The classical music season has arrived and there's so much to see and hear that it's tough to pack into just one post. But, whether you're curious or a seasoned fan, a great way to start the season is with free opera in Golden Gate Park this Sunday September 7 at 1:30 p.m. where you'll get a sampling of Mozart, Verdi, and other masters sung by San Francisco Opera's stars.
The opera season mixes daring with tried-and-true recipes right from the get-go: back-to-back performances of the bel canto warhorse Norma, with Sondra Radvanovsky as the betrayed druidess, then the company premiere of Carlisle Floyd's modern Susannah, with ubiquitous and proteiform diva Patricia Racette in the title role. Last season, Racette sung in Dolores Claiborne, Madama Butterfly and Showboat.
San Francisco Opera keeps alternating the traditional — Tosca, Marriage of Figaro, Masked Ball (with Thomas Hampson and Dolora Zajick, no less) or Boheme starring the raw energy of Michael Fabiano — with the out-of-left field: a local premiere of Handel's Partenope, which took only, what, 274 years to enter the SF Opera repertory; the long awaited production of Les Troyens, Berlioz' 5.5 hours long account of the Trojan wars that has been promised to us since Pamela Rosenberg became the general director, and conducted by former music director Donald Lefty Runnicles; and a world premiere of Two Women, by Marco Tutino and Fabio Ceresa, inspired by the same story as the movie which got Sophia Loren an academy award.
The SF Symphony season also takes some risks, somewhat counterbalanced by more familiar fare on the same programs. It's the 20th season with Michael Tilson Thomas at the helm, and he plans to indulge us with his favorite music: he'll conduct some Mahler symphonies; a Beethoven festival which features a concert version of Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio, with the cast that vowed us in the SF Opera Ring Cycle, Ninna Stemme and Brandon Jovanovich, and an insane recreation of the marathon concert that saw the world premiere of the 5th Symphony (ta-ta-ta-dum), the 6th Symphony (the Pastoral, with the bird calls) and the 4th Piano Concerto (Emperor). Let's pause a second to let this sink in. MTT also pairs Beethoven with local and upcoming composer/electronica DJ Mason Bates, the whole concert incongruously introduced by Rossini's rather insouciant overture to the Thieving Magpie.
For his 70th birthday, MTT will conduct Liszt's Hexameron for 6 pianos and orchestra where the six soloists will be the birthday boy plus a dream team of Emanuel Ax, Jeremy Denk, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Yuja Wang. MTT also get to conduct one of his "other" orchestras, the London Symphony orchestra (he's principal guest conductor there) in Davies, which is like inviting your lover in the conjugal bed.
Other notable concerts: a John Cage celebration, a repeat of the large scale spacial music experiment Ice Field by Henry Brand, created here in 2001 and oddly squeezed between a Bach Brandenburg concerto and a Tchaikovsky symphony; new works and SF premieres of Samuel Adams (as well as repeat works from his dad, John Adams and a piece by the not related John Luther Adams), Thomas Ades (with unavoidable videos from his partner Tal Rosner), Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Among the many great soloists who will visit Davies, we have a soft spot for Andras Schiff uncompromising approach to the classical style. A few orchestras will come into town, the aforementioned LSO, but also the Academy of St Martin in the Field, the orchestre révolutionnaire et romantique, the LPO, etc. And the SF Symphony will provide the accompaniment for a few movies, including The Godfather or the Wizard of Oz, because why not? There is also a 2001 Space Odyssey themed concert with Richard Strauss Also Sprach Zarathustra and Ligeti's Lux aeterna, but this one falls in the serious category. Well, it features the Johann Strauss Jr's Blue Danube Waltz, so maybe not.
SF Performances will open their season at the end of the month, and they present the same mix of new talent (like Kuok Wai Lio) and established performers, including among others pianists Yuja Wang, Stephen Hough, Garrick Ohlson, violinist Hillary Hahn, mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter in recitals, and a concert of Philip Glass piano pieces performed, among others, by the composer himself.
The New Century Chamber Orchestra welcomes new composer-in-residence and clarinetist Derek Bermel with a sampler of his works on September 11 through 13. The Philharmonia Baroque kicks off its season with charming and down-to-earth cellist Steven Isserlis.
On the other side of the Bay, Cal Performances had an early start with Yo-Yo Ma at the Greek Theater. Next it's performers like Susan Graham, Audra McDonald, Jordi Savall, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock that make us almost wish we lived in the East Bay. The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players artistic director Steven Schick will curate the Ojai North Festival, for our annual fix of new and modern music.
Please leave your favorite concerts that I have not listed in comments!