Audience Choice Awards logo

Now in its seventh year, SFCV’s annual readers’ poll celebrates the Bay Area’s vital music scene by letting you honor your favorite artists and arts organizations. The moniker “Audience Choice Award” reflects the nature of the poll. All nominees and final winners are selected by you — avid listeners and SFCV readers.

As we all know painfully well, this past year in the performing arts was like no other, and SFCV adapted the poll to acknowledge the fact that there have been virtually no live concerts over the past 12 months and that most performances were either livestreamed or prerecorded for online broadcast. Despite the curtailed categories, there was an abundance of rich performances to choose from, and thousands of you voted for your favorites.

Once again, there were clear winners in nearly every category, and once again this year the big winner was Voices of Music, a versatile, broad-minded chamber ensemble focusing on early music but seemingly at home in the idioms of any era. Clearly a popular group with a highly motivated fan base, the ensemble and its constituent members took top honors in five categories.

After you've had a chance to look at the Bay Area awards and enjoy the video clips, please check out the Audience Choice Awards for the Los Angeles Area.

Here’s how you voted:

Best Streaming Series: Voices of Music: Online Season

Voices of Music
A prepandemic Voices of Music performance

With in-person performances impossible, arts organizations everywhere pivoted, adapted, evolved, and danced on their heads to stay connected with their audiences and to keep creativity flowing within the pandemic-imposed strictures. Voices of Music managed to get up and running faster than most, with a creative season combining lectures, demonstrations, and a range of fresh solo and duet performances, as well as selections from their archives. Their fans clearly appreciated it with an overwhelming vote for first place. Virtual seasons by the Valley of the Moon Music Festival and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra were in a virtual tie for second place. SFCV takes its hat off to all the organizations who went the extra mile to keep the music flowing this year.

Best Streaming Solo Vocal Recital: Vidita Kanniks: Il est bel et bon (Voices of Music)

This delightful performance features vocalist Vidita Kanniks making the most of modern technology to sing with herself in a quartet rendition of Pierre Passereau’s children’s song about spouses and chickens. She sings it first in sargam (Indian solfege) followed by the original French. Runners-up in this category included the 2021 Miss Cheesemonger Sings (Vero Kherian) and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s presentation of Stefanie True with Richard Egarr performing “Love and Death in 17th-Century England.”

Best Streaming Solo Instrumental Recital: Chloe Kim, Baroque violin: Fantasia in A Minor, Nicola Matteis Jr. (Voices of Music)

Voices of Music violinist Chloe Kim’s unaccompanied performance of Nicola Metteis Jr.’s Fantasia in A Minor on Baroque violin took first place by a long lead. Filmed in a Gothic cathedral with Kim in formal concert attire, this elegant entry made no folksy concessions to the limits of the pandemic. Second place went to Eric Zivian on fortepiano playing Beethoven’s Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major, Op. 106 (“Hammerklavier”) for the Valley of the Moon Music Festival. Beethoven was also the subject for third place winners Richard Egarr and Alexandra Nepomnyashchaya playing four-hand fortepiano in PBO’s “Beethoven Minimized to the Max.”

Best Streaming Instrumental Ensemble Performance: Valley of the Moon Music Festival (Les Sentiments concert): Piano Quartet No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 45, Fauré

Valley of the Moon Music Festival’s streamed performance of Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 2 was the favorite here, with Lisa Lee on violin Liana Bérubé on viola, Tanya Tomkins on cello, and Eric Zivian on piano. A fine performance enhanced with intimate camera work made this one stand out. Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra: “2021 Virtual Gala” was runner-up in this category, with the Alexander String Quartet’s performance of Seven Last Words of Christ, recorded in Grace Cathedral, taking third.

Best Opera or Choral Ensemble Performance: WomenSing with the Elektra Women's Choir: The Light of Hope Returning

This impressive multimedia presentation of Shawn Kirchner’s The Light of Hope Returning, dubbed an “American folk solstice oratorio,” was the frontrunner here. The Bay Area’s WomenSing ensemble teamed up with Vancouver’s Elektra Women’s Choir and members of the SF Symphony for the music, with hand-drawn animation throughout by Kevork Mourad. San Francisco Bach Choir took second place for their “Comfort & Joy” program, followed closely by Valley of the Moon Music Festival’s “Long-Distance Love” featuring the Brahms Liebeslieder Waltzes.

Best Dance Performance: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (Cal Performances at Home): Holding Space

Alvin Ailey Dance Company - "Holding Space"
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jamar Roberts's Holding Space| Credit: Christopher-Duggan

Cal Performances hosted an ambitious “At Home” spring season this year, with original, full-length presentations available by subscription or on demand. The “at-home” appellation referred to the viewer, not performers broadcasting from their kitchens, and the shows were polished and professional. The final concert with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater featured the world premiere of Holding Space, a work commissioned by Cal Performances from Jamar Roberts, the company’s resident choreographer. The lauded performance is streaming through Sept. 8, with tickets available here. Post:Ballet made a strong showing for two performances. Their collaboration with SF Symphony’s Helen Kim in the seven-part “Playing Changes” was runner-up, and their Swan Lake took third place.

Best Jazz Performance: Martin Luther McCoy and Kev Choice (SFJAZZ)

Bay Area vocal great Martin Luther McCoy and pianist/composer/producer Kev Choice performed as part of SFJAZZ’s Alone Together live streaming concert series, and their show took the blue ribbon in the jazz category. Be sure to check out Andrew Gilbert’s feature on Kev Choice’s remarkable pandemic project last year. Other top runners this year included 2019 Best-of-the-Bay jazz-performance winner Justin Ouellet for his performance at the San José New Works Fest and Kenny Washington for his Sound Room performance this year.

Best New Composition: Nina Shekhar: if these walls (Left Coast Chamber Ensemble)

Composer Nina Shekhar’s if these walls (for two cellos) was commissioned by the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble and premiered March 22, 2021, as part of their “Metamorphosen” concert. The composer’s program note is short and evocative: “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men/could’t put us together again.” Danny Clay’s Music for Hard Times, written for a collaboration of the Living Earth Show, the SF Girls Chorus, and the SF Conservatory of Music, was runner up. See Lou Fancher's profile of Danny Clay here.

Best Class or Talk Series: Voices of Music Online Season

Voters singled out Nicholas McGegan’s talk on “Bach and the Dance,” shown in the video above. Other talks in the Voices of Music series included “The Art of the Countertenor” with Christopher Lowrey, Laura Risk’s “Fiddle Tunes Across North America,” and “A Mighty Wind: Renaissance Wind Instruments.” Second place went to the Amateur Music Network’s “Singing Saturdays” with Ragnar Bohlin.

Best Home Production: Valley of the Moon Music Festival (Tanya Tomkins, cello and Audrey Vardanega, fortepiano): Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major, Op. 69, Beethoven

Good sound and effective camera work conveyed the cozy (and masked) performance of Beethoven’s cello sonata by Tanya Tomkins and Audrey Vardanega. The charming “Miss Cheesemonger Sings” garnered second honors, and in third place, the Fabulous JewelTones with their homegrown “Bye Bye Corona Blues.”