The California Symphony has returned to live performance and is getting ready for its 2021–2022 season at the Dean Lesher Center in Walnut Creek and the orchestra and Music Director Donato Cabrera are being as friendly and inclusive about it as they can be. Phones are allowed, on silent, you can bring drinks into the auditorium, Cabrera does the pre-concert talks himself, an hour before the show, and, praise be, you can clap when you like.
There will be, as of now, no vaccination requirement for ticketholders, but patrons will be asked to mask up inside the theater, regardless of vaccination status. The Lesher Center is advertising its “premium HVAC systems,” something that wasn’t on anybody’s list of desired amenities prior to the pandemic. There are also touchless hand-washing stations, touchless ticketing, and electrostatic cleaning in addition to regular cleaning.
On more pleasant ground, the orchestra opens on Sept. 18 and 19 with Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto, with Adam Golka as soloist, followed by Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 5, a gentle work that shares musical material with his opera, The Pilgrim’s Progress.
A month and a half later, Nov. 6 and 7, the orchestra’s strings play a full program, with George Walker’s lovely Lyric for Strings, and Alexi Kenney soloing in Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Jessie Montgomery’s Starburst serves as a lead-in for Gustav Mahler’s full string section arrangement of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet.
The new year gets going on Jan. 29 and 30 with concertmaster Jennifer Cho fronting the orchestra in Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending, followed by a couple of other bird-inspired works, Haydn’s Symphony No. 83 (“The Hen”) and Jean Sibelius’s The Swan of Tuonela. The concert finishes with a familiar treat, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8, which also incorporates nature sounds.
The French Impressions concert, March 26 and 27, opens with Three Studies After Couperin, a chamber work by Thomas Adès based on tunes by French Baroque harpsichordist and composer Francois Couperin. The concert continues with the pandemic-delayed premiere of Katherine Balch’s Illuminate, a song cycle based on Arthur Rimbaud’s Les Illuminations. Balch, of course, was composer-in-residence for the orchestra from 2017–2020. Music of Ravel closes the concert, his Mother Goose Suite (Ma mère l’Oye), which is as astutely orchestrated as any of his works.
The epic finale comes May 14 and 15, with a world premiere by the orchestra’s current composer-in-residence, Viet Cuong, Bay Area native Nathan Chan playing Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto, and Cabrera conducting one of the most epic symphonies of them all, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth.
Get your protective gear in order. Live music is happening one way or the other.