Harlem Quartet
The Harlem Quartet with pianist Aldo López-Gavilán kicks off Kohl's 39th season on Oct. 31.

Kudos to Music at Kohl Mansion for its artful pivot this past year to a virtual season of top-notch chamber music offered in a series of online concerts that sported fine production values and a professional sheen. This year, the venerable organization is presenting its artists live and in-person in what Kohl’s Executive Director Patricia Kristof Moy describes as “a season we feel very confident will equal and exceed prior-year offerings.” Starting Oct. 31, a lucky number of chamber music lovers will be able to enjoy concerts in Kohl Mansion itself.

The fresh concert programs at Kohl this year are anything but a return to normal, though, and in the best-possible way. Moy says the past two years offered some opportunities to reflect on the direction of the series. “Inspired by the past year of national discourse and a strong interest in expanding public interest in chamber music, we are delighted to focus on diversity this season, including new works in six of the seven concerts, pieces by nine 20th and 21st-century composers (seven of them living, five of them women, five of them composers of color)” she said.Moy goes on to explain:

We’re excited about every concert. Each one is a discovery.” Pressed to call out something she’s particularly excited about for this 39th season, she says, “It’s like picking a favorite among one’s children, but I’m especially excited about the Cuban theme running through our season. I’m a huge fan of Cuban culture — music, art, dance, language, people, food, everything!

It feels timely in every way for us to offer the music of Cuban composer/pianist Aldo López-Gavilán (younger brother of Ilmar Gavilán, first violinist of the Harlem Quartet) for our opening concert on Oct. 31, after 20 months of silence at the Kohl Mansion. It’s a joyous return with music that is both traditional classic and dancey jazz rhythms.

Two other Cuban artists will be represented in our season: two works by Cuban composer-pianist Joaquín Nin (father of writer Anaïs Nin) will be performed Jan. 16 in a concert featuring Cuban-American cellist Thomas Mesa [performing with pianist Ilya Yakushev].

The artwork that adorns this year’s online and print promotion features a painting by Music at Kohl’s Season 39 Visual Artist Luis Martínez Pedro, who was a member of “Los Diez,” a group of Cuban geometric abstract painters whose work was prevalent in the 1950s. I wanted this season to reflect sounds and sights of Cuban art, well represented by this artist’s colorful work.

Executive Director Patricia Kristof Moy at Kohl Mansion | Credit: Laura Paull

When asked about COVID-19 issues, Moy says that they are taking every precaution. “This season is different from pre-pandemic times in a few key ways that relate to safety, economics, and prudence as we welcome audiences back to our hall with enthusiasm,” she said. “The season is slightly reduced (seven monthly concerts instead of eight), and our capacity will be reduced to approximately 50 percent in an effort to provide comfort and inspire the confidence of returning patrons. Proof of vaccination and masks will be required for all audience members.”

Other safety protocols can be found at the Music at Kohl website.

Rolston String Quartet
Rolston String Quartet performs Nov. 21 | Credit: Shayne Gray

Moy says that they are aware of possible public-health pitfalls in the future. “We are planning a triumphant return to in-person concerts but are cognizant, of course, of the constantly evolving circumstances surrounding the pandemic,” she said. “At this time, we are discussing fallback plans, should our opening be delayed for any reason, but are not ready to discuss or announce any alternatives. While we are realistic, we remain positive and optimistic.”

Keep your fingers crossed and take a look at the sonic riches in store at Kohl Mansion this coming season. All concerts start at 7 p.m. (PDT). Here is the lineup:

Sunday, Oct. 31: Harlem Quartet with pianist Aldo López-Gavilán

Schumann: Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44
Jazz ensemble and solo works including original compositions by Aldo Lopez-Gavilán

The Grammy-award-winning Harlem Quartet returns for its third visit to Music at Kohl to kick off the season. Joining the lauded ensemble is Cuban pianist and composer Aldo López-Gavilán. Kohl describes the program as “a happy marriage of classical mastery and virtuoso jazz.”

Sunday, Nov. 21: Rolston Quartet

Haydn: String Quartet in D Major, Op. 33, No. 6
Gabriela Lena Frank: Leyendas
Haydn: String Quartet in B minor, Op. 33, No. 1
Mendelssohn: String Quartet in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2

The Rolston Quartet has received rave reviews and accolades since its founding eight years ago, and its debut 2019 recording won best-classical-album honors from BBC Music Magazine in 2020. This is the group’s first performance at Kohl.

Lee Trio
Look for the Lee Trio on Dec. 12.

Sunday, Dec. 12: Lee Trio

Edmund Finnis: Through Vanished Arches (2021) World Premiere
Beethoven: Piano Trio No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 97, “Archduke”
Schumann: Fantasiestücke in A Minor, Op. 88

This award-winning San Francisco piano trio of virtuosic performers, educators, and sisters punctuate their appearance with the world premiere of a work written for them by Edmund Finnis, specifically composed to precede the great Beethoven Trio No. 7, “Archduke.”

Sunday, Jan. 16: Mesa-Yakushev Duo

Brahms: Sonata for Cello and Piano in E Minor, Op. 38
Chopin: Nocturne No. 21 in C Minor Op. Posth (for solo piano)
Andrea Casarrubios: Seven (for solo cello)
Joaquín Nin: “Vieja Castilla and Murciana” from Suite Española
Lera Auerbach: Prelude for Cello and Piano Op. 47, No. 12
Rachmaninoff: Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor, Op 19

Cuban-American cellist Thomas Mesa and Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev perform sonatas by Brahms and Rachmaninoff, as well as a few exciting surprises. Mesa, first-prize winner of the 2016 Sphinx Competition, is described as “one of the most charismatic, innovative, and engaging performers of his generation.” Yakushev is a renowned, award-winning artist in his own right.

Sunday, Feb. 13: Ida Kavafian and Peter Wiley with Members of the Curtis Institute of Music

Richard Danielpour: A Shattered Vessel
Schubert: String Quintet in C Major, D. 956

Violinist Ida Kavafian and cellist Peter Wiley, world renowned soloists, chamber musicians, and esteemed faculty members of Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, lead Schubert’s masterful String Quintet in C Major, paired with Curtis composer Richard Danielpour’s A Shattered Vessel. Co-commissioned by Ida Kavafian in 2019, the piece was composed as a companion to the Schubert quintet.

Members of the SF Symphony
A quintet of string players from the SF Symphony perform on March 6.

Sunday, March 6: Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony

Rossini: String Sonata No. 3 in C Major 
Florence Price: Five Folksongs in Counterpoint
Jessie Montgomery: Strum 
Dvořák: String Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 77 

Kohl Mansion welcomes SF Symphony violinists Wyatt Underhill and Jessie Fellows, violist Matthew Young, cellist Barbara Bogatin, and bassist Daniel Smith. The evening will feature pieces by celebrated African American women composers of past and present, a Rossini string sonata written when the composer was just 12, and Dvořák’s superb String Quintet.

Sunday, April 10: Quatuor Danel

Tchaikovsky: String Quartet No. 3 in E-flat Minor, Op. 30
César Franck: String Quartet in D Major

The French-Belgian Quatuor Danel was a big hit in their virtual performance last season, and Kohl now presents the group live and in-person. Quatuor Danel has earned praise for vivid and intense performances that keep audiences “on the edge of their seats.”

Quatuor Danel
Quatuor Danel returns April 10

Ticket details and more information at the Music as Kohl concert page.