New Debussy album from MTT & San Francisco Symphony

cover-debussy-3000x3000Photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony

“Debussy’s work cannot be judged on the musical level alone”, writes Edward Lockspeiser – Author of Debussy: His Life and Mind – in an online article for Encyclopaedia Britannica.  “There is not only poetry in his music;” he observes, “there is often an inspiration from painting”.  Debussy  did indeed possess a rare gift for creating visual images through his music, a quality which  Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony have so beautifully captured on their newly released all-Debussy album.  MTT – who admits to having been “captivated” by Debussy early in his musical life – points out that Debussy “had a genius for sensing the essential quality of a particular instrument’s voice and creating for it evocative solos that have become emblematic”.

The album, which goes on sale today, features three works by the French composer – his Images pour orchestre, Jeux, and La plus que lente – each piece reflecting the the elegance and delicacy of his style, and the artistry of his orchestration. Tilson Thomas describes Debussy’s “sense of unusual blends of different instruments” as “original and highly demanding”, adding that “his orchestral music, especially the later orchestral works like those on this album, presents some of the greatest challenges in the whole repertory for both conductor and instrumentalists”.

Debussy drew much of his inspiration from art, literature and theater, but he could equally be said to have been influenced by his surroundings, by landscapes, and the folk songs of other countries. His Images pour orchestre (written in 1912) are a good example.  They fall into three sections – Gigues, Ibéria and Rondes de printemps.

Gigues calls to mind the cool, misty Scottish countryside, the piece opening with a somewhat melancholy air, followed by the sound of the lightly tapping feet of Scottish dancers – what Michael Steinberg (former San Francisco Symphony program annotator) describes as “the simultaneous existence of two rhythmic worlds”.

Ibéria is actually a triptych within a triptych – comprising three separate pieces. Par les rues et par les chemins (Along the Highways and Byways) is characterized by the distinctive rhythms associated with a journey; Les parfums de la nuit is a slow and dreamlike piece, redolent of the fragrance of blossoms hanging in the evening air; and Le matin d’un jour de fête is colorful and chaotic, filled with the sounds of marching bands and dancers, flutes and fiddles, and the jollity of a country fair.

The final set of Images, Rondes des printemps heralds the first day of spring. Based on the French version of an old Italian song, and probably taking its name from the folk dance in which the dancers move in a large circle, it’s a lively and cheerful little piece.

Debussy’s Jeux – his last completed orchestral work – was commissioned by impresario Sergei Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes. The ballet, choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, is set in the pale light of a garden at dusk, and follows the interaction between a boy and two girls, dressed for a game of tennis, as they search for a missing ball.  It premiered in Paris in May 1913, which was unfortunate in terms of timing, for a matter of weeks later, Le sacre du printemps – with its extraordinary score by Stravinsky – turned the world of ballet upside down.  Nevertheless, Jeux is a delightful little score, described by Michael Tilson Thomas as “an intricate and luscious bandying back and forth of tiny gestures of tambourines, viola, xylophone, and more.  The music seems to be in streams of sound coalescing, dissolving, transforming”.

The final work of this collection is Debussy’s gorgeous La plus que lente (roughly translated as “slower than slow”), written in 1910 for solo piano, and orchestrated by Debussy in 1912.  Possibly inspired the gypsy-style musicians whom Debussy had heard in the cafés of Budapest, or by those he had also heard in Paris, La plus que lente is languid, moody and romantic, conjuring up sensations of the heady atmosphere in the salons of Paris as they must have been in his time.

If you love Debussy, you’ll adore these elegant and sumptuous performances of his music by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, recorded live at the city’s Davies Symphony Hall.

Debussy: Images, Jeux, La plus que lente has been released on the Symphony’s in-house label, SFS Media. It’s available as a hybrid SACD compatible with conventional CD players, and as a digital download on all major streaming services, and from the SF Symphony’s e-store.


San Francisco Symphony

Michael Tilson Thomas

SFS Media



Encyclopaedia Britannica

San Francisco Symphony program notes:
Michael Steinberg
James M Keller


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SFJAZZ Collective performs – and records – the music of Miles Davis


The SFJAZZ Collective © Jay Blakesberg

Each year, the SFJAZZ Collective – the ensemble of star performers and composers regarded as some of the finest in the world of jazz today – pays tribute to the works of a modern jazz master.  Previously – in a series of performances which also includes a selection of the Collective’s own compositions – they have honored Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Horace Silver, Stevie Wonder, and Chick Corea.  This season, the featured artist is the legendary trumpeter and bandleader, Miles Davis.

In a four-day residency at the SFJAZZ Center this week, the Collective will perform new arrangements of eight of Davis’ works, and eight of their own new pieces. What makes this series even more exciting is that each performance will be recorded for the new, limited edition, 2-disc SFJAZZ Collective album to be released in Spring 2017 – and available exclusively through SFJAZZ.


The SFJAZZ Collective © Jay Blakesberg

The award-winning Collective was launched by SFJAZZ in 2004, the result of discussions between the founder and executive director of SFJAZZ, Randall Kline, and saxonophist Joshua Redman, founding member of the Collective. Kline and Redman shared a desire to showcase the progression of jazz from the days of the ‘Golden Age’ to the style of the current generation of composers and performers. “The Collective demonstrates,” says All About Jazz, “that decades-old music needn’t lose its contemporary relevance — not, at least, in the hands of a group this encyclopedic in its knowledge of tradition, but just as versed in the foundation of jazz as a living, breathing and forward-reaching thing.”

Since the launch of the Collective, the ensemble hasn’t looked back, having established itself as one of the most acclaimed and exciting groups on the jazz scene, with what’s described as an “innovative approach to repertoire” (SFJAZZ).

The current line-up comprises alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, tenor saxophonist David Sánchez, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, trumpeter Sean Jones, trombonist Robin Eubanks, pianist Edward Simon, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Obed Calvaire.

This international and multi-cultural group – hailing from locations such as Ohio, Baltimore, Miami, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and New Zealand – continue to delight their enthusiastic fan-base with a style which portrays jazz as constantly evolving and decidedly modern. As The New York Times puts it: “You can propose various definitions for what this band represents, but it’s a superbrain for what serious jazz sounds like now.”


The SFJAZZ Collective © Jay Blakesberg

The SFJAZZ Collective plays the music of Miles Davis and their own original compositions from October 20 to 23 at the SFJAZZ Center. For more information and tickets, visit




SFJAZZ Collective


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Pablo Heras-Casado & Alisa Weilerstein guest with San Francisco Symphony


Spanish conductor Pablo Heras-Casado © Harald Hoffmann – Deutsche Grammophon

Always a welcome visitor to San Francisco, Spanish conductor Pablo Heras-Casado returns to Davies Symphony Hall this week to lead the San Francisco Symphony in Mozart’s Symphony No 29, Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony, and the Schumann Cello Concerto, with guest artist Alisa Weilerstein.

Principal Conductor of Orchestra of Saint Luke’s, New York, and Principal Guest Conductor of Teatro Real, Madrid, Maestro Heras-Casado has an impressive repertoire which ranges from great symphonic and operatic works to contemporary scores. As well as his ongoing association with the San Francisco Symphony, which began with his debut performance in 2010, he also has long-standing relationships with the Los Angeles Philharmonic – his recent interpretation of works by Ravel and Stravinsky with the L A Phil was described by the Los Angeles Times as “riveting” – and with the Philharmonia Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Staatskapelle Berlin, Mariinsky Orchestra, Bavarian Radio Symphony, and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra.

His schedule this season includes engagements with the New York and Los Angeles philharmonics, Philharmonia Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic, Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Finnish Radio Symphony, and at Salzburg’s Mozartwoche.  He’ll be touring and recording with the Balthasar Neumann Choir and Ensemble in Monteverdi’s Selva morale e spirituale, and focusing on the works of Mendelssohn with Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. Operatic works include Le nozze di Figaro at Staatsoper Berlin, Carmen with Orchestre de Paris at Festival d’Aix en Provence, and Der fliegende Holländer at Teatro Real.


American cellist Alisa Weilerstein – Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

The guest soloist in this week’s performance of the Schumann Cello Concerto is American cellist Alisa Weilerstein, whose performance of this work in January this year was described by The Guardian as “thrillingly realized”. Ms Weilerstein has a family background steeped in music. Her father, Donald Weilerstein, was the founding first violinist of the Cleveland String Quartet, her mother is the pianist Vivian Hornik Weilerstein, and they celebrate their 40th year as a performing duo this year, with a concert at Juilliard on December 8, together with their extraordinarily gifted daughter.

Alisa Weilerstein has enjoyed particular success in her performances of the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No 1 (which she and Pablo Heras-Casado recently recorded for Decca, with the Bavarian Radio Symphony). In 2010, The Independent described her as “A phenomenal young cellist ….” [who] “…. pretty much stole the evening with her extraordinary account of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No1…”.  Following a performance of this work in March 2011, Seen and Heard International wrote: “This was an incendiary performance of this music, as riveting as any cellist and orchestra I have ever heard”, while the following month, in The New York Times review of Ms Weilerstein’s performance of the same work, she was described as “brilliant” and “compelling”.

This season, Alisa Weilerstein will play the Schumann concerto with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, and on tour in Italy and Spain. She will also perform Britten’s Cello Symphony with the New World Symphony; Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, the Netherlands Philharmonic, and the National Symphony; Prokofiev’s Sinfonia concertante with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and the Dallas Symphony; Elgar with the Staatskapelle Weimar; Walton with Amsterdam’s Residentie Orkest; and Dvořák with the Minnesota Orchestra and the Sydney and Tokyo symphonies.

Pablo Heras-Casado leads the San Francisco Symphony and guest soloist Alisa Weilerstein in a program of works by Mozart, Schumann and Dvořák, at Davies Symphony Hall from October 19 to 22.  For more information, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.




San Francisco Symphony program notes

Artists’ websites:
Pablo Heras-Casado
Alisa Weilerstein

For more information on the works to be performed in these concerts, see:
Mozart’s Symphony No 29
Schumann Cello Concerto
Dvorak Symphony No 7


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San Francisco Opera restages acclaimed production of ‘The Makropulos Case’


German soprano Nadja Michael as Emilia Marty in Janáček’s ‘The Makropulos Case’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The intriguing case of a woman who has lived for over 300 years, and her search for a missing formula to extend her lifespan even further, provide the backdrop to Leoš Janáček’s dramatic opera Věc Makropulos (The Makropulos Case) – the latest production by San Francisco Opera in a season which has already demonstrated the Company’s flair for creative programming.

French director Olivier Tambosi returns to the War Memorial Opera House to recreate his highly acclaimed 2010 staging of this work, which features German soprano Nadja Michael as the beguiling diva Emilia Marty, American tenor Charles Workman, in his Company debut, as Albert Gregor, and American baritone Stephen Powell as Baron Jaroslav Prus. The San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director Ian Robertson) are led in a debut appearance for the Company by Russian conductor Mikhail Tatarnikov.

The performances of this co-production with Finnish National Opera mark the 50th anniversary of the United States premiere of The Makropulos Case, which was staged by San Francisco Opera in 1966.


A scene from Janáček’s ‘The Makropulos Case’ with Dale Travis (Dr. Kolenatý ), Charles Workman (Albert Gregor), Nadja Michael (Emilia Marty), and Stephen Powell (Baron Jaroslav Prus) © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Janáček’s opera, for which he also wrote the libretto, is set in Prague in the early part of the 20th Century, and based on a play of the same name by the Czech author, and pioneer of science fiction, Karel Capek (1890-1938). In Capek’s play – written in 1922 – the origins of the story go back more than 300 years, when Hieronymus Makropulos, the court alchemist to the Bohemian monarch Rudolf II (1552-1612), concocted an elixir of youth for the sovereign. Rudolf ordered that it be tested on Makropulos’ daughter, Elina, which apparently proved fatal, and the alchemist was jailed. Elina, however, did not die, but after her recovery she escaped, with a lifespan of 300 years ahead of her. During the following three centuries, she took on various identities, had many affairs, never aged beyond 30 years, and always took on names which would enable her to retain the initials E M.

During the early part of the 19th century, as opera singer Ellian MacGregor, she had an illegitimate son, Ferdinand Gregor, by a Bohemian nobleman, Baron Josef Ferdinand Prus, and although Gregor was destined to inherit his father’s estate, there was no proof of this when Prus died, and the estate passed to a cousin.


Nadja Michael as Emilia Marty and Charles Workman as Albert Gregor in ‘The Makropulos Case’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The opera takes up the story in the early part of the 20th century, with the Gregor and Prus families still engaged in a legal battle over the estate. The beautiful, but cold and cynical diva, Emilia Marty (the most recent identity of Elina Makropulos), learns about this case, and knows that there are documents in the vaults of the current Baron Prus which would clear up the dispute about the estate.  She is also aware that she’s nearing the end of her extended lifespan, and that the formula for the elixir which would prolong her life even further, is to be found with these documents.  The opera revolves around Emilia’s quest to lay hands on the formula, but when she finally does, she realizes that she no longer wishes to extend her life, and ultimately accepts her humanity.

German soprano Nadja Michael – who, according to Associated Press, “commands the stage in a manner few sopranos do” – made her San Francisco Opera debut (and also her American debut) in 2009, in the title role of the Company’s production of Salome. Having appeared on some of the world’s most famous stages – including the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, Vienna State Opera, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Teatro al Fenice in Venice, Theatre du Capitole in Toulouse, and at the Glyndebourne and Salzburg Festivals – Ms Michael has a repertoire which includes some notably challenging roles for a dramatic soprano.  These include Cherubini’s Médée, Leonore in Beethoven’s Fidelio, Marietta in Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt, Floria Tosca, and Cassandre and Didon in Berlioz’s Les Troyens.


Nadja Michael as Emilia Marty and Stephen Powell as Baron Jaroslav Prus in ‘The Makropulos Case’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Olivier Tambosi’s 2010 staging of The Makropulos Case for San Francisco Opera was hailed by the San Francisco Chronicle as “a superbly inventive production” and “an unalloyed triumph”.  Mr Tambosi returned to the War Memorial Opera House in July of this year for his production of Janáček’s Jenůfa, a work which he directs for the Metropolitan Opera later this month.  His 2016-17 season also includes productions of Manon Lescaut for Staatsoper Hannover, Cosi fan tutte for Münchner Staatstheater, Falstaff for San Diego Opera, and Man of La Mancha at the Volksoper Wien.

Acclaimed Russian conductor Mikhail Tatarnikov is Music Director and Principal Conductor of the Mikhailovsky Theatre St Petersburg. In past seasons he has led productions at major opera houses such as Teatro alla Scala Milan, Bayerische Staatsoper, La Monnaie Brussels, Opéra de Bordeaux, Opéra de Monte-Carlo, Theater an der Wien, Latvian National Opera in Riga, Bergen Opera, Komische Oper Berlin, and the Mariinsky Theatre, as well as Russia’s first ever performance of Britten’s Billy Budd at the Mikhailovsky Theatre. He regards both Benjamin Britten and Leoš Janáček’ as “two absolutely exceptional figures in 20th century music”.

Looking ahead, in addition to a number of ballet and opera productions at the Mikhailovsky, Maestro Tatarnikov will be conducting a gala concert at the Gran Teatre del Liceu Barcelona with Dmitry Hvorostovsky, Tcherniakov’s new production of The Snow Maiden at the Bastille Paris, Jurgen Flynn’s new production of Manon Lescaut for Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin, and a revival of Prince Igor at Hamburgische Staatsoper.


A scene from Janáček’s ‘The Makropulos Case’ with Matthew O’Neil (Count Hauk-Sendorf), Stephen Powell (Baron Jaroslav Prus), Joel Sorensen (Vitek), Nadja Michael (Emilia Marty), Charles Workman (Albert Gregor), and Dale Travis (Dr. Kolenatý ) Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera’s production of The Makropulos Case is sung in Czech with English supertitles. It opens on Friday, October 14 and runs for five performances, until October 29. For more information on the production and tickets, visit


San Francisco Opera program notes

Artists’ websites:
Nadja Michael
Olivier Tambosi
Mikhail Tatarnikov


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Stephen Hough plays Saint-Saëns with Tortelier & Monte-Carlo Philharmonic


Stephen Hough © Sim-Canetty-Clarke

He’s been described by Musical America as “truly an exquisite player”, The Economist has written of “the technical finesse and idiomatic authority he brings to every piece he plays”, and The Times refers to him as “the effortlessly mellifluous pianist”. This is British pianist Stephen Hough, the guest soloist appearing with Yan Pascal Tortelier and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra in a programme entitled À la française on 14th October.

À la française is one of the concerts in the OPMC’s Grande Saison series – a selection of major symphonic works given by the Orchestra in the Auditorium Rainier III, and in the Salle des Princes in the Grimaldi Forum, both of which have the capacity to accommodate the large scale works of the symphonic repertoire.

In this concert of works by French composers, Stephen Hough plays the Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No 5, L’Égyptien, and the programme includes the overture to Le Corsaire by Hector Berlioz, the Métaboles for Orchestra by Henri Dutilleux and Ravel’s gorgeous La Valse.

 Known for his mastery of the keyboard, Stephen Hough is also a writer and composer of note. He has a huge international following and has been recognised with numerous awards. In 2001 he was the first classical performing artist to win a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, he was awarded Northwestern University’s 2008 Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano, won the Royal Philharmonic Society Instrumentalist Award in 2010 and in January 2014 was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in the New Year’s Honors List. In 2008, Gramophone named his recording of all five Saint-Saëns Piano Concertos the most popular classical CD of the preceding 30 years.

Yan Pascal Tortelier – Courtesy IMG Artists

During an illustrious career, French conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier has led some of the world’s finest orchestras – including the London Symphony and Philharmonic orchestras, l’Orchestre de Paris, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Czech, St Petersburg and Oslo Philharmonics, Filarmonica della Scala Milan, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Boston and Chicago symphony orchestras. According to TribLIVE, in his 2014 appearance with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra he gave “….. a magnificently conceived and performed account” of the Sibelius Symphony No 5.

Conductor Emeritus of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Academy of Music in London, Maestro Tortelier has this season taken up the role of Chief Conductor of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, with whom he is said to have built a very special relationship during his recent guest appearances. Following the Maestro’s debut performance as Chief Conductor last month, Fréttablaðið wrote: “It can safely be said that Tortelier started his tenure with great style”, and, according to Morgunblaðið, “…. the new chief conductor certainly fired up the ISO which gave a passionate performance, with excellent dynamic range and lush sound”.

Camille Saint-Saëns wrote his Fifth Piano Concerto during the winter of 1895-96, whilst on holiday in Luxor, Egypt – hence the ‘nickname’ which has attached itself to the concerto, but which didn’t originate from the composer himself. According to All Music, the work bears references to his stay in Egypt, such as the imitation of the croaking of frogs in the River Nile, a love song from the Nubia region along the river, and sounds which represent the turning of a ship’s propellers, as Saint-Saëns describes “the joy of a sea crossing”.  The Piano Concerto No 5 was dedicated to the pianist Louis Diémer, and premiered at the Salle Pleyel in Paris in May 1896, with the composer as soloist.


The Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra in la Cour d’Honneur du Palais Princier in Monaco © Monaco Press Centre

This Monte-Carlo Philharmonic concert opens with Hector Berlioz’s Overture Le Corsaire, which he composed in Nice in 1844, and which was originally called La Tour de Nice. The work was first performed at the Cirque Olympique in January 1845, with the composer conducting, but it was revised between 1846 and 1851, at which time it acquired the name Le Corsair.

Henri Dutilleux’s Métaboles for Orchestra was commissioned by the Cleveland Musical Arts Association in 1959 for the fortieth anniversary of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1965. The work was dedicated to George Szell who conducted the Cleveland Orchestra at the premiere in January of that year. In his programme notes for the San Francisco Symphony, Ronald Gallman quotes the composer as saying: “The rhetorical term Métaboles, applied to a musical form, reveals my intention: to present one or several ideas in a different order and from different angles, until, by successive stages, they are made to change character completely.”

The final work in the programme, Ravel’s La Valse, was commissioned by Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes, and written between February 1919 and 1920, but when the impresario heard it, he couldn’t see how a dance could be set to it. Ravel was offended by Diaghilev’s remarks, and they never collaborated again, but Ravel subsequently published the score as a poème chorégraphique, with the following description: “Swirling clouds afford glimpses, through rifts, of waltzing couples. The clouds scatter little by little; one can distinguish an immense hall with a whirling crowd. The scene grows progressively brighter. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth at the fortissimo. An imperial court, about 1855.” Interestingly, George Balanchine choreographed a ballet to the tone poem for New York City Ballet in 1951, incorporating Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales and La Valse into the score.

Yan Pascal Tortelier conducts the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra in a concert featuring pianist Stephen Hough in the Auditorium Rainier III on Friday, 14th October, at 20h30.


The Rainier III Auditorium (foreground) in Monte-Carlo © Monaco Press Centre

There are two remaining concerts in the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic’s Grande Saison season.

Au fil du Danube on 21st October is led by Lawrence Foster, with pianist Radu Lupu performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 23. Also featured is Enescu’s Symphony No 3 for Chorus and Orchestra, with the Chorus of the Monte-Carlo Opera, directed by Stefano Visconti.

The concert on 26th October features the overture to Haydn’s opera Il Mondo della Luna, and his Mass in B flat major, Theresienmesse, with the Vienna Boys Choir as guest artists.

More information can be found on the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic website


Artists’ websites –
Stephen Hough
Yan Pascal Tortelier

Overture Le CorsairThe Hector Berlioz website

Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No 5: San Francisco Symphony programme notes – Michael Steinberg

Métaboles – San Francisco Symphony programme notes – Ronald Gallman

La Valse – San Francisco Symphony programme notes – Michael Steinberg

This article first appeared on the Riviera Buzz website

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Rebeck does it again for San Francisco Playhouse


Harry (Brian Dykstra) experiments with a new creation

Take a work by an award-winning playwright, add a liberal measure of perfectly paced direction, blend in the talents of four superb actors, season with a sprinkling of slightly dark humor, add a dash of San Francisco Playhouse magic, and you have a stage show of superlatives – the commissioned world premiere of Theresa Rebeck’s Seared.

This is Rebeck’s third play for  Playhouse directors Bill English and Susi Damilano – the first having been The Scene in 2008 (which was adapted into a film, Seducing Charlie Barker) and, more recently, the Broadway hit, Seminar.


Harry (Brian Dykstra) and Mike (Rod Gnapp) argue over the future of the restaurant

The action of Seared, the first Playhouse production of the new season, takes place in the kitchen of an intimate, upscale restaurant in Brooklyn. Bryan Dykstra (last seen at the Playhouse as Rooster Byron in Jerusalem) is Harry, the chef – a bit of a prima donna perhaps – but one who knows what he’s doing, happily immersing himself in his culinary creations, and brooking no interference from anyone at all, particularly when it comes to decisions about what will be served.

Mike (played by Rod Gnapp) who co-owns the restaurant with Harry, is the business brain, but he’s not entirely happy with the way things are going. Financially, the restaurant is on a downward slide, and he knows that something needs to be done to reverse this trend.


Harry and Rodney (Larry Powell) getting ready for a big night at the restaurant

Rodney (Larry Powell) is the waiter – an engaging character, whose mocking, yet accurately targeted observations and asides indicate that he’s a whole lot smarter than he’s given credit for.

The deteriorating financial situation creates an air of simmering discontent beneath the genuine friendship shared by the two partners, and things in the kitchen reach boiling point when Mike – completely off his own bat – decides to hire a consultant to get the business back on track and make it more profitable, particularly since a rave review in a New York magazine has increased the popularity of the restaurant which has only a limited number of covers.


Emily (Alex Sunderhaus) waxes lyrical over her plans for the restaurant

The consultant, Emily (Alex Sunderhaus) is absolutely typical of her type, her gushing stream of marketing speak rapidly becoming more bossy and more dictatorial, as her grip on power becomes ever more intense.

The basis of the plot reflects the kind of situation that can develop in any relationship – either personal or business – but what gives this production its bite is Theresa Rebeck’s skilful dialogue, Margarett Perry’s taut direction, and the superb performances of the cast. It’s fascinating in an edge-of-the-seat sort of way, and the element of suspense is maintained to the extent that you almost want to jump up and tell the characters what to do and say – particularly as Bill English’s set is impressively realistic, and the aroma of food actually being prepared onstage heightens the audience’s sense of involvement with the players.

Seared runs at the San Francisco Playhouse until November 12. For more information and tickets, visit


Photographs by Jessica Palopoli

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