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.

This weekend (24-25), the San Francisco Symphony presents two performances of a special screening of the film Black Panther, with live accompaniment. The score, which won an Oscar for composer Ludwig Goransson, will be conducted by Anthony Parnther, with percussionist Massamba Diop (who played on the original soundtrack) on the talking drum. The 2018 Marvel film is set in the mystical hidden nation of Wakanda, protected by its king, T’Challa, and starred Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, and the late Chadwick Boseman.

Conductor Nicholas McGegan and the musicians of the Cantata Collective will be performing Bach’s Mass in B Minor tonight (Monday the 20th) in Berkeley, at the First Congregational Church, in commemoration of Bach’s 338th birthday. The soloists will be soprano Sherezade Panthaki, alto Rhianna Cockrell, tenor Thomas Cooley, and bass Paul Max Tipton. The ensemble, made up of early music specialists, came together to perform the cantatas and large-scale choral music of J.S. Bach. They’ve begun a recording project with AVIE Records, and their first release will be the performance that they gave last year of the St. John Passion.

Photo by Laura Barisonzi

Pianist Angela Hewitt returns to the Bay Area for three recitals through Chamber Music SF this week. She’ll play a program of Scarlatti sonatas, Bach’s English Suite No. 6, and the Brahms Sonata No. 3 in F minor. The concerts will be at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek on Saturday afternoon (18), at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco on Sunday afternoon (19) and the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto Monday night (20). She’s always been an acclaimed interpreter of the music of J.S. Bach, and a few years ago began a four-year long “Bach Odyssey” that had her performing the complete cycle of his major keyboard works (spanning 12 recitals) in New York, Tokyo, Ottawa, and London, interrupted by the pandemic, but finishing last May.

Photo by James Katz

The San Francisco Girls Chorus joins with Chanticleer in three performances of “Neighbor Tones” (17, 18, 21) – a concert “full of new works and new sounds,” including the premiere of Years of Light by Ayanna Woods, who was composer in residence for Chanticleer during the 22-23 season. They’ll also perform together Desert Song by säje, and Trevor Weston’s Oh Daedalus, fly away home.  The Girls Chorus will also perform works by Matthew Welch, Richard Danielpour, Ysaye Barnwell and Philip Glass. The concerts are at Herbst Theatre on Friday, in Berkeley at the First Presbyterian Church on Saturday night, and at the Mission Santa Clara de Asis in Santa Clara on Tuesday the 21st.

Photo by Carlin Ma

Hilary Hahn brings a recital of solo Bach to Davies Symphony Hall this Sunday night (Mar 12), with a program of a Sonata and two Partitas – the Sonata No. 1, and the first and second Partitas – including the famed D minor Chaconne. Her very first studio recording in 1997 was of solo works for violin by Bach, and more than 20 years later, she returned to record the remaining pieces. She hadn’t performed them formally until a few years ago, though. “Pretty much every concerto I’ve played, I’ve done a movement of solo Bach as an encore. Not as part of a plan, but I always just have it in my hands, because I’m always working on it. I don’t even carry the music with me anymore, because I just always have it in my head. It’s really beautiful music that seems to work for every audience and transforms every space I play it in.”

Patricia Racette, a well-known voice on the stage of San Francisco Opera, is the stage director for a San Francisco Conservatory of Music production of Giancarlo Menotti’s The Consul this Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon (March 11/12).  The orchestra will be conducted by Donato Cabrera for the performances – Menotti’s first full-length opera, “a gloomy world in which a family’s desperate attempt to flee totalitarian rule is met with an indifferent bureaucracy.” The performances, from SFCM’s Opera and Musical Theatre program, are at the Hume Concert Hall at their building at 50 Oak Street.

Taking a beloved opera on a free mini-tour around the Bay Area – San Francisco Opera’s Bohème Out of the Box has its first performances at Waterfront Park in Alameda this weekend. The live performances of La Bohème will be abridged and with piano accompaniment, and the cast that includes Adler Fellows will be presenting the work in a converted shipping container that’s been modified to be a mobile stage. There are pre-opera talks on the Friday and Saturday evening performances, and a family-friendly “First Act Workshop” preceding the Sunday afternoon show. They’re free, but require registration. Alameda’s Waterfront Park (March 10-12); Orange Memorial Park in South San Francisco (March 17-19); the Los Gatos Library (March 24-26); and Emerald Glen Park Amphitheater in Dublin (March 31-April 2).

Illustration by Brian Stauffer

The South Korean guitarist Jiji comes to Herbst Theatre this Saturday evening (Mar 11) for an SF Performancesrecital presented with OMNI Foundation for the Performing Arts. She’ll be including works by composers ranging from Claudia Sessa (a Milanese nun who was born in the late 16th  Century) to those working today, like Tania Leon, Natalie Dietterich, and a world premiere by Michael Gilbertson called Guts and Guile. There are also guitar favorites by Albeniz and Paganini, as well as originals by Jiji. She plays both acoustic and electric guitars, and was the first guitarist to win the Concert Artists Guild Award in 30 years. The concert is Saturday  night at 7:30 at Herbst.

Photo of Jiji by Marty Bra

A world premiere performance of a symphony written in 1938 will be on One Found Sound’s concert called “Horizon” this Saturday (Mar 4) at 8pm. The composer, Herbert Franklin Mells, is going to the be focus of a five-year project by the conductorless ensemble, performing and recording Mells’ works for orchestra which remained unpublished when he died at the age of 44. He’s best known today for several of his choral works, but he was the first Black American to receive a Ph.D centering on orchestral music. (The symphony on this concert was part of his Masters program at Indiana University). In addition to getting the music heard and performed, one of the goals of the project is to keep the music from falling into the public domain, and direct the rights of the scores to the composer’s family. The Horizon performance at Heron Arts in San Francisco will also include Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture and Reflection On a Memorial by Quinn Mason.

The ensemble Kitka presents the world premiere run of an opera called BABA: The Life and Death of Stana. It’s by Karmina Šilec, and is inspired by “sworn virgins” of the Balkans, women who have taken vows of chastity and celibacy, and live as men. “BABA brigs to light a disappearing practice of women sacrificing their sexuality and transforming themselves into men as a means of survival in an isolated, dangerous, impoverished, and intensely patriarchal and gender-binary part of the world.” There are four performances at Z Space in San Francisco, Thursday through Sunday (23-26)

San Francisco Performances’ PIVOT festival returns this week, with performances Tuesday-Thursday (21-23) in the second season of the Catalyst Quartet’s “Uncovered” series, in which they play repertoire by under-represented composers. They’ll be joined by pianist Anne-Marie McDermott on Tuesday and cellist Marcy Rosen on Wednesday. They’ll play works by Joseph Bologne (the Chevalier de St. Georges), Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Miguel Bernal-Jimenez, Rebecca Clarke, Amy Beach, Ethyl Smyth, Teresa Careño, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, Germaine Tailleferre, Antonio Carlos Gomes, and Fanny Mendelssohn. The concerts are at 7:30 at Herbst Theatre, with pre-concert programs hosted by pianist Sarah Cahill and others.

Photo of the Catalyst Quartet by Ricardo Quinones

The Santa Rosa Symphony will be led by their Conductor Laureate, Bruno Ferrandis this Saturday through Monday (18-20) in a program celebrating his French roots… There are works by composer Lili Boulanger (younger sister of the composer and composition teacher Nadia Boulanger) along with Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. Bay Area favorite and Van Cliburn competition winner Jon Nakamatsu will be the soloist for Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major. They’ll also be playing a ‘portrait of nature’ written by American composer Philip Glass, called The Canyon. Ferrandis was the orchestra’s Music Director for a dozen seasons, beginning in 2006.  There’s a Discovery Open Rehearsal on Saturday afternoon, wth concerts Saturday and Monday at 7:30, and Sunday afternoon at 3 at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall.

Photo by Clay McLachlan

Voices of Music presents three concerts this weekend (17-19), showcasing chamber works from Italy and England, in a program called “Musica Transalpina” – with violinists Elizabeth Blumenstock, Cynthia Miller Freivogel, and Augusta McKay Lodge. On the program is music by Biber, Corelli, Marini, Morley, Matteis, and Purcell. On Friday (17) they’ll be at the First Congregational Church of Palo Alto at 7, Saturday at 7:30 at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, and Sunday at 8 at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco.

He just celebrated his 91st birthday this past week, but John Williams will be conducting a sold-out concert of his works with the San Francisco Symphony on Valentine’s Day, featuring the SFS premiere of his second violin concerto, written for and played by Anne-Sophie Mutter. (And he’s also recently been nominated for an Oscar for his score for The Fabelmans– one of 53 nominations he’s received, with 5 wins). Later in the week (17-19), Esa-Pekka Salonen will be back on the podium, leading the Symphony in a program that (in keeping with Valentine’s Day week) includes selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, with Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin and Bela Bartok’s second piano concerto, with Pierre-Laurent Aimard as soloist.

Photo of John Williams courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony

The New Century Chamber Orchestra will be joined by the singers of the San Francisco Girls Chorus for its concerts this Friday and Saturday (10, 11) that they’re calling “Sparkling Connections.” The shows in Berkeley on Friday and at the Green Music Center on Saturday are a prelude to the Gala dinner and concert they’ll be hosting in San Francisco on Sunday to celebrate the NCCO’s 30th Anniversary. There’s music by Lili Boulanger, Debussy, Schubert, Mozart, Haydn, and Humperdinck on the program, with music director and violinist Daniel Hope leading the ensemble.

Opera San Jose presents Verdi’s Falstaff, a comedy based on the character from Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor and scenes from Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2. It was the last opera Verdi wrote, and one of only two comic works (the other was written more than 50 years earlier, Un Giorno di Regno.) This production will feature Darren Lekeith Drone in the title role, with Megan Esther Grey as Dame Quickly, and Chanae Curtis as Alice Ford. There are six performances between Saturday the 11th and Sunday the 26th,  at the California Theatre. It’s directed by José Maria Condemi, and will be conducted  (except the final two performances) by Joseph Marcheso.

Photo of Darren Lekeith Drone and Chanae Curtis by David Allen


The New York Philharmonic has announced that Gustavo Dudamel will be their next Music and Artistic Director, in 2026. He’s been the Music Director at the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2009, where he’s led the symphony, and championed new music, education, and more diversity. His own background as a student in Venezuela’s El Sistema program helped shape the musician he would become, and help set his priorities on the podium, including special attention to young musicians in the Latino community, with YOLA, the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles. He’ll succeed Jaap van Zweden to be the NY orchestra’s 27th Music Director – following in the footsteps of conductors including Gustav Mahler, Leonard Bernstein, Leopold Stokowski, and Pierre Boulez. In a statement, Dudamel said: “I gaze with joy and excitement at the world that lies before me in New York City, and with pride and love at the world I have shared – and will continue to share – with my dear Angelenos over the next three seasons and beyond. All of us are united in our belief that culture creates a better world, and in our dream that music is a fundamental right. I look forward to the work ahead.”

Cellist Steven Isserlis joins conductor Richard Egarr and members of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra this week (9-12) in a program called “Old Friends Made New.” It includes both of the cello concertos of Camille Saint-Saëns, as well as their first performance of Brahms’ Second Symphony. The two concertos show different sides of the player (and composer) with both beautiful lyricism and “fiendishly difficult” passages. Isserlis has played with the PBO many times, going back many years. The concerts are Thursday at Herbst Theatre, Friday in Palo Alto, and Saturday and Sunday at First Congregational Church in Berkeley.

Photo of Steven Isserlis by Satoshi Aoyagi

This fall will mark the premiere of a new festival that will bring together musicians from all across California, with repertoire that’s been written in the past five years. The California Festival: A Celebration of New Music will launch in November, and was the brainchild of the music directors of three of the state’s ensembles: LA Phil’s Gustavo Dudamel, the San Diego Symphony’s Rafael Payare, and San Francisco Symphony’s Esa-Pekka Salonen. More than fifty organizations – orchestras, chamber music groups, choirs, jazz ensembles – will be taking part across the state. As their announcement declared: “Each participating organization will curate its own program or project under the festival umbrella, making this massive new survey as eclectic, exciting and kaleidoscopic as it is insightful and thought-provoking.”

Opera Parallele returns to Everest – this time, bringing the audience into an “immersive experience.” The company presented Everest, a “graphic novel opera” by composer Joby Talbot and librettist Gene Scheer during the pandemic. It told the story of an ill-fated attempt to climb the mountain’s summit that happened in 1996, and inspired Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air. The performances by singers including Sasha Cooke, Nathan Granner and Hadleigh Adams, were captured, and animated in the visual style of a graphic novel. The new version will put the audience in the center of the action, transporting Z Space to the snowy peaks, complete with white ponchos for the audience to wear, becoming part of the surface on which the images are projected, and surrounded by the music. There are performances from February 3-12.

Violinist Midori comes to the Bay Area to present a pair of different programs for San Francisco Performances this week. On Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon (Feb 2 and 5) she’ll be at Herbst Theatre, with programs that celebrate the 40th anniversary of her professional debut. On Thursday, she’ll mix solo works by Bach – two sonatas and a partita – with Nun Komm by Thierry Escaich, written in 2001, and Annie Gosfield’s Long Waves and Random Pulses, which was inspired by the partita she’ll be playing. Sunday’s concert, with different solo Bach selections, also pairs with newer works, Jessie Montgomery’s Rhapsody No. 1 and John Zorn’s Passagen. Since she made that New York Philharmonic debut 40 years ago at the age of eleven, she’s had a career that involves education and humanitarian projects as well as performing on concert stages throughout the world.

Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Michael Tilson Thomas returns to Davies Symphony Hall for San Francisco Symphony concerts Thursday through Saturday (26-28) with guest soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. The concert is mostly French repertoire, with works by Claude Debussy (the beloved Prélude à L’Après-midi d’un faune and gamelan-inspired Fantaisie for Piano and Orchestra), and Olivier Messiaen (Trois petites liturgies de la Présence Divine). That work features women singers from the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, as well as the infrequently heard electronic instrument, the Ondes Martenot, played by Cynthia Millar. They’ll leave France for the Rainforest, ending with the Heitor Villa-Lobos work, Chôros No. 10, with the full Chorus, led by guest chorus director Grant Gershon.

Photo of Michael Tilson Thomas by Brigitte Lacombe

Check back for daily updates! If there’s anything you’d like to add, let us know in the comments.