San Francisco Symphony hosts Semyon Bychkov & the Labèque Sisters

Katia and Marielle Labèque – © Umberto Nicoletti – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

There’s a triple treat in store for San Francisco music lovers this week, as guest conductor Semyon Bychkov leads the San Francisco Symphony and the dynamic piano duo, Katia and Marielle Labèque, in a program of music by Taneyev, Bruch and Tchaikovsky.

A close friend of San Francisco Symphony, Semyon Bychkov made his debut with the Orchestra in 1989, the year in which he was named Principal Guest Conductor of the St Petersburg Philharmonic, and Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris – a position he held for 10 years. He subsequently took up the role of Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra in Cologne in 1997, and Chief Conductor of the Dresden Semperoper in 1998.

Conductor Semyon Bychkov – © Sheila Rock – courtesy San Francisco Syphony

In another exciting appointment, at the start of the 2018-19 season, Maestro Bychkov becomes Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, a perfect pairing since, like the Orchestra, he is regarded as having “one foot firmly in the cultures of both the East and the West”.  Acclaimed for his appearances with the world’s finest orchestras and opera companies – he was named Conductor of the Year by the International Opera Awards in 2015 – Maestro Bychkov has a wide ranging repertoire, and an impressive range of recordings to his credit.

Katia and Marielle Labèque, incomparably stunning at their respective keyboards, were recognized as stars from an early age, when they were awarded one of the first gold records in classical music – a performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Their career path has since followed a steep upward trajectory, with highly acclaimed performances around the globe, and appearances with some of the world’s major orchestras and most illustrious conductors, performing at renowned music festivals and impressive venues.

The repertoire of the Labèque sisters also includes appearances with Baroque ensembles, and they have worked with an impressive list of contemporary composers, including Philip Glass, who wrote a Concerto for Two Pianos for them, and says: “The Labèque sisters are tremendous. They’re great performers, and great interpreters. And they’re wonderful supporters of music – not only modern music, but just music. It was great to work with them.”

In this week’s concerts, Katia and Marielle Labèque play Max Bruch’s Concerto for Two Pianos – a work which has an intriguing history. It was inspired by a procession through the narrow alleys of Capri which the composer watched whilst on the island in 1904. He took note of the fanfare played by the tuba leading the procession, and also of the lamentation sung by a few hundred children who followed, with their burning candles and small wooden crosses.

Bruch originally incorporated these melodies into his Third Suite for Orchestra, which was premiered at a Promenade Concert in London in May 1909, conducted by Henry Wood, but the work as such was never published. The composer ultimately reworked it into his Concerto for Two Pianos, for two sisters, Rose and Ottilie Sutro – nieces of Adolph Sutro, a former mayor of San Francisco. Unknown to Bruch, however the Sutro sisters altered his concerto substantially, and over the years the original score was presumed to have been lost. Parts of it were discovered in 1970, after Ottilie’s death, and the remaining pages were eventually hunted down by pianist Nathan Twining, who painstakingly reconstructed the concerto which was finally performed, as intended, by the London Symphony Orchestra in 1973.

Semyon Bychkov adores the music of Tchaikovsky. “What is this music that we love so deeply if not our beloved friend?” he writes. “I’ve loved Tchaikovsky’s music ever since I can remember. Like all first loves this one never died.” So in 2013, Maestro Bychkov, together with the Czech Philharmonic, established an initiative to celebrate the music of Tchaikovsky. Under the title Beloved Friend: Tchaikovsky Project, it’s a series of concerts, residencies and studio recordings by Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic, which have been taking place during 2016 and 2017. The project culminates in 2019 with residencies in Vienna and Paris, and the release by Decca of all six Tchaikovsky symphonies, the three piano concertos, the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, Serenade for Strings and Francesca da Rimini. For more information on the Beloved Friend project, follow this link.

With Semyon Bychkov’s declared passion for the music of Tchaikovsky, it follows that one of the Russian master’s compositions should feature in this program, and for the final work, the Maestro has chosen Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 2, known as the Little Russian.

Tchaikovsky sketched the symphony in the summer of 1872, whilst staying at the home of his sister, Sasha, at Kamenka in the Ukraine – then known as Little Russia, hence the name given to the work. He frequently included snatches of Russian folk tunes in his compositions, but in this symphony he used more folk material than in any other work, all four of the melodies woven into the symphony being of Ukrainian origin. Written during a particularly happy period in Tchaikovsky’s life, the symphony has none of the melancholy and self-doubt which plagued the composer for so much of his life, but it is however characteristically beautiful.

Tchaikovsky also had a hand in the work which opens the concert – the Overture of Oresteia, Trilogy of Aeschylus by Sergei Taneyev. Not only was Tchaikovsky one of Taneyev’s principal composition teachers at the Moscow Conservatory, but he also conducted the world premiere of this work at a concert of the Russian Musical Society in Moscow on November 9th, 1889. Taneyev was the soloist for the first Moscow performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1, and soloist for the Russian premieres of every one of Tchaikovsky’s works for piano and orchestra, and they remained close friends until Tchaikovsky’s death.

Although Taneyev composed an opera called The Oresteia – his only work for the stage – this overture is not part of that score. It’s a standalone concert piece based on the the same theme as the opera, which draws on episodes from the ancient Greek Oresteia, by Aeschylus.

Semyon Bychkov leads the San Francisco Symphony, with guest artists Katia and Marielle Labèque, in works by Taneyev, Bruch and Tchaikovsky, at Davies Symphony Hall, from May 31st to June 2nd. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.


Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony program notes:

Max Bruch – Concerto for Two Pianos  (James M Keller)

Tchaikovsky – Symphony No 2  (Michael Steinberg)

Taneyev – Oresteia Overture  (James M Keller)

Tchaikovsky – a biography by Anthony Holden


Artists’ websites:

Semyon Bychkov

Semyon Bychkov

Katia and Marielle Labèque


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SFJAZZ celebrates the music of Miles Davis

Pianist Chano Domínguez plays Miles Davies wih a twist of flamenco at SFJAZZ this week – photo courtesy SFJAZZ

It’s Miles Davis all the way at SFJAZZ this week – a celebration of the music of one of the most highly acclaimed and influential artists in the world of jazz. The JAZZ Center pays tribute to this legendary trumpeter, bandleader and composer in four different programs – featuring the Miles Electric Band, pianists Chano Domínguez and Robert Glasper, and a group of Davis collaborators and Indian musicians who are recreating the Miles from India compilation.

The Miles Electric Band is fronted by trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, who has two Grammy-nominated releases to his credit – Rewind That in 2006 and his triple-album Centennial Trilogy in 2017. The band is led by drummer Vincent Wilburn Jr – a nephew of Miles Davis – and features some of the musicians whom Davis selected as collaborators for his jazz-rock ensembles. These include guitarist DeWayne “Blackbird” McKnight – who also appeared with Herbie Hancock – keyboardists Robert Irving III and John Beasley, and percussionist Munyungo Jackson who both toured and recorded with Davis in the late 80s and 90s. Other artists making up the group are saxophonist Antoine Roney, Dywane Thomas Jr – Prince’s last bassist – tabla player Debashish Chaudhury, and DJ Hapa manning the turntables.

The Miles Davis Electric Band is in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ on Thursday, May 24th.

Flamenco Sketches is the title of the second program, and stars pianist Chano Domínguez whose speciality is jazz in the flamenco style. Domínguez hails from Cádiz – generally accepted as being the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe, but that’s not all for which Cádiz is famous. It’s also regarded as the birthplace of flamenco, and it’s there that pianist Domínguez not only took his initial inspiration from artists such as Bill Evans, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, but where he also developed his particular skill in combining jazz with flamenco. He gained international recognition from his appearance in Calle 54, the award-winning documentary about Latin jazz, and also made a name for himself on the European jazz scene with his own trio, and his collaboration with artists such as Paquito D’Rivera and Wynton Marsalis.

Chano Domínguez’s tribute to Miles Davis at SFJAZZ this week includes fresh arrangements of So What, All Blues, and Freddie the Freeloader, which he infuses with all the passion of his Spanish heritage – as can be heard on his 2012 album Flamenco Sketches, released on the Blue Note label.

Chano Domínguez is in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ on May 25th.

Robert Glasper – Grammy-winning pianist and exponent of acoustic jazz, hip-hop and contemporary R&B – has been described by Interview as “Intelligent, creative, and incredibly impassioned ….. the ideal flag-bearer for the new jazz era.” He presents his tribute to Miles Davis at SFJAZZ this week in a program featuring music from Everything’s Beautiful, his mini documentary which was devoted to his own re-interpretation of Davis’ music. He talks about it in this video clip:

Glasper and his ensemble – bassist Burniss Tyson II, drummer Justin Tyson and guitarist Mike Severson – are joined by singer, songwriter, musician and producer, Bilal – another Grammy Award-winner. With an early interest in jazz, he was trained in jazz and big-band arrangement, and although R&B was a significant and early inspiration, his classically trained voice – capable of singing opera in seven languages – makes him a highly individual artist.

Robert Glasper presents Everything’s Beautiful in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ on Saturday, May 26th. Both performances – at 7.30 and 9.30 pm – are sold out, but it would be worth checking on the day for returns.

The final performance in this Miles Davis Festival bears the title Miles from India, the name of the 2008 album which was the brainchild of jazz producer/arranger Bob Belden and Times Square label owner Yusuf Gandh, insired by the Indian instrumentation used on Davis’ 1972 album On the Corner.  The album featured a re-imagining of Davis’ music by a full ensemble of Indian musicians.

Now, a new group of Davis collaborators and major Indian musicians joins forces to present a selection of pieces from his songbook – ranging from Kind of Blue to Bitches Brew – paying homage to the legacy of Bob Belden, who died just over a year ago.

Miles from India takes place in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ on Sunday, May 27th – a performance dedicated to the memory of master drummer and percussionist Leon Ndugu Chancler

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

Information sourced from:

SFJAZZ program notes

and artists’ websites:

The Miles Electric Band

Chano Domínguez

Robert Glasper




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Great Performers – Perlman, Izotov and the San Francisco Symphony

Conductor and guest violinist Itzhak Perlman – photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Usually appearing with the San Francisco Symphony as a guest soloist, violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman fulfills the dual role of conductor and guest artist this week, in a program in which he’s joined by another soloist, the Symphony’s superb Principal Oboe, Eugene Izotov, in a performance of the Concerto for Oboe and Violin by J S Bach. Also on the program are Tchaikovsky’s exquisite Serenade for Strings, and Sir Edward Elgar’s delightful Enigma Variations.

Itzhak Perlman is well known and loved for his artistic brilliance, his joy in music making, and his natural warmth and humanity. His achievements are legion. He has appeared with every major orchestra, and at leading festivals, conducted many of the world’s finest orchestras, and collaborated with some of the most illustrious conductors.

He is the recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor for his achievements and contribution to the cultural and educational life of the United States, as well as a number of honorary degrees, an honorary doctorate and medal awarded at the Juilliard Centennial, a Medal of Liberty, and the National Medal of Arts. Winner of fifteen Grammy Awards, Maestro Perlman has also been honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in the recording arts.

He has performed at a State Dinner at the White House for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, at the 2009 inauguration of President Obama, at the 78th Academy Awards ceremony – performing a medley of all five nominated film scores – and collaborated with composer John Williams, performing the violin solos for Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning film Schindler’s List.  His documentary film, Itzhak, is currently on circuit around the country.

Oboist Eugene Izotov – photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Eugene Izotov has been the principal oboist at the San Francisco Symphony since 2014, prior to which he held this position at the Metropolitan Opera, and before that at the Chicago Symphony – the first Russian-born musician in history to hold a principal wind position in any major American symphony orchestra. The Washington Post writes of his “ravishing playing”, The Classical Voice of Rome describes him as “Incomparable” and the Chicago Tribune states that “There is no finer oboist around”.

Mr Izotov has also appeared with the Boston Symphony, MET Chamber Ensemble, Pacific Music Festival Orchestra, and conductors such as Bernard Haitink, Valery Gergiev, James Levine, Nicholas McGegan, Edo De Waart, Ludovic Morlot and Ton Koopman. A teacher at the San Francisco Conservatory, he has also served on the faculty of The Juilliard School and DePaul University, and he currently presents master classes at conservatories across the United States and abroad.

He shares with Itzhak Perlman an achievement a little unusual among classical musicians – he, too, has collaborated with John Williams for a Steven Spielberg film – this one being the Oscar-nominated production Lincoln.

The program opens with Bach’s Concerto in C minor for Oboe, Violin and Orchestra, about which Eugene Izotov has an amusing anecdote. “The second movement,” he says, “starts with an iconic, near-three-minute melody played by the oboe. This solo is guaranteed to be on every oboe audition list. In fact, the great violinist Pablo de Sarasate declined to perform this piece, famously commenting that he didn’t want to play a violin concerto where ‘the best melody is played by the oboe instead of the violin’.”

San Francisco Ballet’s Sofiane Sylve in Balanchine’s ‘Serenade’ (Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust; Photo © Erik Tomasson)

It’s no wonder that Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings is such a beautiful work – the composer who poured so much of himself into almost everything he wrote, described it as “entirely heartfelt” – and it is. Modest as always – and ever critical of his own creative genius – he also added that he dared to think it as being “not entirely without its merits”.  In a ringing endorsement, the work was considered a popular triumph at its formal premiere in St Petersburg in October 1882, and even the formerly critical Anton Rubinstein was quoted as telling Tchaikovsky’s friend and publisher, Pyotr Jurgenson, that this was the best thing Tchaikovsky had written. Serenade for Strings has also been immortalized in the world of ballet by George Balanchine in his supremely lovely work, Serenade, recently performed by San Francisco Ballet.

The final work on the program is Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme, popularly known as the Enigma Variations. This work, “Commenced in a spirit of humor & continued in deep seriousness” according to the composer, acquired its moniker from Elgar himself, since, by his own admission, it contained two separate examples of an enigma. Each of the fourteen movements in some way describes a friend of his – and since he attached the relative initials to each piece, that enigma was easily solved – but he refused to explain the second, simply referring to it as a “dark saying”. For all that, however, it’s a lovely lyrical work, so much so that British choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton created Enigma Variations for The Royal Ballet, with this work as the score.

Itzhak Perlman leads the San Francisco Symphony in works by J S Bach, Tchaikovsky and Elgar. He is joined as guest artist by oboist Eugene Izotov at Davies Symphony Hall on Thursday 17th, Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th May. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Multi-award-winning soprano Audra McDonald – photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony

And while we’re at Davies Symphony Hall, on Friday, May 18th, multi-award-winning star Audra McDonald performs with the San Francisco Symphony in a program of Broadway classics and pieces from contemporary musical theater. More detail and information on tickets can be found on the San Francisco Symphony website.


Information sourced from:

Artists’ websites:

Itzhak Perlman
Eugene Izotov

and San Francisco Symphony program notes by Michael Steinberg:

J S Bach – Concerto in C minor for Oboe and Violin

Tchaikovsky – Serenade for Strings

Sir Edward Elgar – Enigma Variations


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Mating rituals under the microscope at San Francisco Playhouse

Jeff (Lucas Verbrugghe) and Betty (Lori Prince) are two scientists studying insects at the Museum of Natural History in New York.

If An Entomologist’s Love Story sounds an unusual title, try the play itself!  The world premiere of a new work by Melissa Ross has just opened at the San Francisco Playhouse, and delivers an intriguing combination of comedy, cynicism, bravado and snappy put-downs – with a touch of poignancy thrown in for good measure.

Ross has not only done her research on a number of types of insect (as an intern at the New York City Museum of Natural Science), but she also draws some interesting parallels between the characteristics displayed by these creatures and the tangled web of human relationships.

Jeff and Betty conduct a serious conversation in ‘An Entomologist’s Love Story’

Jeff (Lucas Verbrugghe) and Betty (Lori Prince) – both in their mid-thirties – have been friends for a long time, and have also worked together in a laboratory at the Museum for a number of years. Betty delivers lectures on the mating rituals of various species of bugs and flying insects – which she does with biting cynicism, natural wit and brilliance – but she’s discontented with her life, disillusioned in her pursuit of love, and has the ability to turn on Jeff as quickly and with as much vitriol as certain female insects do to their male counterparts following the mating process.

Jeff is everybody’s nice guy – good-humored, patient, easy-going and fun-loving. He puts up with Betty’s barbs and outbursts – as he’s probably done all the time he’s known her – but he’s not too nice to give her some of her own medicine when she drives him too far. He, too, has been unsuccessful in finding a partner, but that hasn’t turned him into the prickly, bitter and resentful human specimen that Betty has become.

Lindsay (Jessica Lynn Carroll) turns brings a burst of sunshine into Jeff’s life

His life takes an unexpected turn for the better, however, when Lindsay (Jessica Lynn Carroll) visits the laboratory to inquire about a bug which has inflicted a number of bites on her, and it’s not long before we find out why Betty treats Jeff as she does.  Witnessing the vicious tirade to which she subjects Jeff in her uncontrollable fit of jealousy is not unlike the astonishing sight of a female praying mantis devouring her mate following the act of copulation!

And yet, you can’t help feeling a degree of sympathy for her – you really want her to realize what she’s doing to herself – but even as she manages to attract the attention of Andy – a decent, cheerful and obviously caring man (Will Springhorn Jr) – her brilliant but cynical mind tends to overshadow whatever nuggets of humanity might lurk deep within her character.

Betty (Lori Prince) attracts the attention of Andy (Willl Springhorn Jr) in the local park

An Entomologist’s Love Story is well worth seeing – both for its entertainment value and its interesting social commentary. The four players – Lori Prince, Lucas Verbrugghe, Jessica Lynn Carroll and Will Springhorn Jr – are quite superb. They sweep the audience along in the series of humorous – and hapless – events which Melissa Ross has created for them, with great skill and professionalism, under the guidance of director Giovanna Sardelli – who also has an impressive portfolio of productions to her name, the most recent of which include two by Rajiv Joseph (author of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo which audiences might recall having seen at the San Francisco Playhouse).

The set and scenic design are as creative as they always are at the Playhouse, swinging smoothly from the Museum’s laboratory to the steps outside, and to a local park – and special mention must be made of the stunning video projections against which Betty presents her lectures.

Playhouse directors, Bill English and Susi Damilano, have once again picked a winner!

An Entomologist’s Love Story runs at the San Francisco Playhouse until June 23rd. For more information and tickets, visit the Playhouse website.

Photographs by Jessica Palopoli

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San Francisco Symphony – Mediterranean idyll

French cellist Gautier Capuçon appears with the San Francisco Symphony this week – © Nicolas Brodard

There’s a lot that’s French about this week’s San Francisco Symphony concert – although not everything, for whilst we have a French conductor, Stéphane Denève, a French guest soloist, Gautier Capuçon, and a program of mostly French music, there’s also a touch of other Mediterranean destinations among the chosen works as well. The concert opens with Jacques Ibert’s Escales, the main work is the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No 1, a piece by Guillaume Connesson with an Italian title – E chiaro nella valle il fiume appare, and Pines of Rome by by Ottorino Respighi.

Currently Music Director of the Brussels Philharmonic, Principal Guest Conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra, Music Director Designate of the St Louis Symphony and Director of the Centre for Future Orchestral Repertoire, Stéphane Denève has also served as Chief Conductor of Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

Maestro Denève loves the music of France, and is a ardent support of new music. He has appeared with some of the world’s finest orchestras and has a close relationship with some of the brightest stars in the classical music firmament. Also highly accomplished in the world of opera, he has led productions at The Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne Festival, La Scala, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Saito Kinen Festival, Gran Teatro de Liceu, Netherlands Opera, La Monnaie, Deutsche Oper Am Rhein, and at the Opéra National de Paris.

Stéphane Denève leads the San Francisco Symphony – courtesy IMG Artists

Gautier Capuçon pays a return visit to Davies Symphony Hall this week, during a season which has included a return to Carnegie Hall with Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov, an international recital tour with pianist Jérôme Ducros – both of whom appear on Capuçon’s newly-released album Intuition – and appearances at the Verbier Festival with artists such as Lisa Batiashvili, Christoph Eschenbach, Janine Jansen, Leonidas Kavakos, Yuja Wang and Tabea Zimmermann.

A artist combining “jaw-dropping virtuosity” with “refined, stylish playing” (The Strad), Gautier Capuçon was said by the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger as having “performed Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with the noblest tone and brilliant phrasing…”. According to The Times, “In a concert of extraordinary sophistication, dynamic daring and supple phrasing, it was the purity of Gautier Capuçon’s cello that stilled the hall … Capuçon played with grave sweetness, intensifying his tone in almost imperceptible increments. The Barbican audience has seldom been so quiet”.

M. Capuçon also created, and directs, the Classe d’Excellence de Violoncelle, which promotes the talents of six young cellists from around the world each season, performing at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in the superb new Frank Gehry-designed Auditorium in Paris.

Gautier Capuçon – © Gregory Batardon

Saint-Saëns’ melodic First Cello Concerto, with its sweeping melodies and delicate light passages, was premiered at the Paris Conservatoire on January 19th, 1873. The fact that this was the venue for the premiere provides an insight to the regard in which the composer was held by the Conservatoire – famous at that time for featuring only the works of old masters or those who were no longer living. That wasn’t all that differentiated Saint-Saëns from other composers of his time, since he also wrote music across a wide range of genres – symphonies, concertos, opera, songs, chamber music, and for solo piano, as well as both sacred and secular choral music. His Cello Concerto is played without pauses between the movements, although each is notably different.

Jacques Ibert’s Escales (Ports of Call) – described by AllMusic as “a sumptuous, brilliantly orchestrated work depicting sunny climes in perfect postcard music” – was premiered in 1924. In this piece, the composer portrays a Mediterranean voyage which takes in Rome and Palermo, calls in at Tunis on the North African coast, before finally visiting Valencia. The work evokes memories of gorgeous sunny Mediterranean days, with shades of the music of Ravel, a fascinating combination of African rhythms and Middle Eastern exoticism, and stamping heels, castanets and swirling skirts.

Contemporary composer Guillaume Connesson – professor of orchestration at the Aubervilliers-La Courneuve Conservatory since 1997 – is one of the most widely performed of French composers today. He has had works commissioned by the Royal Concertgebouw, Philadelphia, Chicago Symphony and Netherlands Philharmonic orchestras, as well as the Orchestre National de France and Orchestre National de Lyon, and his music is regularly performed by ensembles in Europe, the United States and the United Kingdom.

E chiaro nella valle il fiume appare is part of a trilogy of symphonic pieces by Connesson, each dedicated to a different country – Flammenschrift to Germany, Maslenitsa to Russia, and the work to be performed this week to Italy. Stéphane Denève tells us more in this video clip:

The concert ends with the tone poem Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi. A work in four movements, it’s the second in a series of three tone poems which Respighi wrote in tribute to the capital of his native Italy, and is his most frequently performed work. The other two pieces are Fountains of Rome and Roman Festivals.

Written in four movements, Pines of Rome portrays the sound of children at play among the pine groves, a hymn-like piece, a moonlit scene with nightingales singing, and the Roman army marching into the city to the accompaniment of trumpet fanfares and pounding beats.

Stéphane Denève leads the San Francisco Symphony, with guest artist Gautier Capuçon, in a program of music by Ibert, Saint-Saëns, Connesson and Respighi, at Davies Symphony Hall from May 10th to 12th. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.


Information sourced from:

Artists’ websites:

Stéphane Denève
Gautier Capuçon
Guillaume Connesson


Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No 1
Pines of Rome


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San Francisco Opera and KDFC team up for The Opera Hour

Martina Serafin in the title role of Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The traditional slot on Classical KDFC occupied by San Francisco Opera – on the first Sunday in the month – is about to undergo a change. Instead of featuring a recording of a full-length work from the archives of San Francisco Opera, the company’s General Director Matthew Shilvock will join Bill Lueth, KDFC President, for an hour-long showcase of this art form loved by so many.

Starting this Sunday, May 6th, Shilvock and Lueth will take listeners through a selection of new recordings of arias, duets and ensembles, as well as some their personal favorites from artists past and present. They’ll highlight presentations taking place around the Bay Area, and visit the San Francisco Opera archives to revisit recordings of some of the company’s finest productions.

Christine Goerke in the title role of Richard Strauss’ ‘Elektra’ produced in 2017 – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Matthew Shilvock will also take listeners behind the scenes at the War Memorial Opera House where – together with some special guests – he’ll shed light on what’s involved in mounting these impressive productions.

This new program will no doubt prove extremely popular with those who are already committed opera lovers, and also – it’s hoped – introduce a whole new audience to the world of opera, to show that it’s not just an art form for the highbrow, but for anyone who appreciates vocal artistry and beautiful music.

The Opera Hour has its first broadcast this Sunday evening, May 6th, at 8.00 pm, on Classical KDFC. Visit the KDFC website for tuning options, or listen online.

Atalla Ayan as Alfredo and Aurelia Florian as Violetta Valéry in a 2017 production of Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera

Photographs taken from the photo library of San Francisco Opera are examples of productions that might be featured in ‘The Opera Hour’

New release from SFJAZZ Collective

New release from the SFJAZZ Collective – courtesy SFJAZZ

The SFJAZZ Collective has plenty to shout about at the moment. The ensemble has released a new album in the past month, welcomed two new members to the group, announced the theme of its 2018-19 season and given details of its 2018 European Fall Tour.

The Collective, established by SFJAZZ in 2004, has an enviable international reputation, and reflects a truly multicultural group – with individual members from Baltimore, Miami, Oklahoma City, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Trinidad. Based at the SFJAZZ Center, the Collective’s aim each year is to perform a selection of original pieces – each written by each member – as well as new arrangements of numbers by a modern master of jazz.

The new release from SFJAZZ Collective – subtitled Live: SFJAZZ Center 2017 – was recorded at the SFJAZZ Center last October, and comes as a two-CD pack. One features the original compositions by members of the group, and the other is a selection of new versions of works by artists such as Ornette Coleman, Stevie Wonder and Thelonious Monk. These include Monk’s Criss Cross and Reflections, Coleman’s Una May Bonita and When Will the Blues Leave, and Sir Duke and Superstition by Stevie Wonder – each having been arranged by former members of the group, saxophonist Joshua Redman, trumpeter Dave Douglas, arranger Gil Goldstein or trumpeter Avishai Cohen.

The current SFJAZZ Collective line-up – Miguel Zenón, David Sánchez, Etienne Charles, Robin Eubanks, Warren Wolf, Edward Simon, Matt Brewer and Obed Calvaire – courtesy SFJAZZ

And there’s a bonus DVD as well – which includes live footage of the Collective’s performances of The Music of Miles Davis, recorded at the SFJAZZ Center in October 2016.

The new members of the octet are trumpeter Etienne Charles – who replaces Sean Jones – and bassist Matt Brewer who steps into the shoes of Matt Penman. Both are obviously thrilled to be joining the group.

For Charles – a musician highly acclaimed for both his performances and his compositions – “it’s a dream come true” to join the line-up whom he describes as “… a group of some of my favorite musicians …. where each member puts their heart and soul into the music they write and play”. Hailing from Trinidad, he has performed and recorded with some of the  finest names in jazz, holds a Master’s degree from the Juilliard School and a Bachelor’s degree from Florida State University. In June 2012, he was written into the US Congressional Record for his musical contributions to Trinidad & Tobago and the World, and is Associate Professor of Jazz Trumpet at Michigan State University

Brewer – having a long history with many of the members, says he’s “really looking forward to making music with everyone”, adding “It goes without saying how high the SFJAZZ Collective’s musicianship is”. Born in Oklahoma City, he grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in a family of musicians and artists. Following his education at the Interlochen Arts Academy and the Juilliard Jazz Program, Matt Brewer played internationally with a host of topflight names, has been a frequent guest lecturer at the Banff Center, and is an adjunct faculty member at the New School University.

A 2016 video clip of the SFJAZZ Collective

Etienne Charles and Matt Brewer join founding member and alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, tenor saxophonist David Sánchez, trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, pianist Edward Simon, and drummer Obed Calvaire to complete the line-up of eight artists who make up the SFJAZZ Collective.

Looking ahead to the 2018-19 Season, the Collective will continue to feature a repertoire of new compositions, whilst also paying tribute to the music of composer and pianist Antônio Carlos Jobim. World renowned for having created the ‘bossa nova style’, Jobim has been delighting lovers of Brazilian music since 1960s, and whilst regarded by some as the George Gershwin of Brazil, he also credits Claude Debussy as having had a strong influence on his harmonies, and the Brazilian samba for its effect on the fascinating rhythms of his music. Live recordings will be made of the Collective’s performances at the SFJAZZ Center during the forthcoming season, and will be released on the ensemble’s next album, scheduled for release in early 2019.

Also taking place in the early part of the 2018-19 Season is the Collective’s European Fall Tour which will also feature their latest compositions and the music of Jobim. The tour includes appearances in Belgium, Poland, Germany, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, France and Switzerland.

To buy a copy of the new SFJAZZ Collective release, follow this link, and for more information on the ensemble, visit the SFJAZZ website.


Information sourced from:


Etienne Charles

Matt Brewer



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Valčuha and Chen guest with San Francisco Symphony

Violin virtuoso Ray Chen – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Slovak conductor Juraj Valčuha – now a regular and popular guest with the San Francisco Symphony – makes his fourth appearance with the orchestra this week, leading a program featuring the Brahms Violin Concerto – with guest artist Ray Chen – Prokofiev’s Third Symphony, and Andrew Norman’s Unstuck.

Chief Conductor of the Orchestra and Choir of Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, and previously Chief Conductor of the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai in Turin, Maestro Valčuha has appeared with many of the major orchestras in Europe and the United States since his 2005 debut with the Orchestre Nationale de France in Paris. The Guardian’s music critic described Valčuha’s interpretation of Resphigi’s Feste Romane, with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, as “one of the most thrilling things I’ve heard for some time”.

Slovak conductor Juraj Valčuha – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

From San Francisco, Juraj Valčuha goes to Rome to conduct the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and the Orchestra del Teatro San Carlo, before appearing with the Konzerthausorchester in Berlin. Equally successful in the world of opera, Maestro Valčuha will also return to Naples to conduct performances of Puccini’s The Girl of the Golden West, Tosca, and Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.

Violin virtuoso Ray Chen is very much a musician of the 21st century, with his online presence reaching millions of classical music-lovers around the world. Winner of an ECHO Klassik Award for his first recording, Virtuoso, he was named as “one to watch” by both The Strad and Gramophone magazines, and has appeared in the Forbes list of the 30 most influential Asians under 30. He has performed at major events such as the celebration of Bastille Day in France, the Nobel Prize Concert in Stockholm and at the BBC Proms.

Chen has also appeared with some of the world’s finest orchestras and conductors in Europe and the United States, was resident at the Dortmund Konzerthaus from 2012 to 2015, and this season has featured in an ‘Artist Focus’ with the Berlin Radio Symphony. According to the Washington Post, “Ray Chen can do pretty much anything he wants on the violin”, and in a review of one of his performances, The Times wrote: “Colors dance, moods swing, and Chen’s artistry blazes”.

Ray Chen is also firmly committed to music education.  An inspiration to young music students with his self-produced videos – in which he also introduces an element of comedy – he is credited with “attracting an entirely new demographic to the concert hall”, according to his website.

Brahms’ Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra, Op 77, is a lyrical and melodic work, with a certain majesty, which also draws in the rhythms of Hungarian folk music. Completed in 1878, it was initially considered to be too difficult for most violinists, however it was mastered by the composer’s friend, Joseph Joachim – to whom the work was dedicated – and regarded as having highlighted his virtuosity. Joachim was the soloist at the concerto’s premiere in Leipzig on January 1st, 1879, a performance conducted by Brahms himself.

Ray Chen’s performance of the concerto has an interesting link with Joachim, for he plays the 1715 ‘Joachim’ Stradivarius violin, once owned by the Hungarian virtuoso himself, and now on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation.

This week’s concert opens with a work entitled Unstuck by Andrew Norman, a Los Angeles-based composer of orchestral, chamber and vocal music, combining a mix of both the avant-garde and classical. Unstuck was commissioned by the Orpheum Stiftung and premiered in Zurich in 2008 by the Tonhalle Orchester, led by Michael Sanderling. Norman’s work has been hailed by the New York Times for its “daring juxtapositions and dazzling colors”, by the Boston Globe for its “staggering imagination” and by the L A Times for its “audacious” spirit and “Chaplinesque” wit.

The final work in this concert is the Symphony No 3 by Sergei Prokofiev, which is sometimes referred to as The Fiery Angel – the title of an opera written by Prokofiev for the 1927-1928 season of Städtische Oper in Berlin. Because Prokofiev missed the deadline for its completion, the opera was never performed by the company, and the composer was unable to place it with any other. However, having heard a concert performance of the second act of the opera in Paris, led by Koussevitsky, and believing that it contained some of his finest music, Prokofiev reworked the opera as a symphony in 1928, and it was premiered in Paris on May 17, 1929, in a performance led by Pierre Monteux. Although it wasn’t accepted as part of the standard repertory until near the end of the 20th century, the Symphony No 3 is now considered one of Prokofiev’s strongest works.

Juraj Valčuha leads the San Francisco Symphony – with guest artist Ray Chen – in works by Brahms, Prokofiev and Andrew Norman, at Davies Symphony Hall, from May 3rd to 5th. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony program notes


and artists’ websites:

Juraj Valčuha

Ray Chen

Andrew Norman


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