Cal Performances Promise: A Season of Starry Nights

Georgia Rowe on September 16, 2013

For Cal Performances Director Matías Tarnopolsky, there’s no reason to save the best for last. Tarnopolsky has already launched the fall season with one major event, and has another in store for this weekend.

Kronos Quartet celebrates its 40th anniversary at Cal Performances. Photo by Jay Blakesberg

Last month’s performance by the Goat Rodeo Sessions, featuring Yo-Yo Ma and friends at the Greek Theatre, was just the first of many starry nights for the organization and its dynamic director. On Sept. 7, superstar tenor Plácido Domingo arrived at the Greek in a rare concert appearance, a collaboration between Cal Performances and Another Planet Entertainment.

And that’s just the beginning.

With world premieres, residencies, local debuts, and return appearances, the 2013/2014 season, scheduled to run through June 2014, has something for every aficionado of classical music, dance, theater, and jazz.

“We’re tremendously excited about the season,” Tarnopolsky said last week in a phone call from his office on the UC Berkeley campus. “It’s always a great pleasure and honor to welcome these truly world-class artists to Berkeley.”

A glance through the schedule for September, October, and November confirms it. In the coming weeks, audiences will see and hear the Silk Road Ensemble (Oct. 27) and the Danish String Quartet (Nov. 17); Les Violons du Roy with mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe (Oct. 20) and Musicians from Marlboro (Oct. 26). Soprano Jessica Rivera and mezzo Kelley O’Connor, accompanied by pianist Robert Spano, perform song cycles by Jonathan Leshnoff and David Bruce (Oct. 13), and the Kronos Quartet celebrates its 40th anniversary with a performance of George Crumb’s “Black Angels” (Dec. 7.)

The dance calendar includes programs by Nederlands Dans Theater (Oct. 23–24) and Shanghai Ballet (Nov. 1–2). Jazz masters Keith Jarrett (Oct. 4) and Joshua Redman (Nov. 16) will appear, and actor John Malkovich stars in The Giacomo Variations, a theater–opera hybrid featuring music from three Mozart operas, played by the Orchester Wiener Akademie (Oct. 18–19).

The season opens Sept. 29 with the Fall Free for All. Tarnopolsky, who was appointed director of Cal Performances in 2009 following posts with the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony, introduced the day-long, free-admission event in 2010; it attracts over 10,000 people each year. This year’s lineup includes performances by New Century Chamber Orchestra, the San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows, and ODC Dance, among many others.

“Our organization has an absolute commitment to accessibility, and the Fall Free for All is our way of welcoming, inviting, and thanking the community that supports us year-round,” Tarnopolsky said. “I often talk about artistic excellence, advocacy, and accessibility as our three values, and Fall Free for All sums up all three in one go.”

“Our organization has an absolute commitment to accessibility, and the Fall Free for All is our way of welcoming, inviting, and thanking the community that supports us year-round.” –  Matías Tarnopolsky

As the season progresses, Tarnopolsky will present the world premiere of a new, fully staged production of Handel’s opera Acis and Galatea (April 25–27, 2014). Choreographed and directed by Mark Morris, and employing Mozart’s arrangement of Handel’s score, the production will feature the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra under Nicholas McGegan.

Also in 2014: A commissioning project, featuring pianist Emanuel Ax, will link the music of Brahms with new works by Nico Muhly, Anders Hillborg, and Brett Dean. Pianists Mitsuko Uchida, Richard Goode, and Jonathan Biss make return appearances, and vocal artists Gerald Finley and Iestyn Davies perform recitals. Dance continues through spring with appearances by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, the Martha Graham Dance Company, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Ojai North — another Tarnopolsky initiative — will return to close the season in June; pianist Jeremy Denk is the annual SoCal festival’s music director for 2014.

Return of the Vienna Phil

Central to Tarnopolsky’s mission is the annual Orchestral Residency he inaugurated in 2011 with the Vienna Philharmonic. This season, the revered Austrian orchestra returns with three programs led by as many conductors: Danielle Gatti, Andris Nelsons, and Franz Welser-Most. The March programs include works by Schubert, Mahler, Brahms, and Bruckner.

Tarnopolsky, who in recent years has hosted residencies by the Philharmonia Orchestra of London under Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Simon Bolivar Orchestra under Gustavo Dudamel, and the Mariinsky Orchestra under Valery Gergiev, is expecting great things from this year’s residency.

“We’re delighted to be welcoming them [Vienna Philharmonic] back,” he said. “Their residency with us in 2011 was historic. This year, the orchestra will be in residence in Berkeley for five days, doing all kinds of extra-performance things.” Included is a symposium marking the 100th anniversary of the First World War, Tarnopolsky noted, “looking at the arts and culture in Austria and Hungary from 1914 to the present day — very powerful moments in European and world history. It will be a very in-depth residency, fascinating, with some absolutely gorgeous music.”

A symposium marking the 100th anniversary of the First World War … will be “looking at the arts and culture in Austria and Hungary from 1914 to the present day — very powerful moments in European and world history.” – Tarnopolsky

The bulk of the season’s programs will be presented in Zellerbach Hall, Hertz Hall, and Wheeler Auditorium (all on the UC Berkeley campus) and in nearby First Congregational Church. But after the concert by Plácido Domingo, Tarnopolsky says he’s making additional plans for the Greek Theatre. Given the amphitheater’s historic connection with Cal Performances — actress Sarah Bernhardt performed there in 1906 in support of earthquake relief, marking the start of one of the West Coast’s most successful arts-presenting organizations — it seems a natural thing to do. MO< “Next summer, you’re going to see several more performances at the Greek from Cal Performances,” said Tarnopolsky. “We’re planning to do a lot more classical music there. It’s an absolutely magnificent experience to be there, and for a venue of its size, it has an incredible intimacy and beautiful sound. I think it’s a gem of a space for outdoor classical music.”

With its close ties to UC Berkeley, Cal Performances continues as a leader among Bay Area arts organizations linking music, dance, and theater with scholarship.

“It’s part of our DNA,” said Tarnopolsky. “There’s a real magic that happens when you connect great artists with the brilliant faculty and students we have on the Berkeley campus. That magic translates into new discoveries for our audiences. It’s a central part of what we do, and it makes the performances we present even more compelling than they already are.”