San Francisco Ballet ends Season with a flourish

Maria Kochetkova and Joseph Walsh in Wheeldon’s ‘Cinderella’ © Erik Tomasson

For the finale of a season characterized by a wealth of fabulous and imaginative productions, San Francisco Ballet really has no other option than to go out with a flourish – and Christopher Wheeldon’s magnificent production of Cinderella is just the ticket.

Wheeldon is regarded as the most successful choreographer of his generation, so it came as no surprise that, when a Broadway revival of An American in Paris was planned, Wheeldon was asked not only to do the choreography, but to direct the production as well. The huge success that it achieved in New York (and is currently enjoying in London’s West End) tells us all we need to know about the Midas touch of this extraordinarily talented artist.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s ‘Cinderella’ © Erik Tomasson

True to style, Christopher Wheeldon was never going to serve up a traditional interpretation of Cinderella, but he’s drawn on both the Perrault and Brothers Grimm versions of the fairytale as the basis for his storyline, and then added tiers of his own ingenuity, to deliver a simply magical result. He’s created a ‘living’ tree as the focus for Cinderella following the death of her mother, replaced the Fairy Godmother with four ‘Fates’ to guide and protect her – and the brilliance behind the creation of her coach is pure genius.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s ‘Cinderella’ © Erik Tomasson

Wheeldon’s Cinderella, a co-production between the Dutch National Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, was created on both companies simultaneously in 2012. It’s been described by The Washington Post as “an utterly exquisite production”, and so it is – the result of a collaboration between some wonderfully creative artists, which Wheeldon has used to spectacular effect. The stunning sets and exquisite costumes are by Julian Crouch (the Metropolitan Opera and Broadway) special effects by Obie Award winner and MacArthur Foundation Fellow, Basil Twist (the tree and that coach!), with lighting by Natasha Katz, and projection design by Daniel Brodie.

Maria Kochetkova in Wheeldon’s ‘Cinderella’ © Erik Tomasson

Wheeldon has also retained Prokofiev’s absolutely gorgeous score which, although not as well known as that for his Romeo and Juliet, is every bit as lovely, filled with sumptuous melodies and the full range of variations in true classical ballet tradition. Prokofiev started writing the score in 1940 – a work initially intended for the then Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky), but due to the intervention of World War II, he moved it aside and didn’t return to it for two years. When it was finally completed, operational problems caused by the War prevented the Kirov from mounting the production, and it was premiered by the Bolshoi Ballet instead, in November 1945. The ballet was a tremendous success, and the score was one of the Prokofiev works named when he was awarded a Stalin State Prize shortly afterwards.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s ‘Cinderella’ © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet’s presentation of Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella is enchanting, touching, romantic and humorous, brilliantly conceived and a true spectacle. The San Francisco Ballet Orchestra is conducted by Martin West, and the production opens at the War Memorial Opera House this evening, running until May 7. For further information and tickets visit

San Francisco Ballet program notes – by Cheryl A Ossola

San Francisco Symphony program notes – James M Keller

Christopher Wheeldon

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At a glance ……

The Omar Sosa Quartet – Courtesy SFJAZZ

Omar Sosa in residence at SFJAZZ

Cuban pianist Omar Sosa – “… one of the truly illuminated minds of world jazz ….” (Billboard) is causing something of a stir on the San Francisco jazz scene this week – he’s in residence at SFJAZZ for four performances. In two of these, Sosa performs with his Quarteto AfroCubano – Ernesto Simpson on drums, electric bassist Childo Tomas and Leandro Saint-Hill on saxophone and flute. Sosa’s special guest is percussionist John Santos, one of the founding artistic directors of SFJAZZ.

These performances are followed by an evening with the Omar Sosa JOG Trio, with Joo Kraus on trumpet, percussionist Mino Cinelu, and special guest Yosvany Terry on saxophones. In his final performance, Sosa appears as part of the GFS Trio, with Trilok Gurtu on percussion and Paolo Fresu on trumpet and flugelhorn.

High praise for Sosa comes from the Chicago Tribune, which writes: “Although Cuba has produced more than its share of leonine jazz pianists, Sosa stands out among them because of the crystalline beauty of his touch and the nimbleness of his technique”.

For more information and tickets, visit

Saleem Ashkar – Courtesy Saleem Abboud Ashkar

Saleem Ashkar in recital in Berkeley

Saleem Ashkar – who, according to the Berliner Morgenpost balances “thoughtfulness and virtuosic abandon with playfulness and beauty of sound” – gives a recital of music by Beethoven at Hertz Hall in Berkeley this week. He was given his opportunity to shine by none other than Zubin Mehta who invited Ashkar to perform the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1 with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra when he was just 17 years old.

For more information and tickets, visit the Cal Performances website.

Anna Netrebko as Tatiana and Peter Mattei as Onegin in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin – © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Met Opera’s Eugene Onegin Live in HD

In its current Live in HD broadcast series, the Metropolitan Opera this week presents Tchaikovsky’s heartrending adaptation of Pushkin’s verse novel, Eugene Onegin.  This production – a revival of Deborah Warner’s staging which opened the Met’s 2013-14 season – is led by British conductor Robin Ticciati, and hosted by Renée Fleming.  It stars Anna Netrebko as the naïve heroine Tatiana, Peter Mattei in the title role, with Alexey Dolgov as Onegin’s one-time friend Lenski, Elena Maximova as Tatiana’s sister Olga, and Štefan Kocán as Prince Gremin.

According to the New York Times, “Ms. Netrebko put everything on the line during the great ‘letter scene’ … Her distinctive sound, warm and sumptuous with a dusky cast, and her raw intensity combined to convey the longing and fear embedded in every phrase”. Of the “charismatic baritone” Peter Mattei, the New York Times wrote that he “…. sounded lustrous as the title character, vividly conveying Onegin’s transformation from the aloof, coldhearted bachelor who patronizingly rejects Tatiana to the heartbroken man who realizes, too late, that he loves her”.

Eugene Onegin will be staged at the Metropolitan Opera at 12.55 pm ET on Saturday, April 22, and transmitted live to cinemas across the country. Follow this link to find San Francisco cinemas and screening times.

Eugene Onegin will also be broadcast live in the Bay Area on Classical KDFC on Saturday morning at 9.55 am. Visit for frequencies, or to listen online.

Ragnar Bohlin and Capella SF – Courtesy Capella SF

Capella SF performs in Berkeley

Ragnar Bohlin, director of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus for nearly a decade, is the inspiration behind the formation of the 24-voice Capella SF, regarded as one of the Bay Area’s most exciting new artistic ventures. This program includes music by Bach, Ola Gjeilo (a World Premiere) and Arvo Pärt, and the performance takes place at Hertz Hall in Berkeley on April 22.

For more information and tickets, visit the Cal Performances website.

Pianist Murry Perahia – Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Murray Perahia in recital at Davies Symphony Hall

The San Francisco Symphony presents American pianist Murray Perahia in recital at Davies Symphony Hall on April 25 with a program of great masterworks for piano. In a career spanning more than 40 years, Murray Perahia is one of today’s most sought-after pianists, having performed with the world’s leading orchestra’s in major international music centers around the globe. Currently Principal Guest Conductor of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Mr Perahia is also an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, holds honorary doctorates from Leeds University and Duke University, and in 2004, was awarded an honorary KBE by Her Majesty The Queen, in recognition of his outstanding service to music.

His recital program, at Davies Symphony Hall, includes Bach’s French Suite No 6, Schubert’s Impromptus, D.935, Mozart’s Rondo in A minor, and Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in C minor, Opus 111.  For further information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Marc-André Hamelin – © Sim Canetty-Clarke


Leif Ove Andsnes – © Chris Aadland

Hamelin and Andsnes in recital

There’s an unusual opportunity to see internationally acclaimed pianists Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin make a joint appearance in a two piano/four-hands recital, presented by San Francisco Performances early next week. The program is interesting as well, featuring three rarely-heard works – one of which is Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring performed as a Concerto for Two Pianos, the format in which Stravinsky originally published the score in 1913. It was this version which the composer played, with Claude Debussy at a private party in the home of French critic Louis Laloy. The other works on the program are Mozart’s Larghetto and Allegro in E-flat major, and Debussy’s En Blanc et Noir.

Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin appear at the Herbst Theatre on April 25. For more information, and tickets, visit

The cast of ‘Noises Off’ at the San Francisco Playhouse – © Jessica Palopoli

Noises Off continues successful run at SF Playhouse

Susi Damilano’s marvelous production of Michael Frayn’s priceless comedy Noises Off continues to delight audiences at the San Francisco Playhouse. Acknowledged as one of the most popular plays in the world, this play-within-a-play, strips to the bare bones the backstage antics involved in producing a farce, in the process making fun of the world of the theatre, and those who move within its rarefied atmosphere, in truly hilarious fashion.

For more information, and tickets, visit the San Francisco Playhouse website.


Metropolitan Opera
San Francisco Symphony
San Francisco Performances
The Kennedy Center
San Francisco Playhouse


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Orozco-Estrada leads SF Symphony in all-Russian program with Denis Kozhukhin

Conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada leads the San Francisco Symphony – Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada makes his debut with the San Francisco Symphony in two Russian masterworks at Davies Symphony Hall this week – the notoriously challenging Prokofiev Piano Concerto No 2, with guest pianist Denis Kozhukhin, and Rachmaninoff’s gorgeous Second Symphony.

Born in Colombia and trained in Vienna – where he now resides – Andrés Orozco-Estrada rose to international prominence in 2004, leading the Tonkünstler Orchestra Niederösterreich in a performance at the Vienna Musikverein. Not only was this followed by engagements with many international orchestras, but it resulted in the formation of a highly successful relationship with the Tonkünstler Orchestra, where Maestro Orozco-Estrada served as Music Director from the 2009-10 season for four years.

In September 2014 he took up the roles of Music Director of the Houston Symphony, and Chief Conductor of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, the latter appointment prompting the Darmstädter Echo to comment that the Orchestra had found “a conductor who equally values achieving tonal finesse and unleashing the epic nature of the music. The result – a narrative force which captures the listener from the very first bars”.

According to the Kölner Stadtanzeiger in June the following year, “Orozco-Estrada blends blazing musical impulse with the utmost alertness to every orchestral detail”, and the Kölner Stadtanzeiger wrote that it was obvious that he delights in making music. “His elegant rippling motions and vehement gripping gestures are fiery and inspiring.”

Since the 2015-16 season, Andrés Orozco-Estrada has also been the Principal Guest Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. This season sees his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic, and tours to Budapest, Warsaw, Monte Carlo, the Dresden Music Festival, and across Spain. He accompanies the Filarmónica Joven de Colombia on their first European tour, and will also tour Europe with the Houston Symphony in its European debut.

Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin – Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin made his first appearance in San Francisco in 2014, with the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic, as part of the San Francisco Symphony’s Great Performers Series, and this week he makes his debut appearances with the Symphony itself. Having won the Prix d’Honneur at the Verbier Festival in 2003, he has since appeared at a number of the world’s leading festivals and concert halls, among them the Progetto Martha Argerich in Lugano, Berliner Philharmonie, Kölner Philharmonie, Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival, Carnegie Hall, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Auditorio Nacional Madrid, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia Milan, Théâtre du Châtelet and Auditorium du Louvre Paris.

Denis Kozhukin’s performance of the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No 2 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, led by Emmanuel Krivine, was met with rave reviews. According to the Chicago Tribune last November, his “dazzling performance … must have lifted Orchestra Hall a few feet off its foundation.…  Even in a day when keyboard virtuosos are thick on the ground, Kozhukhin is special.”

The Chicago Classical Review described him as “one of the most technically equipped pianists of our time, and he romped through the myriad challenges and digital landmines of this score with remarkable accuracy and finesse… The concluding pages were simply spellbinding, Kozhukhin throwing off Prokofiev’s spiky virtuosity at a speed that often left his hands a blur.”

Highlights of Denis Kozhukhin’s current season include appearances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Philadelphia Orchestra, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Frankfurt Radio Symphony, Czech Philharmonic, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic, Toronto Symphony, and Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.

Also an enthusiastic chamber musician, Denis Kozhukhin has worked with artists of the calibre of Leonidas Kavakos, Renaud and Gautier Capuçon, Janine Jansen, Vadim Repin, Julian Rachlin, the Jerusalem Quartet, the Pavel Haas Quartet, Radovan Vlatkovic, Jörg Widmann, Emmanuel Pahud and Alisa Weilerstein.

Andrés Orozco-Estrada leads the San Francisco Symphony in the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No 2 – with guest soloist Denis Kozhukhin – and the Rachmaninoff Symphony No 2, at Davies Symphony Hall from April 19 to 22. For more information and tickets visit the San Francisco Symphony website


Artists’ websites:

Andrés Orozco-Estrada

Denis Kozhukhin

San Francisco Symphony program notes by James M Keller:

Prokofiev Piano Concerto No 2

Rachmaninoff Symphony No 2


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SFJAZZ Collective plays Miles Davis – now here’s the album

The release of a new album by the SFJAZZ Collective is always worth celebrating, and anyone who attended their four-night residency between October 20 and 23 at the SFJAZZ Center last year, will know that their latest album was recorded live at these concerts, and also that it features the music of Miles Davis, together with a selection of the Collective’s own compositions.

On Disc One of this limited edition album, the Collective plays new arrangements of classic works either composed by Davis, or music associated with the legendary trumpeter, bandleader and composer, and on Disc 2 new, original works written by members of the group.

Unusually, this award-winning group doesn’t have a leader – they’re all stars, regarded as some of the finest performers and composers in jazz today, and they come from far and wide – Ohio, Baltimore, Miami, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and New Zealand. Miguel Zenón plays alto sax, David Sánchez tenor sax, Sean Jones is on trumpet, Robin Eubanks on trombone, the pianist is Edward Simon,  Warren Wolf is on vibraphone, Matt Penman plays bass, and the drummer is Obed Calvaire.

Writing original music, and celebrating the work of major modern artists, the Collective has in previous years cast the spotlight on jazz greats like Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Horace Silver, Stevie Wonder and Chick Corea, producing music which SFJAZZ describes as “explosive and refined, orchestrally sumptuous and ferociously swinging”.

The release of this album also coincides with the SFJAZZ Collective’s Spring 2017 Tour, during which they’re taking in performances in Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on May 6. Details can be found on this link.

The SFJAZZ Collective © Jay Blakesberg

SFJAZZ Collective: Music of Miles Davis and Original Compositions, Live: SFJAZZ Center 2016 is available exclusively through SFJAZZ – and is not available in stores. Each CD set is numbered, and the booklet that goes with the 2-disc album contains exclusive photos from the live performances at the SFJAZZ Center, liner notes by jazz journalist Jesse Hamlin, insights by the musicians, and artist bios.

Copies can be ordered from, or bought at the SFJAZZ Center, 201 Franklin Street, in San Francisco with a 10% discount for members.


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Three works ‘Made for SF Ballet’

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s ‘Trio’ © Erik Tomasson

An important facet of the culture of San Francisco Ballet is the breadth and content of its repertoire.  The company can justly be proud of the number of contemporary works it performs, and regularly commissions new works from some of today’s most illustrious choreographers – names such as Christopher Wheeldon, Liam Scarlett, Yuri Possokhov, Alexi Ratmansky, Justin Peck, Myles Thatcher, now Arthur Pita as well, and SF Ballet’s Artistic Director, Helgi Tomasson, who is also the company’s Principal Choreographer.

In its penultimate program of the current season San Francisco Ballet presents three neo-classical works, each choreographed specifically for the company – Tomasson’s Trio, Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour, and a world premiere, Ghost in the Machine, by its own Myles Thatcher.

The program opens with Trio, which Tomasson set to Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence.  Where, one wonders, would the world of ballet be without Tchaikovsky?  Apart from the scores for his three major ballets, Tchaikovsky wrote what seems like countless pieces which could have been composed solely for dancing –  they adapt so perfectly for the purpose – but Swan Lake, written in the latter part of his life, was his first.  The scores for Onegin and Francesca da Rimini come to mind, and Balanchine used works by Tchaikovsky for his Serenade, the Meditation pas de deux, the Diamonds variation in Jewels, his Mozartiana, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 2 and Tchaikovsky Suite No 3 – and no doubt there are many more.

Tiit Helimets, Sarah Van Patten and Aaron Robison in Tomasson’s ‘Trio’ © Erik Tomasson

Souvenir de Florence was originally written as a four-movement string sextet, for the Saint Petersburg Chamber Music Society, a work on which the composer started work whilst in Florence writing his opera The Queen of Spades. It premiered at a private performance in 1890, but – not entirely satisfied with what he’d produced – Tchaikovsky started revising the work the following year, and the final version received its public premiere at the end of 1892, at a performance by the Saint Petersburg Russian Musical Society.

Presented in three movements – the Scherzo and Finale being performed as one – Trio opens with a display of expansive waltz sequences by a group of elegantly clad couples in shades of deep magenta and burgundy – the women’s skirts billowing and flowing as they revel in the grandeur of the occasion. The Andante – probably the most well-known movement of this work – begins as a pas de deux between two lovers, until a third figure, representing death, intrudes on their reverie. By contrast, the last movement is spirited and lively – the steps of the dancers reflecting the vitality of the Slavic-style music.

San Francisco Ballet in Thatcher’s ‘Ghost In The Machine’ © Erik Tomasson

Corps de ballet member Myles Thatcher is certainly making his mark on the world of choreography – having written works for both New York City Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet, in addition to his first creation for San Francisco Ballet. Characterized by his creative lifts and group formations, all his works have been highly acclaimed.

Vanessa Zahorian, Joseph Walsh and Isabella DeVivo in Thatcher’s ‘Ghost In The Machine’ © Erik Tomasson

Thatcher’s latest work for his home company, Ghost in the Machine, was inspired by his realization that as human beings we all need a relationship with others – a spirit of community, he calls it – to help us deal with the issues that we face in life, and this is the theme on which he’s built in this latest work. For the score he’s chosen seven pieces by British composer Michael Nyman – probably most widely known for his soundtrack for The Piano – but whose output includes concert works, chamber music and operas as well – and he’s also an accomplished journalist, writer and visual artist too.

Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham in Wheeldon’s ‘Within The Golden Hour’ © Erik Tomasson

The extraordinarily talented Christopher Wheeldon, Artistic Associate of The Royal Ballet, is the choreographer behind the final work in this program – a ballet entitled Within the Golden Hour which he created for San Francisco Ballet as part of the 2008 New Works Festival. The original score – by Italian minimalist composer Ezio Bosso – comprises six pieces for strings, to which he’s added the Andante from Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in B-flat Major.

The golden hour of the title refers to that time of day – before sunset – when everything is cast in a mellow golden light.  Regarded as one of Wheeldon’s finest works, Within the Golden Hour features seven couples, forming groups and moving away again. At the center of the work are three pas de deux, each characterized by a different theme – light, sensual and confrontational – and for the finale all 14 dancers come together for what’s described as “a thrilling ending of pulsating intensity” (The Royal Ballet).

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s ‘Within The Golden Hour’ © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet’s Made for SF Ballet, with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra led by Martin West, opens at the War Memorial Opera House this evening, and runs until April 18.  For more information on all performances, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website .


Helgi Tomasson

Myles Thatcher

Michael Nyman

Christopher Wheeldon

Ezio Bosso



San Francisco Ballet program notes by Cheryl A Ossola

San Francisco Symphony program notes by James M Keller

The Guardian

Royal Opera House program notes

Return of San Francisco Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake’

Maria Kochetkova and Joseph Walsh in San Francisco Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake’ © Erik Tomasson

It’s no wonder that San Francisco Ballet has once more brought its production of Swan Lake to the stage of the War Memorial Opera House.  It’s a ballet that has absolutely everything – a magnificent score, captivating choreography, and a plot which revolves around a passionate love story, taking on the battle between good and evil. Visually, it’s awe-inspiring as well, with some fascinating contrasts – the crystalline white tutus of the swan maidens against the colorful costumes of the character dances, and the settings which move from the lake in the forest to the grandeur of the royal household. So, despite its rather inauspicious introduction to the world, it’s not hard to see why Swan Lake has been a work beloved of ballet-going audiences for over the past one hundred years.

Tchaikovsky wrote the score to the ballet in 1875, in response to a commission by the director of the Moscow Imperial Theatre, Vladimir Begichev, who was eager to promote the artistry of Russia’s master composer. It’s also believed that Begichev crafted the story of Swan Lake, which was most likely to have been adapted from Russian and Germanic folk and fairy tales.

The original version of Swan Lake was written by choreographer Julius Reisinger, who is considered to be the father of Czech professional ballet, and who had been appointed to the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.  Swan Lake premiered there on February 20, 1877, but the production was not well received.  Interestingly, Tchaikovsky’s music – his first for a ballet – was considered to be the weakest aspect.  What he had composed – according to program notes from the Mariinsky Theatre – was a symphonic work that was “structurally unlike ballet music of the time”, and that such innovation “demanded similar inspiration in the choreography” – inspiration that wasn’t evident in that first production, nor in those that followed during the 1880s.

It wasn’t until 1895, following a concert held at the Mariinsky Theatre in memory of Tchaikovsky, that Marius Petipa, director of the Mariinsky Ballet company, decided to stage a ballet at the Imperial Theatre in St Petersburg, using the composer’s debut score. He and his assistant Lev Ivanov re-choreographed the ballet, and composer Riccardo Drigo was charged with revising the score – the version which most choreographers follow today. The premiere of this new and hugely influential interpretation of Swan Lake took place on January 15, 1895 – and it’s now acknowledged to be one of the most popular ballets in the repertoire.

Maria Kochetkova and Joseph Walsh in the Black Swan pas de deux of San Francisco Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake’ © Erik Tomasson

There are probably almost as many variations in the interpretation of Swan Lake as there are artistic directors and choreographers, possibly because it’s sufficiently adaptable to accommodate a degree of re-interpretation without deviating significantly from its classical origins. In Helgi Tomasson’s production, introduced to San Francisco Ballet in 1988, he included a Prologue to set the scene for the story that follows, and changed the setting of Act I from the interior of an Imperial-style palace to a street scene outside the palace walls.  This backdrop, according to designer Jonathan Fensom, was inspired by the architecture and decor of San Francisco’s City Hall and War Memorial Opera House, and the Louvre in Paris. While die-hard fans of the traditional version of Swan Lake might not necessarily approve of these changes, San Francisco Ballet isn’t afraid to be viewed as modern in its thinking.

Choreographically, Tomasson has also put his own mark on this version of Swan Lake – with the exception of Act II, and the Black Swan pas de deux in Act III. These remain true to tradition, and each retains its heart-in-mouth variation – the Dance of the Four Cygnets in Act II, and Odile’s thirty-two fouettés in Act III. Of the former, corps de ballet member Emma Rubinowitz says: “Corps de ballet work is always very challenging because you’re in such close proximity with each other yet you all have to move in unison. With the four cygnets, it’s an extreme because you’re physically connected – you’re essentially one dancer. It’s tiring and it happens so quickly, but once it’s over, even though you’re exhausted, you feel like you’ve accomplished something great together.”

Dancers are unlikely to be put off by a challenge, though, as the dual role of Odette/Odile proves. It’s one of those which is widely coveted, despite the extreme level of technical expertise required, and also the huge emotional price it exacts from a dancer in portraying two very different characters – the gentle, almost fragile, Odette, and the steely, conniving Odile.  Dancers, however, are not known to have chosen their profession for an easy life!

San Francisco Ballet, with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra conducted by Martin West, performs Helgi Tomasson’s Swan Lake at the War Memorial Opera House until April 15. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website.

San Francisco Ballet in Helgi Tomasson’s ‘Swan Lake’ © Erik Tomasson


San Francisco Ballet program notes – by Cheryl A Ossala

Ballet in Russia

The History Channel

Mariinsky Theatre program notes

The Royal Opera House program notes


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San Francisco Playhouse is brilliantly on cue with ‘Noises Off’

The cast of ‘Noises Off’ – Craig Marker, Nanci Zoppi, Johnny Moreno, Monique Hafen, Richard Louis James, Greg Ayers, Monica Ho, Kimberly Richards, Patrick Russell

We all enjoy a good laugh, and if the object of our mirth is frothy, fun and completely ridiculous, so much the better.  Michael Frayn’s Noises Off has arrived at the San Francisco Playhouse, to deliver just that sort of escapist lift – and deliver it certainly does.  Having originated at London’s Old Vic in 1982, it’s acknowledged as one of the most popular plays in the world, and it’s perfectly obvious why.

In this good old-fashioned British comedy – nobody seems to do this sort of thing quite as well as the British – Frayn, in his play-within-a-play, strips to the bare bones the backstage antics involved in producing a farce, and ends up making fun of the world of the theatre, and those who move within its rarefied atmosphere, in truly hilarious fashion.

Pandemonium breaks loose as the cast of ‘Nothing On’ rehearses a scene from the farce the night before opening. (From left: Richard Louis James, Nanci Zoppi, Craig Marker, Patrick Russell, Monique Hafen)

Noises Off recounts the theatrical prowess – or lack thereof – of a troupe of touring actors and actresses whose careers are on a downward slope –  and who, together with their (understandably) irascible producer, are trying to make a professional-looking fist of a badly written play called Nothing OnNothing On is your classic door-slamming, completely-missing-the-obvious, farce complete with the obligatory dropped trousers, scantily clad lady – and a number of sardines flying around.

Frayn got the idea for Noises Off while watching Lynn Redgrave and Richard Briers perform five roles between them during a 1970 production entitled The Two of Us.  As the story goes, he became fascinated by their fast-moving entrances and exits, and thought that the play was far funnier seen from behind than from the front.  He was right.

Director Lloyd (Johnny Moreno, right) gives direction to Selsdon (Richard Louis James, left) as assistant stage manager Poppy (Monica Ho) looks on

Act I of  Noises Off shows the final rehearsal before the opening night of Nothing On, which takes place in the Grand Theatre, Weston-super-Mare.  They say in theatrical circles that a bad rehearsal means a successful opening, and it’ll be all right on the night etc, but as the rehearsal descends from bad to disastrous, one is left wondering.

The second act shows the same act of the same play – but a month later – and this time in production at the Theatre Royal, Ashton-under-Lyme, but here we go backstage to witness the utter chaos taking place behind the scenes.  The mimed arguments going on between the various members of the cast have to be seen to be appreciated.  Pure genius.  As far as the production of Nothing On is concerned, it seems that not much has improved since opening night.

Belinda (Nanci Zoppi) tries to salvage an ill-fated performance, while Frederick (Craig Marker), Dotty (Kimberly Richards), and Garry (Patrick Russell) look on

In the final act, we see the same act of Nothing On but back on stage (are you still with me?) in a production taking place near the end of its tour, at the Municipal Theatre, Stockton-on-Tees – and it’s perfectly obvious that the hapless cast has most definitely not managed to overcome either their professional ‘inadequacies’ or the problems with their personal feuds, friendships, liaisons and weaknesses.

Director Susi Damilano and the cast of Noises Off deliver an absolutely splendid production, with fabulously funny portrayals of the all-too-predictable members of the touring theatre group, split-second timing and amazing acrobatics – involving tumbling down a staircase, and jumping up same with trousers around ankles. It would be unfair to single out any performance for commendation – and in any event, if I tried to explain who’s playing whom and in which play, I’d throw you into a state of total confusion.  Suffice to say that every single member of the cast – Kimberly Richards, Johnny Moreno, Patrick Russell, Monique Hafen, Monica Ho, Nanci Zoppi, Craig Marker, Greg Ayers and Richard Louis James – is hilariously marvelous (or should that be marvelously hilarious?) and they look as though they’re enjoying themselves every bit as much as the audience undoubtedly was.

The sets at the Playhouse are always a revelation, and this one – by George Maxwell – is no exception.  In every way, this is a simply superb production.

The cast of the farce ‘Nothing On’ muddles through an ill-fated performance. (From left: Monique Hafen, Richard Louis James, Kimberly Richards, Greg Ayers, Nanci Zoppi)

If you’ve seen Noises Off  in a previous production, you’ll almost certainly want to see it again, to relive everything about this play that makes it such an enjoyable experience – and if you’ve never seen it, do yourself (and as many friends as you can muster) a favor, so that you’ll know what everyone’s talking – and laughing – about.

Noises Off runs at the San Francisco Playhouse until May 13.  For more information, and tickets, visit the Playhouse website.

All photographs © Jessica Palopoli


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At a glance ….

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony – © Bill Swerbenski

MTT & San Francisco Symphony play Mahler
This week, Michael Tilson Thomas and the Symphony present an all-Mahler program, featuring the lovely Adagio from his unfinished and final Symphony No 10, and his Symphony No 1 – the composer’s love of nature evident throughout the work.  MTT is known to adore the music of this composer – little wonder then that he and the Symphony have won seven Grammy Awards for their recordings of Mahler’s symphonies.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony in works by Mahler at Davies Symphony Hall from March 30 to April 2. For tickets, and further information, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Poster for ‘Indian Connections’ series at SFJAZZ – Courtesy SFJAZZ

Indian Connections at SFJAZZ
The theme at SFJAZZ this week is Indian Connections – a series of performances by three different sets of artists.  On March 30, percussionist Karsh Kale – described by Billboard as “A visionary composer and producer” – presents Classical Science Fiction, the name of his 1999 debut EP.  Kale is joined by sarodist Alam Khan, Max ZT on the hammered dulcimer, and Carnatic vocalist Aditya Prakash.

Red Baraat Festival of Colors takes the stage on March 31. Led by Sunny Jain on the dhol – the double-headed barrel drum so widely used in Indian music – this octet from Brooklyn serves up what SFJAZZ refers to as “a raucously fun mix of Indian bhangra rhythms, go-go music, jazz, hip-hop and Crescent City brass funk”.

On Saturday, April 1, under the banner Miles From India, a full ensemble of Indian musicians re-imagines the music of Miles Davis as featured on his 1972 album On the Corner. This project, nominated for a 2008 GRAMMY, was inspired by the Indian instrumentation on the Davis album, and has been described by Billboard as “Arguably the most ambitious and certainly the most hybrid of Miles Davis tribute projects … a scintillating cross-pollination of music rooted in extended improvisations and buoyed by the sonic spice of Indian instruments”.

The Indian Connections performances take place in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ from March 30 to April 1. For tickets and more information, visit the SFJAZZ website.

Members of the ODC/Dance company – © R J Muna

ODC/Dance Downtown
Contemporary dance company ODC/Dance presents the second program of its 46th annual home season – ODC/Dance Downtown – featuring two works by Founder & Artistic Director, Brenda Way. The first of these is a world premiere entitled What we carry What we keep, which deals with what Way describes as “this human obsession with stuff”, and is set to music by Joan Jeanrenaud. It’s followed by Way’s 2016 creation Walk Back the Cat – described as “a metaphorical unraveling of the creative process”, with music by Paul Dresher. Two of the performances – those on March 31 and April 2 – feature a pre-show balcony talk.

ODC/Dance is at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for four performances, from March 30 to April 2. Tickets are Available at 415-978-ARTS (2787) or online at, where more information can be found.

Michael Morgan with the Oakland Symphony – Courtesy Oakland Symphony

Oakland Symphony plays Bruckner, Dvořák and Gabriela Frank
On Friday evening, Michael Morgan leads the Oakland Symphony in a performance which opens with Bruckner’s Te Deum, featuring soprano Hope Briggs, mezzo-soprano Betany Coffland, tenor Amitai Pati and bass Anthony Reed. It’s followed by Dvořák’s Symphony No 9, From the New World – “a piece of which I never tire” says Music Director Michael Morgan – and the program closes with a work entitled Concertino Cusqueño by Bay Area composer Gabriela Frank, “whose music,” says Morgan, “is way overdue on our programs”.

Michael Morgan conducts the Oakland Symphony in works by Bruckner, Dvořák and Gabriela Frank at the Paramount Theatre, Oakland, on Friday, March 31. The concert will be preceded by lobby entertainment and a talk by John Kendall Bailey at 7 pm, free to holders of tickets which can be purchased at

Baritone Sol Jin – Courtesy San Francisco Opera

Schwabacher Debut Recitals
The second performance in this current series of four Schwabacher Debut Recitals takes place on Sunday. Presented by San Francisco Opera Center and the Merola Opera Program, these recitals highlight the talents of the next generation of operatic stars.  This particular performance features baritone Sol Jin – a winner of the 2016 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and recently named by Opera News as one of their ‘25 rising stars’ – and pianist Kirill Kuzmin, a 2014/2015 Merola Opera Program apprentice coach who is currently a pianist and vocal coach in the Houston Grand Opera Studio.

Pianist Kirill Kuzmin – Courtesy San Francisco Opera

The program includes operatic works by Beethoven, Brahms, Poulenc, Ravel and Paolo Tosti, and takes place in the Taube Atrium Theater in San Francisco. For more information, visit the San Francisco Opera website.

Soprano Deborah Voigt – © Heidi Gutman

Fabio Luisi & the Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Davies Symphony Hall welcomes guest conductor Fabio Luisi and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra for two performances, the first of which stars American soprano Deborah Voigt, of whom the Wall Street Journal writes:  “Not only has her majestic voice made her fans love her, but so has the soprano’s profound feeling for texts and subtleties of musical style …..”.  Ms Voigt performs Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, and the concert also features Carl Nielsen’s Helios Overture, followed by Beethoven’s Symphony No 3, Eroica.

Arabella Steinbacher – Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

The guest soloist in the second performance is German violinist Arabella Steinbacher, among whose assets, says The New York Times “are a finely polished technique and a beautifully varied palette of timbres”.   Ms Steinbacher plays Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major in a program which also features Richard Strauss’ tone poem Don Juan, and Nielsen’s Symphony No 6, Sinfonia semplice.

Fabio Luisi leads the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, with guest artists Deborah Voigt on April 2, and Arabelle Steinbacher on April 3. For more information and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Violinist Wei Luo – © Xie Guichen

San Francisco Performances presents Wei Luo
Chinese pianist Wei Luo is in recital at the Herbst Theater on Sunday, playing works by Shostakovich, Beethoven, Albéniz and Prokofiev. Wei Luo was just 6 when she made her recital debut in Hong Kong, and in 2010 won first prize in the 11th Chopin International Competition for Young Pianists in Poland and the 2nd Rachmaninov International Piano Competition for Young Pianists in Frankfurt. In the same year, she made her orchestra debut with the Shanghai Philharmonic, in a performance of Prokofiev’s Symphony No 3, with conductor Muhai Tang.

Wei Luo appears for San Francisco Performances at the Herbst Theater on Sunday, April 2. For tickets and more information visit


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Ozon’s ‘8 Women’ screens at Alliance Française

© Fidélité Films – uploaded by UniFrance

This week’s movie at the Alliance Française is François Ozon’s 2002 dark comedy, 8 Women, featuring a galaxy of eight legendary female stars – the crème de la crème of the French film industry – Danielle Darrieux, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Ludivine Sagnier and Firmine Richard.

Based on the 1958 Robert Thomas play, 8 Women – described by critic Roger Ebert as “the first Agatha Christie musical” – is set in a snowbound country cottage where these eight women have gathered to celebrate Christmas. There will, however, be no festivities, for the family patriarch, Marcel (Dominique Lamure) – husband of Deneuve’s character, Gaby – has been found murdered in his bed, with a knife in his back.

The roads have been blocked by snowfall, and the telephone lines have been cut. There are also no witnesses, so who committed the murder? Each of the women has a motive, each has something to hide – and a litany of dark family secrets is about to be revealed.

“From its elegantly vintage set to the 50s-style Technicolor,” writes Laura Bushell for BBC Films, “8 Women oozes camp artifice as much as it does acting talent, with each woman sending up her public persona and revelling in the fabulousness of it all.” And in the opinion of Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, “All eight women are something to see and marvel at.  Whatever you call this one-of-a-kind bonbon spiked with wit and malice, it’s classic oo-la-la.”

Winner of 11 awards, and recipient of 29 nominations, 8 Women – in French, with English subtitles – screens at the San Francisco Alliance Française, 1345 Bush Street, on Tuesday, March 28, at 7.00 pm. Admission is free, but a donation of $5 is suggested. For more information visit


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At a glance ……

A scene from ‘Noises Off’ – previewing at the San Francisco Playhouse this week – Courtesy SF Playhouse

Comedy at the San Francisco Playhouse

Previewing at the San Francisco Playhouse this week is Michael Frayn’s hugely successful British comedy, Noises Off – a play within a play, depicting the drama and hilarious goings-on behind the scenes during the production of a farce by a touring theater troupe. There’s a barrel of laughs in this slapstick comedy – with overblown egos, failing memories, jealousy and passionate affairs.  Noises Off runs at the Playhouse until May 13. For tickets – and to find out more – visit the San Francisco Playhouse website

Joshua Redman – © Jay Blakesberg – Courtesy SFJAZZ

Still Dreaming at SFJAZZ
Still Dreaming – the ensemble comprising the talents of Joshua Redman, Ron Miles, Scott Colley and Brian Blade – is at SFJAZZ this week, with a program inspired by the music of Old and New Dreams, the 1980’s band (featuring Redman’s father, tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman) which celebrated the legacy of  Ornette Colman, the alto saxophonist and composer described by The New York Times as “one of the most powerful and contentious innovators in the history of jazz”.  Still Dreaming is in the Miner Auditorium from March 23 to 26. More information is available on the SFJAZZ website.

Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony © Spencer Lowell

MTT leads San Francisco Symphony in 20th century greats
The program opens with John Cage’s The Seasons, commissioned by the Ballet Society in 1947, for a work choreographed by Merce Cunningham. It’s followed by Robin Holloway’s Europa and the Bull, written in 2014, portraying “Jupiter’s lustful hankering for the beautiful nymph, Europa” (Robin Holloway), and the concert ends with Bela Bartók’s 1943 five-movement Concerto for Orchestra.  The performances take place at Davies Symphony Hall on March 23 and 24. For more information visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Violinist Nicola Benedetti – © Simon Fowler

Benedetti plays Bruch with MTT and SF Symphony
Nicola Benedetti – “Scotland’s star violinist” according to The Telegraph – is the guest artist on March 25 and 26, playing Max Bruch’s gorgeous Violin Concerto No 1, in a program which also features Cage’s The Seasons and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra.  See more on the San Francisco Symphony website

Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter – Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Anne-Sophie Mutter in recital
As part of the San Francisco Symphony’s Great Performers Series, Anne-Sophie Mutter, with “her peerless technique” (The Independent) is in recital at Davies Symphony Hall on Sunday March 26, with pianist Lambert Orkis. Ms Mutter plays Mozart’s Violin Sonata in A major, and Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo capriccioso. This recital is a co-presentation with San Francisco Performances.   Find out more on the San Francisco Symphony website

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge – Courtesy King’s College, Cambridge

Choir of King’s College, Cambridge at Zellerbach Hall
Cal Performances presents a concert of works by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, under Director of Music Stephen Cleobury. Included in a program drawn from the English choral tradition are works such as Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine, Gabrielli’s O magnum mysterium and Purcell’s I was glad, sung with “the precision and grace that make this choir world famous” (The Guardian).

The National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine – Courtesy National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine

Also appearing at Zellerbach Hall this weekend is the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, led by Theodore Kuchar, playing Verdi’s Overture to La forza del destino, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3 – with soloist Alex Slobodyanik – and the Shostakovich Symphony No 5.
The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge are at Zellerbach Hall on Friday, March 24, and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine on Sunday, March 26.

See more on the CalPerformances website.

Bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum – Courtesy San Francisco Opera

2017 Schwabacher Debut Recitals
San Francisco Opera Center and Merola Opera Program present the first of the 2017 Schwabacher Debut Recitals this weekend. The recital features mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven, bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum (a finalist in the recent Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions) and pianist Mark Morash in a program which includes works by Debussy, Ibert, Korngold and Berg.  It takes place in the Taube Atrium Theater (Veterans Building) on Sunday, March 26. For more information, visit the San Francisco Opera website.

The Emerson String Quartet – © Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Emerson Quartet at Stanford
As part of its 40th anniversary season, the Emerson Quartet appears at the Bing Concert Hall in Stanford on Sunday. Described by The New York Times as “one of the most impressive of American string quartets”, the Quartet – winner of nine Grammy’s – is known for its versatility with new works as well as classics. This performance, which includes works by Ravel, Debussy, and an early quartet by Alban Berg, takes place at the Bing Concert Hall on Friday, March 24. For more information visit the Stanford Live website.


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