morgan was the curator for the first Currents video from the San Francisco Symphony, and led that orchestra on July 23rd at Davies Symphony Hall. Oakland Symphony’s Executive Director Mieko Hatano said: “He made his Orchestra socially authentic, demanded equality, and he made his Orchestra our orchestra. He fashioned a unique, informed artistic profile that attracted one of the most diverse audiences in the nation. His music reflected his beliefs: reverence for the past, attuned to the future, rooted in his adopted home of Oakland. His spirit will always guide the enduring future of the Oakland Symphony.”


Photo courtesy Oakland Symphony

Here’s a fascinating roundtable Michael Morgan took part in June of last year, with Roderick Cox, Thomas Wilkins, and Jonathan Heyward. They shared their experience entering the world of classical music, and of being a Black conductor.

Here’s a profile of Michael Morgan that appeared on the show 20/20 in 1986, when he was 29.

The Lamplighters are hosting an event this Sunday afternoon at Yerba Buena Gardens that will bring together eight organizations for “Welcome Back to the Performing Arts!” It’s a free celebration of music and dance, and they’ll be joined by Pocket Opera, Opera Parallèle, Ars Minerva and Volti, with Urban Jazz SF Dance Company, Theatre Flamenco SF, and 42nd Street Moon. Each group will have a brief set that will offer a small taste of representative performances, some of which are coming up in the upcoming season. Lamplighters will start things off at 1pm with some Gilbert and Sullivan; Pocket Opera has some highlights from the production of La Traviata they’re going to be staging next summer; Opera Parallèle revisits the children’s opera by Marcus Shelby about the life of Harriet Tubman called Harriet’s SpiritArs Minerva will preview Messalina, the Baroque opera they’ll be presenting the US premiere of in November; and Volti sings three pieces, including 2 they commissioned. In describing this event, they say: “During the past year, we have grown to understand just how important collaboration has been to each of us to survive and thrive. Therefore, we want to come back together and support each other through this next stage of re-opening.”


Photo by Alexandre Ultré

The 2021-22 season of Piano Spheres begins with an unusual concert venue – the Audubon Center at Debs Park – with a complete performance of Olivier Messiaen’s Catalogue D’Oiseaux (Catalogue of Birds). It’s a 13-movement work inspired by 13 specific birds, and each will be played by a different pianist. (The September 26th afternoon concert is a special fundraiser for both Piano Spheres and the Audubon Center). Other highlights of the season include recitals by their Emerging Artists, and concerts with evocative titles like “Frozen Improvisations” (Stravinsky said that’s what all composition is) and “Exploded Keyboards” which features a pair of “prepared” pianos – with nuts, bolts, screws, and other materials changing the sound of individual strings. In February, a concert that was to have had composer Frederic Rzewski playing his music, will now be a celebration of his life and works, following his death this past June. On that program there will be the world premiere of a work called Suite commissioned by Piano Spheres. And an unusual concert in April will shine a spotlight on the early electronic instrument the Ondes Martenot, which was a favorite of Messiaen, since it could imitate birds so well.


Photo by Vincent van Zalinge via Unsplash

Cal Performances returns to in-person concerts this weekend with a splash, as they bring to the Greek Theatre the supergroup of Yo-Yo Ma on cello, Stuart Duncan on violin, bassist Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile on mandolin. A decade ago, they collaborated on Goat Rodeo Sessions, and so this outing is called Not Our First Goat Rodeo. They’ll be joined by singer Aoife O’Donovan. Jeremy Geffen, the Executive and Artistic Director of Cal Performances says he couldn’t imagine a better way to come back to in-person concerts. “Obviously the four of them are extraordinary virtuosos in their own way, but I think that they find a level of trust in working together… It’s a lot like being in an acrobatic troupe. If you’re going to take a risk, you want to know that the others in the group are there to catch you.” And, he says, that sense of reassurance will be in big supply Saturday night. “The feelings of joy that our audience will feel, in being able to be together, along with the sense of trust that has to go with entering into a large gathering again is absolutely echoed in what’s coming off the stage. It’s joy, and it is trust.” 

Photo by Josh Golemantif

The Pasadena Symphony will have seven concerts, and seven different conductors for their upcoming 94th season. Music Director David Lockington will be on a leave of absence, and filling in will be a group of “Artistic Partners” to keep the music playing. The first is Joseph Young, (Music Director of Berkeley Symphony) who’ll lead the orchestra in Beethoven’s Seventh symphony and, with soloist Randall Goosby, the Brahms Violin Concerto. Anna Rakitina, recently named Assistant Conductor at Boston Symphony Orchestra, will conduct Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with soloist Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner. Jenny Wong will conduct the Holiday concert in December, and Nicholas McGegan will conduct the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, and Vivaldi’s Gloria in an all-Baroque January concert. In February, there’s a Russian-themed concert with Lidiya Yankovskaya conducting (and Chee-Yun as soloist for the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto). Brett Mitchell leads a program with Mozart’s 40th and the Grieg Piano Concerto (with Aldo López-Gavilán), and Keitaro Harada rounds out the season with Beethoven’s Fifth, and the Prokofiev third Piano Concerto, with Valentina Lisitsa. And each of the concerts will also include a work by an established or emerging contemporary composer.

Ambassador Auditorium – Pasadena Symphony

They’re calling it “Season 4.5” at the San Francisco International Piano Festival – but also a season of transition. The performances will be viewable for free, and there’s a combination of YouTube, pre-recorded and live-streamed, with a few live, in-person concerts as well. Artistic Director Jeffrey LaDeur has programmed music that stretches from Bach, Rameau and Couperin to works that are having their world premieres. As in past seasons, there’s cooperation and overlap with several other presenters, including the Ross McKee Foundation, Old First Concerts, Lieder Alive!, and the Young Chamber Musicians program. In addition to the more than a dozen pianists taking part, there’s also harpsichord, two string quartets, other chamber instruments, as well as a vocal soloist. The festival runs from Thursday evening through the 29th. LaDeur says among the inspirations for this season was the era of the 1918 Spanish Flu, which also marked the end of the World War I and the start of the Roaring 20s. He describes it as following “the thread of innocence lost and reclaimed, tragedy mourned, joy in rebirth, and the dizzying juxtaposition of folly and destruction.”

Photo by Umer Sayyam via Unsplash

Long Beach Opera has announced its upcoming season – and it’s one that Artistic Director James Darrah describes as being “interested in constant provocation [and] innovation.” There are productions that combine traditional performance with film, and others that push the envelope of what is generally thought of as opera. The first piece, next March, is a 1968 work by Karlheinz Stockhausen called Stimmung – it’s written for six unaccompanied voices, and it’s interested in the varieties of sounds that they produce – sometimes with words, often without them. During this production the singers will be preparing a meal for the audience. In April, Quando / Project “O” has music by Verdi and Gluck woven into a 25 minute short film – which will first be shown through, and then again, with musical interjections and improvisatory interruptions by singers, with each performance a unique experience. Handel’s Giustino gets an updating in May, also with a film component. The reworking is by the recently announced new Music Director of LBO, Christopher Rountree, composer Shelley Washington, and director James Darrah. Finally, in June, it’s a new production of the critically acclaimed opera by Anthony Davis, premiered here in 2019, The Central Park Five.


Photo of Christopher Rountree by Collin Keller

The Oakland Symphony will be launching its first-ever outdoor summer concert series this Thursday evening, but the first concert will be led by John Kendall Bailey. Music Director Michael Morgan had to withdraw from conducting the concert because he’s recovering from an infection related to the successful kidney transplant surgery he had earlier this year. Each of the four concerts in the series at Oakland’s Brooklyn Basin is free to the public. The first program kicks off at 6:30 with Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville, and then there are the first symphonies of two composers: the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, and Beethoven. When the fall season begins in mid-October, it will be Michael Morgan’s 30th as the Music Director of the Oakland Symphony. We wish him a speedy recovery!

Brooklyn Basin

There’s some impressive young talent joining Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil this week at the Hollywood Bowl. Tonight, it’s cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason – whose performance at the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018 gave his already successful career a major boost. He’ll play Elgar’s famous cello concerto on a program with the orchestra also playing the Enigma Variations and one of Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suites. On Thursday, the violinist for a performance of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto will be Maria Dueñas, who’s just 18 years old. “Soloing” with her will be cellist Alisa Weilerstein and Venezuelan pianist Sergio Tiempo. Also on the program is the Manuel de Falla comic ballet The Three-Cornered Hat, with mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard.


Photo by Lars Borges

Eun Sun Kim will be making her first appearance as Music Director when she conducts Tosca  at San Francisco Opera this Saturday night. She was named to the post in December of 2019, after impressing audiences, critics, and the musicians with the production of Rusalka she conducted here the previous June. Ailyn Pérez and Michael Fabiano will star in the five performances through September 5th. Tosca was one of the first operas the company performed in its first season, and several times it’s marked a transition or return. In 1932, it opened their first performance at the War Memorial Opera House, and after their 75th anniversary, when they returned to the hall after seismic retrofitting, it welcomed them back. The 99th season of San Francisco Opera will include new productions of Fidelio and Cosi fan tutte, as well as an ‘Opera in the Ballpark’ special simulcast concert called Live and In Concert: The Homecoming (with two of the stars of that production of Rusalka) on September 10th.

When they weren’t able to sing in person together, Pacific Chorale began a project that will culminate with its premiere this Saturday night – a concert film, rather than a concert per se, called The Wayfaring Project. The singers will be there for the film, which will be shown “under the stars” at the Julianne and George Argyros Plaza just outside of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. There are works on the program from Bach to Tarik O’Regan, with Samuel Barber, Thomas A. Dorsey, and Randall Thompson, plus Dolly Parton and Moira Smiley. The works are sung in a variety of configurations – one of them was entirely remote, while everyone was locked down, several were hybrid, a mixture of at home and outdoor locations, and others were recorded on stage, together. Members of the Pacific Symphony join Robert Istad and the Pacific Chorale for the film, which they say “like the light of a clear blue morning, offers a renewal of hope in our community.”

Philip Kennicott, the Art and Architecture (and former Classical Music) critic of the Washington Post, wondered why his dog Nathan had such a visceral dislike of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. When he heard them, he would howl, and become stressed and agitated. For most people this wouldn’t be a problem – you’d just make sure the dog didn’t hear that particular piece, whatever the reason. But Kennicott was in the process of writing a book called Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning. As a way of coping with the grief of the death of his mother, Kennicott was learning to play the Goldbergs, and writing about the experience. He ultimately had to practice while Nathan was out of the house with a dog-walker. In a column for the Washington Post called “Does This Dog Hate Bach?” he speculates on the reasons, and eventually settles a theory: having been exposed to the music shortly after he too had lost his mother – been separated from her when he was adopted – Nathan associated it with sadness, and unlike Kennicott, who could choose to mourn with the music, the dog had no control over when he would be reminded of his loss.

The canals and waterways of the hometown of Antonio Vivaldi is going to be the home of a 40-foot-long boat shaped like a violin. It was given a trial launch recently, and is going to be officially introduced in September. Livio de Marchi, the Venetian sculptor who spent the past year making it, calls the vessel “Noah’s Violin” – and hopes that it can symbolize the rebirth of Venice after the pandemic. It’s not the first time he’s created a wooden boat in an unexpected shape – he’s made them in the shape of a Volkswagen Beetle, a sportscar, even a “Cinderella carriage” that looks like a giant pumpkin with wheels. When the violin was shown to the press, a solo cellist performed on top of it – the plan is for a small group to be able to play chamber music as it floats in the canals.

For their return to the live performance stage, San Francisco Ballet will be dancing outdoors, for a program called “Starry Nights.” Partnering with Stanford Live, they’ll be performing at the Frost Amphitheater on Friday and Saturday night. The lineup includes two Balanchine works, Serenade and Tarantella, to music by Tchaikovsky and Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Then it’s For Pixie, by Australian choreographer Danielle Rowe, to a song sung by Nina Simone. They’ll end with two works by choreographer and Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson, who’s been leading the company for more than 35 years: Soirees Musicales, with a score by Benjamin Britten, and The Fifth Season, to Karl Jenkins’ music. Martin West will be conducting the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.


Photo by Erik Tomasson

Members of the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) have a close association with the famed architect Frank Gehry. He designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, as well as a brand new education center for them in Inglewood. As a follow-up to an exhibit of his works called “Frank Gehry: Spinning Tales” at Gagosian Beverly Hills, the gallery has released a video mini-documentary. It’s a look behind the scenes, with an interview with the architect, as well as a performance of the opening of Bach’s third Brandenburg Concerto by members of YOLA, led by Gustavo Dudamel, amid Gehry’s sculptures. There’s also a bit of solo Bach by YOLA cellist Natalie Avila, and solo improvisation by bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding. 

Three works by Jake Heggie come together into one at Festival Opera this weekend. It’s called A Jake Heggie Triptych, and it’s made up of At the Statue of Venus, Camille Claudel: Into the Fire, and For a Look or a Touch. Each of them shares the theme of ‘the human desire for love and acceptance.’ The first is a musical scene for soprano and piano, with Rose – full of self-doubt – awaiting a blind date she’s arranged to meet at a museum. Terrence McNally wrote the libretto, and the composer will provide the piano part in the Lesher Center performances. The other two works have libretti by Gene Scheer. In the tale of Camille Claudel, a talented sculptor who’s perhaps best known for her affair with the better-known Rodin, is being committed to an asylum by her family. For a Look or a Touch tells the story of two men who were in love in Nazi Germany, and the dangers that brought with it. The survivor is visited by the ghost of his wartime lover, who refuses to be forgotten.

Photo of Jake Heggie by Karen Almond

The Pacific Symphony is taking the show on the road for their series of “Symphony in the Cities” program, which has concerts in Mission Viejo on Saturday and Irvine on Sunday. The following week, on the 22nd, they’ll be in Orange. There are family-friendly activities before the 7pm concerts: in Mission Viejo there’s “Prelude in the Park” starting at 4, at Oso Viejo Community Park; in Irvine at Mike Ward Community Park Woodbridge the fun starts at 5:30; and on the 22nd, they’ll be at the Aitken Arts Plaza at Musco Center for the Arts at Chapman University. Rich Capparela will be the host, and the musical selections include some audience favorites, from Rossini and Bizet to John Philip Sousa (when Music Director Carl St. Clair will get some assistance conducting from kids he’s given some pointers to).


Pacific Symphony

The New Century Chamber Orchestra has announced its upcoming season, which launches at the end of September and runs through May. Artistic Director Daniel Hope will lead the ensemble in “New Century Returns,” their first concert program, which includes the US premiere of a work they co-commissioned by British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage called Lament. There’s also the Concertino by Mieczyslaw Weinberg and Josef Suk’s Serenade for Strings. Cellist Jeffrey Zeigler will be guest leader and soloist in November, for Mark Adamo’s Last Year – a work, like Paola Prestini’s From the Bones, also on the program, that was inspired by the issue of climate change. In January, they’ll play the original chamber version of Copland’s Appalachian Spring, and be joined by soprano Leah Hawkins, who’ll sing new arrangements of songs from the Harlem Renaissance. The season ends with an all-Mozart program, with an early symphony, and one of his last, the G minor Symphony 40. And violist Paul Neubauer will join Daniel Hope for the Sinfonia Concertante.


Photo of Daniel Hope by Nicolas Zonvi

A pair of monodramas that tell their stories through a female lens… Long Beach Opera and The Ford present Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Kate Soper’s Voices from the Killing Jar this weekend. The two pieces were written 100 years apart, in 1912 and 2012, and both are for one singer and small ensemble. Pierrot is a setting of 21 poems originally by Albert Giraud, and delivered using “Sprechstimme,” or speech-singing. Soprano Kiera Duffy takes on that role, with choreography by Danielle Agami of Ate9 Dance Company. Kate Soper’s piece re-imagines works of literature that were written by men, as told from the point of view of women characters. Laurel Irene will be singing that, and both  works will be accompanied by members of Wild Up, and led by conductor Jenny Wong. There are performances Saturday and Sunday evening at 8 at The Ford.


Long Beach Opera

The San Francisco Symphony has reported that Michael Tilson Thomas is recovering from surgery, after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. The operation at the UCSF Medical Center was successful, according to the statement, and he’ll be starting several months of therapy. There are several engagements he’s having to withdraw from, including performances with the National Symphony Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, his New World Symphony, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He says: “I deeply regret missing projects that I was greatly anticipating. I look forward to seeing everyone again in November.” We wish him a speedy and full recovery!

A long-held wish became a reality last month, when violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter gave the premiere performance of a concerto dedicated to, and written for her by John Williams. Early in the 2010s, when they met each other at Tanglewood in western Massachusetts, she says with great chutzpah she asked him if he would “write a few bars” for her. She’d been a fan of his music since seeing Star Wars in the Black Forest when it came out. That request did lead to some collaborations – he wrote a piece for her called Markings for chamber orchestra, harp, and violin, and he arranged some of his movie themes for her for a recording a few years ago. But she still wanted a concerto, and now she’s gotten it. The premiere of John Williams’ Violin Concerto No. 2 was with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, at their summer home at Tanglewood, where it all began a decade ago. Reviewers describe it as being very different from the musical language of his film scores, as has been the case with much of his concert music. The 89-year-old composer will be conducting another performance of the piece with Mutter as they open the BSO’s season at the end of September.


Photo by Hilary Scott – BSO

The California Symphony has announced its season lineup, and will have world premieres from two different Young American Composers in Residence next Spring: Illuminate, from Katherine Balch, which was to have been performed just as concerts were beginning to be cancelled in 2020, and a piece by their current composer in residence, Viet Cuong. Music Director Donato Cabrera says there’s an emphasis on diversity and in programming works by living and under-represented composers this season. The first program, on September 18-19, will open with a piece by Marianna Martines, a student of Haydn, and quite well known in her time. Adam Golka solos in Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Piano concerto, and the concert ends with music Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote during the second World War, his Symphony No. 5, ‘to console and heal a nation.’ There’s an all-strings concert with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and George Walker’s Lyric for Strings in November; a program called “Take Flight” at the end of January, with a bird throughline; “French Impressions” in March; and in May, an “Epic Finale.” That program will include Viet Cuong’s piece, as well as Elgar’s Cello Concerto with soloist Nathan Chan, and will end with Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony.

Photo of Viet Cuong by Phil Parsons

Santa Barbara Opera is exploring lots of new territory in its upcoming season, with five company premieres before they revisit a classic in June. They’ll start in early October with a Mariachi operetta called Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (To Cross the Face of the Moon) by José “Pepe” Martinez. At the end of that month, they’ve got a double bill of one-acts: Il Tabarro (The Cloak) by Puccini – the first of the trilogy known as “Il Trittico” – and Manuel de Falla’s El amor brujo (Love, the Magician). Handel’s Semele, set among mythological characters, is relocated to the Roaring ‘20s in January. Laura Kaminsky’s As One, about a transgender woman discovering who she really is, includes a baritone (Hannah before) and a mezzo-soprano (Hannah after). That’s in March, and the finale of the season is in June with Verdi’s La Traviata. Artistic and General Director Kostis Protopapas says the operas “reflect more diverse storytelling and a mix of styles” than in previous years.


Photo courtesy Kostis Protopapas

Xian Zhang, the guest conductor for the San Francisco Symphony’s concerts Friday and Saturday, is the Music Director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. But her musical journey began in China, where she was born in the 1970s, at a time when pianos were very hard to find – many of them were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Her parents were both musicians: her mother had played the piano, and her father made instruments, mostly violins and cellos. But when they decided their daughter should learn the piano, he found materials at a boarded-up factory and built her a piano (they painted it red to encourage her.) Her studies led her to conducting, and she won an international conducting competition that led to being an Assistant Conductor for the New York Philharmonic. In addition to her NJSO post, she’s also the Principal Guest Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and Conductor Emeritus of the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi. The concerts this Friday are at Davies Symphony Hall (Friday) and the Frost Amphitheater at Stanford (Saturday), with a program of music by William Grant Still and Mozart, with piano soloist George Li

Photo of Xian Zhang by Benjamin Ealovega

For his 20th anniversary season with the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Artistic Director Grant Gershon has programmed large-scale classics of the repertoire, as well as a wide variety of contemporary works. They return to Walt Disney Concert Hall on September 25th with a concert called “Invitation,” which is a tribute to the teachers, who are invited to attend for free. It will include works by L.A.-based composers Nilo Alcala and Shawn Kirchner, as well as Reena Esmail’s appropriately titled “Together at Last.” Highlights of the season include Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil in November, Messiah (and sing-along Messiah) in December a pairing of Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Arvo Pärt’s Te Deum in March, and Bach’s gigantic B-minor Mass to close the season in June. But from the first concert of the season there are also new works. A program in January, “City Called Heaven” has world premieres by Dale Trumbore, Saunder Choi, and Gabriel Kahane; and in February Reena Esmail’s works are paired with Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir. Guest conductor Rollo Dilworth leads a program in May called “United We Sing” that charts the musical contributions of the many cultures that make up America.

 

A summer tradition is able to continue this Sunday evening, as Redwood Symphony gives an outdoor concert in Redwood City at the Courthouse Square. It’s their first concert back together, after having to cancel an earlier date in June. Music Director Eric Kujawsky says it’s a concert they always look forward to, and like their annual Halloween concert is an audience favorite. The concert begins at 7, and will include works from Rossini and Mozart to Scott Joplin and Leroy Anderson. Before they were able to play in person together, they created several elaborately edited virtual performances that they called “Quarantunes”:

This weekend marks the opening of the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, the new venue of the San Diego Symphony… Friday night’s concert, led by Music Director Rafael Payare, will launch with the world premiere of a work they commissioned from composer Mason Bates, called (appropriately) Soundcheck in C Major. The audience will have an opportunity to hear a variety of music, with two instrumental soloists as well as a singer. Alisa Weilerstein will play Saint-Saens’ first Cello Concerto, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet will solo in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. There will be arias and songs by Gounod, Rossini, and Rodgers and Hammerstein from bass-bariton Ryan Speedo Green, before the big finale with Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. The opening weekend festivities will continue with more concerts – the Symphony will have concerts at the Shell through mid-November.

Courtesy San Diego Symphony

Berkeley Symphony is going to be giving its “Reopening Concert” – their first live performance in over a year – this Wednesday evening at Orinda’s Bruns Amphitheater. The first work they’ll be playing is a joyous work by Brian Nabors, called Iubilo. Nabors is writing a commissioned work for their ‘22-’23 season as part of New Music USA’s Amplifying Voices program. There are operatic works by Rossini and Bizet, pieces by Gabriela Lena Frank and Jessie Montgomery, as well as incidental music from Beethoven’s Egmont, with readings by actors from Cal Shakes, the resident company at the Bruns.) There’s also a smaller, free performance on Thursday at 5:30 at Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza, called ‘Summer Strings on the Plaza.”

Photo of Joseph Young courtesy of Berkeley Symphony

Putting pianos around Beverly Hills for the public to play – that’s the idea behind Sing for Hope, which returns this Thursday. There are 16 upright pianos, which will be in parks and public spaces, tuned and maintained regularly over the course of a month. Each has been painted with a unique design by an LA-based visual artist. Members of the public are free to play the pianos during the day, and when the program ends, the instruments will head to permanent homes in public schools or community centers. It’s a joint project with Sing for Hope, the City of Beverly Hills and the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.


Photo of Mireille Fournier courtesy of the City of Beverly Hills

2021’s Taipei Music Academy and Festival was set to take place in that city – until a Covid surge there led them to decide to relocate. So they’re going to be based at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music starting this week, with young instrumentalists having the chance to have masterclasses and individual coaching from the faculty. They’ll also be playing alongside them in chamber and orchestral ensembles. Artistic Director Cho-Liang Lin has been able to assemble an impressive roster of faculty members – including pianist Garrick Ohlsson, and conductor Leonard Slatkin, who’ll be leading the Festival Orchestra in a concert at Frost Amphitheater at Stanford on Friday night. The program has music by Ravel, Steven Stucky, and Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony. There are additional concerts held at the SFCM in San Francisco, but there’s limited seating, and tickets have to be requested.

Photo of Cho-Liang Lin by Sophie Zhai

It’s inconceivable that The Princess Bride was released almost 35 years ago… Its popularity has continued over the decades, as new generations are introduced to the adventures of the Dread Pirate Roberts, Princess Buttercup, and the search for “true love.” This Saturday night at the Hollywood Bowl, as the movie is screened, the LA Phil will be playing the world premiere of a new arrangement of the Mark Knopfler score, conducted by David Newman. Director Rob Reiner will be on hand to introduce the movie, which (according to the Grandfather) has everything: “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…”  

The theme of this year’s American Bach Soloists summer festival is “The Garden of Harmony.” There are five concerts running from the 1st to the 7th of August, and they’ll begin Sunday afternoon with a program that nods to a bit of local baseball history. It’s called “Triples Alley,” getting the name from the right centerfield of the Giants’ home ballpark – the deepest part of the outfield. In this context, though, it’s because the musicians will be playing concertos for three violins (and in one case four!) by Bach, Telemann, and Vivaldi. There are also works by Buonamente, Uccellini, as well as Handel and Pachelbel. There are other programs called “Transformation,” with transcriptions of Bach’s music by later composers, “The Devil’s Trill,” “Bach and His World,” and it ends with “The Garden of Harmony” – music about birds, animals, and all things of nature. The concerts in the festival will be at Herbst Theatre. 

There’s a free virtual lunchtime concert this Friday at noon, when the Dalí Quartet is part of the Henry J. Bruman Summer Chamber Music Festival at UCLA. It’s hosted by their center for 17th and 18th Century Studies. The ensemble, with members from Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the US say their performances have “Classical Roots, Latin Soul…” On the program will be two quartets, one by Mendelssohn, and one by his Spanish contemporary Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga. He was often referred to as the “Spanish Mozart,” having shared two of his names, and being born 50 years after Mozart, on his birthday. There’s going to be a Q&A with the quartet following the concert. Since it’s a Zoom session, you need to register in advance, but the performance is free.


Photo of Dali Quartet by Ryan Brandenberg

When the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music kicks off this Saturday in Santa Cruz, it will be its second virtual season, and the concert and educational offerings will be available for streaming live and viewing later. Knowing that they’re not confined to the concert hall, the festival has embraced the possibilities available to them, and included site-specific dance, animation, and environmental photography in the programs. Music director and conductor Cristian Macelaru says the themes this year are “resiliency, hope, and realism,” in response to climate change, wildfires, and human oppression. There will be premieres and recent works by Gabriela Lena Frank, Jake Heggie, Danny Clay, and Sean Shepherd; they’re also going to be introducing works by three emerging composers: Theo Chandler, Meng Wang, and Jeremy Rapaport-Stein. The festival will run over the next two weekends.

In celebration of the return to live performances as well as its tenth anniversary season, The Soraya is going to be giving back to the community by making some of its shows free this fall. They open on October 16th with a concert by Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. In November, Esa-Pekka Salonen leads the Colburn Orchestra in a free concert featuring music by Shostakovich and Bruckner. As the holidays approach, there’s a live orchestral performance accompanying the film Fantasia, and the Ballet Folklorico de Los Angeles and Mariachi Garibaldi offer “Nochebuena.” Those selections are all being offered for free. Among the other highlights of the season with regular admission are the delayed “Violins of Hope” concert in December, appearances by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields with Joshua Bell, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, and John Eliot Gardiner with a program of music by Haydn and Mozart. 

The Merola Opera Program’s free Grand Finale Concert takes place this Saturday at Golden Gate Park, with five singers and two pianists performing, and stage directed by their fellow Merolini, Audrey Chait. The lineup includes works by composers as early as Handel, and as recent as Bernstein and Sondheim. This will be the last opportunity they’ll have to play to a live audience, although several of their programs (including this one) are being released on a schedule that gives early access to Merola members, and then the general public a few weeks later. When it became clear that last year’s season would be cancelled, many of those who had been accepted into the prestigious program were offered the chance to come back this year – and although this year was still considerably different from earlier years, they’ve had the chance to have masterclasses and take part in these digital offerings – and on Saturday, hear a live audience’s reaction.

Photo of Audrey Chait by Kristen Loken

Sunday Afternoon Concerts in the Dome, the popular series that takes place at the Mount Wilson Observatory, will have its first (sold-out) performance of Chamber Music this Sunday. A jazz trio will play on September 5th in the singular mile-high venue, which has as its backdrop a 100-inch telescope, and the vast echoing space of the dome. Cecilia Tsan, Principal Cello of the Long Beach Symphony, launched the series in 2017, after a video of her testing the unique acoustics got a lot of response on social media. Since the schedule had to be planned when it wasn’t clear what the health and safety issues might be, this season won’t be a full one, but she’s hoping that they’ll be back to a six month series next year. Here’s a sampling from a 2017 concert:

When you’ve got a piece of music stuck in your head, it might actually be serving a purpose… As frustrating as an ‘earworm’ can be, research by cognitive scientists at UC Davis shows that the repetition of music can not only evoke memories, but strengthen them. The study, called “Spontaneous mental replay of music improves memory for incidentally associated event knowledge” was published online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. Subjects were played music that was unfamiliar to them while they were doing various activities, and then a week later the music was used to accompany unfamiliar film clips. Immediately after, and weeks after that, they were asked to recall details from the films. Playing the music back deepened their recollections of what was associated with it. One of the authors described earworms as “a naturally occurring memory process that helps preserve recent experiences in long-term memory.”


Photo by Gabrielle Henderson – Unsplash

West Edge Opera brings its festival into the great outdoors when it launches this Saturday, using Orinda’s Bruns Amphitheater as its stage. There are three performances each of three operas, representing the 17th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Eliogabalo was written in 1667 by Francesco Cavalli – his last opera – about a decadent Roman emperor. Janacek’s Katya Kabanova, a tragic love story set in 19th Century Russia, premiered in 1921. And Elizabeth Cree, by Pulitzer Prize winner Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell (who teamed for Silent Night) is based on a novel by Peter Ackroyd, which weaves fictional characters’ stories with historical people like Karl Marx. The festival runs from the 24th to August 8th.

Photo by Cory Weaver

A “video triptych” called Shine Bright, commissioned by LA Master Chorale brings together the music of Reena Esmail, Derrick Skye, and Meredith Monk. Hers is the last to be released to the public, it was premiered at a fundraiser earlier this year. It’s called “Earth Seen From Above,” from her opera Atlas. As members of the ensemble sing on the stage of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, dancer and choreographer Ryan Spencer wanders around the outside of the hall and its gardens, exploring the shapes and patterns of the reflective walls, before finally joining them on stage.  

It’s a seasonal-themed performance Tuesday night at the Charles Krug winery, for Festival Napa Valley, where violinist Chad Hoopes is featured in a performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and cellist Matt Haimovitz plays some of his ‘Primavera Project’ solos. It’s an ambitious commissioning project, which will (after several seasons and recordings) result in a total of 81 new solo cello works by a wide variety of composers. That’s built into the project, since each round of composers will be selected from recommendations by other composers, and Haimovitz wants to work with those who are unknown to him. All the pieces are inspired by either the Sandro Botticelli painting “Primavera” (Spring) or Charline von Heyl’s “Primavera 2020,” or perhaps the two together. The composers featured in tomorrow’s performance are Gordon Getty, Jake Heggie, and the festival’s composer in residence, Nia Imani Franklin. She not only writes music and has an organization encouraging young women to compose, but was also named Miss America 2019.

Festival Mozaic gets underway this weekend, there are still some tickets for some of the Chamber Music Series concerts. One of those performances will be keeping up a tradition, by being held at the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, the fifth California mission founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1772. The festival organizers had hoped that it would be possible, and they’ll be reducing capacity and seating per row for safety. The program, on the 27th of July, will feature music by Amy Beach, Maurice Ravel, and Fanny Mendelssohn. The festival runs from the 24th to the 31st.


Wikimedia Commons

The Valley of the Moon Music Festival gets underway in Sonoma this weekend, with a combination of live and virtual performances, all with the theme of “Love and Longing: Reaching Across the Distance.” Co-Artistic Directors Tanya Tomkins and Eric Zivian say that as we’ve all been longing to be close to the ones that we love, it’s a perfect theme. And there’s a multitude of art songs to choose from that are all about looking forward to being together, hoping and waiting – and finally connecting. The logistics of planning a season with some live performances, some live-streamed, and some pre-recorded made it more complicated than usual, but they say that it’s very likely that they’ll keep on making concerts available online, now that people have gotten used to the idea, and so the music can reach a larger audience. Beyond the chamber music repertoire, the staples of their earlier seasons also return: the lecture series, master classes, (Zoom) receptions, a kids-and-family concert, and working with their apprentice musicians. The festival runs from the 17th to August 1st, and features concerts with the evocative titles like “Romance,” “Love Letter,” “Connecting,” “Transformation,” and “Possibility.”

Wikimedia Commons – Van Dyke: William II, Prince of Orange and his wife Mary Stuart

The Dance at Dusk series at The Music Center continues with the company of Alonzo King LINES Ballet, with performances at 7:30 through Sunday. Joining them is New York City Ballet Principal dancer (and Southern California native) Tiler Peck, who will dance a solo work, as well as a pas de deux that King created for her, and her NYCB colleague, Roman Mejia. The performances take place on Jerry Moss Plaza at 7:30, and although there will be limited seating in person (with people allowed to sit in socially distant pods), there will be a free livestream of the Sunday night performance.

Photo by Manny Crisostomo

Opera Parallèle’s “Graphic Novel Opera” called Everest tells the story of the disastrous 1996 attempt to climb the mountain. (The same expedition that was at the heart of Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air). It’s a co-production with Dallas Opera, where there was a staged production several years ago, and it’s available for viewing starting on the 16th via Dallas Opera’s streaming portal. The music is by Joby Talbot, and the libretto is by Gene Scheer. O/P was already exploring the possibilities of staging a work with animation before COVID, but during lockdown this was a solution to keeping both singers and audiences safe. The singers were recorded individually, and their performances were motion captured, enabling illustrators to match facial expressions and mouth movements. The production is conducted by Nicole Paiement, and the cast includes Sasha Cooke and Nathan Granner.

Jaime Martín, the Music Director of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is the latest guest for their video series “Up Close and Personal” – He speaks about his experiences during the past year, which included a mandatory 14-day quarantine when he went to Australia, not allowed to leave his hotel room. (He became an expert at jumping rope during that time.) He was recently named to be the Chief Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra starting in 2022. He took part in some of the LACO virtual performances, but was especially proud of being the first ensemble to perform on the stage of the Walt Disney Concert Hall when it finally reopened, with a concert at the end of last month. The conversation with LACO supporter Carol Henry took place just before that event. 

Volti San Francisco takes a look back at the virtual season that’s coming to an end, and a look ahead to what awaits next year, in a special cocktail hour Zoom event this Saturday at 5:30. As the pandemic was keeping ensembles (and especially choirs) from the concert stages, they commissioned four works from Bay Area composers that didn’t require them to be in the same place when they performed them. In fact, the express purpose of the pieces was to add to the repertoire that could be performed remotely. On Saturday they’ll revisit those works by Anne Hege, Danny Clay, Joel Chapman, and Pamela Z – part of Volti’s long history of commissioning new works. Over the past 42 years, they’ve commissioned and premiered over a hundred pieces. And Artistic Director and founder Bob Geary will outline the plans for next season. 

Photo courtesy of Volti

Peter and the Wolf go to the Hollywood Bowl… Oscar-, Emmy-, and Tony Award-winning actress Viola Davis will be narrating the Prokofiev favorite Thursday night as Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil play two of his works (there’s also his Haydn-influenced Symphony No. 1, the ‘Classical’ to start the concert) as well as a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1965, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, composer Margaret Bonds wrote a piece called Montgomery Variations which honors the people who marched from Selma to Montgomery. But the piece was lost for decades, and only had its first performance in 2018. Several of her works had been in an old storage locker – and others had been sitting in boxes waiting to be thrown out before they were rescued. They’ll play selections from the Bonds piece, as well as the final section of Duke Ellington’s final work, Three Black Kings, which he wrote just before his death in 1974, as a eulogy for Dr. King.

Photo courtesy of LA Phil

[email protected] returns to live performances this Friday, as they launch their 19th season, called “Gather.” That’s also the name of the work by Patrick Castillo, which was commissioned to celebrate the opening of a brand new venue, the Spieker Center for the Arts. It will be played by co-Artistic Directors cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han. Even with the new performance space, the festival is offering several ways of experiencing the music this year, with second performances outside in a courtyard at Menlo School, or via livestream. There are nine concert programs over three weekends, along with free online “Prelude Performances” by the young artists of the Chamber Music Institute. There are also free ‘learning sessions’ via Zoom, about the music of the festival, and a chance to get to know some of the performers. 


Photo by Craig Cozart

For LA Opera’s latest Digital Short, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Du Yun revisits her opera Zolle, excerpting three sections into The Zolle Suite. In each chapter the visuals are provided by different animators, who interpret the score (performed by musicians from the International Contemporary Ensemble, and mezzo-soprano Hai-Ting Chinn). The narration is by the composer herself – she describes the plot as “a dead woman wanders through the shadowy space between memory and reality.” It’s about her search for a home where she belongs. That theme resonated with Du Yun, especially revisiting the piece now, a decade after she wrote it. In the intervening years, she’s become an American citizen.

The Pacific Chamber Orchestra returns to the stage for the first time in more than a year this weekend, with two performances of a concert program fittingly called “Renewal.” Founder and conductor Lawrence Kohl has chosen two favorite Beethoven symphonies to celebrate their “triumphant return to the concert hall” – the fifth and sixth. Saturday evening’s concert is in a new location for the ensemble, the Campolindo Performing Arts Center in Moraga, and Sunday afternoon they’ll be at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore. 


Photo by Barbara Mallon

This week, iPalpiti returns, the group that’s been called “the United Nations of classical music.” This is the 24th Festival of International Laureates, with 23 young musicians coming together, representing 18 countries. There are nine concerts, by both the orchestra and iPalpiti soloists, beginning with this Thursday evening’s Violin Extravaganza at the Encinitas Library. The other performances are in Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Topanga, and La Jolla. The group (whose name is Italian for “heartbeats”) was founded by conductor Eduard Schmieder, who still leads them. iPalpiti discovers and promotes post-conservatory musicians early in their careers, and sees music as a way of promoting peace and understanding. Since last year’s events were online only, this return to live performances has been given the theme of “Coming Out of Corona.”


Photo courtesy iPalpiti

Samuel Barber’s Piano Sonata isn’t the best-known work on Isata Kanneh-Mason’s second solo album, called Summertime, but it’s the piece that she built the rest of the programming around. “I went on a kind of Barber obsession a couple of years ago,” she says, “and just really fell in love with the piece… It’s so dramatic and so exciting, and there’s so much going on.” The album starts with the title tune, George Gershwin’s “Summertime” in a virtuosic arrangement by Earl Wild (followed by his pyrotechnic take on “I Got Rhythm.”) Before the Sonata, there’s a gentler and less busy Nocturne by Barber. Gershwin’s own set of Three Preludes is also in the collection – along with a calm work by Amy Beach called “By the Still Waters.” She ends with works by the British composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor, a few of which were inspired by traditional spiritual tunes. The recording sessions happened in the midst of the pandemic. “I recorded a chunk in November, and another chunk in March… I’ll always remember the stillness and the uncertainty of the time that I was recording it.” 

Isata Kanneh-Mason – Photo by Robin Clewly

The Santa Rosa Symphony has announced its upcoming season, with audiences returning to the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall for a lineup that includes four world premieres. There are two for unusual instruments: The Fretless Clarinet Concerto for Klezmer clarinet, co-written by soloist David Krakauer and Kathleen Tagg, and (delayed from May of 2020) a cantata for Mariachi and orchestra called Los Braceros by Enrico Chapela Barba. In May, there’s a commissioned work by Michael Daugherty called Valley of the Moon, inspired by the region. Francesco Lecce-Chong’s initiative called the First Symphony Project continues with composer-in-residence Gabriella Smith in January. Another multi-year programming project begins in March, which pairs classic film scores with works by Rachmaninoff – beginning with his first symphony and Nino Rota’s music for La Strada. Along with the special Mariachi Concert, there are seven Classical Series concerts, and patrons can choose seating in the hall, or a hybrid of in-person and virtual attendance.

Photo by Silvermans Photography

Broadway meets the Santa Barbara Symphony for the opening of its new season in October, with a fully-staged production of the musical Kismet (which adapts tunes by Alexander Borodin), led by Nir Kabaretti, and joined by dancers from State Street Ballet. In November, there’s a Baroque program guest conducted by Nicholas McGegan. Violinist Anne-Akiko Meyers solos in a concerto by Arturo Marquez on a program called “Fandango Picante.” In February, in a concert called “Beethoven In Bloom” co-presented with the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens, his Pastorale symphony is joined on the program by Jennifer Higdon’s Harp Concerto, with Principal Harp Michelle Temple as soloist. Organist Cameron Carpenter joins them for some Poulenc and Saint-Saens’ “Organ Symphony” in March, and the Silver-Garburg Piano Duo and Marcus Roberts Trio round out the season in April and May. 


Nir Kabaretti – Photo by David Bazemore

“Within a dream, anything can happen. After a dream, nothing is the same.” Chanticleer’s most recent virtual ticketed performance is now streaming (through July 14th at noon). It’s called After a Dream, with performances recorded at Craneway Pavilion, but also at Oliver Ranch, an outdoor sculpture garden in Sonoma County. The repertoire ranges hundreds of years, from early music masters Byrd and Monteverdi through contemporary pop artists Gotye and Des’ree. There are also two world premieres, one written during and inspired by the pandemic, by Ayanna Woods, which explores “the questions of concealment and revelation that arise when wearing masks.” The other is a Motet for 12 Singers by Carlos Rafael Rivera, who was the composer for the hit Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit.

Chanticleer’s After a Dream

Music Academy of the West returns this week, with an opening night gala on Saturday night called “Return to Miraflores.” Included will be performance by Jeremy Denk and the Takacs Quartet. Over the course of the six-weeks, there will be concerts with the Academy Festival Orchestra, led by Larry Rachleff, Marin Alsop, and Michael Tilson Thomas. The “x2” series brings together Academy fellows and teaching artists to play chamberworks together, with four in-person sessions, and three online. The Vocal Institute will be offering the Marilyn Horne Song Competition in early August, and James Darrah has directed a “cinematic opera” of arias and scenes. Pianist and composer-in-residence Conrad Tao will give a live performance, and other guest artists will have video concerts, with cellist Steven Isserlis, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, and composer/percussionist Tyshawn Sorey.


Jeremy Denk – Photo by Phil Channing

The General Director of Opera San Jose is going to be taking a new job in January, heading up Houston Grand Opera. Khori Dastoor will become their General Director and CEO. She came to Opera San Jose as a resident principal artist in 2007, and since then has served in many capacities: singer, producer, artistic advisor, prior to her current position. The pandemic forced OSJ to reposition itself, creating virtual productions recorded in their recently completed new media center, allowing the resident artists to keep working and performing even as theaters were closed. This fall, they’ll begin their upcoming season with a streaming version of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart and Salieri. They’ll be back in the California Theatre for Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in November, Bizet’s Carmen in February, and their first musical, West Side Story, in April of next year. 

Photo by Chris Hardy

Ten young women of color from across the country are taking part in the Colburn School’s “Fortissima” program. It will culminate in a week-long intensive residency on the campus at the end of October.  Until then, the students, high school age women from minority groups that are underrepresented in classical music, will have one-on-one mentoring from successful professionals. They include founding members from the Catalyst Quartet and Imani Winds. The program was launched as a local pilot program four years ago, and this year they expanded to reach nationwide. There are two musicians from LA in the group, a 16-year-old trumpet player, and a 16-year-old pianist who goes to Glendale Academy and plays in the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (ICYOLA). Other fellows are from as far away as Massachusetts and North Carolina.


Photo of the Colburn School campus by Philip Pirolo

As we continue to celebrate the holiday weekend, Marin Symphony recently released a video of a virtual concert that they recorded earlier this year, the first time they’d played together in over a year. They assembled at a church in Novato, and to keep in compliance with distancing and performance protocols, the 3 pieces on the program, led by Music Director Alasdair Neale, were for different sections of the orchestra. They began with the American classic by Aaron Copland, Fanfare for the Common Man, which spotlights the brass and percussion (literally starting with a ‘bang’ – from the bass drum, timpani and tam-tam, before the trumpets begin). Next is a work for woodwinds, Charles Gounod’s Petite Symphonie, and they ended with Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. The orchestra will begin its 2021-22 season in early November, joined by guest soloist, pianist Orli Shaham. They’ll play Jessie Montgomery’s reimagining of the national anthem, Banner, along with the Schumann Piano Concerto and the first symphony of Johannes Brahms.

Marin Symphony

The video roadtrip adventures of Etienne Gara and YuEun Kim continue – the pair of violinists from the ensemble Delirium Musicum (Gara is founder and Artistic Director) travelled around California in a 1971 VW bus named Boris, giving spontaneous concerts. The journey, which is being chronicled in a series of videos, has taken them already to beaches, orchards, vineyards, and even an ostrich farm. The series of ‘Musikaravan’ episodes is being presented by Delirium Musicum and The Soraya. Here’s the latest installment:

The latest album from composer John Luther Adams was more than 30 years in the making. Arctic Dreams is a seven-movement work for four singers, four string players, and several layers of digital delays. It’s evolved out of the very first commission he ever wrote for a non-Alaskan organization, Earth and the Great Weather, which came at the pivotal moment when he decided to quit his day job (at the urging of Lou Harrison) and become a full-time composer. That first incarnation, from 1989, was a full-on radio piece. It had field recordings, spoken texts in indigenous languages, and drums. At the core of it though, were recordings that he made of aeolian harps – which are “played” by the wind as it blows across the tundra. As he revisited the piece, those recordings were swapped out for a quartet of string players – with their strings tuned to resonate with the “overtones” that occur above a note in nature. By the year 2000, for a production at a London opera house, he added four singers. With electronics that would repeat the sound of the singers and strings with specific time delays, just 8 musicians could expand into a seeming orchestra and choir. But the drums and spoken words and other field recordings were still there, and attempts to capture an updated recording were frustrating. “I came to feel that as a theatrical experience, as an evening in the theater, it was a rich, meaningful experience,” Adams says. “But as a recording, it felt curiously cinematic to me… I kept pushing those other elements farther and farther down into the mix.” In 2020, he asked his friend, the late writer Barry Lopez, if he might borrow the title of one of Lopez’s best-known books, Arctic Dreams, and returned to the piece yet again. “And as I went back to it, I realized… Wait a minute, the core of this thing, the musical heart, as a purely aural experience is the strings and the voices. We don’t need anything else.” The unique soundscape is evocative of the tundra that inspired it. “It’s all a matter of paying attention,” he says.”It’s all a matter of where you put your focus… You look out across the Arctic coastal plain and you think ‘there’s nothing here.’ And then you slow down and you start paying attention… It’s astonishing how much richness of texture and detail and depth and intricacy and color there is.”

The Fall schedule of the San Francisco Symphony has been released, with Esa-Pekka Salonen and his collaborative partners offering his delayed first full season. There’s a “Re-Opening Night Gala” on October 1st featuring vocalist and bassist Esperanza Spalding and Alonzo King LINES Ballet. And later that month there’s a concert with flutist Claire Chase as soloist, and another with the US premiere of Bryce Dessner’s Violin Concerto, played by yet another of the partners, Pekka Kuusisto. In the spring, soprano Julia Bullock has a special concert event called “History’s Persistent Voice.” There are explorations of Stravinsky’s works, with performances of Oedipus Rex and Symphony of Songs, along with the Rite of Spring and his Violin Concerto. And there will also be a digital-only production of A Soldier’s Tale. There’s a mini-festival centering around Prometheus, who in Greek mythology stole fire from the gods to give it to mankind. Michael Tilson Thomas returns to the podium for four weeks of concerts, in his first role as Music Director Laureate, and at the end of January, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke has a recital called “How Do I Find You,” of 17 world-premiere pieces written for her during the pandemic. SoundBox returns for its eighth season, and digital offerings will continue to be available through SFSymphony+.


Photo by Minna Hatinen

The Industry, LA’s groundbreaking opera company, has changed its leadership structure – Yuval Sharon, who founded them in 2012, is now joined by two Co-Artistic Directors. Ash Fure is a sonic artist and composer who teaches at Dartmouth College and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Music, and Malik Gaines co-founded the musical performance art group called “My Barbarian.” Yuval Sharon said about the change: “The multiplicity of voices is what makes the projects so exciting, so that should be how we are as an organization.” A good example for how innovative The Industry is was the 2015 piece Hopscotch, which was written by six teams of librettists and composers, and took place in 24 cars driving around Los Angeles with audience and artists. 

A Baroque monastery in Spain serves as the locale for a concert of Baroque music by J.S. Bach… Guitarist David Russell gives another recital in a series called Omni On-Location, presented by the Bay Area-based Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts. They’ve got a regular series that brings world-famous guitarists to San Francisco from all over the world. During the pandemic, they’ve switched things around, and made virtual concerts available for free, with the soloists playing in historic settings. For this concert of a transcription of Bach’s first lute suite, Russell is in the monastery in Celanova, in northwestern Spain, near the Portuguese border. In an earlier video from the Spring, he played in three Spanish churches from the 12th Century. Others in the series are a recital by Xuefei Yang in an 18th Century temple in Beijing, and one by Marko Topchii from a cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine.

The San Francisco Symphony’s Summer Season gets underway this Friday night, beginning the holiday weekend with a program of all-American music conducted by Edwin Outwater at Davies Symphony Hall. That program is repeated on Sunday, but outside, at the Stern Grove Amphitheater. That inside and outside option will be repeated for all but the last of the remaining performances, with Friday evenings inside at Davies, and then Saturday evenings at Frost Amphitheater at Stanford. Esa-Pekka Salonen will lead the first two of those programs, on the weekends of July 9th and 16th, followed by Michael Morgan, Lina Gonzalez-Granados, and Xian Zhang. For the series closer on August 12th and 13th (Thursday and Friday evenings), Edwin Outwater will return to Davies for a program of John Williams’ film music. 

Photo by Brandon Patoc

The San Diego Opera will return to giving performances this coming season, but the first production won’t be until February. In the Fall, there will be three operatic recitals, beginning with mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, who was originally scheduled to be in Puccini’s Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi in the 2020-21 season. The other two concerts are soprano Michelle Bradley, and Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz. In February, SD Opera will present a new production of Così fan tutte, with baritone Gihoon Kim in the cast, who was just recently named BBC Cardiff’s Singer of the World 2021. In late March and early April, tenor Pene Pati and soprano Kristina Mkhitaryan are Romeo and Juliet in Gounod’s setting of the story, and in May, an opera that was supposed to be staged in the Spring of last year, Paola Prestini and Rinde Eckert’s choral opera, Aging Magician.


Pene Pati

The artists of the Merola Opera Program will be performing a concert called “What the Heart Desires” this Saturday afternoon, a program that “celebrates diversity in song.” The repertoire is by composers who are women and people of color, and take on the theme of desire from the personal to the global, in categories like “Passion,” “A Better World,” “A Different Life,” and “Love.” It’s co-curated by mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller, who was a Merolini in the class of ‘05, and tenor Nicholas Phan. 11 of the singers and pianist/coaches will be involved in the program, which will be made available to Merola members on the 16th of July, and then publicly released on the 30th. The season had to be shortened this year (many of the artists had been accepted into the program last year, before the cancellations). There will be a digital release in August called “Back Home: Through the Stage Door,” and the Grand Finale concert which will be released to the public in early September.

Ronnita Miller – Merola ’05

A new work sung by the LA Master Chorale had its virtual premiere last week, as part of the celebration of Juneteenth – and along with the debut of the music, there was also the public debut of a new last name for the composer. Derrick Skye (who had been known as Derrick Spiva, Jr.) chose to take the new name as a way of reclaiming his heritage. The piece, called “Ready, Bright” is a Master Chorale commission, with a text that celebrates freedom and new beginnings. The singers, in high-contrast black and white close-ups are intercut with a dance solo by Yeko Ladzekpo-Cole, that’s shot in saturated colors. 

Composer Hector Armienta and his Latinx-Hispanic company Opera Cultura are premiering a short animated film called “Mi Camino” Friday evening at 7. It’s a mini-opera, with a libretto based on interviews Armienta conducted with farmworkers about their experiences working through the pandemic, as well as wildfires. The featured singers are soprano Cecilia Violetta López, mezzo-soprano Deborah Rosengaus, and tenor Emmanuel Mercado. The visuals combine virtual recreations of Half Moon Bay, Gilroy, and other farming communities, with the singers or their digital avatars placed in those locations. After the Friday premiere, there will be a Q&A period with the composer, singers, and technical team. And there’s an additional screening on Sunday afternoon.

The Ann Patchett novel Bel Canto inspires the programming of the final concert of the Pasadena Conservatory of Music’s “Musical Interlude” series. The book tells of an opera diva whose command performance at a South American mansion is interrupted when a terrorist group takes all the guests hostage. The setting for this recital was Villa del Sol d’Oro in Sierra Madre, with PCM faculty soprano Mariné Ter-Kazaryan standing in for the book’s diva, Roxane Coss. Selections include the “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka, “O Mio Babbino Caro” from Gianni Schicchi, and other arias mentioned or referred to in the novel. There are also solo piano works by Ginastera and Liszt, and Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel for cello and piano. The concert is hosted by actress (and board member) Jane Kaczmarek, with passages of Patchett’s text serving as introductions to the music.

Pasadena Conservatory of Music

Valley of the Moon Music Festival is offering a free preview concert Thursday night at 6:00, with the title “Long-Distance Love: Brahms & Beethoven.” The festival itself will be running in the second half of July, with a mixture of pre-recorded, live-streamed, and in-person concerts. The theme this year is “Love and Longing: Reaching Across the Distance.” It’s a good match for the emotions that many have felt during the past year, being separated from loved ones, society, and the concert hall. The preview concert will have Beethoven’s song cycle “To the Distant Beloved,” as well as Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes, for a quartet of singers, and four-hands piano. Here’s a taste from a later program (July 29, not June), that includes this Piano Quartet by Gabriel Fauré:

The long-awaited return of the LA Phil to Disney Hall in October will mark the start of a jam-packed 2021-2022 season. In addition to the dozens of premieres and commissions, and a great roster of soloists and guest conductors, there will be the roll-out of the first season of the Pan-American Music Initiative. The five-year celebration of works from across the Americas has been a project Gustavo Dudamel had been hoping to start last year. It will include premieres, including from composer Gabriela Ortiz, this season’s curator for PAMI. The Power to the People festival will return, after an interrupted run last year, and Thomas Adès will curate a Gen X Festival in the Spring, that will include the US premiere of his work Dante, an LA Phil commission. Thomas Wilkins leads four concerts of music by Duke Ellington, and Susanna Mälkki leads a pair of programs spotlighting 20th and 21st century works. In the Spring, Gustavo Dudamel will lead a semi-staged production of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio, in a production with actors from the Deaf West Theatre, and hearing singers. After a 19-month absence from the hall, it’s going to be a time for celebration.

San Francisco Opera’s next season will mark a return to War Memorial Opera House, and a celebration of the Eun Sun Kim beginning as Music Director. The season launches with Tosca on August 21st, with Ailyn Perez and Michael Fabiano starring. There’s an Opera at the Ballpark special concert in September, called “Live and In Concert: The Homecoming.” It will be a recital with the Opera orchestra, soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen, and mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton (who both appeared in Rusalka in the Summer of 2019). The performance will be simulcast to the jumbotron of Oracle Park. There are new productions of Fidelio in October, Così fan tutte in late November/early December, and the finale of their Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy, Don Giovanni next June. The Summer season also includes a return of Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber, and a concert celebrating the music of Giuseppe Verdi, with soloists, orchestra, and chorus. And for the first time, they’ll be offering the chance to see three performances of Fidelio and Così as livestreams from home.

Opera Santa Barbara is returning to the stage with a production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold – their first ever Wagner. It’s a chamber adaptation by Jonathan Dove and Graham Vick of the work that begins the Ring Cycle, and is already the shortest of the four operas. This version trims it to just under two hours, with a smaller cast and orchestra than a full-blown production would require. When the mandatory closures began, they were the last group to perform before a live audience at the Lobero Theatre, and they’ll be the first to do so after the lifting of the restrictions. The performance will be live this Sunday afternoon at 2:30.


Photo by Zach Mendez

The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus ends their 42nd season with a Pride celebration they’re calling “Wired.” It’s an all-virtual program that will include premieres of video performances, special guests, as well as a look back at the history of the ensemble. Founded in 1978, with their first concert at a vigil for Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk, they went on their first national tour in 1981. Among the special segments of the program will be a video featuring 21 of the singers where were on that trip 40 years ago. Another highlight will be a movement from a musical by 24-year-old composer Julian Hornick, which was to have had its premiere last Spring. The concert will be streaming on the Chorus’s YouTube and Facebook pages Thursday at 6pm.

San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus

Thursday night, Renée Fleming will be giving a concert in person at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, joined by pianist Inon Barnatan. It’s a co-presentation with the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, and it’s being offered two ways: both as a live event, or as a virtual (albeit delayed) one. Ticket buyers are given the choice of attending the performance, or seeing it about two days later. The repertoire includes Handel arias, lieder by Schubert and Richard Strauss, and songs by composer and jazz orchestra leader Maria Schneider. There will also be some selections from the world of opera, musical theater, and pop.

Photo by Andrew Eccles

It’s a “viral” commissioning project in a way – cellist Matt Haimovitz has just released the first batch of recordings as part of what he’s calling the Primavera Project. In the end, a total of 81 composers will be contributing pieces about 5 minutes in length, inspired by the Botticelli painting Primavera (Spring) and/or the work called Primavera 2020 by Charline von Heyl. But Haimovitz wanted to leave the comfort zone of only working with those he’s commissioned before, and so has asked each batch of composers to recommend names for the next group. So far, he says, each response has been very individual – with some focussing on an environmental lens, and the Springtime theme of rebirth; others were influenced by the Renaissance era of Botticelli, and turned toward early musical traditions. The first album, called Primavera I: the wind is on the Pentatone label.

On Saturday the US will be celebrating Juneteenth as an official federal holiday for the first time, marking the day that slaves in Galveston, Texas were told that they had been emancipated, almost 2 and a half years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. We’ll be observing the anniversary on our air from 2 – 5pm with Let Freedom Ring: A Musical Celebration of Juneteenth hosted by Lara Downes. The music will be played or composed by black musicians, and exploring the role that these artists and their work have played in our country’s musical history. Then on Sunday evening, there’s a special Juneteenth edition of From the Top, co-hosted by cellist (and Pentatonix singer) Kevin Olusola. We’ll hear 12-year-old cellist Emma Spence from Los Altos play a work by Florence Price, and Olusola will play an arrangement of the Sam Cooke song “A Change is Gonna Come” with a pair of FtT alumni from Los Angeles: violinist Hannah White, and pianist Clifton Williams.

Opera is an industry that is dominated by men – in recent years, fewer than 30% of directors, and fewer than 15% of conductors have been women. In an effort to start evening the playing field, OPERA America has just presented its first round of grants, a total of $36,650 to “incentivize opera companies to hire women for key artistic leadership roles.” There were nine recipients in this round, representing a wide number of states, but two of them are from California: conductor Jenny Wong at Long Beach Opera, and stage director Indre Viskontas at Berkeley’s West Edge Opera. This August, Wong will be conducting a feminist-reimagined double-bill of Pierrot Lunaire by Arnold Schoenberg, and Voices from the Killing Jar by contemporary composer Kate Soper. Indre Viskontas will be stage directing three performances of Janacek’s Katya Kabanova at the end of July and early August, as part of this year’s West Edge Festival.


Indra Viskontas

It’s going to be a season of celebrating at the Oakland Symphony – both the return to the Paramount Theatre in October, and also the 30th anniversary of Conductor and Music Director Michael Morgan. Over the years he’s made his mark on the orchestra, wanting to reflect the diversity of the audience in his programming, and being inclusive so that the audiences feel welcome in the first place. Throughout the season, there are large works by composers of color and women, including Amy Beach’s infrequently programmed Gaelic Symphony, and Lara Downes playing the Florence Price Piano Concerto. Their “Playlist” series continues in February, with dancer/choreographer Debbie Allen curating the selections. There are plenty of standard repertoire warhorses too, including the Dvorak Symphony No. 8 and Brahms Symphony No. 4 – and the season ends with Beethoven’s “Eroica” in March and the Verdi Requiem in May, with the Oakland Symphony Chorus.

Michael Morgan, photo courtesy Oakland Symphony

Festival Mozaic was to have its 50th anniversary season last year, but they had to postpone it. This year’s festival runs from the 24th of July to the 31st, and begins with a program called “Baroque in the Vines” at the outdoor chapel in Shandon. Single tickets San Luis Obispo-based festival are on sale as of Wednesday, and there are Chamber Series concerts (at SLO Brew Rock brewery, and Miossi Hall at the Performing Arts Center) as well as the Mozaic Series, which offers two non-classical programs: the cabaret/tango quartet called Grand Orquestra Navarre on the 25th, and Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno on the 29th.  


Wikimedia Commons

San Francisco Performances has announced their upcoming season – including many returning soloists and ensembles, but also several series. The first program in October launches the “Uncovered” series, with the Catalyst Quartet playing works by composers who’ve been overlooked because of their race or gender. In four programs throughout the season, they’re joined by Stewart Goodyear, Anthony McGill, Dashon Burton, and Michelle Cann. The PIVOT festival returns, including Theo Bleckmann (who was part of their virtual festival earlier this year,) and Post:ballet and the Living Earth Show with a Samuel Adams world premiere. The Sanctuary series, which launched during the pandemic, returns to show music as a source of solace and refuge. Isata Kenneh-Mason makes her SF Performances debut, as well as mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital, joining the long list of returning chamber musicians and singers. You can find more information and schedules at the San Francisco Performances website. 


Catalyst Quartet – Photo by Ricardo Quinones

A chamber work commissioned by the Pacific Symphony, which was meant to be performed by players who couldn’t necessarily share a stage, has had its virtual premiere. Composer Margaret Brouwer wrote the piece Parallel Isolations, the title of which sums up the experience of many of us, and many of the musicians over the past year. For the chamber music series Café Ludwig, pianist Orli Shaham is the pianist, joined (from another location) by a trio of Pacific Symphony players: Principal cellist Warren Hagerty, Concertmaster Dennis Kim, and Principal flutist Ben Smolen (playing an alto flute). 

Quartet San Francisco is among the finalists in the ensembles category of a competition celebrating the centennial of Astor Piazzolla. The father of the modern tango, Piazzolla took it from the dance halls of Argentina to concert halls around the world. He infused elements of both Classical and jazz into it, and taught the world about the accordion’s cousin, the bandoneon. The Piazzolla Foundation (in association with the composer’s family) are holding the competition, and the winners will be announced tomorrow. Here is the entry that QSF submitted, an arrangement of “Nuevo Tango” by quartet founder and violinist, Jeremy Cohen.

Composer Julius Eastman’s works have been growing in popularity in the more than 30 years since his death. Many of the scores to his works were lost – or given as gifts to friends – but some of those have resurfaced, and others have been transcribed from recordings. He was a gay, black composer when those were enormous obstacles to overcome. The LA-based ensemble Wild Up has been championing his works, and has just released the first of a multi-album anthology of his music. They’ll be playing his minimalist work Femenine at the Julianne and George Argyros Plaza at Segerstrom Hall this Thursday evening.

J.S. Bach wrote hundreds of chorales in his various church duties as a composer – they were four-part harmonizations of tunes that were originally intended to be sung. But they also have served as a great teaching tool for the rules of both harmony and “voice leading” – how each part moves from note to note. Dr. Aaron Lington is the coordinator of the Jazz Studies Program at San Jose State University, and plays primarily jazz these days, but he studied classical saxophone, and decided to return to the chorales during lockdown. He was inspired by the “Brady Bunch” style of videos of virtual performances, and used the time he wasn’t playing gigs to record chorales playing all four parts on his baritone sax, and posting the results to his Facebook page. Now 21 of them have been collected on a new recording on the Little Village label called 4 Bari x Bach. He says the chorales are a natural match for the instrument (although the range goes higher than the usual limit for a bari) and selected them based on their great melodies and “juicy chord progressions.”

 

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