Behzod Abduraimov debuts with MTT & San Francisco Symphony

Behzod Abduraimov – © Nissor Abdourazakov – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Michael Tilson Thomas is back on the podium at Davies Symphony Hall this week to lead the San Francisco Symphony in a program featuring the SF Symphony debut of Ukranian pianist Behzod Abduraimov, in a performance of the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No 3. The program also includes the world premiere of a work commissioned by MTT and the Symphony – Charles Wuorinen’s Sudden Changes – and Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony.

Behzod Abduraimov is an award-winning recording artist – his debut recital CD won both the Choc de Classica and the Diapason Découverte – and he is also internationally renowned for his appearances as a concert pianist. He made a dazzling debut at the 2016 BBC Proms – with Valery Gergiev and the Münchner Philharmoniker – and returned to the festival the following year. In recent seasons he has appeared with orchestras such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Leipzig Gewandhaus and the London Philharmonic, and with conductors of the caliber of Valery Gergiev, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Manfred Honeck, Vasily Petrenko, James Gaffigan, Jakub Hrůša, Vladimir Jurowski – and now Michael Tilson Thomas.

Mr Abduraimov “… has technique in spades ….. with an attention to detail and emotional engagement that made the Prokofiev piece sparkle”, wrote ARTSATL of a performance of this concerto, and according to Suddeustche Zeitung, “His delicate playing captivates immediately and Abduraimov’s technical security is growing so rapidly that it is soon breath-taking. That’s the sound of a great virtuoso.”

Prokofiev’s gorgeous Piano Concerto No 3 is lyrical, melodic, dramatic and delightful – but apparently fiendishly difficult to play. According to French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in an interview for Gramophone, it’s the most famous and the most played of Prokofiev’s five piano concertos. “It’s simpler and more classical in its structure than the others,” he says, “but it does contain the composer’s trademarks: ballet, fairy tale, magic, sarcasm, irony – and virtuosity”.  M. Bavouzet will be appearing with the Symphony next month.

Charles Wuorinen – © Nina Roberts – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Charles Wuorinen – a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences – is regarded as one of today’s leading composers, whose many honors include a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the Pulitzer Prize in Music. From 1985 to 1989 he was Composer-in-Residence to the San Francisco Symphony – for whom he had already  composed his Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra – and included in his many works is the overture he wrote for the opening concert of the New World Symphony in Miami, when MTT founded this ensemble in 1987.

The concert ends with Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony, which he completed in September 1946. Commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, it was premiered by the Boston Symphony in October of that year, and dedicated “to the memory of my dear friend Natalie Koussevitzky”, the wife of the conductor.

Aaron Copland – via Wikimedia Commons

Copland, one of the conductors striving to produce The Great American Symphony in the aftermath of the Second World War, had in mind a work that would “reflect the euphoric spirit of the country at the time”, in which the strains of his Fanfare for the Common Man are evident, before these develop into a full-blown reprise of his earlier work. There are also references to the haunting themes which he would later use in his score for the Martha Graham ballet Appalachian Spring. According to Leonard Bernstein, “The symphony has become an American monument, like the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial”.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony, with guest artist Behzod Abduraimov, in a program of works by Wuorinen, Prokofiev and Copland at Davies Symphony Hall.  The program, which opens tonight, March 15th, runs until March 17th.  For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.


Information sourced from:

Behzod Abduraimov


The Guardian

San Francisco Symphony program notes:

Wuorinen’s Sudden Changes

Copland – Third Symphony

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Lavay Smith, Red Baraat and Buddy Guy – SFJAZZ has them all

Lavay Smith – © Berkeley Agency

Continuing its celebration of Women’s History Month, SFJAZZ this week presents a series of performances by Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers. Starting on Thursday, March 15th, this glamorous San Francisco-based artist will take over the Joe Henderson Lab with a succession of concerts covering a range of themes which includes great performers, styles of jazz and memorable places in the US.

With her “lush vocal style recalling both Bessie Smith and Dinah Washington” (Los Angeles Times), Lavay Smith is described by The Seattle Times as “the best thing to come out of the jump/swing revival”. She and her seven-piece Red Hot Skillet Lickers – led by arranger and pianist Chris Siebert – have also won plaudits from the San Francisco Examiner: “First-rate vocals…magnificent arrangements…the best combo in town”. 

First off in this eight-concert jazz jamboree is a performance called simply Satch & Fats, a tribute to two of the greatest names in American jazz, whose legacy of fabulous numbers makes it almost impossible to select just a few. This is followed by Red, White and Blues, featuring music inspired by memorable places in the United States. Expect to hear numbers such as Count Basie’s Goin’ to Chicago, and from there take a musical trip to Los Angeles on Route 66.

There’s a performance devoted to Taboo Jazz – featuring numbers associated with Cab Calloway of Cotton Club fame, and the Queen of Jazz whose voice reigned supreme for more than half a century, Ella Fitzgerald. And finally, there’s a tribute to Harold Arlen, the man who wrote some of the greatest hits of the 30s and 40s – including Over the Rainbow, Blues in the Night, Stormy Weather and It’s Only a Paper Moon.

Saturday at the Joe Henderson Lab is Jazz Girls Day, a special session devoted to a performance by some of the aspiring stars from the jazz faculty – all of whom are aged between 13 and 18. The focus of this program by rising young female artists will be on ensemble techniques, improvisation and musicianship.

And just when you thought that  SFJAZZ had provided more than enough entertainment for one week, the Brooklyn ensemble Red Baraat – described by NPR as “the best party band in years” – takes to the stage of the Miner Auditorium on Saturday evening. Their Festival of Colors is a riotous mix of Indian bhangra rhythms, go-go music, jazz, hip-hop and Crescent City brass funk in celebration of the Hindu holiday of Holi. Bay Area singer and songwriter Bhi Bhiman opens the show.

And then – yes, there’s more – for one night only, Buddy Guy is at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre on Saturday, March 17th. Described by SFJAZZ as “the greatest living blues artist in the world”, Buddy Guy – a multi-GRAMMY-winner and inductee of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – is also credited with inspiring several prominent rock artists, including Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck. The boy from Lettsworth, Louisiana, who at the age of seven made his first guitar from a piece of wood, two strings and a few hairpins, has created his own legend and now at the age of 81 will be wowing the Bay Area with his own brand of Chicago blues.

For more information on all these performances, and for tickets, visit the SFJAZZ website.


Information sourced from artists’ websites:

Lavay Smith

Buddy Guy



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‘Rhapsody in Blue’ with Trpčeski, Gardner & San Francisco Symphony

Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski – © Lube Saveski

British conductor Edward Gardner leads the San Francisco Symphony this week in a program of music by Sir Michael Tippet, George Gershwin and Sergei Rachmaninoff. The guest soloist is Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski.

A member of the BBC New Generation Artists from 2001 to 2003, Trpčeski was the 2003 recipient of the Young Artist Award by the Royal Philharmonic Society, in 2009 he was honored with the Presidential Order of Merit for Macedonia, and in 2011 awarded the first-ever title ‘National Artist of the Republic of Macedonia’.

In addition to his frequent appearances with some of the world’s finest orchestras and most illustrious conductors, Mr Trpčeski’s 2016/17 season was particularly memorable. It saw the world premiere of his new project Makedonissimo at the Ludwigsburg Festpiele and the Ljubljana Festival, in which he collaborated with composer Pande Shahov in transcriptions of Macedonian folk music. During the same season, he also performed with Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra at the opening of the new Concert Hall in Skopje.

Edward Gardner makes his debut performance with the San Francisco Symphony this week, in a season which also sees him debut with the New York Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony orchestras. He makes return visits to the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, and also appears with opera companies such as La Scala, Milan, Opéra National de Paris, and New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Future engagements include a return to Dutch National Opera and his debut performance at The Royal Opera House Covent Garden.

In the main work of the concert, Simon Trpčeski plays what is now regarded as one of the most important American musical works of the 20th century – Gershwin’s fabulous Rhapsody in Blue – the work that not only changed the life of the composer, but is credited with bringing jazz into the realms of classical music as well.

Rather hastily composed – and apparently on a train bound from New York to Boston – it’s immediately recognizable by what New York Times critic Olin Downes described as “an outrageous cadenza of the clarinet”. The work was commissioned by Paul Whiteman, leader of the Palais Royal Orchestra, for a concert he was organizing to show that the then relatively new style of music called jazz should take its place as a serious and sophisticated art form. Gershwin’s work was scored for jazz by Whiteman’s arranger, Ferde Grofé, and Gershwin himself played the piano solo when it premiered on February 12th, 1924, at the Aeolian Hall in New York City. Grofé was also responsible for scoring the work’s orchestral version. Rhapsody in Blue dazzled lovers of both jazz and classical music in the 1920s, and continues to do so today – and judging by the video clip shown, Simon Trpceski is completely captivated by it.

The program opens with a work by English composer Sir Michael Tippett – Four Ritual Dances from his first opera The Midsummer Marriage – which premiered at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1955, with choreography by South African-born John Cranko, probably best known for his creation of the ballet Onegin. Also a writer and broadcaster for the BBC, Tippett is regarded as one of the leading English composers of the 20th century, whose operas were among the most successful of his works.

The final work in the concert is one of the gorgeous pieces which came from the pen of Sergei Rachmaninoff – his three-movement orchestral suite entitled Symphonic Dances.  With its mesmerizing solo for the alto saxophone every bit as distinctive as the clarinet in the Gershwin work, it was the last of the composer’s major works.  It was also the only one written in its entirety in the United States, which is perhaps why it’s so hauntingly reminiscent of his Russian heritage – the extent to which Rachmaninoff missed his fatherland and his fellow countrymen having been well documented.  Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances was first performed in 1941 by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Eugene Ormandy, to whom the work was dedicated.

Edward Gardner leads the San Francisco Symphony, with guest artist Simon Trpčeski, in a program of music by Tippet, Gershwin and Rachmaninoff at Davies Symphony Hall from March 8th to 10th. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Information sourced from:

Artists’ websites:

Simon Trpčeski

Edward Gardner

Sir Michael Tippett


Encyclopaedia Britannica




Encyclopaedia Britannica

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Another opportunity to see San Francisco Ballet’s ‘Frankenstein’

San Francisco Ballet presents Liam Scarlett’s ‘Frankenstein’ – © Erik Tomasson

One of the successes of San Francisco Ballet’s 2017 season was the North American premiere of Liam Scarlett’s Frankenstein, and those who were fascinated by his adaptation of Mary Shelly’s 1813 Gothic novel will no doubt be keen to have another opportunity to see this production when it opens at the War Memorial Opera House tomorrow evening.

In this co-production between The Royal Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, British choreographer Liam Scarlett reveals the truth behind what is usually presumed to be a horror story. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus was, however, far removed from that genre. More like an early piece of science fiction, it is – as Scarlett says – “essentially about love”, and is a deeply moving and tragic tale, one that he chose because he wanted to show people “what Frankenstein is really about”.

Scarlett’s ballet – set, like the novel, at the end of the 18th Century – revolves around the creation of a living being by a young man, Victor Frankenstein, who has a gift for chemistry, and sets about trying to recreate the life of his deceased mother through an experiment. Using non-living body parts, Victor succeeds in giving life to his creation, but the Creature, as he calls him, is physically hideous, and Victor, repulsed by what he has done, wants nothing to do with him.

The Creature, however feels abandoned, and is desperate to be loved, his feelings intensified by the love which is evident between Victor and his fiancée, Elizabeth, as well as the relationships that Victor shares with his family and friends. They all become involved in the tragedy resulting from Victor’s struggle to reconcile himself to the consequences of his actions.

Award-winning Liam Scarlett, The Royal Ballet’s first Artist in Residence, and Artistic Associate for Queensland Ballet, was the youngest choreographer to receive a commission for a full-length work from the Royal, and in addition to creating works for San Francisco Ballet, he has also choreographed for English National Ballet, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Miami City Ballet. Frankenstein is a work clearly very close to his heart – a creation that he describes as “a labor of pure love”.

The score for Frankenstein was commissioned from American composer, pianist and conductor, Lowell Liebermann, whose works have been performed by orchestras under the direction of names as illustrious as Kurt Masur, Andrew Litton, David Zinman and Wolfgang Sawallisch, and performed by luminaries such as Joshua Bell, Sir James Galway, Garrick Ohlsson, Stephen Hough and Jean-Yves Thibaudet. He also wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray, the only American opera to be commissioned and premiered by Opéra Monte-Carlo.

Joseph Walsh and Frances Chung in Scarlett’s ‘Frankenstein’ – © Erik Tomasson

Set and costume design for Frankenstein is by the amazingly creative British artist and theatre designer, John McFarlane, who has collaborated with choreographers such as Jiri Kylian, Glen Tetley, Sir Peter Wright, as well as Liam Scarlett, and designed for companies such as The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, Netherlands Dance Theatre, Danish Royal Ballet, Canadian Royal Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem and Australian National Ballet.

San Francisco Ballet presents Liam Scarlett’s Frankenstein at the War Memorial Opera House from March 6th to 11th, with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Martin West. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website.

Vitor Luiz as The Creature in Scarlett’s ‘Frankenstein’ – © Erik Tomasson



San Francisco Ballet
The Royal Ballet

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Ballet program notes by Cheryl A Ossola

The Royal Ballet program notes

Liam Scarlett

Lowell Liebermann

John McFarlane


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Wide-ranging program from Heras-Casado & San Francisco Symphony

Pablo Heras-Casado – © Renske Vrolijk

This evening the San Francisco Symphony welcomes Pablo Heras-Casado back to Davies Symphony Hall, to lead a program of music by Esa-Peka Salonen, Shostakovich and Brahms. The program features Salonen’s Helix, the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No 2 and Brahm’s First Symphony. The soloist in the violin concerto is the Symphony’s own Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik.

Maestro Heras-Casado, having made his debut with the Symphony in 2010, and become a Shenson Young Artist in 2013,  is a welcome guest in San Francisco. Principal Guest Conductor of Teatro Real in Madrid, he also has a long-term collaboration with Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, has become the Conductor Laureate of the Orchestra of St Luke’s – the first in the ensemble’s history – and has been appointed Director of the Granada Festival this year – Granada being the place of his birth.

Described by The New York Times as “…. the thinking person’s idea of a hotshot young conductor”, Pablo Heras-Casado makes three debut appearances this season – at the Boulezsaal with Staatskapelle Berlin, and with the Dallas Symphony and Verbier Festival orchestras. He also conducts the Spanish premiere of Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten at Teatro Real – a work hailed as the highlight of the 2012 Salzburg Festival.

Alexander Barantschik has been Concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony since 2001, prior to which he held the same position at the London Symphony Orchestra and Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. Hailing originally from Saint Petersburg, where he studied at the celebrated Conservatory, Mr Barantschik has performed with major Russian orchestras such as the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic, and has collaborated or appeared with a number of illustrious names in music, including André Previn, Mstislav Rostropovich, Maxim Vengerov and Yuri Bashmet. To add to his achievements, he was also Concertmaster for the year-long, three-continent, Pierre Boulez 75th Birthday Celebration.

This week’s program opens with the first performance by the San Francisco Symphony of a piece by Esa-Pekka Salonen – Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the Philharmonia Orchestra, Conductor Laureate for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Composer-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic. Entitled Helix, this work is Salonen’s musical representation of the spiral shape of the helix, a piece gradually increasing in tempo, in what he describes as an “accelerando”. Salonen wrote the work, on commission from the BBC Proms, for Valery Gergiev and the World Orchestra for Peace. It was dedicated to Maestro Gergiev who, with the Orchestra, gave Helix its world premiere at the Royal Albert Hall in London on August 27th, 2005.

Shostakovich composed his Violin Concerto No 2 in 1967 for the celebrated violinist David Oistrakh, who was the soloist at its premiere in Moscow on September 26th of that year, with Kirill Kondrashin and the Moscow Philharmonic. Oistrak also performed at the US premiere of this work on January 11th, 1968, with Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. The concerto was written at a time when Shostakovich was in poor health, after what must have seemed like a lifetime marked by ongoing inconsistencies in his relationship with the Soviet authorities. Consequently, this work has been described as depicting tension, confusion and sadness in varying degrees, yet it also has passages of liveliness, humor and a certain gentleness, as well as a somewhat bitter undertone. Plaintive at times, frenetic at others perhaps, but nevertheless the concerto is strangely appealing.

The program ends with the work over which Brahms agonized for 14 years – his Symphony No 1. A prolific composer of chamber music, Brahms was perpetually haunted by the shadow of Beethoven, whom he admired enormously, but whose brilliance had the effect on Brahms of making him question his own capabilities. As things turned out, he need not have judged himself so harshly – when it finally premiered in 1876, it was considered “one of the greatest symphonies of the Austro-German tradition”, and referred to by German conductor and pianist Hans von Bülow as “Beethoven’s Tenth”. (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

This program by the San Francisco Symphony, led by Pablo Heras-Casado, with soloist Alexander Barantschik, opens at Davies Symphony Hall this evening, and runs for a further two performances, on March 2nd and 3rd. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.


Information sourced from:

Pablo Heras-Casado

Musical Sales Classical


BBC Music

Encyclopaedia Britannica

San Francisco Symphony program notes (Alexander Barantschik)

Further reading on the program works:

Salonen – Helix

Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 2

Brahms Symphony No. 1

At a glance ……


Snarky Puppy in performance at SFJAZZ – Courtesy SFJAZZ

Snarky Puppy – “… one of the most internationally respected names in instrumental music” says Jambase – is playing a sold-out season at SFJAZZ this week. Recipient of the 2017 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album, this Brooklyn-based group has a revolving cast of around a dozen artists who lend their talents to the ensemble’s performances, playing guitars, percussion, horns, keyboards and even strings.

Included in this group of guest performers is an ensemble known as Banda Magda – fellow GroundUP Music artists and regular collaborators of Snarky Puppy – who’ll be appearing with them on Thursday and Sunday this week. Founded by Greek-born singer, keyboardist and composer Magda Giannikou, Banda Magda has a wide repertoire, which includes samba, French chanson, Greek folk tunes, Colombian cambia and Afro-Peruvian lando.

Snarky Puppy is at SFJAZZ from March 1st to 4th. Even though all performances are sold out, there might just be some returns, so keep an eye on the SFJAZZ website.


San Francisco Performances presents a recital by French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard at the Herbst Theatre on Friday evening. This is part of a five-state, seven-city solo recital tour of the US which includes performances in New York and Philadelphia as well as San Francisco, before returning to the Cité de la Musique in Paris.

Mr Aimard, described by The Wall Street Journal as “A brilliant musician and an extraordinary visionary”, was awarded the prestigious 2017 International Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, and this season starts his three-year tenure as Artist-in-Residence at London’s Southbank Centre.

On Friday, Pierre-Laurent Aimard will perform works by two composers with whom he is frequently associated – Messiaen and Ligeti – and also Beethoven’s Hammerklavier sonata.

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


The Bolshoi Ballet performs Alexei Ratmansky’s 2008 revival of The Flames of Paris in cinemas around the United States and Canada this Sunday. Recorded live at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on Saturday evening, this production was originally choreographed in 1932, by Vasily Vainonen, to a score by Boris Asafiev. Set against the dramatic and turbulent background of the French Revolution, with scenes depicting the storming of the Tuileries and the march on Paris, the work also draws parallels with the Russian Revolution.

This production stars rising corps de ballet member Margarita Shrainer as Jeanne, with Leading Soloist Igor Tsvirko as Philippe, and members of the impressive Bolshoi company, turning out some stunning performances, with their customary exuberance and passion.

The Flames of Paris can be seen at over 500 select cinemas in the US and Canada on Sunday, March 4th, at 12.55 pm ET and PT, 11.55 am CT and 10.55 am MT. Tickets may be obtained online from BolshoiBalletinCinema (where you can also see a list of theatre locations), or from the box offices of participating theaters.


On Sunday afternoon, Davies Symphony Hall hosts a world premiere performance – Iranian composer Anahita Abbasi’s ….. within the shifting grounds… a work commissioned specially for the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, in a unique collaboration with the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE).  This work, with its imagery of a lush rainforest, the sound of birds and falling rain, has the orchestra divided into four groups, positioned around the concert hall, each representing differing sounds and colors.  It will be live-streamed on the Symphony’s Facebook page at approximately 2:20 pm Pacific Standard Time.

Also on the program are works by Gabrieli, Carl Ruggles, Richard Strauss, and Michael Burrit, as well as the Symphony No 7 by Beethoven.

The San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra and Members of the International Contemporary Ensemble are led by Christian Reif. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.


Lianna Haroutounian as Tosca and Mark Delavan as Scarpia in a scene from Act II of Puccini’s ‘Tosca’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The first Sunday evening of the month is what Classical KDFC refers to as “the night that sings” – when the Bay Area’s classical radio station broadcasts a recording from the archives of San Francisco Opera. This month, it’s a 2014 recording of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca, starring Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian in the title role, with tenor Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi, bass-baritone Mark Delavan as Scarpia and bass-baritone Dale Travis as Sacristan.

Puccini’s powerful work has a particular place in the history of San Francisco Opera. It was performed during the Company’s very first season, in 1923, and again at the re-opening of the War Memorial Opera House in 1997 following its closure for retrofitting. This 2014 production, which marked the Company debut of Ms Haroutounian, has Riccardo Frizza leading the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (director Ian Robertson).

The San Francisco Opera broadcast can be heard on Sunday, March 4th at 8.00 pm on Classical KDFC. Visit for tuning frequencies, or to listen online.


Pianist César Cañón – Photo courtesy San Francisco Opera

Before we leave the world of opera, the second performance in the 35th anniversary season of the Schwabacher Recital Series takes place at the Taube Atrium Theatre on Wednesday March 7th. Presented by San Francisco Opera Center and the Merola Opera Program, this series of recitals has, since 1983, not only given music lovers an opportunity to hear stars of the future, but helped to launch the careers of some internationally acclaimed artists.

The first concert features soprano Felicia Moore, bass-baritone Christian Pursell and pianist César Cañón.  For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.



Information sourced from:


Pierre-Laurent Aimard

BY Experience

San Francisco Symphony

San Francisco Opera


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Boreyko & Gluzman celebrate Bernstein with San Francisco Symphony

Leonard Bernstein – © Library of Congress

In the final concert marking this season’s Bernstein Centennial, the San Francisco Symphony is led by Russian conductor Andrey Boreyko. The program opens with the legendary composer and conductor’s Divertimento for Orchestra, continues with his Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium) – performed by guest violinist Vadim Gluzman – and concludes with the Shostakovich Symphony No 5.

Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman refers to Bernstein’s Serenade as “one of the greatest violin concertos of the 20th century, an absolute masterwork” and leaves us in no doubt about the degree to which he’s going to enjoy playing it at Davies Symphony Hall this week. It’s a work which he’s recently performed with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and also with the Czech Philharmonic.

Other highlights of his 2017-18 season include appearances with Riccardo Chailly and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, the Festival des Pâques in Aix-en-Provence, the Bayerisches Staatsorchester with Daniele Rustioni, and the Boston Symphony under the direction of Tugan Sokhiev. Next season, Mr Gluzman will take up his position as Distinguished Artist in Residence in the violin faculty at the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University, where he will teach a private studio of violin majors, coach ensembles and present public master classes.

Andrey Boreyko has, since September 2014, been Music Director of the Artis-Naples – home of the Naples Philharmonic and the Baker Museum. From 2012 to 2017 he was Music Director of  l’Orchestre National de Belgique, and held the same position with the Düsseldorf Symphoniker from 2009 to 2014. For three consecutive seasons he was the recipient of an award from the Deutscher Musikverleger-Verband for the most innovative concert programming – the first in the history of the prize.

He has appeared with some of the world’s finest orchestras – such as the Berlin, New York and Los Angeles philharmonics, Staatskapelle Dresden, l’Orchestre de Paris, the Tonhalle Orchestra of Zurich, Filharmonica della Scala and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. A seasoned conductor of the symphonic repertoire, and passionate about the performance of less widely known works, Maestro Boreyko also enjoys long-term relationships with the most prestigious of European ensembles.

Conductor Andrey Boreyko – © Christoph Ruttger

Leonard Bernstein’s Divertimento for Orchestra is described as lighthearted and joyful – a work apparently inspired by his youth. It was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1980 – where Bernstein had served as assistant to the orchestra’s conductor, Serge Koussevitzky – and he dedicated it “with affection” to the BSO on the occasion of its first centennial. The Divertimento is a series based on two notes – B for Boston and C for Centennial.

Bernstein’s Serenade is regarded as one of his most lyrical works. Composed for his friend, violinist Isaac Stern, it was written in 1954, and dedicated to the memory of his mentor, Koussevitzky, and to the conductor’s first wife, Natalie. As with a number of his works, the Serenade was inspired by literature, on this occasion Plato’s dialogue The Symposium. In an interview with his biographer Humphrey Burton, Bernstein described it as “seven speeches, at a banquet, after-dinner speeches so to speak” on the subject of love.

The final work in the program is the Shostakovich Symphony No 5 . It was written during the fearful time of Stalin’s purges, and followed the displeasure of the Soviet authorities which Shostakovich had incurred with his 1934 opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. The symphony was regarded as a measure of atonement for the heavily criticized opera, and it duly featured a lyrical style, with what’s described as “a heroic tone and inspiration from Russian literature”, according to the notes from the Keeping Score series which Michael Wilson Thomas and the Symphony devised for KQED. Nevertheless, the notes continue, “many hear a subtext of critical despair beneath the crowd-pleasing melodies”.

Andrey Boreyko leads the San Francisco Symphony and guest artist Vadim Gluzman in works by Bernstein and Shostakovich at Davies Symphony Hall from February 22nd to 24th. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.


Information sourced from:

Leonard Bernstein

Vadim Gluzman

Andrey Boreyko

Artis Naples

Keeping Score

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Tailor-made for San Francisco Ballet

The second San Francisco Ballet program to open this week takes the title Distinctly SF Ballet – ‘Distinctly’ being the operative word. Not only were these ballets created for the company – by three Bay Area choreographers – but each is decidedly different in character and style from the others.

This triple bill opens with a ballet in the neoclassical style by Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson, and is followed by a dramatic piece by Resident Choreographer Val Caniparoli, based on the works of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. The program closes with a work by company member, and rising choreographer, Myles Thatcher, which has a resonance with current social issues.

Maria Kochetkova in Tomasson’s ‘On a Theme of Paganini’ – © Erik Tomasson

Helgi Tomasson’s On a Theme of Paganini has been in the Company repertoire since it premiered in March 2008. For this work he chose Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini – the composer’s variations on the Caprice No 24 for solo violin written by Niccolò Paganini. This justifiably much-loved piece of music, with its one-movement format, is a concertante for solo piano and orchestra. It follows the style of a concerto in that the variations of the first section are mostly lively or dramatic – but suddenly they give way to the beautiful and lyrical Variation No 18 – the setting for the central pas de deux – before the work once more reverts to the style in which it opens.

Val Caniparoli is known for the versatility of his output.  His works are in the repertoires of more than 45 companies – mainly in the United States, but also in Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Africa – covering a range classical, contemporary and ethnic styles.  His association with San Francisco Ballet goes back over 40 years – both as a dancer and choreographer. He has also choreographed for three major US opera companies – San Francisco Opera, Metropolitan Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago – and has also collaborated with the San Francisco Symphony.

Caniparoli has based his ballet Ibsen’s House on the female protagonists from five of the playwright’s works – A Doll’s House, Ghosts, Rosmersholm, The Lady from the Sea and Hedda Gabler – in which Ibsen confronted Victorian social mores, particularly those relating to the position of women in society. Aiming to highlight both the technical skills of the women in the company, as well as satisfy their aspirations to perform dramatic roles, Caniparoli chose well with Ibsen.  The work is set to Czech composer Antonin Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No 2 (omitting the third movement), a fine representation of Romantic-era chamber music, which reflects both the composer’s skill with lyricism and his love of Eastern European folk music.

Myles Thatcher has been a member of San Francisco Ballet since 2010, having danced both principal and featured roles, and Ghost in the Machine is the third ballet that he’s choreographed for the company. He also has works in the repertoires of New York City Ballet and Joffrey Ballet, and was selected by Alexei Ratmansky to participate in the 2014–15 Rolex Mentor & Protégé Arts Initiative.

His first work for the Company, Manifesto – written in 2015, and for which he was nominated for an Isadora Duncan Award – reflected, he says, the personalities of his colleagues, and the way in which they related to each other. Ghost in the Machine – which premiered last April – focuses on what he terms “the vulnerability to share experiences with others, to find solace in community”, which he sees almost as a defense against the adversarial political environment with which we are surrounded today.

For the score, Thatcher has drawn from the prolific output of the remarkably versatile and dynamic British composer, Michael Nyman – also a conductor, pianist, writer, musicologist, photographer and film-maker. The seven pieces featured in this ballet are taken from The Draughtsman’s Contract, A Zed and Two Noughts, Drowning by Numbers, and three pieces from Nyman’s gorgeous score for The Piano.

San Francisco Ballet presents Distinctly SF Ballet, with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, led by Martin West, at the War Memorial Opera House between February 15th and 25th. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website.


Information sourced from:

San Francisco Ballet program notes  by Cheryl A Ossola

Val Caniparoli


Myles Thatcher

Myles Thatcher/KQED interview


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San Francisco Ballet’s ‘Bright Fast Cool Blue’ triple bill

Happy is the ballet company that has such a wealth of works in its repertoire that it can schedule six triple bills and a four-ballet program in one season. San Francisco Ballet enjoys this status – and is in the unique position of  including in this total  12 world premieres which have been written specifically for the Company.  Already this season we’ve seen one of the three full-length ballets – The Sleeping Beauty – and still have Frankenstein to come, as well as a visit by the National Ballet of Canada with its production of Nijinsky. Bay Area audiences are indeed spoiled for choice.

Mid-February sees the opening nights of two of the triple bills – within a couple of days of each other – the first bearing the title Bright Fast Cool Blue – which gives a good indication of what to expect.  It features three very different works: George Balanchine’s Serenade, Benjamin Millepied’s The Chairman Dances – Quartet for Two, and Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes by Justin Peck.

Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz in Balanchine’s ‘Serenade’ (Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust; Photo © Erik Tomasson)

Serenade was the first original work that Balanchine choreographed after his arrival in the United States in 1933, and one that wasn’t initially intended for performance. He actually created it as a ballet lesson for the students of the School of American Ballet, to teach them how to dance on stage, which is why it retains elements of the classroom in its choreography. A dancer rushes in late for class, another trips and falls, and yet another dancer’s hair falls loose – he left all these incidents in.

This is one of those gorgeous classical works in the Russian tradition, that needs no set or synopsis to enhance it. The dancers are elegantly clad in delicate pale blue romantic tutus – designed by Barbara Karinska – against a deeper blue backdrop, and the work is set to the exquisite Serenade for Strings by Tchaikovsky – a composer, according to the Balanchine Trust, for whom the choreographer had a special affinity. The work, which was composed in the autumn of 1880, was initially intended to be either a symphony or a string quartet, but during the six weeks that it took Tchaikovsky to write it, he decided on a serenade, which by definition falls midway between the two. It was a “popular triumph” when it premiered in St Petersburg in October 1882, and at its first performance in Moscow it even won unqualified praise from none other than Anton Rubinstein, who had spent years as an unrelenting and fierce critic of Tchaikovsky.

In its present form, Serenade has four movements – Sonatina, Waltz, Elegy and Russian Dance, however Balanchine reversed the order of the last two movements, ending his ballet on a somewhat melancholy note.

French-born choreographer Benjamin Millepied has had a career which is interesting, to say the least. Winner of the 1994 Prix de Lausanne while a student at the School of American Ballet, he developed his talent for choreography whilst at New York City Ballet where he became a principal dancer. He founded an international touring company – Danses Concertantes – spent a year as choreographer in residence at Baryshnikov Arts Center, and was made a Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture in 2010 – the same year in which he choreographed and appeared in the film Black Swan. Two years later he founded the LA Dance Project, then founded an artist collective, Amoveo, and in 2014 became artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet for two years. Taking his leave of this company in 2016, Millepied returned to Los Angeles and the LA Dance Project, which recently participated in the PIVOT Festival 2018 in San Francisco, in which three of his works were performed. His first feature film – a musical adaptation of Carmen, scheduled for release in 2019, will be one to watch for.

If Millepied’s ballet The Chairman Dances – Quartet for Two seems to have a slightly unusual title, you’ll work out why when you hear that the music was written by contemporary Bay Area composer John Adams, one of whose most well-known works was the opera Nixon in China. For the first part of Millepied’s work he uses an ‘out-take’ from the opera, written for a sequence in which Chairman Mao and his wife were supposed to dance a foxtrot together. The other piece is Christian Zeal and Activity, the middle section of Adams’ American Standard. The Chairman Dances – Millepied’s first commissioned work for San Francisco Ballet – had its world premiere at the Company’s gala presentation in January last year, where it earned itself the status of one of the high points of the evening.

San Francisco Ballet in Peck’s ‘Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes’ (© Erik Tomasson)

When choreographer Agnes de Mille created Rodeo for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, she is quoted as saying that she wanted “the best American composer for the music, Aaron Copland” – and although the company was apparently somewhat reluctant about commissioning this score, it became de Mille’s best loved and most frequently performed work, premiering at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House in October 1942. Copland subsequently created a symphonic suite by shortening four of the main dance scenes from the ballet, which he called Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo, and it’s this score which Justin Peck uses for his ballet which he calls Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes.

Peck has put an interesting spin on his work, though. Instead of choreographing it for a mixed group of dancers, he has 15 men and just one woman, dispensing completely with the traditional storyline and simply going for broke in terms of energy, athleticism and incredible style. At its premiere in 2015, according to The New York Times, it “caused a sensation”, and coming from an artist who’s regarded as one of the most interesting of today’s young choreographers, this is hardly surprising. Resident Choreographer of New York City Ballet since 2014, Justin Peck is fast becoming a name to be reckoned with in the world of dance creation, having choreographed ballets for companies such as the Paris Opera Ballet, LA Dance Project, Lincoln Center’s Fall for Dance Festival and the School of American Ballet, as well as San Francisco Ballet, which premiered his impressively successful In the Countenance of Kings in 2016.

San Francisco Ballet, with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra under the direction of Martin West, presents Bright Fast Cool Blue at the War Memorial Opera House from February 13th to 24th. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website.


Information sourced from:

San Francisco Ballet program notes

The Balanchine Trust

Tchaikovsky – a biography by Anthony Holden

Benjamin Millepied

Justin Peck


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KDFC airs ‘Arabella’- from San Francisco Opera archives

Kiri Te Kanawa in the title role of Richard Strauss’ ‘Arabella’

From the archives of San Francisco Opera comes a performance of Richard Strauss’ romantic opera Arabella – which premiered at the War Memorial Opera House on October 29th, 1980. It’s to be broadcast tomorrow evening, February 4th, by Classical KDFC.

The recording of this tale of love, mistaken identity and near-catastrophe, stars soprano Kiri Te Kanawa in the title role, with soprano Barbara Daniels as Arabella’s sister Zdenka – forced to take on the identity of a brother in order to help the family finances. Tenor William Lewis is Matteo – the object of Zdenka’s desire – and Swedish baritone Ingvar Wixell is Count Mandryka, a wealthy suitor to whom Arababella is also attracted, much to the relief of her family. The San Francisco Opera Orchestra is led by German conductor Wolfgang Rennert (1922-2012).

Kiri Te Kanawa as Arabella and Ingvar Wixell as Count Mandryka in Strauss’ ‘Arabella’

The collaboration between Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal produced a number of successes during the first part of the 20th century – Elektra (1909), Der Rosenkavalier (1911) and Die Frau one Schatten (1910) being the most popular. Towards the end of the 1920s, Strauss was keen to repeat the formula, urging von Hofmannsthal to collaborate with him on “a second Rosenkavalier”. Although a degree of tension had existed between the two artists for a number of years prior to this, von Hofmannsthal complied with Strauss’ request and started work on a libretto for Arabella in 1929.

By July, the first act had been completed, and the following two had been provisionally set, but the librettist died suddenly on the 15th of that month, and Strauss was so deeply affected by the loss of his friend and collaborator, that he put the work aside, and didn’t return to it until 1932, leaving the second and third acts as von Hofmannsthal had provisionally written them. Arabella premiered at Semperoper in Dresden in 1933.

San Francisco Opera’s 1980 production of ‘Arabella’

Set in Vienna in the 1860s, Arabella tells the somewhat convoluted story of a beautiful girl, whose father expects her to marry for wealth, to prevent the financial ruin of the family. Arabella, however, longs for true love, convinced that she’ll know when the right man comes along. Her father invites a wealthy old army friend of his, Count Mandryka, to visit Vienna, hoping for a match between him and his daughter, but to his surprise, the man who arrives is the old Count’s nephew, having inherited his uncle’s wealth and title following his death.

Arabella does indeed fall for the young Count, as he does for her, but a case of mistaken identity – involving a plot by her sister Zdenka to gain the attentions of a young officer Matteo – almost destroys Arabella’s chances. For a time it appears as though her hopes of love will be dashed, but finally, her sister confesses, and amidst her apologies and explanations, the mystery is finally unraveled.

Kiri Te Kanawa in the title role of Strauss’ ‘Arabella’

The broadcast of San Francisco Opera’s 1980 production of Richard Strauss’s Arabella takes place on KDFC – the Bay Area’s classical music radio station – at 8.00 pm on Sunday evening.  For tuning frequencies, log on to the the KDFC website, where you can also listen online.

Arabella can be seen on the stage of the War Memorial Opera house for the first time in two decades during San Francisco Opera’s 2018-19 season. Soprano Ellie Dehn will make her debut in the title role, Heidi Stober will sing Zdenka, Brian Mulligan will take the role of Mandryka, Daniel Johansson that of Matteo and Hye Jung Lee will sing the Fiakermilli.  Production is by Tim Albery. On the podium will be Chief Conductor of the Dutch National Opera – and renowned Strauss interpreter – Marc Albrecht, making his American operatic debut.

Photos ©Ron Scherl/San Francisco Opera

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Opera Pulse

Additional reading:  The Guardian

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