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Musical Jewels of the Season

August 22, 2013

Some of us may be the kind of King Croesus, when opening the huge treasure chest of Bay Area orchestral offerings, who pulls out the same jewel and fondles it year after year. But there are other gems, and next season has more of top quality from more sources than any in recent memory. Whomever your usual supplier, examine some of the following concerts offered by jewelers other than your favorite this season. They’re worth more than just a grin and carat.

NCCO Plays Daugherty

DaughertyThe New Century Chamber Orchestra will never play a Symphony of a Thousand, but it does the smaller-scale repertory to perfection. This year will be better than ever under the increasingly masterful direction of Nadia Sollerno-Sonnenberg. One of the top treats of her season is a concert devoted to a latter-day “bad boy” of music, Michael Daugherty. With titles like Viola Zombie, Regrets Only, Elvis Everywhere, and Strut, how could you not have fun? As a bonus, the concert will conclude with the beautiful and uncommonly heard Serenade by Josef Suk.

Sept. 26-28, 8 p.m., Mountain View, Berkeley, San Francisco; Sept. 29, 5 p.m., San Rafael, $29-$59, (415) 357-1111. More information: New Century Chamber Orchestra.

Rhapsodic Redwood Symphony

The amateur ensemble that dared, the Redwood Symphony and their energetic artistic director Eric Kujawsky always puts on entertaining performances, often surprising seasoned critics with the quality of their playing. Give them an evening to crash the party of their professional siblings, especially when the program is this enticing: Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody, a piece you can hum all the way through, Wallingford Riegger’s Dance Rhythms, and Strauss’ Don Quixote. Dahna Rudin, director of the Silicon Valley Strings Chamber Music Institute, will be the soloist.

Sept. 28, 8 p.m., Cañada College Main Theatre, Redwood City, $10-$25. More information: Redwood Symphony.

UC Berkeley Symphony Rewards the Adventurous

For a bit of buried treasure, seek out the UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra under David Milnes. Not only does it sport fine student musicians, but it performs in the perfect acoustics of Hertz Hall on campus for only $16 a concert. This intriguing program spotlights one of the Bay Area’s mostBerkeley Symphony Orchestra attractive young singers, soprano Ann Moss, who will accompany the orchestra in the late Henri Dutilleux’s ethereal Le temps d’horloge and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. The concert opens with an intriguing work of Bernard Rands, Chains Like the Sea, based on the nostalgic atmosphere of Dylan Thomas’ poetry of his childhood home, Fern Hill Farm. Listen for what the composer calls a “cacophony of bells” in the first movement.

Sept. 27, 8 p.m., Hertz Concert Hall, UC Berkeley campus, $16, (510) 642-4864. More information: UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra.

Jewels of the San Francisco Symphony Season

Everyone has heard Mendelssohn’s overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but hearing the whole suite live with soloists and chorus is a treat not to be missed. In case you think Mendelssohn is too much sweetness and light, his setting of a witches’ sabbath, The First Walpurgis Night will conclude the program. In between, you’ll get a chance to hear some incredible scenes from Thomas Adès’ The Tempest, an extravagantly praised 2004 opera that has yet to reach the West Coast.

Oct. 10-12, 8 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall, $37-$156, (415) 865-6000. More information: San Francisco Symphony.

MTTThe Symphony will do double duty in recognizing centennials, of Benjamin Britten’s birth (1913) and the beginning of World War I (1914). Semyon Bychkov conducts the British composer’s War Requiem, a monument to the carnage of 20th-century militarism. Hundreds of books have been written about the causes of ‘the Great War,’ but hardly any about the massive, pointless murders, which continued for years under the domination of criminal governments. The masterly-set poetry of Wilfred Owen immortalizes the shame of it all. No one can say they have lived a full, classical-music life without having heard this piece live at least once.

Nov. 27 and 30, 8 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall, $37-$156, (415) 865-6000. More information: San Francisco Symphony.

As part of its Benjamin Britten festival, the San Francisco Symphony will offer a wonderful chamber work as a change of pace, the composer’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. Toby Spence, the 2012 Royal Philharmonic Society Singer of the Year, will join S.F. Symphony’s incomparable horn player Robert Ward. Shostakovich’s profound Symphony No. 15, which is enigmatic to some but clear as a bell if you treat it as a life testament, will conclude the concert. MTT conducts. The following week, a concert version of Britten’s Peter Grimes is a must for those who grieved its removal from the S.F. Opera schedule a year ago.

June 19-21, 2014, 8 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall, $37-$156, (415) 865-6000. More information: San Francisco Symphony.

Thunder at Symphony Silicon Valley

Paul PolivnickWhen San Francisco Symphony’s timpanist star David Herbert left for the greener pastures of the Chicago Symphony, we little thought he’d be back in the Bay Area so soon — the South Bay, this time. He’ll play William Kraft’s exciting Concerto No. 2 for Timpani, “The Grand Encounter,” which was commissioned by the S.F. Symphony in 2005 for David Herbert. It utilizes 15 different timpani and is an athletic tour-de-force. But SSV won’t stop with leaving you breathless: The evening concludes with Shostakovich’s dark Tenth Symphony. Paul Polivnick conducts.

Oct. 26, 8 p.m., Oct. 27, 2:30 p.m., $39-$75, California Theatre, San José, (408) 286-2600. More information: Symphony Silicon Valley.

OEBS Salutes Wagner and Verdi

Michael Morgan’s Oakland East Bay Symphony has an especially attractive season this year, culminating in May with the Berlioz Requiem. But the opening-night concert is also a winner, with the Canadian soprano Othalie Graham singing an aria from Aida and — hold your breath! — the Immolation Scene from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. This number is the jewel in the crown of a dramatic soprano’s repertory. Along for the ride is the Mothership by the popular, still-young composer Mason Bates, and Verdi’s overture to La Forza del Destino.

Nov. 8, 8 p.m., Paramount Theatre, Oakland, $25-$75, (510) 444-0801. More information: Oakland East Bay Symphony

Marin Symphony Under Brass

What better way to begin a new year than with the Marin Symphony, under the baton of its music director Alasdair Neale playing the most dramatic speaker-and-orchestra work ever written: Joseph Schwantner’s New Morning for the World, which interleaves the inspiring language of Martin Luther King with powerful statements from strings and brass. Copland’s Third Symphony, with its incorporation of his famous “Fanfare for the Common Man,” concludes the evening.

Jan. 21, 2014, 7:30 p.m., Marin Center Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, San Rafael, (415) 473-6800. More information: Marin Symphony.

Norwegians Celebrated in Santa Rosa

Weill Concert HallGood acoustics also are the glory of Santa Rosa Symphony’s new home, the gorgeous Weill Concert Hall. The American premiere of Ørjan Matre’s Resurgence, followed by Grieg’s Piano Concerto, with Phillippe Bianconi on the keyboard, will celebrate Norwegian “Sons of the Fjord.” The music of Jean Sibelius, whose Finnish homeland lacks the fjord-type advertised by the Symphony’s marketing department, will nevertheless resound in the new venue with his beloved Second Symphony.

Feb. 15, 17, 2014, 8 p.m. and Feb. 16, 3 p.m., Weill Concert Hall, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, (707) 546-8742. More information: Santa Rosa Symphony.

Discoveries From the Berkeley Symphony

Despite the dodgy sound of Zellerbach Hall, the Berkeley Symphony offers one of the best seasons anywhere. I’m particularly looking forward to the lovely voice of Kelley O’Connor. She’ll be joining the orchestra with its dynamic young music director, Joana Carneiro, in a set of songs from Kaija Saariaho’s 2006 opera, Adriana Mater, which was praised in the New York Times as having music of “ravishing subtlety” and “haunting effect.” Esa-Pekka Salonen’s recent work Nyx has been highly praised, especially for its sinuous depictions of night in clarinet solos. For lovers of traditional classics, the evening ends with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

May 1, 2014, 8 p.m., Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley, $15-$74, (510) 841-2800 x1. More information: Berkeley Symphony

Jeff Dunn is a freelance critic with a B.A. in music and a Ph.D. in geologic education. A composer of piano and vocal music, he is a member of the National Association of Composers, USA, a former president of Composers, Inc., and has served on the Board of New Music Bay Area.