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March 28, 2017

Summer Bonanza: 100 Free Events in Yerba Buena Gardens

The Yerba Buena Gardens Festival’s 17th season will present a plethora of free performing-arts events between May 7 and Oct. 9 in the Gardens, located in downtown San Francisco at the crossroads of public transportation.

Programs include music, theater, circus, dance, poetry, and children’s programs, performed by artists from the Bay Area and around the world. The Grammy-award winning Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, led by pianist-composer Arturo O’Farrill, opens the festival on Sunday, May 7 at 1 p.m. The 18-piece orchestra brings together big band jazz and Latin music.

Multiple-event series include the family-friendly Children’s Series, Poetic Tuesdays with Litquake, and Thursday Lunchtime Concerts. Among many notable performers are Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble on May 13, Brass Convergence II: Protest Brass on May 20, Richard Howell & Sudden Changes on May 27, NEA Heritage Fellow Michael Doucet and Tom Rigney with Flambeau on June 3.

Summer events continue with the festival-commissioned YBG ChoreoFest, a three-day site-specific dance festival featuring nine contemporary dance companies on June 9–11, M.A.K.U. Soundsystem on June 17, Paula West on August 26, Kugelplex with Linda Tillery on September 2, Alsarah & the Nubatones on September 9, and Brooklyn Raga Massive with Classical Revolution performing Terry Riley’s In C on September 16.

YBG Festival Executive Director Linda Lucero, who is also artistic director, says “Everyone needs the spiritual sustenance, inspiration, and communal experience that only live performance offers. This summer, you’ll find your joy at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival.”

Begging editors’ and readers’ indulgence, I’d like to do something that’s too rarely done and run a list of contributors who make such admission-free concerts possible. The festival exists through the generosity of the City and County of San Francisco, National Endowment for the Arts, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Yerba Buena Community Benefit District, San Francisco Arts Commission, Kenneth Rainin Foundation, Bernard Osher Foundation, Fleishhacker Foundation, Zellerbach Family Foundation, Association of Performing Arts Professionals, WESTAF, Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, Western Arts Alliance, Southern Exposure, Metreon, and numerous business and individual contributions (many made anonymously).

Schwabacher Debut Recitals Launch Young Talent for the 34th Season

Tenor, teacher, benefactor James Schwabacher (1920 – 2006) was a towering — if also self-effacing — presence in San Francisco’s music community. Among other accomplishment, he cofounded the Merola Opera Program (1957), San Francisco Performances (1980), and launched the Schwabacher Debut Recitals in 1983.

The 2017 Debut Recitals started on Sunday with mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven and bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum, accompanied by S.F. Opera Center Director of Musical Studies Mark Morash. Their widely varied program of “Expressionism, Icons and the Exotic” included works by Alban Berg (Vier Lieder, Op. 2), Jacques Ibert (Quatre chansons de Don Quichotte), Claude Debussy (Trois chansons de Bilitis), Antón G. Abril (Cuatros canciones sobre textos gallegos), Xavier Montsalvatge (Cinco canciones negras) and Erich Korngold (Unvergänglichkeit).

The series continues on April 2 with baritone Sol Jin, a winner of the 2016 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and pianist Kirill Kuzmin. Then, on April 9, Adler Fellows mezzo Renée Rapier and bass Anthony Reed, accompanied by pianist John Churchwell, will present something new, a semistaged original narrative created by Reed, called The Woods: A Rom-Com Recital, described as “a love story and pastiche of American music.”

Adler Fellow Aria Umezawa will direct the recital. It will include works by Ned Rorem, Thomas Pasatieri, William Bolcom, Virgil Thomson, George Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim, and numerous others. Reed explains: “I thought it would be interesting to turn the recital format on its head a bit. We’ve devised a recital filled with classic tunes and seldom-heard American gems, and loosely tied them together with an original script. The narrative really highlights the elements of love in each piece.”

San Francisco Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald says “In the recital world where we have great artists creating backgrounds for major song cycles, the next logical step seems to me to be what Anthony has created for the recital: a story line to connect the disparate songs. The narrative will inevitably bring a new slant to the song, just as the song influences the narrative.”

On April 30, pianist and renowned vocal coach Warren Jones teams up with Adler Fellows Amina Edris, Amitai Pati, and Andrew Manea for a recital of songs and duets in Italian and French.

The recitals run Sundays at 5:30 p.m. in the Atrium of the Wilsey Opera Center. Acoustics in the large former museum hall have improved over what it was when the Veterans Memorial Building reopened, but the sound still seems to come from a distance, and there are frequent faint but audible echoes. The Constellation acoustic system by Meyer Sound is doing its best, but the boxy shape of the hall is challenging. Over the years, from Old First Church to Temple Emanu-El, the recitals never had a home with optimal acoustics. (Downstairs in the building, the 900-seat Herbst Theater would be a better, but perhaps too-expensive, option.)

“Industry Leaders” Participate in Oakland Voice Competition

When the fourth-annual James Toland Vocal Arts is held June 23–24 in Oakland’s Holy Names University, the jury will include a man who has been listening to (and launching big careers for) hundreds of young voices for more than four decades. For those in auditions or a contest, San Francisco Opera General Director Emeritus David Gockley is always a welcome presence.

James Toland, founder and executive director of JTVA, also welcomes Gockley’s participation. Toland says, “We are honored to have [Gockley] join the judging panel this year, lending both JTVA and the finalists his support and encouragement.” One unusual aspect of the competition is that finalists are given an opportunity to speak with judges after the event, and to receive feedback from them. Gockley will join other influential music leaders on the panels, such as Michael Morgan of the Oakland Symphony, Festival Opera, and other organizations.

Also at the competition: soprano Deborah Voigt (headlining Sunday’s Danish National Orchestra concert in Davies Hall), who will lead a master class for finalists in Oakland. “Our tier-one finalists are so fortunate to be able to work with a singer of Debbie’s caliber,” says Toland. “With her extensive experience both as a singer and teacher, she is perfectly positioned to help finalists refine their technique and further their skills as they prepare for the competition and the future.”

There are some 200 applicants for the competition, which awards cash prizes from $1,250 to $5,000. The grand prizewinner is offered a performance opportunity with the Oakland Symphony.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].