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Best of the Bay 2014-15 Winners

August 25, 2015

For our first-ever reader poll, you nominated the best venues, performances, and performers during the 2014-15 season and we put the top in each category up to a vote. We received over 1,700 responses!

As always, we were amazed at the variety of the Bay Area’s music scene this past year; no brief list could ever capture that depth. The following results are our readers’ favorites, but there are many more we wish we could list.

Without further ado, then, the Best of the Bay 2014-15:


Davies Symphony Hall

Davies Symphony Hall, home of the San Francisco Symphony, won with 44.89% of the vote.

We received several comments noting that lumping small venues like Z Space (which received 18.18% of the vote) in with large venues like Davies and the War Memorial Opera House (36.93%) skewed the vote. For our next poll, we’ll take that into consideration.  

Best Opera Performance

Les Troyens

Love Scene from Act IV of Berlioz's "Les Troyens." (Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera) The Trojans may have lost the war, but they won the Best Opera Performance category with 42.76% of the vote. Berlioz’ epic as performed by San Francisco Opera edged out West Edge Opera’s Lulu (39.46%) and Ars Minerva’s La Cleopatra (17.81%).

SFCV’s Lisa Hirsch had this to say about Les Troyens: “Majestically conducted, strongly cast, and presented in a handsome and sometimes spectacular production, Les Troyens stands in all its idiosyncratic glory as the grandest, and greatest, French grand opera of them all.”

Best Choral Performance

Missa Solemnis

(Soloists from left to right) Shenyang, Joélle Harvey, Brandon Jovanovich, Sasha Cooke, and Pacific Boychoir behind them. (Photo by Stefan Cohen)With 56.59% of the vote, the San Francisco Symphony’s performance of Missa Solemnis was the highlight for many of the symphony’s annual Beethoven festival. SFCV’s Jerry Kuderna said the last two movements of the performance “would have touched the deaf Beethoven.”

Volti’s production of Pandora’s Gift, a popular nomination that you will see several times on this page, was second with 43.41% of the vote.

Best Dance Performance

Romeo and Juliet (S.F. Ballet)

Sarah Van Patten and Carlos Quenedit in Tomasson's Romeo & Juliet. (Photo by Erik Tomasson)San Francisco Ballet didn’t have to sweat over our poll. The only nominations that made the cut were the company’s productions of Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella. Romeo and Juliet came out on top with 67.01% of the vote, with Cinderella getting 32.99%.

SFCV’s Janice Berman wrote this about Romeo and Juliet: “Helgi Tomasson’s version of Romeo and Juliet, back at the Opera House for its 21st  anniversary, is better than most adaptations, and thanks to the San Francisco Ballet’s steadfast pursuit of excellence, it’s better performed than almost all of them.”

Best Early Music/Baroque Performance

Messiah (American Bach Soloists)

Handel’s seasonal staple is a favorite among our readers. American Bach Soloists’ December 2014 performances of Messiah received 56.96% of the votes, with Ars Minerva’s La Cleopatra receiving 43.04%.

Best Festival

West Edge Opera

Dan Kempson and Brenda Patterson are Hannah before and after in West Edge Opera's As One.

In  a crowded category, West Edge Opera pulled ahead with 33.87% of the vote. The rest of the votes consisted of Valley of the Moon Music Festival with 26.19%, Beethoven Festival (S.F. Symphony) with 22.85%, and [email protected] with 17.09%.

It’s not a surprise that West Edge Opera’s festival drew so many fans. Our reviewers enjoyed As One, Lulu, and Ulysses.

Best New Music Performance

Pandora’s Gift (Volti SF), Honorable Mention: Heart of Darkness (Opera Parallele)

Volti's Pandora's Gift (Photo by Mark Winges)

In the poll’s closest contest, the vote was split 50.08%/49.92% between Volti SF’s Pandora’s Gift and Opera Parallele’s performance of Tarik O’Regan’s Heart of Darkness, respectively. The difference is one vote, 321-320! In a statistical dead-heat, we’ll call it for Volti, with an acknowledgement for OP’s achievement with Heart of Darkness.

Of Pandora’s Gift, Niels Swinkels raved: “a spectacle that is hard to do justice by way of the written word.

Best Orchestra Performance

Mahler Symphony No. 5 (S.F. Youth Orchestra)

The S.F. Symphony Youth Orchestra bested the S.F. Symphony with their performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, receiving 60.86% of the vote. The S.F. Symphony’s performance of Fidelio, part of its annual Beethoven festival, pulled in 39.14% of the vote.

Best Opera Performer

Susan Graham (Les Troyens)

Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham (Didon) and tenor Bryan Hymel (Enee) in Berlioz's "Les Troyens." (Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera)S.F. Opera’s production of Les Troyens undoubtedly left an impression on our readers. Susan Graham won this category for her performance as Dido in the epic, with 50.57% of the vote. Emma McNairy, for her performance as the title character in West Edge Opera’s Lulu, came in close second with 49.43%.

Lisa Hirsch, in her review of Les Troyens, said this about Graham: “The beauty and freshness of Graham’s voice belie her 25 years with the company, and she brought a regal depth and passion to her portrayal of the doomed Queen.”

Best Chamber Performers

The New Esterhazy Quartet

The New Esterhazy Quartet, which can claim being the first in the U.S. to play all 68 quartets of Joseph Haydn on period instruments, won this category with 40% of the vote, followed by the Alexander String Quartet (33.65%) and Ensemble San Francisco (26.35%).

Best Choral Performers

American Bach Soloists

From their annual summer festival to their subscription series of concerts, American Bach Soloists has made an impact on the early vocal music scene in the Bay Area. So it’s no surprise the group won this category with 51.21% of the vote, followed by Schola Cantorum (31.76%) and the International Orange Chorale of San Francisco (17.03%) — also fantastic choral performers.

While technically part of the 2015-16 season, SFCV’s Niels Swinkels called the ABS Choir “sublime” when writing about their recent performance of Marin Marais’s Sémélé.

Best Dance Performer

Maria Kochetkova

Again, with the dance category, it was a race between two S.F. Ballet nominations: Maria Kochetkova and Kimberly Braylock. Kochetkova won with 57.51% of the vote, with Braylock receiving 42.49% of the vote. But we’re just scratching the surface of a company with a deep roster of talent.

Best Early Music/Baroque Performers

Philharmonia Baroque

The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.It was clear from the number of nominations they received that many of our readers are fans of Philharmonia Baroque. SFCV’s Steven Winn called PBO “peerless” in his review of the group’s performance with the San Francisco Opera Center’s Adler Fellowship program of Rossini’s La cambiale di matrimonio. The group won 61.06% of the vote in the category, followed by the brilliant chamber group Voices of Music with 38.94%.

Best New Music Performers

Volti San Francisco, Honorable Mention: Left Coast Chamber Ensemble

Volti SF made a big impression with Pandora’s Gift, but Left Coast Chamber Ensemble scored big as well in another category separated by one vote. Volti SF walks away with the category, receiving 50.07% of the vote, but Left Coast Chamber Ensemble gets an honorable mention with their impressive 49.93% share of the vote.

Best Orchestra

S.F. Symphony

There was little doubt about the winner of this category, but Berkeley Symphony, with their daring programming, received a lot of love. S.F. Symphony deservedly won with 63.07% of the vote, with the Berkeley Symphony receiving 36.93%.

Matthew Sedlar oversees edits and posts content to SFCV and social media. He has worked on the copy desks of several publications including the Orange County Register and the Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. He also served as deputy editor of Congressional Quarterly's Healthbeat and a music writer for the blog DCist. In his spare time, he writes about the intersection of statistics and various nerdy topics for Stats for Geeks.