‘A Christmas Story: The Musical’ – lively and fun!

The “wimps” (Mario Gianni Herrera, David Rukin, Jonah Broscow, Panita Serizawa, Charlotte Ying Levy, and Chloe Dalzell) wait for the day payback will come to their bullies

If you need a shot of festive sparkle, and a reminder of what Christmas is all about, the San Francisco Playhouse is only too happy to oblige. A Christmas Story: The Musical is joyful, at times touching, it will make you smile – and laugh out loud. A perfect production for the time of year, it’ll lift your spirits and put the proverbial song in your heart.

Based on the 1983 film, A Christmas Story, the show – which was nominated for three Tony Awards in 2013 – has music and lyrics by Tony- and Oscar-winning Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, with a book by Joseph Robinette. The Playhouse production is in the very capable hands of Susi Damilano.

Jean Shepherd (Christopher Reber) kicks off the Jean Shepherd Show on WOR Radio

The story, set in the 1940s, centers around young Ralphie Parker, who more than anything wants an “official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model BB Gun” for Christmas. The on-stage action is narrated by an adult Ralphie, recalling this eventful episode in his life (an easy-going and humorous performance from Christopher Reber). So great is Ralphie’s desire for this particular gift that he is led to devise one plan after another, in an uphill battle to convince his adoring (but practical) mother, The Old Man (his no-nonsense father) as well as a less-than-jolly in-store Santa, of the benefits of owning one of these rifles.

Miss Shields (Katrina Lauren McGraw) collects her students’ papers

Ralphie (Jonah Broscow*, center) fantasizes about coming to the rescue with his Red Ryder Carbine Action BB gun

These plans lead us on a merry song-and-dance through Ralphie’s day-to-day life in the run-up to Christmas – as he and his younger brother Randy (a fine performance from Jake Miller), behave as typically badly as young boys do – despite being cajoled by their typically perfect and honey-voiced mother whose sole purpose in life is to please her husband and children – a lovely portrayal by Abby Haug.

A triple-dog-dare ends badly for Flick – played here by Mario Gianni Herrera, (center)

The star of the show was undoubtedly Mario Gianni Herrera – a young man with a tremendous singing voice and what would appear to be a great future ahead of him – as Ralphie. Utterly immersed in his role, he had the audience in the palm of his hand, from the little nuances so typical of his character, to the great baleful stares of helplessness as he’s hit by one setback after another, yet he still manages to muster his creative instincts to devise yet another ploy to get what he so badly wants.

Ryan Drummond is always marvelous, and hugely entertaining as the pretty ordinary suburban father who longs to burst out of his normality and achieve something really special in life. His reaction to winning a perfectly hideous lamp in a crossword competition says it all.

The Old Man (Ryan Drummond*, right) unveils his major award as Randy (Jake Miller), Ralphie (Jonah Broscow*), and Mother (Abby Haug*) express their puzzlement

Another superb performance came from Katrina Lauren McGraw as the schoolteacher, Miss Shields, and the talented youngsters who played Ralphie’s friends – and bullying enemies – were obviously having a tremendous time, singing and dancing their way through the whole performance.

From the Creative team, Music Director Dave Dobrusky and his musicians provided a fabulous backing to all this hilarity, and the set – as ever – was skilfully designed and manipulated.

If you love a good musical, the Playhouse – with Christmas spirit in abundance – is the place to go.

The Parker family on Christmas Day

A Christmas Story: The Musical runs through January 13. For tickets, visit the San Francisco Playhouse website or call the box office on (415) 677-9596.

Photographs by Jessica Palopoli


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KDFC broadcasts Met Opera’s ‘The Magic Flute’

Baritone Nathan Gunn as Papageno in Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’ – Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

Mozart’s The Magic Flute is the second production in the Met Opera’s 87th season of Saturday matinee radio broadcasts. It airs on Classical KDFC on December 9 for listeners in the Bay Area.  This series of broadcasts, live from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, was launched in 1931, making it the longest-running continuous classical radio series in American broadcast history.

The Met’s English-language family version of Mozart’s whimsical masterpiece is one of New York City’s holiday traditions, and this version by Julie Taymor once again features Nathan Gunn, “the sensational baritone … with intense charisma and a voice like honey …” (The Mercury News) as the bird-catcher Papageno. Mr Gunn has appeared with some of the world’s finest opera companies – the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, The Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Paris Opera, Bayerische Staatsoper, Glyndebourne Opera Festival, and also in opera houses such as Theater an der Wien, Teatro Real in Madrid and Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels.

Charles Castronovo as Tamino in Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’ – Photo: Richard Termine/Metropolitan Opera

The role of Pamina is sung by German soprano Hanna-Elisabeth Müller, who – as Eurydice in Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice at the Kammeroper Rheinsberg – “…. outclassed everyone else in stage presence”, wrote Opernglas. “With her clear, yet expressive soprano, Hanna-Elisabeth Müller created the most touching moments of the evening.”

American soprano Kathryn Lewek is the Queen of the Night, a role in which she made her Met debut in 2013. Ms Lewek – described by Berlin Zeitung as “ not only virtuosic, but fabulous” – also appeared in this, her world renowned signature role, in the Met Opera’s Live in HD broadcast of Die Zauberflöte this past October.

Kathryn Lewek as the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’ Photo: Richard Termine/Metropolitan Opera

The role of Tamino is sung by Charles Castronovo, regarded as one of the finest lyric tenors of his generation, who has appeared in many of the leading opera houses of the world – the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Vienna State Opera, Berlin State Opera, Paris Opera, Bavarian State Opera, Munich and Theatre Royale de la Monnaie, Brussels. Mr Castronovo also sang this role in the Met Opera’s recent Live in HD broadcast of Die Zauberflöte.

Bass-baritone Alfred Walker – praised by Opera News for his “inky bass-baritone and clear projection …..” – sings the role of the Speaker. He recently appeared as Orest in San Francisco Opera’s magnificent production of Elektra, and also sings Titurel in Parsifal for the Metropolitan Opera this season.

Tobias Kehrer as Sarastro in Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’ – Photo: Richard Termine/Metropolitan Opera

German bass Tobias Kehrer sings Sarastro, a role in which he made his Met Opera debut in Die Zauberflöte in September this year.

Leading the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus in this production of The Magic Flute is American conductor Evan Rogister, who – according to Svenska Dagbladet – “fired up the stage and orchestra pit; both were bursting with lifein Opera Malmö’s production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro.

The Metropolitan Opera’s production of The Magic Flute is broadcast on the Toll Brothers–Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network, and can be heard on KDFC, the Bay Area’s Classical Radio Station, at 10.00 am on Saturday, December 9.


Information sourced from:

Metropolitan Opera program notes

Artists’ websites:

Nathan Gunn

Hanna-Elisabeth Müller

Kathryn Lewek

Charles Castronovo

Alfred Walker

Evan Rogister


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A weekend of great performances from the Symphony and the Opera

San Francisco Symphony

San Francisco Symphony presents ‘Music for Families’ – Photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony

The San Francisco Symphony presents Music for Families at Davies Symphony Hall on Saturday afternoon in a program entitled Stringing it All Together: The Elements of Music Making. In a concert which includes music by Wagner, Mahler, Brahms, Gershwin, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Beethoven, conductor Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser and members of the Symphony show what goes into making a great piece of music.

For more information, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Watch a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 spy thriller, North by Northwest on Saturday evening, as conductor Richard Kaufman leads the San Francisco Symphony in a performance of Bernard Herrman’s score newly adapted for live orchestra by Patrick Russ – from Herrman’s original manuscripts. Nominated for three Academy Awards®, North by Northwest – starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason – boasts a screenplay hailed by the Writers Guild of America as one of the greatest ever written.

North by Northwest screens at Davies Symphony Hall on Saturday, December 2. For more information, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Deck the Halls at Davies Symphony Hall – Photo: Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

On Sunday afternoon, the San Francisco Symphony presents its traditional Deck the Halls concert at Davies Symphony Hall. Led by Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, the Orchestra is joined by guest artists including the San Francisco Boys Chorus (Director Ian Robertson), Trainees from the San Francisco Ballet School (Director Helgi Tomasson) and costumed characters, in a performance of favorites such as Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and, of course, Deck the Halls. After the concert, there’ll be festivities with treats, arts and crafts, and even more entertainment.

For further information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

San Francisco Symphony soloists Alexander Barantschik (violin), pianist Anton Nel, and cellist Peter Wyrick present a concert in the acclaimed Chamber Music Series, in the glorious setting of the Legion of Honor, on Sunday afternoon. The featured works are Schubert’s Piano Trio No 1 in B-flat major and Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No 2 in C minor.

More information and tickets are available on the San Francisco Symphony website.

On Sunday evening, the brass, timpani and percussion sections of the San Francisco Symphony raise the roof of Davies Symphony Hall with their popular Holiday Brass concert. Led by conductor Edwin Outwater, they perform a selection of works by composers such as J S Bach, Vivaldi, Gabrieli and Franz Biebl, as well as festive favorites from Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Waldteufel and Leroy Anderson.

To find out more, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

San Francisco Opera

Scene from ‘Girls of the Golden West’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

On Saturday evening, San Francisco Opera presents another performance of John Adams’ newest opera, Girls of the Golden West. This dramatic work, set against a backdrop of the California Gold Rush of the 1850s, is based on a true series of events chronicled by a doctor’s wife who lived in a remote northern California mining camp at the time, and demonstrates what the composer describes as “…. the very best and the very worst of human traits, from scenes of ugly nativist racism and casual violence to examples of nobility, generosity and ingenuity”.

Grant Gershon conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus in this performance at the War Memorial Opera House. For tickets and more information, visit the San Francisco Opera website.

Scene from Puccini’s ‘Turandot’- Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Sunday is filled with the gorgeous sound of music by Puccini – courtesy of San Francisco Opera. There’s a matinee performance of the Company’s production of Turandot at the War Memorial Opera House, with Swedish soprano Nina Stemme singing the role of the icy queen, Turandot, and American tenor Brian Jagde as the suitor who stands to lose his life if he can’t solve the three riddles which she poses.

Conductor Christopher Franklin leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director Ian Robertson) in a spellbinding performance. More information and tickets available on the San Francisco Opera website.

Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Rodolfo and Erika Grimaldi as Mimi in a scene from Puccini’s ‘La Bohème’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

On Sunday evening, KDFC – the Bay Area’s classical music radio station – presents its monthly broadcast of a San Francisco Opera production, and this month it’s Puccini’s heartbreaking love story, La Bohème, set in Bohemian Paris around the turn of the last century. Recorded live at the War Memorial Opera House this past summer, La Bohème stars Italian soprano Erika Grimaldi as Mimi and Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Rodolfo.

Carlo Montanaro leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director Ian Robertson), and members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus and San Francisco Boys Chorus, in Puccini’s La Bohème. More information can be found on the websites of San Francisco Opera , or KDFC .

Joey Alexander Trio to wow audiences at SFJAZZ

Jazz pianist Joey Alexander – courtesy SFJAZZ

A 14-year-old pianist who has “… lit up the world of jazz …” (Houston Chronicle) is the star turn at SFJAZZ this weekend.  Appearing with Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland, Joey Alexander – whose love for jazz was initially inspired by the music of Thelonius Monk – is quite obviously a jazz force to be reckoned with.

When he was just eight years old, he was invited by UNESCO to play solo for Herbie Hancock when Hancock visited Joey’s home country, Indonesia. By the age of 10, Joey was performing at jazz festivals in Jakarta and Copenhagen. At the invitation of Wynton Marsalis, he made his debut at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall in 2014, and subsequently appeared before the Jazz Foundation of America at the Apollo and the Arthur Ashe Learning Center at Gotham Hall.

He was invited by impresario George Wein to perform on two stages at the Newport Jazz Festival the following year, and the Joey Alexander Trio has played at festivals and venues across the United States, in Indonesia, and as far afield as Tel Aviv, Marciac, Montréal, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Bern, Prague, Vienna and Perugia.

Joey is also the youngest jazz artist ever to be nominated for a GRAMMY Award in the jazz category, and in fact both his albums have received nominations. The first of these was his 2015 debut album for Motéma Music, My Favorite Things, which received two nominations – for “Best Jazz Instrumental Album” and “Best Improvised Solo” for his performance of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps. He followed these in 2016 with a nomination for his second release Countdown.

This year, Joey has been performing a session dedicated to Thelonius Monk – which he calls Joey.Monk.Love!

Wynton Marsalis says: “There has never been anyone that you can think of who could play like that at his age. I love everything about his playing – his rhythm, his confidence, his understanding of the music.”

If you’re lucky, you can still get a ticket to one of Joey Alexander’s shows at SFJAZZ this weekend, although booking has been heavy.  He plays in the Miner Auditorium, in an all-star line-up with bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland, from November 24 to 26. More information and tickets on the SFJAZZ website.


SFJAZZ program notes

Joey Alexander’s website


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San Francisco Opera presents world premiere of Adams’ ‘Girls of the Golden West’

Davóne Tines as Ned Peters and Julia Bullock as Dame Shirley in John Adams’ ‘Girls of the Golden West’ Photo: Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

In what promises to be a stunning finale to its Fall Season, San Francisco Opera presents the world premiere of John Adams’ Girls of the Golden West – a dramatic and moving portrayal of life on the frontier of the California Gold Rush. It’s a fitting finale to Adams’ 70th birthday year in which performances of his works have been taking place in concert halls and opera houses around the world.

Girls of the Golden West was created by John Adams for San Francisco Opera at the instigation of former General Director David Gockley, and is a co-commission and co-production with Dallas Opera and the Dutch National Opera, Amsterdam.

The opera is set in an interesting phase in the history of California which, as Adams says, “….. brought out the very best and the very worst of human traits, from scenes of ugly nativist racism and casual violence to examples of nobility, generosity and ingenuity”.

Ryan McKinny as Clarence and Paul Appleby as Joe Cannon with the San Francisco Opera Chorus in John Adams’ ‘Girls of the Golden West’ Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera


A scene from Act I of John Adams’ ‘Girls of the Golden West’ Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

This portrayal has been vividly captured by librettist and director Peter Sellars from a number of sources, one of which was The Shirley Letters – a true series of events chronicled by a doctor’s wife, Louise Clappe, who for a time lived in a remote northern California mining camp, and who wrote under the pen name of Dame Shirley. Other sources were the diary of Chilean miner Ramón Gil Navarro, memoirs of fugitive slaves, poems written by Chinese immigrants (Songs of Gold Mountain), the Argentine poet Alfonsina Storni, a speech by Frederick Douglass, songs of the gold miners; a speech by Frederick Douglass, biographies of Lola Montez, the works of 19th-century California historians Hubert Howe Bancroft and Josiah Royce, and Mark Twain’s semi-autobiographical book, Roughing It, written when he traveled around the frontier area during the 1860s.

Girls of the Golden West features the San Francisco Opera debuts of three operatic artists – Julia Bullock, Ryan McKinny and Davóne Tines, as well as that of conductor Grant Gershon – artistic director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and an acclaimed interpreter of the works of John Adams.

Hye Jung Lee as Ah Sing and Paul Appleby as Joe Cannon in a scene from John Adams’ ‘Girls of the Golden West’ Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera


Ryan McKinny as Clarence, Paul Appleby as Joe Cannon, and Elliot Madore as Ramón in John Adams’ ‘Girls of the Golden West’ Photo: Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

The role of Dame Shirley is taken by Julia Bullock, praised for her “velvety soprano” (The Times), her “glorious mellow sheen” (Musical America) and her “purity and sweetness of tone” (Financial Times). Ms Bullock is acclaimed for her performances in other works by John Adams, and by contemporary composers Kaija Saariaho and Tyshawn Sorey.

Base-baritone Ryan McKinny – who appears as Clarence, a hard-luck miner – has been described as “One of the finest singers of his generation” by Opera News. He recently appeared with the San Francisco Symphony in Bernstein’s Arias and Barcarolles in the season-opening celebration of the Bernstein Centennial.

Davóne Tines takes the role of Ned Peters, an African-American cowboy and fugitive slave drawn to the frontier by the lure of wealth. Described by the Los Angeles Times as “the buzz of California’s opera world”, Davóne Tines is also said by composer and conductor Matthew Aucoin to have a “…. voice of enviable lushness and uncanny power”. Mr Tines is scheduled to appear in John Adams’ opera-oratorio El Niño next month, with Grant Gershon and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Davóne Tine as Ned Peters, Elliot Madore as Ramón, and Ryan McKinny as Clarence in John Adams’ ‘Girls of the Golden West’ Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera


Lorena Feijóoo as Lola Montez in John Adams’ ‘Girls of the Golden West.’ Photo: Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

Tenor Paul Appleby is Joe Cannon, the miner whose love for Mexican barmaid Josefa Segovia causes a crisis in the camp. Mr Appleby’s recent performance in Béatrice et Bénédict at Glyndebourne prompted BBC Music Magazine Opera Choice to describe him as “…. a handsome presence and a handsome voice”, and in a 2016 production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, The New York Times wrote that he had made “the hapless role of Don Ottavio a thing of tenorial beauty”. Mr Appleby last appeared with San Francisco Opera in 2015, as Tamino in Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

The role of Josefa Segovia is sung by mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, described by Concerto.net as “Vocally gifted with effusive, smoky substance …. softness and soulfulness”. She made her San Francisco Opera debut last season as Bersi in Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, a role which she has also performed at Bayerische Staatsoper, which drew praise from Opera News.

Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee takes the role of Ah Sing, the Chinese prostitute who’s in love with Joe. She has previously appeared with San Francisco Opera as Madame Mao Tse-tung in Adams’ Nixon in China in 2012, and as Olympia in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann in 2013.  The New York Times describes her as “striking” with a “sweet and focused” sound.

Paul Appleby as Joe Cannon and J’Nai Bridges as Josefa Segovia in John Adams’ ‘Girls of the Golden West’ Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Elliot Madore sings the role of Ramón, the Chilean bartender of the Empire Hotel, who last appeared with San Francisco Opera as Anthony Hope in the Company premiere of Sweeney Todd. La Scena Musicale has written of his “… lovely lyric baritone with a recognizable timbre …. capable of both power and nuance, with an impressive range”.

Lorena Feijóo, former principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet, takes the role of Lola Montez, the celebrity and entertainer who was well known in the mining area for her provocative Spider Dance.

Peter Sellars’ creative team – drawn from the worlds of opera, theater and cinema – includes set designer David Gropman (Fences, Life of Pi, Hairspray), costume designer Rita Ryack (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Beautiful Mind and the music video for Michael Jackson’s Bad), lighting designer James F Ingalls, sound designer Mark Grey and choreographer John Heginbotham.

Grant Gershon leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Dance Corps in eight performances of Girls of the Golden West at the War Memorial Opera House, from November 21st to December 10. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.

Sources of information:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Artists’ websites

Julia Bullock

Ryan McKinny

Paul Appleby

J’Nai Bridges

Hye Jung Lee

Elliott Madore

Lorena Feijóo

Los Angeles Times

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MTT & San Francisco Symphony present Benefit Concert for the North Bay

Poster courtesy San Francisco Symphony

It comes as no surprise that Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony have organized a concert to raise funds for those affected by the recent wildfires. In a magnificent gesture, MTT, the musicians of the Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (Director Ragnar Bohlin), members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus (Director Ian Robertson), guest soloists – soprano Nikki Einfeld, mezzo-soprano Renée Rapier, tenor Nicholas Phan and bass Soloman Howard – as well as the SFS stage crew, ushers and staff, are all donating their services to present Symphony Relief: A Benefit Concert for the North Bay. The proceeds of this performance will benefit victims of the Northern California wildfires, through the North Bay Fire Relief Fund and the Sonoma County Resilience Fund.

The program – a blend of inspiring and uplifting music – opens with two very American works by Aaron Copland. Copland’s style of music has always been closely identified with this country – and his Fanfare for the Common Man is no exception. It was commissioned by Eugene Goosens for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra – initially to engender a spirit of patriotism during World War II. Copland gave the work its title, which turned out to be wholly appropriate since Goosens decided to premiere it on March 12, 1943 – three days prior to the one on which income taxes were due to be paid that year, and both he and Copland decided that this would be a good way in which to honor “the common man”.

Michael Tilson Thomas leading the San Francisco Symphony – photo Bay Taper, courtesy of San Francisco Symphony

The second work by Copland is no less American in both concept and style. It was written for the 1940 Sam Wood film Our Town, based on Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1938 stage play about the ordinary, day to day lives of the people of a fictional town, Grover’s Corners, which was inspired by the town of Peterborough, New Hampshire, where Wilder spent many summers. With war looming on the horizon, the simple values of Our Town (set in the period 1901 to 1913) were viewed as comforting and appealing. As Copland said: “I tried for clean and clear sounds and in general used straight-forward harmonies and rhythms that would project the serenity and sense of security of the story”.

The finale from Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 4 follows. It’s a work of high drama and gentle, lyrical passages, which, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Tchaikovsky considered to be “ultimately a characterization of the nature of fate”. Tchaikovsky wrote his Fourth Symphony in 1877, a rather turbulent year in his life. It was the year which marked the beginning of his involvement with Nadezhda von Meck, a wealthy widow who became his patron on condition that they should never meet. It was also the year in which he embarked on a short-lived and disastrous marriage which precipitated a nervous breakdown, but he returned to the symphony later in the year, dedicating it to his patron with the inscription: “Never yet has any of my orchestral works cost me so much labour, but I’ve never yet felt such love for any of my things.…Perhaps I’m mistaken, but it seems to me that this symphony is better than anything I’ve done so far”.

Bass Soloman Howard – photo Jon Adjahoe, courtesy San Francisco Opera

Also on the program is a selection of a cappella spirituals – performed by bass Soloman Howard who recently graduated from Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. Currently appearing as Timur in San Francisco Opera’s production of Turandot, Mr Howard lists among highlights of his career appearances as the King in Aida for Metropolitan Opera, Dr Grenvil in La Traviata for Los Angeles Opera and appearances for Washington National Opera as Fafner in Das Rheingold, Siegfried in Der Ring des Nibelungen, Sarastro in The Magic Flute, and Joe in Show Boat.  He has attracted praise from The New York Times which describes his voice as “sonorous”, and The Guardian hailed as “a triumph” his appearance as Martin Luther King Jr in the world premiere of the revised edition of Philip Glass’ Appomattox.

For the final work in Sunday’s program the guest soloists join the Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus in the rousing fourth movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No 9, his much-loved setting of Friedrich Schiller’s Ode To Joy.

San Francisco Symphony violinist Melissa Kleinbart says: “We hope to use the power of music as a call to action that will inspire music lovers throughout the Bay Area to join us in raising much needed funds for individuals and communities who have been adversely affected by this catastrophic event”.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus, and guest soloists, in Symphony Relief – a Benefit Concert for the North Bay, at Davies Symphony Hall on Sunday evening, November 19. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.


Sources of information:


Fanfare for the Common Man:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Library of Congress



Our Town:

Boosey & Hawkes

The Thornton Wilder Society


Tchaikovsky Symphony No 4:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Artist’s website – Soloman Howard


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Bolshoi Ballet’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’ in cinemas

Ekaterina Krysanova and Vladislav Lantratov in the Bolshoi Ballet’s production of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ – © Alice Blangero

The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Season continues this weekend with a screening of the Company’s production of The Taming of the Shrew – a work commissioned in 2014 from the Choreographer-Director of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, Jean-Christophe Maillot.

Rarely does the Bolshoi commission works from foreign choreographers, but Maillot and Sergei Filin – at that time Ballet Director of the Bolshoi Theatre, and now Director of the Young Artists Ballet Program – share a close friendship, having previously worked together on a number of artistic projects. This occasion was also the first, since Maillot’s appointment in 1993, that he had choreographed a ballet for a company other than his own.

With The Taming of the Shrew, Maillot wanted to create a ballet for the artists of the Bolshoi which would highlight their theatrical skills, as well as the brilliant dancing for which this company is renowned. This, he realised, would require a work with a strong narrative theme, so he turned to the greatest playwright in the English language, William Shakespeare, for his inspiration – selecting the battle of wills between the flamboyant Petruchio and the quarrelsome Katharina on which to base his creation.

Starring Ekaterina Krysanova as Katharina – in what The Guardian called a “particularly mesmerising” performance – and Vladislav Lantratov as Petruchio, this production of Shakespeare’s boisterous comedy tells how Katharina’s father, Baptista, tries to find a husband for his tempestuous daughter who is adamant that no man could possibly be her match. She has, however, reckoned without the equally truculent temperament of Petruchio, who finally succeeds in taming this particular shrew, resulting in a very surprising love match.

The cast also includes Olga Smirnova as Bianca, Semyon Chudin as Lucentio, Anna Tikhomirova as The Housekeeper, Artemy Belyakov as Baptista, Igor Tsvirko as Hortensio,
Vyacheslav Lopatin as Gremio and Georgy Gusevas as Grumio.

The score is taken from a selection of works by Dmitri Shostakovich – mainly those written for the cinema – and the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra is directed by Igor Dronov, Professor of Conducting at the Moscow Conservatory, conductor of the Russian Philharmonia, and guest conductor for a number of Russian and international orchestras.

Jean-Chrisophe Maillot put together a production team drawn from a group of artists with whom he has developed a relationship built on trust and experience. Dramatisation is by author, Jean Rouaud, set design by Ernest Pignon-Ernest, and lighting by Dominique Drillot, with Bernice Coppieters, Prima Ballerina of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, as Assistant Choreographer.

In 2015, Jean-Christophe Maillot won a Golden Mask Award for his choreography, and Ekaterina Krysanova and Vladislav Lantratov each received a Golden Mask for Best Dancer in their respective categories. The Golden Mask is a National Theatre Award in Russia given for excellence in productions in all genres of theatre art. Golden Mask is also an all-Russian Performing Arts Festival that takes place in Moscow in the spring of each year, presenting the most significant performances from all over Russia.

Presented by BY Experience and Pathé Live, the Bolshoi Ballet’s production of The Taming of the Shrew, captured live from Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, will be screened in over 400 cinemas in the US and Canada on Sunday, November 19 at 12.55 pm local time. For a complete list of theatre locations, visit the Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema website, where tickets can be purchased.  Tickets are also available at the box offices of participating theatres.

Sources of information:

Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo


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Zukerman plays Beethoven with MTT and San Francisco Symphony

Pinchas Zukerman

It’s all happening at Davies Symphony Hall this week. Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony present a program of works by Ives and Beethoven; the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, led by Christian Reif, plays the first concert of its 35th anniversary season, and MTT and the Symphony present Symphony Relief: A Benefit Concert for the North Bay, in aid of victims of the wildfires which devastated parts of Northern California last month.

In the first program of the week, MTT leads the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (Director Ragnar Bohlin) in the Symphony No 4 by Charles Ives, with guest pianist Peter Dugan, and second conductor Christian Reif. Also on the program is Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, with virtuoso Pinchas Zukerman as guest artist for the first two performances. Violinist Viviane Hagner makes her SFS debut in the same work in the third performance.

Ives’ Symphony No 4 is considered to be one of his greatest masterpieces. It’s a complex, multi-layered work consisting of four movements – a prelude, a fugue, a third movement which includes a selection of parlor songs, marches, ragtime melodies, patriotic songs and hymns, and a spiritual finale. Ideally it requires more than one conductor to help pull it all together, hence the appearance of Christian Reif with MTT.

Charles Ives spent decades composing this work, writing the Prelude in 1916-17, the Allegretto between 1916 and 1918, the Fugue around 1912-13, and the Largo between 1915-16 – with revisions of each movement being made in the intervening and following years, until 1925. The Symphony in its entirety, however, didn’t reach the concert hall until 50 years later, in 1965.

Pianist Peter Dugan is as comfortable with jazz and pop as he is with classical music hence his debut with the Symphony in June this year in the Music for a Modern Age concert. Adding to his classical credentials is a review following his appearance, with baritone John Brancy, at the Kohn Foundation Song Competition at the Wigmore Hall in London in September. “…. it was the delicacy of phrasing, the smartness of the segues and the range of colour from the pianist Peter Dugan that really struck” wrote The Times.

The genius of Pinchas Zukerman attracts reviews such as this from the Glasgow Herald, which – referring to “the Zukerman tone” – declares: “There is no other like it….His sound is utterly inimitable – as it has been for more than 30 years – from its intense sweetness on high to its throaty richness at the depths of the instrument….And the molten gold that streams from the instrument is completely breathtaking. Fabulous playing.” The Los Angeles Times has described Mr Zukerman as “the forever-young virtuoso: expressively resourceful, infectiously musical, technically impeccable, effortless”, adding “… it was a joy to be in his musical company.”

Viviane Hagner

The soloist on Saturday evening is Munich-born violinist Vivane Hagner, of whom The Washington Post wrote: “Her rich, burnished tone, crystalline articulation and subtle expression grab attention and leave a lasting impression”. Ms Hagner made her stage debut at the age of thirteen in the legendary joint concert given in Tel Aviv by the Israel and Berlin Philharmonics in 1990, led by Zubin Mehta.  Since then she has appeared with some of the world’s leading orchestras and conductors. She also has a special interest in new, undiscovered and neglected works. In 2002 she gave the world premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Violin Concerto, with Kent Nagano and the Deutsche Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin, and she’s a champion of composers such as Sofia Gubaidulina, Karl Amadeus Hartmann and Witold Lutoslawski.

Michael Tilson Thomas, assisted by Christian Reif, leads the San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in performances of Charles Ives’ Symphony No 4 – with pianist Peter Dugan – from November 16 to 18 at Davies Symphony Hall. These performances are to be recorded live for later release on SFS Media. Guest artist Pinchas Zukerman joins MTT and the Symphony for performances of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto on November 16 and 17. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

MTT will lead a performance of the same program on Saturday, November 18, with violinist Viviane Hagner playing the Beethoven concerto. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.



Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Ives Symphony No 4

Peter Dugan

Pinchas Zukerman

Viviane Hagner


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SFJAZZ presents the Brazilian sound of Kurt Rosenwinkel

Kurt Rosenwinkel – Photo courtesy SFJAZZ

Having initially made his name as a jazz guitarist and keyboardist, Kurt Rosenwinkel – appearing in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ this weekend – has also made his name as a player, composer and bandleader over his 25-year career.

He made his debut recording for a major label (Verve) in 2000 with the album The Enemies of Energy, and since then he has collaborated with some of the world’s great saxophonists, and released a further 12 albums, including the “bracingly beautiful” (SFJAZZ) Star of Jupiter which he produced, and for which he composed all the music.  He was joined for this recording by keyboardist Aaron Parks, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner.

This year, Kurt Rosenwinkel has released the first album on his own label, Heartcore Records, and has branched out into some highly creative compositions with a heavy Brazilian flavor. Entitled Caipi, it features the music which he performs at SFJAZZ this weekend.

The album has taken him 10 years to complete, and is described by AllMusic as “an utterly alluring, captivatingly realized production” – which features guest slots by Eric Clapton and saxophonist Mark Turner. On the album, Rosenwinkel plays almost all of the instruments, and, backed by an ensemble, also sings – his voice, according to AllMusic, being perfectly suited to the Brazilian sound.

Kurt Rosenwinkel is in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ for four performances, on Saturday and Sunday, November 11 and 12. For further information and tickets, visit the SFJAZZ website.

Making a return visit to SFJAZZ this weekend, and appearing in the Joe Henderson Lab, is the Guilia Valle Trio. Composer and bass virtuoso, Italian-born Giulia grew up in Barcelona where she became part of that city’s highly creative jazz scene, further developing her style – which reflects Spanish, Brazilian and Argentine influences – in both Paris and New York City.

Barcelona daily Avui/El Punt describes Giulia Valle as “pure passion on the strings and maximum intensity in composition”, and Revista Enderrock writes that she is “one of the most promising and interesting emerging artists from the European scene”.

She also leads the Giulia Valle Quintet, and a more recently formed group, ‘Líbera’. She has appeared on at least 15 albums and won a number of awards, mainly for her compositions. As leader of her quintet, Giulia has performed at international festivals and in clubs, and has recorded several shows for Catalan Television with both the quintet and also with Libera. She also manages to find the time to teach bass and combo at the escola de Música de Badalona and at the Escola superior de Música de Catalunya.

Giulia Valle, with pianist Aruan Ortiz and drummer Kush Abbadey, is in the Joe Henderson Lab for two performances on Friday, November 10. More detail, and information on tickets, can be found on the SFJAZZ website.


Sources of information:

SFJAZZ program notes



Artists’ websites:

Kurt Rosenwinkel

Giulia Valle


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Alonzo King brings ‘The Propelled Heart’ back to San Francisco

Lisa Fischer with dancers of Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet – from video clip, courtesy LINES Ballet

Well known for his collaborations with composers, musicians and visual artists – including Edgar Meyer, Pharaoh Sanders, Hamza El Din, Pawel Szymanski, Jason Moran and Zakir Hussain – visionary choreographer Alonzo King presented a highly successful program in 2015, which featured vocalist Lisa Fischer on stage with his LINES Ballet.

Entitled The Propelled Heart, this work paid tribute to the power of song, and those who enjoyed this production will be delighted to hear that King is bringing it back to San Francisco to celebrate LINES Ballet’s 35th season.

Fischer, who has performed as a backing artist for her mentor Luther Vandross and for The Rolling Stones, has also appeared with a range of stars, including Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Beyoncé and Sting. She won a 1992 Grammy for her single How Can I Ease the Pain from her 1991 album So Intense, and was one of the stars who performed in the Academy Award-winning documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom, which also won a 2015 Grammy Award. Other illustrious artists with whom Lisa Fischer has collaborated include pianist Lang Lang, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and jazz pianist Billy Childs.

On tour with her trio, Grand Baton, she has received rave reviews from The New York Times – “She brought down the house in the single best show I’ve seen in the many years I’ve visited Birdland”; The DailyStar – “Sometimes you just have to close your eyes and bask in the raw talent of an artist… a powerhouse with a monumental range”; and Broadway World, which wrote of her “astonishing range, perfect intonation, mastery of the stage. Her glamorous-girl-next-door quality makes fans all over the world think she’s their own secret discovery”.

Alonzo King describes her as “…. a brilliant artist with a fully throbbing heart and expansive mind … an inspiration of sound, body and being”.  He’ll be taking The Propelled Heart on tour to Théâtre National de Chaillot in Paris in March 2018.

LINES Ballet’s Shuaib Elhassan in ‘The Propelled Heart’ – Photo: RJ Muna

Alonzo King and his LINES Ballet present The Propelled Heart, with Lisa Fischer, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater from November 15-19, 2017. For more information and tickets, visit linesballet.org, or call 415.978.2787.


Sources of information:

LINES Ballet Company program notes

Lisa Fischer


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