Merola Grand Finale brings Summer Festival to a close

The 2017 artists of the Merola Opera Program – photo: Kristen Loken

The Merola Opera Program  – regarded as one of the most prestigious and selective opera training programs in the United States – presents the Grand Finale of its Summer Festival at the War Memorial Opera House on Saturday evening.

Celebrating its 60th anniversary, this tremendously popular training program has given 23 aspiring opera stars, five apprentice coaches and one apprentice stage director – selected from hundreds of hopeful applicants – a 12-week intensive program to prepare them for a career in the world of opera.

In Saturday’s performance, these Merolini (as they’re known) will present staged scenes and musical excerpts from Donizetti’s La fille du régiment, Lucia di Lammermoor and La favorite; Massenet’s Cendrillon, Verdi’s I vespri siciliani, Rossini’s Le comte Ory and Il viaggio a Reims, Lehár’s Das Land des Lächelns, Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, Berg’s Wozzeck, Boito’s Mefistofele, Thomas’ Mignon, Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles, Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Britten’s The Turn of the Screw and Handel’s Rodelinda – a wide ranging repertoire, which will certainly highlight the versatility of the group.

The orchestra will be led by Antony Walker, Music Director of Pittsburgh Opera, who has appeared with companies in the United States, Europe and Australia, and conducted over 200 operas, a number of large and smaller scale choral and orchestral works, as well as symphonic and chamber works. Among the opera houses in which he has appeared are The Metropolitan Opera, English National Opera, Welsh National Opera, Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Rome Opera, Opera Australia, Glimmerglass Opera, the Canadian Opera Company and Vancouver Opera.

Tickets are on sale at San Francisco Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330, or A special post-performance reception follows the Grand Finale (tickets sold separately).


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‘Something Rotten!’ opens at SHN’s Orpheum Theatre

The cast of ‘Something Rotten!’ which opens in San Francisco this week – Photo: Jeremy Daniel

There’s a new Broadway hit opening at SHN’s Orpheum Theatre this week. Something Rotten! – described by Time Out New York as “the funniest musical comedy in at least 400 years” – takes us back to the time of Shakespeare, the playwright who’s making all the headlines at the expense of lesser mortals such as Nick and Nigel Bottom.

Rob McClure, Adam Pascal and the cast of the Something Rotten! – Photo: Jeremy Daniel

According to a soothsayer, these two brothers are led to believe that the forthcoming trend in theatre will be productions which involve not only acting, but singing and dancing as well, so – in order to outshine this Shakespeare character – they decide to write the world’s first musical.

In a production which the New York Post calls “a deliriously entertaining new musical comedy that brings the house down”, the brothers Bottom are played by Rob McClure and Josh Grisetti, with Adam Pascal as Shakespeare – all three of whom come to the San Francisco performance straight from Broadway.

Autumn Hurlbert and Josh Grisetti – Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Something Rotten! is directed and choreographed by Tony Award®-winner Casey Nicholaw (director of Aladdin and co-director of The House of Mormon). Music and lyrics are by Grammy Award-winner and Tony nominee Wayne Kirkpatrick, and Karey Kirkpatrick (a Golden Globe and Tony nominee) who also co-wrote the book with best-selling author John O’Farrell.

The cast of ‘Something Rotten’ – Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Nominated for 10 Tony® Awards – including Best Musical – Something Rotten! runs at the SHN Orpheum Theatre until September 10. For more information and tickets visit the https://www.shnsf.comSHN website.

Adam Pascal and the cast of the Something Rotten! Photo: Jeremy Daniel

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UnderCover Presents showcases Bay Area talent at SFJAZZ

Poster for UnderCover Presents at SFJAZZ this week – Courtesy SFJAZZ

SFJAZZ winds up its Summer Sessions this week with an eclectic set of concerts, over four nights, staged by a group which goes by the name of UnderCover Presents. This collective – which has been in existence since 2010 – hit upon the brilliant idea of bringing together musicians from all round the Bay Area to “celebrate the influence of classic albums”, as they describe it.

The aim is to present a series of performances, each one featuring the music of a legendary artist, with each number being performed by a different band. The bands are given free rein to put their own interpretation, sound or personality on the song that they’ve chosen, resulting in a series of concerts reflecting the wide range of musical genres that abound in the Bay Area. It’s a fascinating concept.

The first of the performances takes place on Thursday, with The Music of Ray Charles, the legend known as the “Genius of Soul” who made such a huge contribution to American music in over 50 years of writing, performing and recording. Featuring KATDELIC (with Ronkat Spearman, former member of Parliament Funkadelic), Bang Data and Cosa Nostra Strings (with Trance Thompson, The Dynamic Miss Faye Carol, and Noah Kibreab and the Arkiteks), Charles’ songs will be reinterpreted in styles such as funk, cumbia, hip-hop and acoustic chamber music.

For more information and tickets, visit the SFJAZZ website.

Friday features the music of singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger and civil rights activist Nina Simone. With songs from over 40 albums to choose from, curating this selection will have been quite the task, nevertheless what seems like the impossible has been achieved, and the carefully selected numbers will be presented by Jazz Mafia’s experimental Realistic Orchestra, by MoeTar, Zakiya Harris and Sólás Burke-Lalgee of the Afro-eclectic soul ensemble Elephantine, and by Vocal Rush, the a capella group of Oakland School for the Arts.

This performance is sold out, but it’ll be worth checking for returns on the day – see the SFJAZZ website.

Miles DavisBitches Brew is the album selected for Saturday evening. Influenced by rock, with electric instrumentation and advanced production techniques, this recording was ”thought by many to be among the most revolutionary albums in jazz history”, according to AllMusic, and is credited with launching an age of experimentation in jazz. At their SFJAZZ performance, Broun Fellinis, PC Muñoz, Kev Choice, and Alligator Spacewalk will present their reworked versions of the original recordings, each group re-imagining one side of this double-disk album.

Tickets and further details can be found on the SFJAZZ website.

Sunday sees Kid Beyond, Kendra McKinley, The Stone Foxes and Mino Yanci (with Vadia Rhodes) pay tribute to the four musicians who founded the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama in the 1960s. Known affectionately as The Swampers, this group was formally known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, who developed their own Muscle Shoals sound, adapting it to fit the massive number of recordings made at the Studio – the music of artists such as Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Wilson Pickett and Clarence Carter, among many more.

To find out more about the Music of Muscle Shoals, and for tickets, visit the SFJAZZ website.

All four of these concerts take place in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ, between August 17 and 20.



SFJAZZ program notes

UnderCover Presents


All Music


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San Francisco Opera steals the show

A scene from San Francisco Opera’s 2012 production of Verdi’s ‘Attila’ – Photo”: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera takes to the airwaves this week, with a televised performance of Verdi’s Attila on KQED Public Television tomorrow evening, and a radio broadcast of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly on Classical KDFC on Sunday. And there’s more, as the SF Opera Merola Program presents two live performances of Rossini’s La Cenerentola.

A co-production of Teatro alla Scala and San Francisco Opera, tomorrow’s broadcast of Attila was recorded at a live performance in the War Memorial Opera House in June 2012, and stars Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto in the title role. Despite his reputation as a ruthless barbarian, Attila is portrayed by Verdi as a brave, ambitious warrior, plagued by internal doubts.

The role of the Roman general Ezio is sung by Hawaiian baritone Quinn Kelsey – who was most recently seen on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House in the title role of Verdi’s Rigoletto. The cast also features soprano Lucrecia García as Odabella, tenor Diego Torre as Foresto, bass-baritone Samuel Ramey sings the role of Leone, and tenor Nathaniel Peake is Uldino.

The San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Chorus Director Ian Robertson) is led by Music Director Nicola Luisotti – about to enter his final season in this role for the Company, after a magnificent tenure which has seen him conduct over 40 operas and concerts, and which which will be celebrated throughout the coming season.

Matthew Shilvock, General Director of San Francisco Opera and soprano Frederica von Stade host the telecast of ‘Attila’ on KQED – courtesy San Francisco Opera

This telecast is hosted by the General Director of San Francisco Opera, Matthew Shilvock, and soprano Frederica von Stade, and airs on KQED 9 on Thursday, August 3 at 9.00 pm.

Natalie Image (soprano), Samantha Hankey (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Hiers (bass-baritone), and Edith Grossman (mezzo-soprano) in Merola Opera Program’s production of ‘La Cenerentola’. Photo: Kristen Loken

Also taking place tomorrow evening, and again on Saturday, is Rossini’s La Cenerentola, in fully-staged live performances by the Merola Opera Program. One of the most prestigious and selective opera training programs in the United States, Merola is currently staging its 2017 Summer Season, and these performances star mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey – a 2017 winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions – as Angelina.

The role of Prince Ramiro is sung by tenor Anthony Ciaramitaro, Tisbe by mezzo-soprano Edith Grossman, bass baritone Andrew Hiers is Don Magnifico, and Clorinda is sung by soprano Natalie Image. The role of Dandini is portrayed by bass-baritone Christian Pursell, and Alidoro is sung by bass-baritone Szymon Wach. The production is directed by Chuck Hudson.

Mark Morash, Director of Musical Studies for San Francisco Opera, conducts the Merola Opera Program peformances of La Cenerentola at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Tickets are available from the San Francisco Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330, or

Soprano Lianna Haratounian in the role of Cio-Cio-San in San Francisco Opera’s 2016 production of ‘Madama Butterfly’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

To round off this week’s feast of opera, Classical KDFC broadcasts San Francisco Opera’s hugely popular revival of Madama Butterfly, which closed the Company’s 2016 Fall Season (see more on ArtsPreview).

Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian, considered one of the most promising Verdi sopranos of her generation, sings the role of Cio-Cio-San. Italian tenor Vincenzo Costanzo is Lt B F Pinkerton, the role of Sharpless is sung by baritone Anthony Clark Evans, and Zanda Švēde is Suzuki. The San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Chorus Director Ian Robertson) are led by Franco-Canadian conductor Yves Abel, currently Chief Conductor of the NordwestDeutsche Philarmonie in Germany.

The broadcast takes place on Classical KDFC on Sunday evening, August 6, at 8.00 pm. For tuning frequencies visit, or listen online.


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All-Russian program with Valčuha and the San Francisco Symphony

Slovak conductor Juraj Valčuha – Photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Slovak conductor Juraj Valčuha makes a very welcome return to Davies Symphony Hall this week as he leads the San Francisco Symphony in an all-Russian program, with guest artist Benjamin Beilman playing the magnificent Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. The concert opens with Glazunov’s delightful Concert Waltz No 1, and closes with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

Yuraj Valčuha is Chief Conductor of the Orchestra and Choir of the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, an appointment he has held since October 2016, prior to which he was Chief Conductor of the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai in Turin from 2009 to 2016.

Maestro Valčuha made his conducting debut in 2005, with the Orchestre Nationale de France in Paris, which has been followed by appearances with most of the major orchestras in Europe and the United States. His debut performance with the New York Philharmonic in 2012 was described as “dazzling” by, and the following year he appeared for the first time with the San Francisco Symphony, as a Shenson Young Artist. Since then, he has made two follow-up appearances here – in October 2014 and in May last year.

This past season has seen Maestro Valčuha make two further US debuts – with the Chicago Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra – during a tour which included appearances with the Pittsburgh, Washington, Montreal and Minneapolis symphonies. He has also appeared with some of Europe’s finest orchestras in France, Germany and Italy, and in the world of opera, he led performances of Gounod’s Faust in Florence, Strauss’ Elektra and Bizet’s Carmen at Teatro di San Carlo, Napoli and Britten’s Peter Grimes at Teatro Comunale Bologna.

The soloist in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is the 26 year-old American artist Benjamin Beilman, rapidly becoming one of the fastest rising stars of his generation. The New York Times describes him as “a passionate performer with a deep, rich tone”, and following a performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto at the Montreal Competition, his interpretation of the slow movement was described by the Strad as “pure poetry”.  The Philadelphia Inquirer referred to him as “Poised and monstrously talented”, and Le Monde wrote: “He is a prodigious artist, who combines the gift of utmost sound perfection and a deep, delicate, intense, simmering sensitivity”.

This past season Mr Beilman has appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Yannick Nézet-Séguin in subscription, and with the Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. Other appearances in the US included those with the Symphony orchestras of Detroit, San Diego, Atlanta, and Grand Rapids, and debut recitals here in San Francisco and in Vancouver. Debuts abroad included those with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and at the Dvořák Festival in Prague. He also made a return appearance at London’s Wigmore Hall, and undertook a ten-city tour of Australia.

Recipient of the Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship in 2014, a 2012 Avery Fisher Career Grant, and a 2012 London Music Masters Award, Benjamin Beilman won First Prize in the Young Concert Artists International Auditions in 2010, and First Prize in the 2010 Montréal International Musical Competition. In 2009, he was a winner of Astral Artists’ National Auditions.

Yuraj Valčuha leads the San Francisco Symphony in a program of music by Glazunov, Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky, with guest artist Benjamin Beilman, at Davies Symphony Hall on July 28 and 29. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.



San Francisco Symphony program notes

Artists’ websites:

Juraj Valčuha

Benjamin Beilman


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Kick up your heels at ‘La Cage aux Folles’!

Georges (Ryan Drummond) announces the night’s entertainment at La Cage aux Folles

La Cage aux Folles – the latest production at San Francisco Playhouse – is a blast! Winner of six Tony Awards – including Best Musical – it’s fun and colorful, has some wonderful numbers, exuberant dance routines, plenty of humor – and just enough poignant moments to give us pause for thought, and indulge in a bit of introspection.

Albin ((John Treacy Egan) performs as Zaza at La Cage aux Folles

Skillfully directed by Playhouse Artistic Director Bill English, La Cage is still a winner – over its 34-year lifetime, the razmatazz, glitter and stardust haven’t dimmed a scrap – and there’s good reason for why. With a book by four-time Tony Award-winning playwright Harvey Fierstein – adapted from the play by Jean Poiret – and music and lyrics by multi-Tony Award-winning composer Jerry Herman, La Cage shows musical comedy at its hilarious and high-kicking best.

The show has seen three highly successful revivals over the years – winning two further Tony Awards for Best Revival – in 2004 and 2010 on Broadway – and the 2008 West End production took the Laurence Olivier Award in the same category. With a pedigree like that, this production could have been perceived as a somewhat daunting undertaking, but not a bit of it. The Playhouse professionals, as ever, take it in their highly professional stride, going for broke with a well polished and hugely enjoyable show.

Georges (Ryan Drummond) and Albin (John Treacy Egan) dine at a cafe, served by Mme. Renaud (Adrienne Herro) and M. Renaud (Christopher Reber)

Ryan Drummond is suave, genial and endlessly patient as Georges, the emcee of the St Tropez drag club which gives the musical its name. He has the unenviable task of managing the rather fragile psyche of his long-term partner, Albin – who is also Zaza, the star turn of the cabaret.  John Treacy Egan swings from temperamental diva to winsome and wounded lover without skipping a beat, but he’s at his finest when Zaza hits the stage and belts out her showstoppers.

Nikita Burshteyn is earnest, yet persuasive, as Jean-Michel, Georges’ son from a long-distant fling. He, however, presents his father with a real dilemma – he’s fallen in love with the daughter of a politician with extremely conservative views. He’s desperate not to be let down by his rather unorthodox family, and Georges, in turn, also wants to do the best for his son.  Cue hilarious consequences!

In the supporting roles, Bryan Yates Sharber has some marvelous moments as the coquettish Jacob, Albin’s butler-cum-housemaid, Samantha Rose is appealing as Anne, the love of Jean-Michel’s life, and Adrienne Herro and Christopher Reber deliver a set of fine comedy cameos in their dual roles as Mme and M Renaud, and as Anne’s parents – Marie and Edouard Dindon.  Lee Anne Payne sparkles as restaurant hostess Jacqueline, and the troupe of hoofers are absolutely outrageous in their respective, if occasionally dubious, characters.

Georges (Ryan Drummond), Albin (John Treacy Egan), Jean-Michel (Nikita Burshteyn) and Jacob (Brian Yates Sharber) prepare for dinner


Georges (Ryan Drummond), Albin (John Treacy Egan), Jean-Michel (Nikita Burshteyn), Anne (Samantha Rose), Edouard Dindon (Christopher Reber) and Marie Dindon (Adrienne Herro) dine at Jacqueline (Lee Ann Payne)’s restaurant

Head for the Playhouse, throw caution to the winds, and prepare to thoroughly enjoy yourself. This bizarre mix of comedy, glitz and thought-provoking sentiments is too good to miss.

La Cage aux Folles runs at the San Francisco Playhouse until September 16. For more information and reservations, visit

Albin (John Treacy Egan) begins to sing at dinner with Jean-Michel (Nikita Burshteyn) and Anne (Samantha Rose)


Photography by Jessica Palopoli


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Three one-act works from Merola Opera’s Summer Festival

Soprano Jana McIntyre

The Merola Opera Program’s  2017 Summer Festival continues this week with a triple bill of fully-staged one-act operas – Pergolesi’s La serva padrona, Holst’s Sāvitri, and Walton’s The Bear. Christopher Ocasek conducts, and direction is by Peter Kazaras.

Pergolesi’s La serva padrona (The Servant Turned Mistress) is a 45-minute opera buffa, with a libretto by Gennaro Antonio Federico, after the play by Jacopo Angello Nelli. It premiered on September 5, 1733, at Teatro San Bartolomeo in Naples. The opera tells of Uberto, an ageing bachelor, whose scheming maid, Serpina, assumes the role of mistress of his household, and who ultimately tricks him into marrying her. All ends well, however, since Uberto ultimately realises that he loves Serpina after all.

The role of Serpina is sung by soprano Jana McIntyre – in her second season for Merola Opera – and Uberto by bass-baritone Daniel Noyola.

Soprano Kelsea Webb – courtesy San Francisco Opera

Gustav Holst wrote both the score and libretto for his chamber opera Sāvitri. First performed on December 5, 1916, it represents an episode from the Mahābhārata, one of the major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the mythology of which held a particular fascination for Holst. With a theme of the triumph of love over death, the opera opens with Death summoning Sāvitri’s husband Satyavān, but she begs Death to allow him to live, saying that her life would be incomplete without him. Death finally yields to her pleas, returning to his kingdom, and the opera ends with Sāvitri singing of her love for her husband.

Soprano Kelsea Webb sings the title role, tenor Addison Marlor is Satyavān, and bass-baritone David Weigel – a 2013 Merola artist – takes the role of Death.

Bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum – courtesy San Francisco Opera

William Walton’s The Bear is described as “an extravaganza in one act for three soloists and orchestra” (Oxford University Press). Based on a short story by Anton Chekov, with a libretto by Paul Dehn, The Bear was commissioned in 1965 by the Koussevitsky Foundation, and first performed at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1967. Set in 1888, the action takes place in the home of Madame Popova, a widow determined to be faithful to the memory of her – apparently promiscuous – husband. She is courted by Smirnov, one of her late husband’s creditors, but they quarrel, and at one stage threaten each other with pistols. Neither is able to open fire on the other, though, and they realize that they have fallen in love.

The role of Madame Popova is taken by mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon – a 2015 Merola artist. Bass-baritoine Daniel Noyola sings the role of Luka, her servant, and bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum – a 2016 Merola artist – is Smirnov.

Bass-baritione Daniel Noyola – courtesy San Francisco Opera

Conductor Christopher Ocasek has appeared throughout the US and Europe, leading productions of Carmen, Mark Adamo’s Little Women, La Tragèdie de Carmen, Cendrillon, The Mikado, and The Medium, among others. He is a member of the conducting staff of both San Francisco Opera and Washington National Opera – principal guest conductor and assistant/cover conductor of the latter – and has worked with stage directors such as Francesca Zambello, David Pountney, Calixto Bieito and Peter Kazaras.

Peter Kazaras, who has worked with Merola on a number of occasions, is currently Director of Opera and Music Theater at UCLA, prior to which he was Artistic Advisor and Artistic Director of the Young Artist Program at Seattle Opera. A former operatic tenor, Mr Kazaras has performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Houston Grand Opera, San Francisco Opera, Seattle Opera and Vienna Opera, and directed educational programs such as the Wolf Trap summer program, the Chautauqua Institute Voice Department, the Academy of Vocal Arts, the Hartt College of Music, and Florida State University.

The 2017 Merola Opera Program is an intensive 12-week training program, in which 23 singers, five apprentice coaches and one apprentice stage director are taking part. Representing Canada, Poland, China, Colombia and Mexico, as well as 14 states in the US, the participants were selected from over 600 young artists who auditioned for a place on this highly selective, all expenses paid, summer program.

The Merola Opera Program production of three one-act operas – all with English supertitles – takes place at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on Thursday, July 20 at 7.30 pm and Saturday, July 22 at 2.00 pm. For more information and tickets visit the Merola Opera website.


Christopher Ocasek

Peter Kazaras



Merola Opera program notes


Hyperion Records

Oxford University Press


SFJAZZ presents The Caribbean Basin Songbook

The Caribbean Basin Songbook is the featured theme for week two of the SFJAZZ  Summer Sessions, and Dominican singer and songwriter Joan Soriano  is just the man to get things off on the right note.

Known as ‘the Duke of Bachata’ for his complete immersion into this lilting, Caribbean style of music and dance, Joan Soriano has been the subject of two documentaries – Alex Wolfe’s Santo Domingo Blues and Adam Taub’s The Duke of Bachata. He has released four albums on the iASO label, the latest of which is Me Decidí, brimming over with what the Dominicans refer to as el amargue – the somewhat melancholy language of bachata.

Joan Soriano is in the Miner Auditorium on Thursday, July 20 – with an open dance floor. For more information and tickets, visit the SFJAZZ website.

Rio-born singer, pianist and composer Claudia Villela  – a Bay Area resident since 1984 – has been blessed with a “…. Remarkable, beautiful, towering voice ….” says the New York Times. Her repertoire – a blend of samba, jazz, blues and songs from around the world – comes, she says, from memories of “all the music I’ve heard, from Brazilian baroque, to bossa nova, to free jazz, the nostalgic and modern”. In addition to some of her own compositions, her performance at SFJAZZ this week features the music of two Brazilian artists – vocalist Elis Regina and composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.

Claudia Villela, with her remarkable five-octave voice, appears in the Miner Auditorium on Friday, July 21st, with Vitor Gonçalves on piano and accordian, guitarist Jeff Buenz, Celso Alberti on drums and percussion, and bassist Gary Brown. For tickets and further information, visit the SFJAZZ website.

In her performance at SFJAZZ on Saturday evening, Bobi Céspedes  – regarded as the Queen of Cuban Music in the Bay Area – pays tribute to the artistry of Celia Cruz, one of the most popular salsa performers of all time. Aside from her success as a performer, Bobi is a priestess of the Yorùbán diaspora, and says that this “doesn’t just mean being a religious person, it means being a folklorist…… Everything I do has to do with the legacy my people left me,” she explains.

Bobi Céspedes appears in the Miner Auditorium on Saturday, July 22, with Marco Díaz (piano, trumpet and vocals), Morris Amaya on trumpet, José Roberto Hernández (guitar, vocals), Saúl Sierra-Alonso on bass, Julio Pérez on bongo, Carlos Manuel Caro (congas) and Elizabeth Fuentes (vocals, chekeré, guiro). For tickets and more information, visit the SFJAZZ website.

Sunday at SFJAZZ features the Guadalajaran sextet Troker  performing their live soundtrack to the screening of Enrique Rosa’s 1919 silent film El Automóvil Gris (The Grey Car). Describing their sound as “funkadelic jazz from the tequila land”, Troker is a group of six musicians who come from different parts of Mexico, each bringing to the party influences from his own particular region of the country. The result, says All About Jazz, is “Noisy, chaotic, sprawling, messy, and altogether wonderful”.  Alt. Latino says: “Saying Troker is a jazz band from Mexico doesn’t even begin to cover the musical punch these guys deliver.”  Having acquired an international following from appearances on the global festival circuit, the group has released four albums, the latest being 1919 Música para cine, which goes some way towards explaining their choice of program this week. It promises to be a fascinating experience.

Troker – Diego Franco Chico (saxophones), Isaías “Chay” Flores (trumpet), Christian Jiménez (keyboards), Samuel “Samo” Gonzalez (bass), Juan Carlos “Frankie” Mares (drums) and
DJ Sonicko (turntables) – is in the Miner Auditorium on Sunday, July 23. Tickets and more information are available from the SFJAZZ website.

In the Joe Henderson Lab this week, we have fatsO  – described by Rolling Stone Columbia as “A timeless sound, intelligent and passionate, sophisticated and street-wise, all at the same time “. See the SFJAZZ website for more detail.

There’s Flor de Toloache, Latin GRAMMY-nominated, and New York’s only all-female mariachi band, described by NPR Music as “Top-notch musicianship, mariachi swagger for days, and a performance style that captures all the power and emotion you’d hope for”. More information on the SFJAZZ website .

And there’s another all-female group to bring the week to a close – Femina, an Argentinian trio from San Marin de los Andes, making their debut at SFJAZZ. With a style that blends Latin American folkloric rhythms, soul, funk, and reggae, their music promotes themes of love and equality, and included in their performance will be songs from their forthcoming release. Find out more on the SFJAZZ website.


Artists’ websites

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A summer selection of popular works from the San Francisco Symphony


Gershwin and Bernstein – what a fabulous combination! And with a selection of other Broadway numbers, and vocalist Rhiannon Giddens performing songs from the American south, Edwin Outwater and the San Francisco Symphony plan a wonderful night out on Thursday!

No matter how many times you hear Gershwin’s An American in Paris, there always seems to be something new to discover, and this performance is no exception. According to the Symphony’s program notes, musicologists have discovered that percussionists have been honking the wrong taxi horns for the past 70 years! Watch the video clip above to see Edwin Outwater explain – but whichever horns are used, and in whatever sequence, this is still a sensational piece of music.

Rhiannon Giddens – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Rhiannon Giddens, lead singer and founding member of the Grammy Award-winning African-American folk group, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, went solo in 2015 with Tomorrow Is My Turn – one of 2015’s most highly praised albums – of which the New York Times wrote, “her voice is a perpetually soulful marvel”. Grammy nominated, it won for Giddens the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Singer of the Year. She was also nominated for two Grammy’s this year, for her 2016 EP Factory Girl – for Best Folk Album, and the song Factory Girl for Best American Roots Performance. Her second solo album Freedom Highway, which explores African-American experiences, was released in February. Giddens records on the Nonesuch label.

The concert finale belongs to Leonard Bernstein with a performance of his hugely popular Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, a firm favorite in the repertoire of the San Francisco Symphony.  Let the video clip (above) do all the talking.

Edwin Outwater leads the San Francisco Symphony, with vocalist Rhiannon Giddens, in a program featuring the music of Gershwin and Bernstein at Davies Symphony Hall on Thursday, July 20. For tickets and more information, visit the San Francisco Symphony website .

Ben Folds – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Ben Folds  appears with the Symphony on Friday night in a program which opens with Leonard Bernstein’s gorgeous overture to Candide. The program features some of Ben Folds’ greatest hits over the years, as well as selections from the Ben Folds Five. Frequently appearing with some of the world’s greatest orchestras, he was recently appointed the first-ever Artistic Advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center where he’ll be involved in bringing together the talent of pop artists and the Orchestra.

Edwin Outwater leads the San Francisco Symphony, with guest artist Ben Folds, in a program at Davies Symphony Hall on Friday, July 21. More information and tickets are available on the San Francisco Symphony website.

Women of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

The women of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus feature in a performance of Holst’s The Planets on Saturday evening. This orchestral suite of seven tone poems was written between 1914 and 1916, when Holst was director of music at St Paul’s Girls’ School in London. According to the composer, “There is no programme music in them, neither have they any connection with the deities of classical mythology bearing the same names. If any guide to the music is required, the subtitle to each piece will be found sufficient, especially if it be used in a broad sense.” (Betsy Schwarm, Encyclopaedia Britannica). Jupiter, the bringer of jollity, and Mars, the bringer of war, for example, illustrate his point well.

Edwin Outwater leads the San Francisco Symphony and the women of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus in Gustav Holst’s The Planets at Davies Symphony Hall on Saturday, July 22. Tickets and further information can be found on the San Francisco Symphony website.

The San Francisco Symphony on the Waterfrong – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

On Sunday afternoon, the San Francisco Symphony, led by Edwin Outwater, presents the second of its two free concerts this summer – this one to be held on the San Francisco Waterfront. Featuring guest artist Julie Adams (soprano), the program is full of popular works – Bernstein’s overture to Candide and his Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, Copland’s Hoe Down from Rodeo, Debussy’s Clair de lune, Dvořák’s Song to the Moon from Rusalka, and a selection from Holst’s The Planets.

Pack a picnic, gather family and friends, and enjoy an admission-free concert at the James R Herman Cruise Terminal, Pier 27, at 12 pm on July 23. See more detail on the San Francisco Symphony website .


San Francisco Symphony

Edwin Outwater 

Julie Adams 

San Francisco Symphony Chorus


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SFJAZZ Summer Sessions opens with Great American Songbook series

Thursday evening heralds the opening of the SFJAZZ Summer Sessions – just over five weeks of fabulous music and performances running through August 20. Opening this season is “legendary singer, social activist, and Bay Area gem” (SFJAZZ), Barbara Dane, who’s also celebrating her 90th birthday!  Appearing with the Tammy Hall Trio , Dane – described by the Boston Globe as “One of the true unsung heroes of American music ” – performs songs from her new album Throw it Away, and a selection of numbers from her impressive career which has spanned more than six decades.

There’ll also be appearances by special guests Pablo Menendez  and soul artists the Chambers Brothers who will join Dane in a performance of some of the freedom songs recorded in the 1960s. According to SFJAZZ, their 1966 LP Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers is being re-issued in time for tomorrow’s performance.

Barbara Dane is in the Miner Auditorium for one night only on July 13. For tickets and further information, visit the SFJAZZ website.

Another display of Bay Area talent follows on Friday, with the T Sisters, three Oakland-born vocalists who played to sold-out performances at the start of last year’s Summer Sessions.  SF Weekly said: “Chloe, Rachel, and Erika Tietjen sing and you just feel better about the world”, so what better reason would you need to head for SFJAZZ for their one-night only appearance? Hear them perform with Andrew Allen Fahlander on mandolin and guitar, bassist Steve Height and Marion Aldana on drums and percussion, and they’ll be joined by special guests Ramsey Tietjen (vocals and keyboards), Kevin Wong – also on keyboards – and trumpeter Zach Meyerowitz

More information and tickets can be found on the SFJAZZ website.

On Saturday evening, GRAMMY® Award-winning vocalist Catherine Russell  sings numbers from her latest – and GRAMMY® nominated – album Harlem On My Mind.  The album features music popular in New York during the 30s and 40s – numbers like You’re My Thrill and The Very Thought of You. During her career Russell has recorded and performed with names such as David Bowie, Steely Dan, Michael Feinstein, Paul Simon and Rosanne Cash, recorded five albums, and won her GRAMMY® for her contribution to the HBO series, Boardwalk Empire.  According to The Los Angeles Times, Russell, with her “natural, unforced way with a song, and the personal touch she brings to it .. virtually stands alone on today’s jazz landscape”.

Catherine Russell appears with Matt Munisteri on guitar, pianist Mark Shane, bassist Tal Ronen, and drummer Mark McLean. For more information and tickets, visit the SFJAZZ website.

Sunday evening’s performance is a Members-only event, so if you qualify, you’ll be enjoying The Songs of Ella Fitzgerald as performed by GRAMMY®-nominated singer Jane Monheit, the vocalist “Endowed with a voice of phenomenal beauty and flexibility”, says The New York Times. Equally at home in both jazz and cabaret, Jane Monheit has created her own recording label – Emerald City Records – the first album of which is Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is the artist who has had the most influence on Monheit, although not, apparently, so much in terms of style. “What I really got from Ella,” says Jane, “is her warmth, her charm, the joy she puts in her music.”

Jane Monheit, with pianist Andy Langham, Dave Robaire on bass, drummer Rick Montalbano and percussionist Jamey Tate, is in the Miner Auditorium on Sunday evening, July 16. More information on this performance, and on membership of SFJAZZ, can be found on the SFJAZZ website.

Performers in the Joe Henderson Lab at SFJAZZ this week include Ranky Tanky, exponents of the South Carolina Gullah tradition, and Haitian-American vocalist Leyla McCalla  whose performances are strongly influenced by traditional Creole, Cajun and Haitian music, as well as by American jazz and folk. To find out more on these performances, visit the SFJAZZ website.



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