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.

At the San Francisco Symphony’s opening night gala on Friday, they’ll go from the end of Summer back to the middle of it – with music by Felix Mendelssohn from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen and the musicians of the Symphony will be joined by members of the African-American Shakespeare Company, who will be performing scenes from the play. There are two announced soloists, sopranos Anne-Marie MacIntosh and Elisa Sunshine, but there will also be surprise guest stars, as well as singers from the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. On Saturday evening, for the first performance of their season, violinist Randall Goosby will play the San Francisco Symphony premiere of Florence Price’s second Violin Concerto. That’s on a program that starts with a light Mozart comic opera overture (The Impresario) and ends with Richard Strauss’s epic tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra.

Photo of Esa-Pekka Salonen by Cody Pickens

Peninsula Ballet Theatre is presenting a ballet version of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana this weekend, as part of their 55th season. They’ll be joined by solo singers, and members of Masterworks Chorale and the Ragazzi Boys Chorus, and Pacific Sticks Percussion Ensemble. The performances on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon will be at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center. Orff’s work was set to 24 secular and sacred Medieval poems, beginning and ending with the familiar “O Fortuna”.

Photo by Stefan Cohen

Intertwining music and history… New Century Chamber Orchestra begins its 30th season with a unique look back at a pivotal year, in a program called “Berlin 1938: Broadcasts from a Vanishing Society.” It follows the music and mood of America and Germany as World War II was approaching. Music Director and Concertmaster Daniel Hope devised the program like a radio play, using news headlines from both countries as connective tissue. They’ll be read by singers Thomas Hampson and Horst Maria Merz, who will also sing popular songs of the day – as well as works written in response to world events. There are three performances, Friday and Saturday evening, and Sunday afternoon at the Presidio Theatre. Daniel Hope describes the project’s evolution here:

This weekend, soprano Renée Fleming hosts an IMAX Live special event film, co-produced by Stage Access, called “Cities that Sing: Paris” – it’s part travelogue and part concert, celebrating what she calls the “Opera Capital of the World.” For those familiar with opera, there are arias, songs, and duets from some of the great French composers: Bizet, Massenet, Gounod, Offenbach, Delibes and more, performed on the stage of the Théâtre du Châtelet. For those new to opera, there are plenty of ways in – through its spectacle, history, and fashion. “I think there’s a fascination now with these shows that are set all over the world – most of them highlight food – and so we were thinking of that as a model, but highlighting music instead,” Fleming says. “We’re also sharing the culture of the city in general, and some of the history of these iconic works. It’s really a look at Paris and a look at French Opera that people won’t have seen before.” She’s joined by tenor Piotr Beczała, and up-and coming singers baritone Alexandre Duhamel and soprano Axelle Fanyo.  The goal of the project is to expose a wider audience to opera in an accessible way: “I think it’s awesome that we’re taken the grandest historic art form, and putting it on the grandest screen – with surround sound, 12 speakers. And the beauty of this, of course, is that people can stay in their communities, and it can be seen around the world.” The presentation, on Sunday at noon Pacific time, will begin with a live Q-and-A with Fleming, hosted by Kelsey Grammer. You can find out more information and theater locations here.

An epic piece of music written for a “12-piano Choir” has its world premiere outside Wednesday evening, at San Francisco Botanical Garden. The piece is called Fall and Fly, and it’s by San Francisco-based composer Benjamin Gribble. It was commissioned to help kick off the seventh edition of Flower Piano, the artistic ‘happening’ that places pianos at various locations around the Botanical Garden. (The premiere will be at the Garden’s Great Meadow, and the pianos will be relocated to their other positions for the run of Flower Piano, from the 16th to the 20th.) There’s a schedule of musicians performing a wide variety of repertoire and styles during the event again this year, and when they’re not being played by guest soloists, members of the public are invited to play the instruments. Visitors can wander from instrument to instrument, following their ears while surrounded by flowers.

Opera San Jose’s season begins by relocating Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro to India during the time of the British Raj. The class imbalances and sexual politics all lead to a traditional Indian wedding that will bring a bit of Bollywood into the California Theatre – showing the universality of the story. There will be Indian classical and folk dances represented by artists from Mosaic America. Maya Kherani will sing Susanna, Efraín Solís is Figaro, and Viswa Subbaraman will be conducting the six performances, which run from the 10th to the 25th of September.

Photo by David Allen

Donato Cabrera launches his tenth season as Music Director of the California Symphony this weekend. They’re presenting a program called “Intersections” with solo cellist Inbal Segev, who’ll be playing a work that was written for her by composer Anna Clyne. It’s called DANCE, based on a poem by the 13th Century poet Rumi, and she premiered it at the 2019 Cabrillo Festival of New Music. In 2017, Segev premiered Dan Visconti’s Tangle Eye with the California Symphony, a folk theme-inspired concerto also written for her. Opening the program is Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta, and the remaining two works are Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk’s Melody for Symphony Orchestra, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2, which is woven through with Ukrainian folk songs – he wrote it while spending a summer there. The Lesher Center concerts are Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.

Photo of Inbal Segev by Grant Legan

Getting their hundredth season off to a memorable start this week, San Francisco Opera will present the Opera Ball and Centennial Celebration Concert on Friday, the world premiere of John Adams’ Antony and Cleopatra on Saturday, and then on Sunday afternoon, the free Opera in the Park concert. John Adams was both composer and librettist for the new work, commissioned for the anniversary season. It’s based on the Shakespeare telling of the story of love and political intrigue, and includes texts by classical writers like Plutarch and Virgil. Music Director Eun Sun Kim will be conducting the performances, with Gerald Finely and Amina Edris in the title roles. There are seven performances through October 5th. Later in September, they’ll present Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.

Photo of Amina Edris as Cleopatra by Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

This week, horn player Sarah Willis releases the second of a multi-release recording project called Mozart y Mambo: Cuban Dances. It got its start several years ago, when she went to Havana following her love of salsa dancing. While there, she got to know members of the Havana Lyceum Orchestra. She was invited to a concert and was immediately impressed. “I was blown away by how good they were, by their love of the music, but also how they made music. You know, it sounds like three same things, but I go to a lot of concerts. I hear a lot of Mozart. I play a lot of Mozart. Suddenly I was hearing things I’d never heard before.” Willis, who is in the horn section of the Berlin Philharmonic, doesn’t consider herself a solo player by nature, but after giving a masterclass and working with the players, decided to record the Mozart Horn concertos with them. But she wanted to find a way to highlight their Cuban spirit and musical traditions. The first album, from 2020, had a mix of traditional Mozart as well as Cuban-inspired arrangements of his music. For the second album, she wanted to commission a new concerto to pair with another two by Mozart. “I was looking for one composer to write me a concerto, and I did a competition, and we now have six composers, six young Cuban composers, each one has written a movement – a dance. They’re original dances, but using traditional Cuban rhythms, and from six different areas in Cuba. Every piece has a different groove, a different clave, and you can’t play it unless you learn how to dance it.” Willis says that her players see the natural connection between their music and the composer separated by the Atlantic Ocean and hundreds of years. “The Cubans say Mozart would have been a good Cuban… The Changüi, the Afro-Cuban, the Son, the Danzon and the Bolero, Mozart has all that in his music, but in a classical way. He improvises in his music, he has dance rhythm, he switches tempos suddenly. He would have loved Havana!”

Noontime Concerts presents a special performance called “Majesty of the Spiritual” – it celebrates the long tradition of the Black American art song, in arrangements by three living composers. The concert, at Herbst Theatre this Sunday at 3, is a co-production with The Living Heritage Foundation, and will feature a dozen operatic singers, and special guest Frederica von Stade. It’s curated by baritone Robert Sims, who wants to show the art form as one that’s continued to evolve, and that is “as deeply rooted in the present as it is in the past.”  The composer-arrangers of the works that will be sung are Lena McLin, Roland Carter, and Jacqueline B. Hairston.

Noontime Concerts

Seven opera companies around the country – including 2 in California – will be receiving a total of a hundred thousand dollars from Opera America for new works by women composers. Opera San Jose and Long Beach Opera join a pair of Brooklyn based organizations (The American Opera Project and Beth Morrison Projects); Finger Lakes Opera in Rochester, NY; Alabama’s Opera Birmingham; and the Spoleto Festival USA in receiving the awards. Composer Rene Orth will be providing both the music and libretto for a new work for Opera San Jose, and Shelley Washington will be writing Death, both of us dead for Long Beach Opera – based on the true story of a woman who spent decades obsessed with the soprano Birgit Nilsson. The other composers whose works will be funded in part by these grants are Stephanie Chou, Paola Prestini, B.E. Boykin, Carla Lucero, and Layale Chaker.

Shelley Washington (photo by Peter Yankowsky) and Rene Orth (photo by Andrew Bogard)

A musical tribute to Michael Morgan, beloved longtime conductor of the Oakland Symphony… For the first anniversary of his death this weekend, they’ve released a video that would turn out to be their final performance together. The music is Darius Milhaud’s Creation of the World, recorded in March of 2021. It was originally planned to have been edited with dance performances as well, as a virtual performance for audiences during the COVID lockdown. Now it can serve as “a memorial to Michael from his musicians, management, board, and friends at the Oakland Symphony.”

The fifth season of the San Francisco International Piano Festival launches on Thursday, with a bit of a birthday celebration – this year is the 300th anniversary of J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. In addition to hearing some of the preludes and fugues from that collection, there’s a Bach-inspired set by César Franck (who’s celebrating his bicentennial this year) and the world premiere of a piece by Kurt Erickson called Seventeen Minutes and Twenty-Two Seconds that uses the Bach C Major prelude as a point of departure. The festival runs through the 28th with recitals and masterclasses, and includes collaborative guests like the Telegraph Quartet. There are five venues across San Francisco and Berkeley, plus livestreaming for some of the recitals. Pianist and festival founder Jeffrey LaDeur says “In the midst of much turbulence and tragedy in our world, we continue to make music and celebrate the unstoppable force that is the creative spirit.”

Photo of Jeffrey LaDeur by Carlin Ma

This weekend at Weill Hall and on the Lawn at the Green Music Center, musicians from the Santa Rosa Symphony will be providing the musical accompaniment to a screening of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. The Academy Award-winning score by John Williams will be led by conductor Scott Terrell in this special event concert. The film was released 40 years ago, telling the story of the 10-year-old Elliott and his friend from another world, who’s fond of candy and needs to ‘Phone Home.’ The screening will start at 7:30 on Saturday night.

Starry Nights” – Two evenings of dance under the stars at Frost Amphitheater is a partnership between Stanford Live and San Francisco Ballet, with performances of works by three choreographers. The program begins with Helgi Tomasson’s 7 for Eight, a piece the long-time Artistic Director of the Ballet set for eight dancers, using seven movements from Bach concerti. They’ll continue with Jerome Robbins’ In the Night, for three couples, to the nocturnes of Frederic Chopin. Those will be accompanied by members of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, and the remaining work is a setting by William Forsythe of an album by British singer-songwriter James Blake, his “The Colour in Anything.” That piece, called Blake Works I, is for more than 30 dancers.

Photo by Erik Tomasson

Oakland Symphony presents a free outdoor concert tonight (Thursday) called “Summer Stage at Oakland City Hall”. It’ll be led by conductor Kedrick Armstrong, and will include Mozart’s Symphony 29, Summerland by William Grant Still, Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, and Le Boef sur le toit by Darius Milhaud. The soloist will be Amaryn Olmeda, who has studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and who last year won first prize and audience choice award in the junior division of the Sphinx Competition, the national competition for young Black and Latinx string players. The concert will be in Frank H. Ogawa Plaza at the foot of City Hall at 7, with an instrument petting zoo and other activities.

Amaryn Olmeda

The Merola Opera Program presents Mozart’s Magic Flute this Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. It’s a fully staged production of the opera, with the Merola class of 2022 having the opportunity to sing full operatic roles like Papageno, the Queen of the Night, Tamino, and Pamina. The production is directed by Gina Lapinski, longtime stage director for the Metropolitan Opera, and conducted by Kelly Kuo.  The costumes were designed for San Diego Opera by iconic British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes.

Photo by Kristen Loken

More than a hundred young musicians make up the Encuentros Orchestra – players from around the world, who have been brought together by the Dudamel Foundation for two weeks of rehearsals, masterclasses, and now, performances. They’re being led by Gustavo Dudamel, working with a faculty of top-flight musicians, and joined by members of YOLA (Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles). On Thursday night, they’re playing at the Greek Theatre through Cal Performances, with special guest esperanza spalding. Among the other professional musicians working with the young players, has been Sarah Willis, who plays the horn with the Berlin Philharmonic. She’s been helping with Dudamel’s El Sistema-inspired music education programs for a long time. “This is an amazing project – people say ‘Isn’t it great that you’re doing all this stuff?’ But I see it the other way around. What I learn from them, it’s incredible. You remember why you became a musician in the first place. I’m just happy to be here and do my part to get the horn section better. It’s a true pleasure.” She’s spent the past week and a half rehearsing with them, but they’ll be performing on their own. “We can’t really change the way someone plays in this short period of time,” she says, “But my goal is to send them away from a project like this with as many tricks of the trade as I can give them – and also for them to be loving and being proud of what they do more than they did before they came.” The Encuentros Orchestra will be playing Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony, Wayne Shorter’s Gaia (with a jazz quartet that includes esperanza spalding on bass and vocals), as well as a Festive Overture written specially for the ensemble by Giancarlo Castro D’Addona.

Photo by Samantha Lopez

[email protected] continues celebrating Haydn and his influence this weekend, with a program of trios by Haydn and Beethoven on Friday and Saturday evening (with a livestream option on Saturday). Co-Artistic Directors David Finckel and Wu Han will be joined by their frequent collaborator, violinist Arnaud Sussmann. On Sunday afternoon, there’s a ‘Carte Blanche’ concert curated by pianist Michael Stephen Brown. David Finckel says he first became known to them as a young performer at the festival. “Michael has accomplished a huge amount for somebody so young. He has seriously pursued a recital career, a concerto career, a chamber music career, and also a composing career…He’s very clever, he’s very funny, he does not take himself all that seriously, but his work is actually extremely serious.” Among the pieces on the program he’s put together are two of his own works – a Haydn-inspired world premiere commission, and a work for solo right hand to pair with a Scriabin piece for solo left hand. He’ll also be introducing the audience to the music of German pianist/composer Delphine von Schauroth, who was a contemporary of Mendelssohn, and Adolph Schulz-Evler’s virtuosic Arabesques on Strauss’s “Blue Danube.”  The 20th anniversary season runs through August 6.

Photo of Michael Brown by Neda Navaee

The annual summer festival presented by American Bach Soloists is underway, with performances through Sunday afternoon at Herbst Theatre. Inspired by a programming idea they’ve tried before to great success, there’s a concert called “Bach and Jazz: Blowin’ the Blues Away” on Thursday night. It stretches into other genres of music that have been inspired by the great repertoire of the Baroque, and along with standard instrumentation, there are a few unexpected additions, like steel pan drums and mandolin. Friday’s performance is called “Barococo,” bringing together the periods of the Baroque and Rococo. There’s a complete infrequently heard Handel oratorio called Belshazzar on Saturday, before the final Sunday afternoon program of “Bach, Barges, and a Burlesque.” That concert features Bach’s third Orchestral Suite, two Telemann works (an oboe concerto, and an overture inspired by the story of Don Quixote) and a celebratory conclusion with Handel’s Water Music Suite No. 1.

The River Thames with St. Paul’s Cathedral by Canaletto (via Wikimedia Commons)

After two years of virtual performances, the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music returns with live concerts in Santa Cruz, just in time to celebrate its 60th season. It launches over the weekend with a Donor’s Concert and open rehearsals. There are nine composers in residence this season, including Stacy Garrop, John Harbison, Jake Heggie, and Paola Prestini – with three World Premiere commissions and seven West Coast Premieres, as well as a concert featuring works of up and coming composers under 30. Musical guests include the Grammy award-winning vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth, our own pianist Lara Downes, violinist Benjamin Beilman, and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, who will sing a newly commissioned orchestrated version of Jake Heggie’s song cycle Intonations: Songs from the Violins of Hope. Music Director and Conductor Cristian Macelaru says the works on this year’s festival reflect on deep divisions in the country, and environmental threats, but “it is also infused with hope for change, transformation, and peace.”

Cristian Macelaru

For their summer festival, West Edge Opera offers a trio of productions that are old, new, and off the beaten path. They’ll begin with Handel’s Julius Caesar (Giulio Cesare in Egitto) on Friday night, starring countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen in the title role, with Shawnette Sulker as Cleopatra. The second opera is by Paul Dukas from 1906, called Ariane & Bluebeard, with its first performance on Saturday. Ariane is going to marry Bluebeard, and discovers the five wives who preceded her weren’t murdered, but are trapped in his castle. Renée Rapier and Philip Skinner star in the work inspired by a Symbolist poem by Maurice Maeterlinck, who provided the libretto. And WEO will present the American premiere of Coraline, by Mark-Anthony Turnage, based on the children’s book by Neil Gaiman. Kendra Broom sings the title role, a young girl who discovers a mysterious door in her new house. They describe it as “for people of all ages who love gruesome things.” The festival runs through August 7th at the Scottish Rite Center in Oakland.

Shawnette Sulker as Cleopatra – Photo by Cory Weaver

The Piedmont Chamber Music Festival is back for its fifth season, with concerts on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday at the Piedmont Center for the Arts. The theme of this year is “Human, Alone and Together” – with works that explores our physical health, and “the depth of our social community.”  The first concert, called “The Tailor Cockatoo” includes Beethoven’s Kakadu Variations, a two-violin sonata by Prokofiev, and a Mendelssohn String Quintet. The second, “A Sanguine Clockwork” gets its name from a string trio by Paul Wiancko they’ll be playing, along with a Fauré Violin Sonata and Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night. Sunday afternoon’s “American Mirror” has an American first half, with works by William Bolcom and Derrick Skye, and pieces by Clara and Robert Schumann in the second. Co-Directors Juliana Han and Wayne Lee founded the festival in 2016.

Juliana Han

This year’s theme for the Valley of the Moon Music Festival is “Fantastic Universe: Music of the Natural World.” The festival begins this weekend and runs through the end of the month in Sonoma. Most of the concerts will be at the Hanna Boys Center, but they’re launching an “Alfresco” concert series for the first time this year (in keeping with the theme of nature) in collaboration with the Sonoma Ecology Center and Buena Vista Winery. This is their eighth season, and co-Artistic Directors Tanya Tomkins and Eric Zivian say the inspiration for the theme arose out of the many evenings during lockdown when they ended the day watching the sun set from a peak near their Berkeley home. Their Apprentice program and Blattner Lecture series will also be returning – Nicholas McGegan will start things off with a talk about 19th Century composers and their relationship with natured before the first concert, called “Echo from the Ravine” on Saturday.

Courtesy Valley of the Moon Music Festival

Opera Parallèle blends film with live performance as they present La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast) by Philip Glass. The opera was inspired by Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film that tells the story, and as originally envisioned, it would be accompanied by a screening of the film. For this production, that film is used, as well as one the company painstakingly made with the singers, in addition to the singers on the stage. Director Brian Staufenbiel explains: “The result is a surreal dreamscape of an opera that fuses live performance and cinema, mirroring Cocteau’s exploration of the conscious and unconscious in the human condition.” This marks the completion for O/P of the trilogy of Philip Glass-Jean Cocteau operas (the others were Orphée in 2011, and Les Enfants Terribles in 2017). The production runs from the 14th to the afternoon of the 17th at SFJAZZ, with Vanessa Becerra and Hadleigh Adams in the title roles.

Courtesy Opera Parallèle

Time for Three is the name of an ensemble with a very unusual instrumentation – Nicolas Kendall and Charles Yang are violinists, Ranaan Meyer plays the bass, and they all sing. They’re classically trained, but they are very comfortable crossing genres as the music leads them. This week they’ll be joining the San Francisco Symphony for two performances (one at Davies, and the other at Stanford’s Frost Amphitheater) this Thursday and Friday, playing a concerto written for them by Kevin Puts. It’s called Contact – and it’s actually not the only concerto written for them by a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer. In 2007, Jennifer Higdon wrote Concerto 4-3 for them. Both of those pieces appear on a new Deutsche Grammophon release called “Letters for the Future.” Also on the program this week: El Salón Mexico by Copland, the Overture to Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss, Jr., and Richard Strauss’s Suite from Der Rosenkavalier.

Photo of Time for Three courtesy of SF Symphony

For their 20th anniversary season, [email protected] will be exploring the music and influence of Joseph Haydn – who many consider to be the father of chamber music as we know it. Festival co-Artistic Director David Finckel says: “When you think about what the string quartet, and the piano quartet, and the piano trio became after Haydn’s time, without him, I don’t really know whether we’d have the repertoire we do today from composers all the way through Shostakovich and Britten.” As with each season, their theme is a launching point, and one thing often leads to another, programmatically. One concert on July 24th is called Cellos and Fugues. “The instrument, and then this musical form – because the opus 20 quartets of Haydn, which were arguably his first really significant string quartets, they all featured the cello, as a historic first. The one that we’re doing begins with a cello solo. And all of those Op. 20 quartets happen to end also with fugues. When I saw that piece, I thought, there’s something in here. And then sure enough, you have Glazunov’s quintet with two cellos, which has a big fugue in the last movement. So the concert is a celebration of the cello, and also this most rigorous of contrapuntal and musical forms.” Finckel says as [email protected] has evolved over the past two decades, it’s gone deeper instead of wider. They’re still presenting concerts and discussions and masterclasses over a three week period. “I’d say the festival has grown from within itself, to become thicker, richer, but not different.”

Photo of David Finckel and Wu Han by Tristan Cook

July is the time for the Midsummer Mozart Festival, which returns this weekend, plus a preview on Tuesday. The full ensemble will be playing performances in Berkeley, Sonoma, and Saratoga. Music Director Paul Schrage will be leading them in two early overtures (La finta giardiniera and Lucio Silla) along with Mozart’s 38th Symphony (“Prague”) and the Sinfonia Concertante for Four Winds (oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon). The festival began in 1974, playing works exclusively by Mozart to audiences in the Bay Area. On Tuesday, a smaller subset of musicians, the Midsummer Mozart Chamber Players will present a free preview of the festival as part of the Noontime Concert Series at Old St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, with a violin sonata, and a chamber arrangement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23. The weekend concerts will be at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Berkeley on Friday, the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma on Saturday, and the Mountain Winery in Saratoga on Sunday. Here’s an excerpt from a performance they gave at Buena Vista Winery in 2017:

The singers of the Merola Opera Program will be opening its season this Saturday, stepping away from the traditional opera world with A Celebration of American Song. The program is curated by pianist Craig Terry, who has collaborated with many of the top names in opera – he won a Grammy for a recording with Joyce DiDonato in 2020.  This is the largest class of “Merolini” to date – with 31 artists making up for lost time when the program was limited to on-line performances. The repertoire, instead of coming from Verdi, Puccini or Bellini, will instead include composers like Harold Arlen, Leonard Bernstein, and teams like Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe. The concert is at 3pm on Saturday at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Concert Hall.

Photo by Kristen Loken

Othalie Graham realized early on that she was going to be a ‘dramatic soprano’ – that special type of powerful voice that’s able to cut through a full orchestra – and would eventually sing the great Wagnerian roles. Although she hasn’t done many of them in staged performances, she has been in great demand for concert appearances. “I’ve done Isolde in concert, and a lot of Brünnhilde’s music,” she says. “Standing on stage in front of the orchestra, especially a full Wagner orchestra, is certainly not for the faint of heart, as you stand there reciting in your brain, ‘Don’t push, don’t push, just trust your own voice.’” She’s going to be presenting “The Greatest Wagner Concert Ever” at Vallejo’s Empress Theatre this Saturday night, with Thomas Conlin conducting the Vallejo Festival Orchestra. She explains the superlative title this way: “It is the greatest Wagner concert ever, because I get a chance to stand up and sing Wagner with an orchestra. That’s always how I feel, especially coming out of the pandemic – any chance I get to stand up and sing, I’m thrilled.” She’ll be singing the “Liebestod” from Tristan und Isolde, as well as arias from Die Walküre and Tannhäuser, and the orchestra will be playing overtures and selections from Lohengrin, the Flying Dutchman, and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. “I’m starting off with “Dich teure Halle,” which is the beautiful, thrilling greeting to the hall, a wonderful way to kick off the program. It’s big, and high, and exciting… But then there are a lot of unaccompanied, soft, beautiful moments in all of this music; I really like to demonstrate the beauty of a Wagnerian voice.”

Soprano Othalie Graham

Festival Opera is back at the Lesher Center this weekend, with Norma, the bel canto classic by Vincenzo Bellini. This marks the first time it’s been presented in the 31 years of the company, and there will be two performances, Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. Starring in the production will be Shana Blake Hill as the druid priestess Norma, enmeshed in a love triangle set in ancient Rome. Bryan Nies will be conducting, and Mark Foehringer is the director for the show. Last year, Festival Opera created a trio of chamber operas from song cycles by Jake Heggie – this season they’re back to a larger scale, with a full cast and chorus.

Photo of Shana Blake Hill by Michael Calas

From an early work he wrote while still a student to a piece written almost 50 years later in memory of Jean Sibelius, a new CD of music by William Grant Still has a dozen or so works that have never been recorded before. The album, part of the American Classics series on Naxos, has Avlana Eisenberg conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and her mother, violinist Zina Schiff is soloist on many of the tracks. Many years ago, Schiff was researching repertoire for an all-American recording and fell in love with several pieces by Still. And it turned out that there were many pieces that had never been recorded in their orchestral versions.

“The American Suite was actually his opus one for orchestra,” Eisenberg says. “So that was his very first piece, written for pretty small forces, but it displays even at a very young age (I believe he was 23 years old) his emotional range. I think of as a microcosm, these three short movements that already give us a sense what he can do with orchestral color, and his use of melody.” His Violin Suite from 1943 is better known in its piano accompanied version, as is Pastorela (1946). Celeste Headlee, Still’s granddaughter, says he treated the orchestra like his instrument. “Most composers write for piano first, and they expand it. He never did that… He wanted to capture the beauty, and the glow and the bloom of every individual instrument.” She’s glad that he’s been getting programmed more frequently, as more musicians and audiences are discovering his works. “It’s an odd position that I’m in, because I realize I’m biased… He was my favorite person in the world, and his music very much sounds like him. And so, to my mind, his is the best music in the whole world, right? But also as a music student, I kept coming up against the fact that this was extremely well-written and well-crafted music.” She says that there are many more pieces (in cabinets at her mother’s house) waiting to be heard.

Conductor Avlana Eisenberg says working with her mother on this project has been especially rewarding: “Given that she provided my introduction to William Grant Still and his music, I feel like I developed an appreciation of this music through her. And then to get to not only discover the orchestrations of these pieces that I had fallen in love with in their violin/piano version, but also bring additional works to the table to round out these selections was such a gift.”

And our most recent “Open Ears” video gives much more information about William Grant Still’s life. (You can subscribe at our YouTube channel)

Edwin Outwater leads the San Francisco Symphony in the Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular Monday night at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View. The music selections will include some patriotic standards, as well as works by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, Leonard Bernstein, and a selection of hits from some of the most popular animated movies for kids… Beauty and the Beast, Hercules, Coco, Frozen, and Encanto. Joining the orchestra will be singers Rosena Hill Jackson, Kelly Brandeburg, Ruby Day, and Gary Stanford. The outdoor performance will end with a grand finale of fireworks.

The music of Giuseppe Verdi – from multiple operas – will be the star of a one-night only concert this Thursday at the War Memorial Opera House. San Francisco Opera Music Director Eun Sun Kim leads the program with the chorus and soloists as the summer season is drawing to a close. Soprano Nicole Car, baritone Etienne Dupuis, and bass Soloman Howard will be joining the orchestra with a scheduled program that includes scenes from Luisa Miller, Il Trovatore, and Don Carlo. Eun Sun Kim has a special fondness for Verdi – she made her U.S. debut with his La Traviata and Requiem. The concert is available as a live performance, and also as a livestream. Eun Sun Kim Conducts Verdi is this Thursday at 7:30.

Photo of Fun Sun Kim by Kim Tae-hwan

Thursday the 23rd, the Young Women’s Choral Projects of San Francisco has a preview concert of the program they’ll be taking to France in late June-early July. The program is called the “Au Revoir Tour Send-Off Concert”, and it’s both a send-off to the singers, and also to Artistic Director Susan McMane, who’ll be retiring after the tour. The program includes a cappella chants and motets, Spirituals, pieces by French composers written with organ accompaniment, as well as contemporary American works. They’ll be bringing the same program to the great cathedrals of France. The concert is at Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco.

Young Women’s Choral Projects

A Ukrainian-American pianist will be giving two concerts this weekend, one in San Francisco, and one in Santa Cruz, that will benefit Ukrainian musicians. Stanislav Khristenko, who was born in Kharkiv and co-founded a music festival there, will be playing a program of music by Ukrainian (Borys Lyatoshinsky and Valentyn Silvestrov) as well as Polish (Frederic Chopin, Karol Szymanowski) composers. Saturday night the concert is at Old First Church, co-presented with the Ross McKee Foundation, and Sunday afternoon in Santa Cruz, he’ll be playing at the Peace United Church as part of the Distinguished Artists concert series. That concert will support the humanitarian non-profit Nova Ukraine. This year the festival in Kharkiv had to be symbolic, with one concert in a subway shelter, performed by five musicians.

Photo of Stanislav Khristenko courtesy Ross McKee Foundation

It’s New Year’s in June… The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra will be ending its season this weekend with a program that was rescheduled from New Year’s Eve… it’s called Beethoven Four plus Four, with the Fourth Symphony as well as the Piano Concerto No. 4. The soloist is Hilda Huang, with Music Director Benjamin Simon conducting. The program will begin with an overture by Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, the older sister of Felix. The overture was written in the late 1820s or early 1830s, but it wasn’t published until 1994. The season-ending concerts are at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco on Friday, Saturday at the First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto, and Sunday at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley.

Courtesy Hilda Huang

An unusual pairing of instruments takes center stage with the Peninsula Symphony Friday and Saturday, as they perform the world premiere of a Double Concerto for Violin and Bass. Bassist and composer Michael Thurber will be joined by violinist Tessa Lark for the performance, part of an all-American program with music by Bernstein, William Schuman, Gershwin, and Florence Price. What inspired the concerto? The two soloists are a couple, and got to know each other as he was writing her a concerto that came to be called ‘Love Letter.’ Both performers are comfortable playing in many musical styles, and the Double Concerto was born out of improvisational playing they’d done together. You can hear them playing together, and speaking with Music Director Mitchell Sardou Klein here (recorded during lockdown).

A new choral work called “Make Some Noise, Get in Trouble” has its online premiere Sunday afternoon… It’s by composer Roland Carter, and was inspired by the life of John Lewis, who was an important early figure in the civil rights movement before becoming a congressman for Georgia’s 5thdistrict. The event is being presented as a workshop by the Amateur Music Network in celebration of Juneteenth – Bay Area singers can take part in the in-person performance, or can join the rest of the singers from farther afield, watching and singing along with the performance online. The sheet music and practice materials are available on the Amateur Music Network website. The piece will be conducted by Dr. Candace Y. Johnson – the text of the piece, a contemporary spiritual, is adapted from the writings of John Lewis, who promoted ‘good trouble, necessary trouble’ as the way to achieve change in society.

Roland Carter

This Sunday’s celebration of Juneteenth – commemorating the day in 1865 when news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Galveston, Texas – will include a major Hollywood Bowl concert that will be simulcast on CNN. It’s called “Juneteenth: A Global Celebration of Freedom,” and the musical acts span a wide range of genres: R&B, hip-hop, country, pop, gospel and jazz. Earth, Wind & Fire, Questlove and The Roots, Killer Mike, Billy Porter, and Jhené Aiko will be among the performers. And representing the world of classical music, the Re-Collective Orchestra will be playing. It’s an ensemble made up entirely of Black musicians, and this event will mark the first time that the Hollywood Bowl has presented such an orchestra in its 101-year history. Thomas Wilkins, principal conductor at the Hollywood Bowl will conduct them, along with Derrick Hodge. The start time at the Bowl is 4:30 in the afternoon, and the broadcast on CNN is scheduled to begin at 5.

Photo of Re-Collective Orchestra by Shon Gibbs Imagery

San Francisco Opera continues its summer season with Bright Sheng’s opera Dream of the Red Chamber, opening this week on the 14th, with 7 shows running through July 3rd. The libretto is by David Henry Hwang, and it’s based on a beloved novel from 18th century China. Telling a story of  love and the political machinations of the Emperor’s court, the opera premiered in San Francisco in 2016. It’s been performed in Hong Kong and China since then (it’s a co-production with the Hong Kong Arts Festival). The June 19 performance will be live-streamed for audiences who can’t get to the War Memorial Opera House.

The Oakland Symphony has announced its lineup of guest conductors for the 2022-23 season, which runs from October to May. For opening night, it’s Ankush Kumar Bahl, who’s the Music Director of the Omaha Symphony – he’ll lead the orchestra in a performance of Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz – plus a world premiere commission by Jack Perla, and they’ll be joined for a flute concerto by Chen Yi with soloist Demarre McGill. In November, Holly Choe leads a performance of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms; and in January, Andrew Grams conducts a program of music by Florence Price, George Gershwin, and William Dawson. In February, Vinay Parameswaran guests, in a program called “Notes from California” – he’s Assistant Conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra (but was born in the Bay Area). Joseph Young, Music Director of Berkeley Symphony, is on the podium for the Oakland Symphony in March… And Tito Muñoz ends the season with music of Beethoven, Samuel Barber, and the world premiere of an oratorio by Martin Rokeach called Bodies on the Line: The Great Flint Sit-Down Strike. The traditional December concert “Let Us Break Bread Together” will feature the Oakland Symphony Chorus, directed by Dr. Lynn Morrow.

Photo of Vinay Parameswaran by Roger Mastroianni, courtesy of the Cleveland Orchestra

Pocket Opera begins its run of an operetta by Offenbach this weekend, The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein, with a performance at Berkeley’s Hillside Club on Sunday afternoon. Starring mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz in the title role, it’s a farce of love and war. The Grand Duchess falls in love with a lowly corporal who catches her eye, and wields her power by seeing to it that he is promoted again and again until he’s in charge of the entire army. There will be performances this Friday at the Jarvis Conservatory in Napa, on the 19 th at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, and on the 26 th in San Francisco at the Legion of Honor.

Courtesy Pocket Opera

Esa-Pekka Salonen and famed director Peter Sellars are bringing a staged Stravinsky double-bill to Davies Symphony Hall this weekend, as the San Francisco Symphony and Symphony Chorus present Oedipus Rex and Symphony of Psalms. It’s a program they’ve collaborated on several times before – first when Salonen was going to be leaving his role as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Stravinsky and his music is an important part of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s life, and in this work, Oedipus is, like Stravinsky was, exiled from his home, wandering the world to find a new one. Tenor Sean Panikkar is Oedipus, and mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges is Jocasta in the production. The Symphony of Psalms was written in 1930, and the first performance at the San Francisco Symphony was conducted by Stravinsky himself, in 1937. There are performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 2, with a pre-concert discussion with director Peter Sellars an hour before each performance.

Photo of Esa-Pekka Salonen by Minna Hatinen

Bringing its 50th Anniversary season to a close this Sunday, Berkeley Symphony will be playing a world premiere, and Beethoven’s iconic Ninth Symphony. The piece that was written for them is called Rise, by composer Jimmy López Bellido, and it’s a celebration of the anniversary, inspired by a poem by the Irish philosopher George Berkeley (for whom the city was named). And for the Beethoven, they’ll be using the text that was written by former Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith. Music Director Joseph Young says Smith reimagines the Schiller poem “as a contemporary exploration and meditation on joy.” Fitting for the seaon that was called “Return to Joy.” The concert is this Sunday afternoon at 4 at Zellerbach Hall.

Photo by Jeff Roffman

The winner of the 37th Klein International String Competition is 20-year-old South Korean cellist Gaeun Kim, who attends the Juilliard School and is a student of Gautier Capuçon. In addition to the $5,000 cash prize, she’ll have performance contracts with several California arts organizations, including appearances with the Peninsula Symphony, Santa Cruz Symphony, Music in the Vineyards, Noontime Concerts, and more. There were four violinists, one violist and one other cellist in the semifinals, which took place on Saturday at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and the finals were Sunday. Here she is playing music by Astor Piazzolla, in a performance from a few years ago:

Berkeley Festival and Exhibition, the biennial event that attracts players and fans of early music to the East Bay, returns, running from June 5th to the 12th. There are 17 mainstage concerts – including appearances by the choir Vox Luminis, and violinist Rachel Podger – and many special events, like the Young Performers Festival that’s produced by Early Music America, and even three pop-up performances of the rarely-performed 40-voice motet by Thomas Tallis, Spem in Alium. From Thursday the 9th through Saturday, the Exhibition and Marketplace will allow visitors to meet with instrument makers and sellers, find scores, recordings, and other related items. The BFX is presented by the San Francisco Early Music Society, and was founded in 1990. There are also many self-produced concerts making up The Fringe, beginning on Saturday, and running throughout the week.

Photo of Rachel Podger by Theresa Pewal

Don Giovanni opens the San Francisco Opera summer season, bringing to a close the trio of operas written by Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. The productions have spanned several seasons, beginning with The Marriage of Figaro in 2019, and Così fan tutte in 2021. And as a group, they span 300 years. Each has been set at the same American house – first when the country was brand new, then in the 1930s, and for Don Giovanni, we go another 150 years, to a time when the house, and society itself is crumbling. They’ve been stage directed by Michael Cavanaugh, who says that Don Giovanni is an opera about both finality, and consequences for actions. The title role is sung by Canadian baritone Etienne Dupuis, and there are 8 performances, running from Saturday the 4th to July 2nd.

Photo of Etienne Dupuis by Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

This is the centennial season at the Community Music Center, and one of their annual events is returning this weekend: Field Day, in honor of the founder of the CMC, Gertrude Field. On Saturday, there’s an in-person “Performathon” fundraising concert, with students, faculty members, and friends of the Center playing from 11am to 4pm. The performers have gotten sponsors to contribute, as one would in a walkathon, and the funds go to scholarships at the CMC. There’s a celebratory dance party from 5 to 6 with the Cuban Charanga Ensemble – those events are free and open to all. As a leadup to the festivities, there will be 90-minute virtual performathons on Thursday and Friday evening, streamed on their YouTube channel.

Bringing a bit of Vienna to Sonoma County… Pianist Jura Margulis will be appearing on Friday evening at the Petaluma Historical Library & Museum. It’s been three years since he performed in Petaluma, and for the past four years he’s been a professor of piano at Vienna’s Music and Art University. He’ll be playing music by Schubert, Strauss, Godowsky and others. He comes from a line of pianists and piano teachers, including both his father and grandfather, and was born in Russia, and trained in Germany, Italy and the US. He’ll play the Petaluma Museum’s Henry F. Miller concert grand piano, which was built in Boston in 1899.

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