SF Symphony & SF Opera ring in 2017
by Philip Campbell
Before Trump gets Sylvester Stallone to re-consider being posted to the National Endowment for the Arts, let's get real and consider instead some promising musical events scheduled for the City by the Bay in 2017.
The San Francisco Symphony is ringing in the New Year with screenings of Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront. The feature with live orchestra conducted by David Newman will showcase Leonard Bernstein's Oscar-nominated score. Everything about this classic goes over the top, but it's magnificent, and Bernstein's music is a testament to his versatility.
More visuals follow when Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas conducts Mahler's Das klagende Lied: A Semi-staged Event . Soprano Joélle Harvey joins mezzo Sasha Cooke and baritone Brian Mulligan to enact the Grimm-like fairy tale, directed by James Darrah with projections by Adam Larsen.
Other SFS concerts in January feature exciting guest artists French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet playing Ravel, and Dutch violinist Simone Lamsma performing Prokofiev. Also tempting is the visit with the Prague Philharmonia and brilliant cellist Gautier Capucon on Jan. 29. Capucon has already played the Dvorak Concerto with the SFS. Hearing him again in the Czech composer's score with a Czech orchestra offers a fascinating twist.
February brings Conductor Laureate Herbert Blomstedt to DSH for his annual visit. He is famous for Bruckner but no slouch with Beethoven, either. A concert devoted to the mighty Ninth Symphony, the Ode to Joy , and another featuring the Piano Concerto No. 4 with Yefim Bronfman should remind us of his remarkable leadership.
Clubby and exclusive SoundBox features music of American superstar composer John Adams in February celebrating his 70th birthday year, but the late-night venue is a tough ticket. DSH will offer a better seating opportunity mid-month with Adams' thought-provoking The Gospel According to the Other Mary. Ragnar Bohlin's SFS Chorus joins guest soloists, the Orchestra and conductor Joana Carneiro to bring director Peter Sellars' libretto from texts by feminist writers to blazing life.
March will see MTT on the podium for concerts featuring Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, and Bruch's gorgeous Concerto No. 1 with violinist Nicola Benedetti. He closes the month with Mahler's Symphony No. 1. We'll talk about the rest of the rich 2017 season later.
Across Grove Street, life also goes on at the San Francisco Opera. The summer season will soon be upon us, and anticipation runs high for three artistically varied productions. The menu ranges from Verdi's luridly dramatic Rigoletto to Mozart's towering Don Giovanni. Making his SFO debut in the title role, renowned Italian bass-baritone Ildebrando D'Arcangelo should be a strong attraction. Also making his debut is eminent French conductor Marc Minkowski.
Summer ends with Puccini's perfect little heart-breaker La Boheme. The production from 2014 by award-winning scenic designer David Farley is staged amidst a gallery of canvases by Marcello – the painter in the story. It lends a feeling of intimacy and insight to the characters.
For now, there will be family-friendly and edgy performance events keeping the lights on at the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera. A workshop aimed at the very young, First Act: The Little Prince is an affordable chance for parents and friends to introduce kids to opera. The exploration of Antoine de Saint-Exup ry's classic set in opera by Rachel Portman is meant to nurture social development and musical involvement. To paraphrase Miss Jean Brodie, "Give me children at an impressionable age, and they are mine for life." The delightfully hopeful enterprise takes place on the morning of Feb. 11.
For those of us already in their prime, the Taube Atrium Theater presents a ripped-from-the-headlines (and social media) event, The Source, composed by Ted Hearne with a libretto by Mark Doten in a six-performance run starting Feb. 24. The classified info and surrounding hysteria related to Chelsea Manning's association with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are probed in a mixed-media presentation that tries to get at the heart and soul of the troubled whistleblower. You can bring drinks into the theater, and you might want a double.
The Taube Atrium venue encourages relaxed, intimate and immersive concert experiences, but also provokes lively audience response. Recent presentations in 2016 offered chances to hear Ian Robertson's brilliant San Francisco Opera Chorus Out of the Shadows and out of stage make-up, and another get-together, Up Close: The Strings, that showcased members of the SFO Orchestra with Concertmaster Kay Stern and Resident Conductor Jordi Bernacer presiding. The programs were just right: not overlong, but still able to give an in-depth look at the wonderful musicians we rarely get to see without opera glasses. The Atrium needs to gain some mileage before it achieves the desired ambience, but there is already a friendly feeling in the air, and the innovative prospect is heartening.