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.

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…”  

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

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

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. Here’s a preview of one of the works on the “Triples” concert:

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, the Vienna Boys Choir sings its “Christmas in Vienna” program, 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. 

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.

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:

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

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

A grand finale for the iPalpiti Festival… Saturday night at the Saban Theatre, founder and conductor Eduard Schmieder will lead the “Orchestral Ensemble of International Laureates” in a concert program that has a Russian first half, and a West Coast premiere in the second. There’s an Anton Arensky work inspired by Tchaikovsky, followed by Korean violinist Jaewon Wee playing Tchaikovsky’s “Memory of a Dear Place.” A Fritz Kreisler miniature opens the second half, and then it’s Alexey Shor’s Seascapes from 2014. The soloist for that work is Samuel Nebyu. This was the 24th season of the festival, and a return to live concertizing after last year’s virtual one (which included this performance)

Music students are told when they start to play an instrument about the half-steps and whole steps that make up an octave. And looking at a piano’s white and black keys, it’s easy to think that they’re the smallest increments between notes. But there’s a long history of tuning systems that show that’s not the case. The problem is that if you tune one interval with absolute, mathematical perfection, it pushes other intervals in the octave away from being perfect. Keyboard tunings have always been compromises – combining perfection with imperfection – which can give the music a certain flavor. On a new recording, Slovenian guitarist Mak Grgić is able to achieve that flavor with a special guitar with frets that can be moved independently for each string. He’s using the “Kirnberger III” temperament for his album Mak / Bach (Kirnberger was one of Bach’s friends and students, so it’s a tuning that he would have known well.) Grgić became interested in these tunings when he was a student at USC, and eventually worked with microtonal guitarist John Schneider. Grgić says: “The equal tempered system, and the way we learn western classical music, this is all really habitual. We grow up with it, we keep hearing it around, so thus we know it, and we’re used to it. But let’s say in the music of gamelan, this is something completely different. The pitch is constructed differently and the rhythm is constructed differently and their ears are attuned to something far from what we’re used to. It’s all a matter of fine-tuning the ears and recognizing what we want to hear.”  

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.  

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

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

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.

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

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

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. 

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.

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

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

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.

[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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Within a dream, anything can happen. After a dream, nothing is the same.” Chanticleer’s most recent virtual ticketed performance is streaming (but only until Sunday 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

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

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

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:

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 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 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. 

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

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 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 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

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. 

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

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

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 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.

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:

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

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.

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

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

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.

Photo of Jenny Wong by Steve Yeater

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

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

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). 

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

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.




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