Batsheva Dance Company
Batsheva Dance Company returns to Cal Performances in February 2025 | Credit: Ascaf

At a time when even the largest orchestras and opera companies are retrenching under fiscal constraints, Cal Performances says, with Shakespeare’s Henry V, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.”

There is not much whittling down for the 119-year-old Cal Performances, one of the country’s oldest and most prominent university-associated arts organizations — presenting, commissioning, and producing performances for students, faculty, and the general public.

Jeremy Geffen
Jeremy Geffen | Credit: Kristen Loken

Cal Performances’ 2024–2025 season, announced today, is, according to Executive and Artistic Director Jeremy Geffen, “sharing what we are so excited to bring to our uniquely adventurous and engaged Bay Area audiences. I’m thrilled that we will be able to offer 80 performances in Berkeley, representing a wide array of genres, voices, and perspectives.”

As in past years, the season offers prominent visiting artists, residencies, and varied genres. Geffen cites the organization’s “unique brand of artistic exploration” and highlights “a three-night residency and gala centering around the unparalleled Vienna Philharmonic with conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin in this, his first visit to Cal Performances.”

There is also the Bay Area premiere of a new work by multidisciplinary artist William Kentridge, co-commissioned by Cal Performances, and “Illuminations programming that will explore the poignant and pressing theme of ‘Fractured History,’” says Geffen.

How can Cal Performances hold down the fort next season when other large Bay Area arts organizations are struggling financially? San Francisco Opera will have only six productions, and the San Francisco Symphony’s deficit financing contributed to the loss of its music director.

The answer requires information about finances, and as this writer’s half century of attempts to get some dollar figures can testify, that’s nearly impossible. Cal Performances’ budget is somewhere in the depths of the inscrutable University of California finances, though a Cal Performances spokesperson did tell SF Classical Voice:

“Like most performing arts organizations, Cal Performances is grappling with increased expenses that have not kept pace with revenues. Through its current strategic planning effort, Cal Performances leadership is addressing the structural deficit long term.

“Thanks to a combination of philanthropy and other revenue growth, as well as expense management, Cal Performances anticipates only a small deficit for the 2024–2025 season budget. The organization’s leadership has already identified a near-term strategy to actively work toward reaching a balance.”

And so, some of the highlights of the upcoming season:

Opening day is Sept. 27, with American Modern Opera Company’s production of Olivier Messiaen’s Harawi, featuring soprano Julia Bullock, pianist Conor Hanick, and choreographers and dancers Bobbi Jene Smith and Or Schraiber.

A matinee on Sept. 29 offers violinist Njioma Chinyere Grevious, a 2024 Avery Fisher Career Grant winner, performing works by Dolores White, Maurice Ravel, Henryk Wieniawski, and Sergei Prokofiev.

SLAM!, a theatrical wrestling show created by Cirque FLIP Fabrique and Ex Machina/Robert Lepage, runs Oct. 4–6. Called an “adrenaline-infused collaboration,” the show — so help me — “bring[s] the spectacle and physicality of pro wrestling to the stage … explor[ing] wrestling cultures from around the world through the circus arts, lighting and sets, choreography, and plot twists and turns.”

Jordi Savall’s early-music ensemble Hespèrion XXI returns to Zellerbach Hall on Oct. 12 with a program titled “The Tears and the Fire of the Muses,” presenting music by Claudio Monteverdi and other 17th-century composers. 2024 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of Hespèrion XXI, joined in this performance by the vocalists of La Capella Reial de Catalunya.

Violinist Tessa Lark, cellist Joshua Roman, and double bassist Edgar Meyer partner for a concert on Oct. 20, performing a sonata by J.S. Bach and the West Coast premiere of a new work by Meyer, co-commissioned by Cal Performances.

Another Cal Performances returnee, the Swiss mime troupe Mummenschanz performs a retrospective program Oct. 26–27, celebrating its 50 years of inventive storytelling.

Igor Levit
Igor Levit gives a recital on Nov. 19 | Credit: Felix Broede

Step Afrika! performs The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence Nov. 2–3, the step-dance company marking its 30th anniversary with a production about the Great Migration as depicted in the paintings of Jacob Lawrence.

The Dover Quartet’s program on Nov. 3 consists of Jessie Montgomery’s Strum, a new work by Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate (another Cal Performances co-commission), Tate’s arrangement of Pura Fé’s Rattle Songs, and Antonín Dvořák’s “American” Quartet.

Leonidas Kavakos performs Bach’s complete sonatas and partitas for solo violin on Nov. 15.

More Bach (the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 903) is on the program for pianist Igor Levit on Nov. 19, as well as Brahms’s Ballades, Op. 10, and Franz Liszt’s arrangement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

Pilobolus, the unique dance and acrobatic group, celebrates more than five decades of performance history on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 with a program called “re:CREATION,” aiming at showing how “boundaries of gravity and creativity blur, offering an intimate window into the essence of the creative process.”

The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus presents its “Holiday Spectacular” on Dec. 21, complete with holiday carols, satirical sketches, ugly Christmas sweaters, Santa outfits, and guest dancers and drag artists.

Julia Bullock
Julia Bullock is Cal Performances’ 2024–2025 artist-in-residence | Credit: Allison Michael Orenstein

Soprano Julia Bullock returns to start the new year on Jan. 19, 2025, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, singing arias from operas by Handel, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, and Henry Purcell. The orchestra also offers works by Handel, Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, and Johann Pachelbel.

One of Cal Performances’ most beloved ensembles, the Takács Quartet returns on Jan. 26, 2025, to perform Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 1, Leoš Janáček’s String Quartet No. 1 (“The Kreutzer Sonata”); and — with pianist Jeremy Denk — Brahms’s Piano Quintet.

The Takács Quartet’s other concert, on Feb. 16, 2025, has a program of Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 54, No. 2; Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet No. 2; and Beethoven’s first “Razumovsky” Quartet.

Pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel join violinist Arnaud Sussmann on Feb. 9, 2025, in a concert of trios by Haydn, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Felix Mendelssohn.

In its Cal Performances debut, the Batsheva Dance Company comes to Zellerbach Hall Feb. 22–23, 2025, with Ohad Naharin’s MOMO, danced to recorded music by Laurie Anderson and Philip Glass.

The South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo gives a concert on March 1, 2025. Since its launch to international stardom on Paul Simon’s 1986 album Graceland, the group has won five Grammys and sung for millions across continents.

Vienna Philharmonic
The Vienna Philharmonic plays three programs March 5–7, 2025 | Credit: Lois Lammerhuber

The Vienna Philharmonic’s residency will offer the following programs: Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 (March 5, 2025), Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 (March 6, 2025), and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (with Yefim Bronfman as soloist) and Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben (March 7, 2025).

William Kentridge’s The Great Yes, The Great No, a chamber opera set on a 1941 sea voyage from Marseille to Martinique, with performances March 14–16, 2025, fictionalizes the historic wartime escape from Vichy France by, among others, the surrealist André Breton, the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, and the Cuban artist Wifredo Lam, with Aimé Césaire, Josephine Baker, Leon Trotsky, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and Joseph Stalin imaginatively added to the passenger list.

Tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain presents the latest edition of his “Masters of Percussion” program on March 21, 2025, cast to be announced.

Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes gives a recital on April 1, 2025, of sonatas by Edvard Grieg and Geirr Tveitt and the 24 Preludes by Frédéric Chopin.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater appears once again in Zellerbach Hall, with seven performances April 8–13, 2025. Programs include the company’s usual variety of new and classic works, with cultural influences ranging from spirituals and church hymns to jazz, R&B, and hip-hop to African dance and classical ballet.

The English Concert
The English Concert presents Handel’s Giulio Cesare on April 27, 2025 | Credit: Mark Allan/Barbican

On April 27, 2025, The English Concert, conducted by Harry Bicket, performs Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto, with French countertenor Christophe Dumaux as Caesar and British soprano Louise Alder as Cleopatra.

“Cal Performances’ own” Mark Morris Dance Group brings Pepperland — the company’s romp through the Beatles’ concept album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — to Zellerbach Hall May 9–11.

Subscription tickets go on sale Tuesday, April 23 — and single tickets are available starting Tuesday, Aug. 6 — from the Zellerbach Hall ticket office, at Cal Performances’ website, and by calling 510-642-9988.