Primary tabs

The Season Ahead: A Preview of Fall Concerts

September 6, 2009

With autumn upon us, the Bay Area's classical music groups are tuning up for hundreds of intriguing events. San Francisco Classical Voice asked several of our critics and editors to comb through the performance announcements available to date and pick their favorite choices for September through December. We've put the season in chronological order for the convenience of music-lovers organizing their datebooks. Of course, there's much more than this happening throughout the Bay Area, so be sure to keep checking SFCV's comprehensive Performance Calendar and our constantly updated Concert Previews.


“In Time of … Songs of Love and Loss, War and Peace.”

Chanticleer, San Francisco’s own 12-man a cappella chorus opens its 2009 home season with a wide-ranging program featuring vocal music from Renaissance masters Palestrina, Dufay, and Janequin, to contemporary works by Gyorgy Ligeti, Chen Yi, Steven Sametz, as well as Oakland-based composer Mason Bates.

Sept. 15, Mission San Luis Obispo, 8 p.m.; Sept. 16, Carmel Mission, 8 p.m.; Sept. 17, Mission Santa Clara, 8 p.m.; Sept. 19, Napa Opera House, 8 p.m.; Sept. 22, Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek; Sept. 27, St. Francis Church, Sacramento, 6 p.m., $20-$44, (415) 392-4400, (Georgia Rowe)

Puccini Three-for-All

San Francisco Opera stages Puccini's triple-header of one-act operas, S.F. Opera: Il trittico for the first time in decades: Il tabarro a tale of adultery on the Seine; Suor Angelica a story of faith and family pain; Gianni Schicchi a merry comedy. In a rare and daunting feat, local favorite Patricia Racette sings all three soprano leads.

Sept. 15, 18, Oct. 3, 8 p.m.; Sept. 24, 30, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 27, 2 p.m.; War Memorial Opera House, S.F.; $15-$245; (415) 864-3330, (Lisa Hirsch)

Music at the Villa

Villa Montalvo in Saratoga is a beautiful location for picnicking (with deer ambling around the lawn the last time I was there), and it is also the venue for a chamber-music series that features the Cypress String Quartet, the Fifth House Ensemble, and the Harlem Quartet, among others.

The series begins Sept. 20 with Los Angeles-based Sonus Quartet, conducted by Montalvo composer in residence Geoff "Double G" Gallegos, and performing two works composed by him during his residency.

Sept. 20, Villa Montalvo, Saratoga, 3 p.m., $20-$30, (408) 961-5858, (Janos Gereben)

Mystery of Mahler

All-encompasser Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony take a stab at embracing the complex and contradictory influences that appear in Gustav Mahler’s music in four different concerts of excerpts. The program, titled "Mahler: Origin and Legacies," contains overlapping mixes of songs and excerpts from symphonies. The first two performances (recommended) feature the psychologically revealing song “Ablösung im Sommer” (Replacement in Summer) and excerpts from Symphonies Nos. 3, 7, 9, and 10. Baritone Thomas Hampson is the soloist.

Sept. 23-26, 8 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall, $15-$135, (415) 864-6000, (Jeff Dunn)

Let Abduction Carry You Away

I've never understood why The Abduction From the Seraglio stands low on the popularity ladder of the Mozart canon. To me, it's a continual joy, with exciting rhythms and glorious melodies. The San Francisco Opera production this fall features German conductor Cornelius Meister's debut here, and a fine cast of Mary Dunleavy (Constanze), Anna Christy (Blonde), Matthew Polenzani (Belmont), Andrew Bidlack (Pedrillo), and Peter Rose (Osmin).

Sept. 23 — Oct. 23, times vary, War Memorial Opera House, S.F. $15-$245; (415) 864-3330, (Lisa Hirsch)

A House in Bali

Leave it to Cal Performances’ departing director, Robert Cole, to schedule the operatic premiere of the season. A House in Bali is the latest opera by Evan Ziporyn, the trendsetting composer/clarinetist and founding member of New York’s Bang on a Can All-Stars. Ziporyn has studied Balinese gamelan for almost 30 years. His cross-cultural fusion of Western and Eastern musics is based on composer Colin McPhee’s memoir of the same name. The multimedia opera brings together Bang on a Can, guest violinist Todd Reynolds, classical Balinese singers and dancers, high-tech projections, Western and Eastern opera singers, and the 16-piece Gamelan Salukat. This should be delicious.

Sept. 26, 8 p.m.; Sept. 27, 7 p.m., Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley, $32-$68, (510) 642-9988 (Jason Victor Serinus)

Hampson Sings "Song of America"

San Francisco Performances' 30th season opens with Thomas Hampson's recital, "Song of America." In an ongoing project the baritone, in collaboration with the Library of Congress, researches and prepares for performance hymns, folksongs, cowboy songs, spirituals, and lieder.

He also presents unfamiliar concert songs by Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Charles Ives. Hampson is accompanied by Wolfram Rieger, a professor of lieder in Berlin.

Sept. 30, 8 p.m., Herbst Theatre, $32-$49, (415) 398-6449, (Janos Gereben)


Kazuhito Yamashito

Japanese guitarist Kazuhito Yamashita came to international attention in the 1980s with his groundbreaking recording of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition arranged for solo guitar. He will play the music of J.S. Bach in his first San Francisco solo recital in 10 years.

Oct. 2, 8 p.m., San Francisco Conservatory of Music, $38, (415) 242-4500 or (650) 726-1203, (Scott Cmiel)

San Francisco Contemporary Music Players

Five well-respected composers, three of whom have received the Pulitzer Prize for Music, make for a nice sampler of music for small ensemble written between 1972 and 2008. The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players' program, conducted by Sara Jobin, includes the U.S. premiere of Edmund Campion’s 600 Secondes dans le vieux modèle and a specially commissioned work by John Harbison, The Seven Ages, with mezzo-soprano Pamela Dellal. Add in Charles Wuorinen’s Trombone Trio, Steve Reich’s Vermont Counterpoint, with flutist Tod Brody, and Morton Feldman’s The Viola in My Life (1), and it’s one of those perfectly varied evenings that SFCMP often delivers.

Oct. 5, 8 p.m., Herbst Theatre, S.F., (415) 278-9566, (Jason Victor Serinus)

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Elizabeth Wallfisch

Sandwiched between more familiar and glamorous items (Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas) on Philharmonia Baroque's fall docket is a fascinating smaller-scale program led by guest violinist Elizabeth Wallfisch. The London-based Wallfisch, probably best known around here as the Carmel Bach Festival's longtime concertmaster, is a nervy, highly individualistic dynamo of a violinist with a particular flair for 17th-century music.

Her PBO program, titled "The Concerto: An Adversarial Friendship," is a tangy three-ingredient musical salad. A trio of celebrated Austrian programmatic pieces (Schmelzer's Fencing School and Biber's Battalia and Nightwatchman's Serenade) sit alongside two of Georg Muffat's elegantly Frenchified Florilegium suites — and, from a later generation, two Telemann concertos. Telemann as a concerto-writer was rather less interested in virtuosity than in unusual instrumental combinations and effects. Wallfisch's choices include a concerto for the odd but promising solo group of two violins and bassoon, as well as one of his tiny, captivating concertos for four unaccompanied violins.

Oct. 9, 8 p.m., First United Methodist Church; Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m., First Congregational Church, Berkeley; Oct. 16, 8 p.m., Herbst Theatre, S.F.; Oct. 17, 8 p.m., Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church; $25-$75, (415) 392-4400 (Michelle Dulak Thomson)

St. Peter’s Chamber Orchestra

St. Peter’s Chamber Orchestra of Redwood City is a new 35-member ensemble that promises to enliven mid-Peninsula concert life. Conductor Paul Schrage wants to be educational, so he will give brief introductions to each movement of the works played. On the first full program, Beethoven’s unexpectedly cheerful Second Symphony and Schubert’s unexpectedly dark Fourth Symphony.

Oct. 10, 7:30 p.m., St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Redwood City, $30-$35, (David Bratman)

Santa Rosa Symphony, With Praises and Insults to Stalin

The Santa Rosa Symphony provides a rare chance to hear one of the most unjustly neglected composers, Nicolai Miaskovsky (1881-1950). The all-Russian program begins with his Salutary Overture, a 1938 birthday greeting to Stalin, and ends with Shostakovich’s relatively light-hearted Symphony No. 9, which displeased authorities because it wasn’t grandiose enough to celebrate the Soviet victory of 1945. In between is Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto, played by former music director and local favorite Jeffrey Kahane.

Oct. 10, 12, 8 p.m., Oct. 11, 2 p.m., Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, (707) 546-7097, (Jeff Dunn)

Takács Quartet

The Takács Quartet's now-customary two visits each season to Berkeley's Hertz Hall, courtesy of Cal Performances, remain among the less recognized musical perks of living in the Bay Area.

The October program has the ensemble's characteristic slight offbeatness: another underplayed Haydn quartet (Op. 71/1), Shostakovich's 11th Quartet, and Schumann's First.

The Shostakovich — the first of four late quartets that the composer dedicated to individual members of the Beethoven Quartet — is a quirky, epigrammatic piece that ought to suit the Takács' signature unity-in-diversity unusually well.

Oct. 11, 3 p.m., Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley, $52, (510 642-9988), (Michelle Dulak Thomson) 

Shanghai Quartet, Paul Hersh

After making a handful of impressive recordings well over a decade ago, the Shanghai Quartet seems rather to have dropped off the radar. The reliably enterprising folks at Mill Valley Chamber Music afford us an opportunity to hear what the ensemble is like now. The program suggests a grittier sort of playing than I remember: two taut, bristling early-19th-century masterpieces (Beethoven's Op. 95 and Schubert's Quartettsatz) share the afternoon with Krzysztof Penderecki's 2008 Third Quartet. Lest that sound too grim a prospect, the program closes with Brahms' magnificently exuberant G-major Quintet, Op. 111, the San Francisco Conservatory's Paul Hersh supplying the second viola.

Oct. 11, 5 p.m., Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church, Mill Valley, $25, (415) 381-4453. (Michelle Dulak Thomson)

The Daughter of the Regiment

Donizetti’s comedies can verge on the simpleminded, but who cares when the cast is this good? Making her long-awaited San Francisco Opera debut as Marie is soprano Diana Damrau, one of the undisputed top coloraturas on today’s stage. At her side is tenor Juan Diego Flórez, who promises to sing all nine of Tonio’s high C’s in his big aria with a grace and ease that have led Metropolitan Opera audiences to demand an encore. Mezzo Meredith Arwady, who projected star sound as a Merola participant, joins a cast that also includes bass-baritone Bruno Praticò in his house debut, Sheila Nadler, and Jake Gardner. Other debuts include conductor Andriy Yurkevych, and the team of director/costume designer Laurent Pelly, and set designer Chantal Thomas. If their production has as much character as the opera itself, we’re in for a major treat.

Oct. 13 — Oct. 31, times vary, War Memorial Opera House, $20-$245, (415) 864-3330, (Jason Victor Serinus)

New Maestras On the Berkeley Block

Music Director Joana Carneiro and Creative Advisor Gabriela Lena Frank begin their debut season with the Berkeley Symphony. Will this symphonic sisterhood impress? Composer Frank will be represented on the program by Peregrinos, inspired by stories of Latino immigrants.

Carneiro will also conduct John Adams’ The Chairman Dances and test her mettle with the great and difficult showpiece Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra.

Oct. 15, 7 p.m., Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley, $20-$60, (510) 841-2800, (Jeff Dunn)

Roland Dyens

French guitarist and composer Roland Dyens has developed a unique style influenced by American jazz, the Brazilian music of Villa-Lobos and Egberto Gismonti, Argentine tango, French folk songs, and the music of Claude Debussy. He begins his performances with an improvisation to create the best possible atmosphere, by taking into account his audience, the acoustics of the hall, and especially his deep desire to be true to his feelings at the moment.

Oct. 16, 8 p.m., Brava Theater, San Francisco, $36, (415) 242-4500 or (650) 726-1203, (Scott Cmiel)

Magnificat Baroque

Magnificat, in the course of its adventures delving into the darker nooks of the 17th century, has turned up remarkable works by female composers before — think of the ensemble's programs (and recordings) of the music of the cloistered Chiara Margarita Cozzolani. Francesca Caccini's 1625 La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina, almost certainly the first opera (in the modern sense) composed by a woman, is an exciting prospect in the hands of Warren Stewart and his ensemble, especially with Seattle's Carter Family Marionettes providing the stage action.

Oct. 16, 8 p.m., First Lutheran Church, Palo Alto; Oct. 17, 8 p.m., St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Berkeley; Oct. 18, 4 p.m., St. Mark's Lutheran Church, S.F.; $12-$35, (800) 595-4849, (Michelle Dulak Thomson)


German-Canadian tenor Michael Schade has earned a sterling reputation as a Mozart specialist in opera houses throughout Europe, and his appearances with the San Francisco Opera and Symphony, while few and far between, have left Bay Area audiences eager to hear more. He makes his Cal Performances debut Oct. 18 at Hertz Hall; no word yet on the program, but with the divine Malcolm Martineau as his accompanist, expect an afternoon of rare musical refinement.

Oct. 18, 3 p.m., Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley, $46, (510) 642-9988, (Georgia Rowe)

Old Julliard Quartet's Seasoned Crew

The Juilliard String Quartet is an ensemble of awesome longevity, founded 63 years ago by Robert Mann and three other young, super-talented musicians. Mann stayed on the job for more than a half century, until his retirement in 1997.

Following Joel Smirnoff, the first chair is now occupied by 36-year-old Nick Eanet, former concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera. The violist is Samuel Rhodes (who has spent 40 years with the quartet). Ronald Copes is second violinist, Joel Krosnick the cellist.

The San Francisco Performances concert will feature the music of Mendelsson, Schumann, and Mario Davidovsky.

Oct. 18, 7 p.m., Herbst Theatre, $32-$49, (415) 398-6449, (Janos Gereben)


The San Francisco Opera gives Richard Strauss’ opera its first revival since 1997. This one should be a Salome with a difference — German soprano Nadja Michael, making her company debut, has been hailed for her “dramatic intensity” in the title role. Conducted by SFO’s new music director, Nicola Luisotti, the cast also includes Irina Mishura as Herodias, Kim Begley as Herod, and Greer Grimsley as Jokanaan. The opera is codirected by Sean Curran and James Robinson in a coproduction with Opera Theater of St. Louis.

Oct. 18 — Nov. 1, times vary, $20-$245, (415) 864-3330, (Georgia Rowe)

Slonimsky’s Earbox at the S.F. Symphony

John Adams figures prominently in the San Francisco Symphony’s programming this year, with the Doctor Atomic Symphony, City Noir, and a SFS co-commission later in the season. This fall, though, audiences can hear Slonimsky's Earbox, Adams’ 14-minute orchestral work as the curtain-raiser for a program that includes Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Yundi Li as soloist. Osmo Vanska conducts.

Oct. 22-24, 8 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall, $15-$135, (415) 864-6000, (Georgia Rowe)

Symphony Silicon Valley Plays Copland and Beethoven

Alasdair Neale of the Marin Symphony makes another welcome visit south to conduct Symphony Silicon Valley and its Chorale in Copland’s delightful set of Old American Songs, lively 19th-century popular songs in the concert hall, including the famous Simple Gifts.

His Billy the Kid ballet suite goes well with these. Ingrid Fliter plays Beethoven’s charming and tuneful Piano Concerto No. 1.

Oct. 22-25, California Theatre, San Jose $38-$74, (408) 286-2600, (David Bratman)

Cadenza — New Beginnings

The former Santa Cruz Chamber Orchestra is kicking off its first season under a new name with two energetic and attractive modern works for strings and trumpet: Arthur Honegger’s Symphony No. 2 and Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1, the latter with pianist Brenda Tom. Peteris Vasks’ solemn Cantabile for strings rounds out the intriguing program from these fine performers. Maya Barsacq conducts.

Oct. 24, 8 p.m., Holy Cross Church, Santa Cruz, $10-$20, (David Bratman)

Streicher Trio

For a pair of mature masterpieces written for a standard ensemble by a great composer, Beethoven's two Op. 70 piano trios are puzzlingly rare on concert programs. Even the "Ghost" Trio, Op. 70/1, doesn't seem to have reaped the usual popularity benefits of a catchy nickname. (The name comes from the trio's eerie, menacing slow movement.)

The Streicher Trio — Katherine Kyme, violin, Joanna Blendulf, cello, and Charlene Brendler, fortepiano — affords a chance to hear both the "Ghost" and its lyrical E-flat-major sibling performed on historical instruments.

Oct. 23, 8 p.m., First Lutheran Church, Palo Alto; Oct. 24, 8 p.m., St. John's Presbyterian, Berkeley; Oct. 25, 4 p.m., St. Mark's Lutheran, S.F.; $22-$25, (510) 528-1725, (Michelle Dulak Thomson) 

Alfred Brendel, “On Character in Music”

Alfred Brendel, long celebrated as an artist of rare communicative gifts, recently retired from the concert stage. Yet the great Austrian pianist continues to share those gifts with the world, and he returns to Berkeley this fall with an intriguing lecture-performance combo. Appearing in Wheeler Auditorium as part of Cal Performances’ “Strictly Speaking” series, Brendel will talk about one of his favorite composers — Beethoven — and play selected excerpts from Beethoven sonatas to demonstrate his thoughts about character in music.

Oct. 30, 8 p.m., Wheeler Auditorium, UC Berkeley, $32, (510) 642-9988, (Georgia Rowe)

Redwood Symphony, "Halloween Extra"

What makes this the most intriguing Redwood Symphony concert of the year is A Colorful Symphony by Robert Xavier Rodriguez, an introduction to the orchestra based on a musical chapter from Norton Juster’s children’s classic The Phantom Tollbooth. Spooky classics by Gounod and Mussorgsky are also on the program. Eric Kujawsky conducts.

Oct. 30, 7 p.m., Canada College Main Theatre, Redwood City, $10-$20, (650) 366-6872, (David Bratman)


St. Lawrence Quartet Commemorates Haydn

For the bicentennial of Haydn’s death, the St. Lawrence Quartet are diving into his quartets headfirst. These dedicated performers offer a full survey — four quartets from four decades, the 1760s through 1790s, taking listeners through the kaleidoscope of the changing styles of Haydn’s entire career.

Nov. 1, 2:30 p.m., Dinkelspiel Auditorium, Stanford University, $20-$46, (650) 723-2551, (David Bratman)

A Portrait of Leonard Bernstein

Stanford Lively Arts' concert is a Bernstein song recital, with singers William Sharp and Judy Kaye accompanied by pianist Michael Barrett, covering his career from On the Town (1944) to Arias and Barcarolles (1976). But it’s also personal memories, anecdotes, and background about the compositions from the composer’s daughter Jamie, who will narrate the evening.

Nov. 7, 8 p.m., Dinkelspiel Auditorium, Stanford University, $20-$46, (650) 723-2551, (David Bratman)

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, “The Passion of Dido”

With the resplendent opera Dido and Aeneas the featured work on an all-Purcell program, this concert would be a pleasure for Baroque fans under any circumstances. A strong roster of guest artists, including mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, baritone William Berger, and soprano Christine Brandes, makes it one of the season’s top picks. Purcell’s O Sing unto the Lord a New Song, Hear My Prayer, O Lord, the Chacony in G Minor and Suite from Abdelazer complete the program. Nicholas McGegan conducts.

Nov. 5, 8 p.m., Herbst Theater, S.F.; Nov. 6, 8 p.m., First Unitarian Methodist Church, Palo Alto; Nov. 7, 8 p.m., First Congregational Church, Berkeley; Nov. 8, 8 p.m., First Congregational Church, Berkeley; 415-392-4400, (Georgia Rowe)

Brentano String Quartet

The award-winning, Princeton-based Brentano String Quartet has a proven ability to create unusual programs. This year, the quartet brings to Cal Performances a program of two lyrical masters of the quartet form, in which Franz Schubert's Quartettsatz, D. 703, and Quartet in G Major, D. 887, frame Benjamin Britten's Quartet No. 3.

Nov. 8, 3 p.m., Hertz Hall, University of California, Berkeley, $48; (510) 642-9988, (Lisa Hirsch)

Other Minds: Henry Cowell: The Whole World of Music

Two separate concerts of music by one of this country’s foremost 20th-century mavericks, one of the first to explore non-Western music systematically in classical formats. Other Minds presents both the published works (like Set of Fire)) and a number of unpublished songs. Performers include the superb, history-making Abel-Steinberg-Winant Trio (in an increasingly rare appearance). Not familiar with the music? See the preconcert panel discussion in San Francisco with composer John Duffy, founder of Meet the Composer and a student of both Cowell and Copland; Joel Sachs, founder of the New York-based new music ensemble Continuum and author of a forthcoming Cowell biography — and composer Charles Amirkhanian of Other Minds, who has to be one of the finest interviewers on Planet Earth.

Nov. 12, Valley Presbyterian Church, Portola Valley, 8 p.m.; Nov. 13, Presidio Chapel, San Francisco, 8 p.m., (Panel discussion, 7 p.m.), $15-$25, (415) 934-8134, (Jason Victor Serinus)

Forces of Nature

Guest conductor Semyon Bychkov leads the San Francisco Symphony in Shoreless River, by the German composer Detlev Glanert. The music, prelude to an upcoming opera called The Wooden Ship, depicts the mysterious mutability of the Baltic Sea in textures described variously as “romantic,” “impressionist,” and “seething.” Another composer of elemental nature, Jean Sibelius, will be represented by his Fifth Symphony. In between, Gautier Capuçon performs Robert Schumann’s cello concerto.

Nov. 12, 2 p.m.; Nov. 13-14, 8 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall, $15-$135, (415) 864-6000, (Jeff Dunn)

The Prokofiev Project

Over four days, two orchestral concerts, a piano recital, and a public conversation, will all focus on this immensely popular modern Russian composer. The Stanford Symphony Orchestra under Jindong Cai will perform Romeo and Juliet with puppets for dancers. Alexander Toradze heads three pianists on the program and performs in the Piano Concerto No. 2.

Nov. 12, 7:30 p.m., Oak Tree Lounge, Tresidder Memorial Union, Stanford University, (conversation, free); Nov. 13-15, times vary, Dinkelspiel Auditorium, Stanford University, (concerts); $20-$46, (650) 723-2551, (David Bratman)

Xuefei Yang

When Chinese guitarist Xuefei Yang was 15, John Williams heard her play in Beijing and was so impressed that he gave her his own guitar. Yang has gone on to win numerous prizes in music competitions.

Her program for San Francisco Performances includes Bach and Albeniz, and also showcases Stephen Goss' beautiful, four-movement work The Chinese Garden, part of an admirable series of pieces commissioned by Yang that highlight elements of Chinese culture.

Nov. 13, Herbst Theatre, 8 p.m., $36, (415) 242-4500 or (650) 726-1203, (Scott Cmiel)

Nuccia Focile and David Lomelí in Recital

She’s a veteran Sicilian soprano who has sung at the Met, Covent Garden, and La Scala. He’s the young Mexican tenor who, having won Placido Domingo’s 2006 Operalia Competition, went from the Merola summer program to an Adler Fellowship. The major roles he’s undertaking at the War Memorial Opera House clearly indicate that he’s being groomed as a future Pavarotti. (He has already subbed for Rolando Villazón.)

For their Cal Performances recital, in a setting more intimate and relaxed than the big house, Lomelí and Focile have a golden opportunity to shine. Robert Cole conducts the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra in excerpts from La bohème, an opera that has brought both singers accolades.

Nov. 15, 3 p.m., Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley, $48, (510) 642-9988, (Jason Victor Serinus)

Youthful Infernal Machine

For some young musicians just learning to play together, the “infernal machine” can be the orchestra itself. Not, however, for those expert and passionate San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra players. Under conductor Donato Cabrera, they will take on the subtle and intensely rewarding Enigma Variations of Edward Elgar, Haydn’s “Oxford” Symphony No. 92, and a crazy whiz-bang work that’s full of surprises, Christopher Rouse’s “orchestral etude” The Infernal Machine, the work that first gained him national recognition.

Nov. 15, 2 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall, $12-$33, (415) 864-6000, (Jeff Dunn)

Joyce DiDonato

Although American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato must have bad nights, I have yet to read about one. She seems to go from strength to strength. Especially respected for the impact of her instrument and her vocal flexibility in Handel and Rossini, she opened last year’s Wigmore Hall season in London, debuted in Carnegie Hall, and sang everywhere from Houston to Paris. For San Francisco Performances she joins pianist John Churchill for a recital that spans classic Italian fare from the 17th through 19th centuries, as well as later repertory. Expect lots of color, a fair share of fireworks, and copious delights.

Nov. 16, 8 p.m., Herbst Theatre, $32-$49, (415) 398-6449, (Jason Victor Serinus)

Phabled Philharmonic

The mighty Berlin Philharmonic, one of the world's greatest orchestras, visits San Francisco for a pair of mostly Viennese concerts under their music director, Sir Simon Rattle. They'll play Brahms' first two symphonies, Arnold Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No. 1, Brahms' first piano quartet arranged for orchestra by Schoenberg, and Wagner's Prelude to Act I of Die Meistersinger.

Nov. 20 and Nov. 21, 8 p.m.; Davies Symphony Hall, S.F., $15-$275, (415) 864-6000, (Lisa Hirsch)

Ghosts: Graceful and Otherwise

Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg, the New Century Chamber Orchestra’s dynamic music director, conducts two works by composer in residence William Bolcom: Serenata Notturna for oboe (Laura Griffiths) and strings, and a chamber-orchestra version of Three Rags for String Quartet, which includes his famous “Graceful Ghost."

The program concludes with ghosts of a different sort, the ones that haunted Richard Strauss when he composed his heart-and-chord-rending Metamorphosen after the Allied destruction of the Munich opera house during World War II.

Nov. 19, 8 p.m., First Congregational Church, Berkeley; Nov. 20, 8 p.m., First United Methodist Church, Palo Alto; Nov. 21, 8 p.m., Herbst Theatre, San Francisco; Nov. 22, 5 p.m., Osher Marin JCC, San Rafael, $32-$54, (415) 357-1111, (Jeff Dunn)

Peninsula Symphony, Holiday Concert

Some wonderful little-known composers are hiding in the back pages of the high Classical catalog. Anton Reicha’s Requiem reflects his friendships with Haydn and Beethoven, but it’s also a radical work anticipating the Requiem of Berlioz (whom he taught). The Peninsula Symphony and Stanford Symphonic Chorus, under Mitchell Sardou Klein, are premiering a new edition of this rare work, along with excerpts from Bach's Christmas Oratorio.

Nov. 20, 8 p.m.; Nov. 22, 1:30 p.m., Stanford Memorial Church, Stanford University, $20, (650) 941-5291, (David Bratman) 


The Tallis Scholars

The Tallis Scholars bring another program of exquisite early vocal music to the Bay Area. This year's program is built around Josquin's Missa De Beata Vergine, a work in which the first two movements are for four voices and the rest for five. Also on the program are works by Nesbit, Byrd, and their namesake Thomas Tallis.

Dec. 4, 8 p.m., First Congregational Church, Berkeley, $52, (510) 642-9988, (Lisa Hirsch)

Marino Formenti

Pianist Marino Formenti returns to San Francisco, playing three idiosyncratic and likely brilliant programs. Under the rubric Aspects of the Divine, he takes on Messiaen's demanding Vingt Regards sur l'enfant Jesus and versions of Christ's last words by Haydn and Bernhard Lang. What he'll play on the family program is still to be determined.

Dec. 5, 5 p.m., St. John's Presbyterian, Berkeley, $32 (Messiaen); Dec. 6, 2 p.m., Herbst, S.F., $8-$15 (Family Matinee); Dec. 11, 8 p.m., St. Mark's Lutheran, S.F. $32 (Haydn/Lang); (415) 392-2545, (Lisa Hirsch)

Beethoven, Britten, and Friends

The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble contrasts Beethoven's Grosse Fugue for string quartet and Britten's Phantasy Quartet for oboe and strings with new works by Pulitzer Prize winner Melinda Wagner, Kristin Kuster, and Sam Nichols composed specifically as companion pieces to the older masterpieces.

Dec. 10, 8 p.m., 142 Throckmorton Theater, Mill Valley; Dec. 14, 8 p.m., Green Room in Veterans Memorial Building, S.F., $15-$20; (415) 642-8054, (Lisa Hirsch)

Philharmonia Baroque Chamber Players

Launched in 2005, the Philharmonia Baroque Chamber Players draw their membership from America’s finest period-instrument orchestra, the Philharmonia Baroque. Playing Mozart and Haydn in a fabulous acoustic on the instruments the music was written for presents a rare opportunity to hear some of the best in the business make glorious music. Their sonorous concert for Music at Kohl also features the New Esterhazy String Quartet, which specializes in Haydn, oboist Marc Schachman, and a 6 p.m. preconcert talk by Music at Kohl’s resident musicologist, Kai Christiansen.

Dec. 13, 7 p.m., Kohl Mansion, Burlingame, $15-$42, (650) 762-1130, (Jason Victor Serinus)

David Bratman is a librarian who lives with his lawfully wedded soprano and a wall full of symphony recordings.