face the music
New season highlights for classical music-lovers
by Philip Campbell
It might feel like there is a lot of summertime left, but that's only because the weather stays cool in the city until after Labor Day. Take another look at your calendar, make a pot of coffee, and get ready to face the music of autumn. It's time for classical music-lovers to start planning their fall and winter concert attendance.
It would also be smart to secure your seats for some exciting events happening after the New Year. Single ticket sales for both the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony have been available since July, and the New Century Chamber Orchestra (seriously, not to be ignored) opened their box office for individual programs in August.
The SFS opening night gala celebrating the start of season 101 is happening a little late this year. There will actually be two weeks of regular subscription concerts featuring guest conductor Semyon Bychkov before Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas is back in the house.
The venerable institution isn't hanging fire because of a hangover from the amazing centennial season, just doing some heavy juggling with MTT's schedule and commitments abroad. Not having the super conductor on the podium at Davies Symphony Hall until Wednesday, Sept. 19 shouldn't keep us holding our breath for long.
Bychkov, with violinist Pinchas Zukerman in a program of Bruch and Tchaikovsky, and even more enticingly, with an evening devoted to Shostakovich's massive Symphony No. 7, Leningrad, ought to blow the dust off the acoustic discs at Davies, and the arrangement does offer a respite from all the social hoopla surrounding the usual back-to-back opening nights.
Once the Michael is back in charge, this year's gala looks pretty darn swell, with Joshua Bell a suitably glamorous, famous and talented guest artist. Selections from Romeo and Juliet by Berlioz, violin pieces by Chausson and Saint-Saens, and a concluding Ravel's Bolero may not top last year's centennial bash, but the SFS always does opening night with tasteful restraint and flair.
September ends with MTT bringing back the Mahler Fifth, and leading the West Coast premiere of an SFS co-commission with the New World Symphony, Drift and Providence (nicely evocative title, don't you think?) by Samuel Carl Adams. The California-born, Brooklyn-based composer is making his own name as a creator of acoustic and electroacoustic music, keeping it fairly quiet that his famous dad John has already made some big shoes for him to fill.
The following weeks include some exciting conductor debuts. Russian Vladimir Jurowski (Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic) is leading a big Russian bill of Scriabin, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. The Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, and guest soloists join in the US premiere of a new arrangement of Prokofiev's thrilling score to a film about Russia's first Tsar, Ivan the Terrible.
Also in October, Dutch violinist and conductor Jaap van Zweden (Music Director of the Dallas Symphony) takes the podium for a weighty program of Wagner and Brahms, sandwiching the return appearance of pianist David Fray and his performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22. Don't let the French virtuoso's GQ looks fool you. He already proved his talent and technique here during his SFS debut in 2010.
MTT closes the month on Halloween night with a subscription series program that features more Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev and the world premiere of SFS Assistant Concertmaster (he started in 1972) Mark Volkert's work for string orchestra, Pandora (another good title). That concert also brings pianist Yuja Wang to center stage for the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 2.
After the usual round of holiday events, including Handel's Messiah conducted by SFS Chorus Director Ragnar Bohlin, there is a lot of music to consider in 2013. January brings a semi-staged production of Ibsen's Peer Gynt conducted by MTT that includes Grieg's beloved incidental music, supplemented by pieces composed by Alfred Schnittke and Robin Holloway, among others.
Get to the box office tout suite for the first concert performances by an orchestra of Bernstein's West Side Story in June. I don't know how they plan on doing it without dancers, but I don't care, this is a major treat for anyone who loves Bernstein and his greatest score. Could there be anyone better than MTT to make it all happen?
Before we forget, the New Century Chamber Orchestra and Music Director and Concertmaster Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg also have an intriguing season planned. I especially wouldn't want to miss the celebration of Benjamin Britten's centennial with concerts in September that feature soprano Melody Moore singing Les Illuminations. NCCO has enjoyed a surge of energy since Salerno-Sonnenberg joined in 2008.
Nights at the opera
While we're talking about theatrical musical personalities, we had better take a look at 2012-13 at the San Francisco Opera. Music Director Nicola Luisotti opens the 90th season with Verdi's Rigoletto, starring Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic in the title role. I'm looking forward to hearing the role really sung rather than gasped and barked, by a younger specialist who still has the voice. Catch Lucic's stunning performance on DVD in the Nikolaus Lehnhoff production if you need convincing.
There is more glorious Italian melody on tap in late September with Bellini's bel canto treasure I Capuleti e I Montecchi (you know, Romeo and Juliet ). Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato is Romeo, but opera isn't really about gender specificity, and I would look forward to any appearance by the dazzling diva, regardless of her apparel.
The highly anticipated San Francisco premiere of Jake Heggie's and librettist Gene Scheer's Moby-Dick in October will finally bring the work, co-commissioned and produced by the SFO and already a triumph in Dallas and other productions, to the War Memorial. Ben Heppner is Captain Ahab. Jay Hunter Morris (a big hit here in the Ring Cycle as Siegfried) will take over the part at the end of the run.
Also in repertory that month, a production new to SF of Wagner's Lohengrin will star Brandon Jovanovich (another stand-out SFO Ring performer) in the title role, and another SFO veteran, Gerd Grochowski (The Makropulos Case), as Friedrich von Telramund.
Puccini's Tosca opens in mid-November with two bona fide divas as the fiery opera star and tormented lover. Angela Ghorghiu is alternated by Patricia Racette. Talk about luxury casting! The fall-winter season ends in March with a world premiere of a co-production with Cal Performances of The Secret Garden by Nolan Gasser and Carey Harrison. Based on the beloved book by Frances Hodgson Burnette, the project is aimed at luring families and younger audiences to an institution that is often stereotyped as stuffy and elitist. Hey, you don't have to sell me. I know the SFO is not only on the cutting edge, but also endearingly eager to please.