The SF Opera Chorus performs at Noontime Concert’s biggest event

After 34 years — even after the long pandemic shutdown of live performances — Noontime Concerts is going strong with both live concerts and livestreaming on Tuesdays.

Livestreams are broadcast in HD video and high resolution sound in real time on the date and time of the concert. After each concert an audiovisual recording is public on YouTube for a limited time, the announcement promises.

A current example: José López performs works by Venezuelan composers Teresa Carreño and Moisés Moleiro, followed by Muzio Clementi’s F minor Sonata, a group of rarely played transcriptions by Charles Valentin Alkan, ending with a sonata by Ferdinand Hiller.

Noontime Concerts Executive Director Robin Wirthlin tells the program’s story:

The series is a descendant of the original concert series developed by Dame Myra Hess. It’s part of an international network of churches, museums, and other venues offering a welcome midday respite amidst the hustle and bustle of urban life.

Fulfilling the vision of internationally renowned vocalist Alexandra Ivanoff, Noontime Concerts has remained a treasured Bay Area landmark, presenting hundreds of classical concerts performed by outstanding local and international musicians each Tuesday afternoon at 12:30 in the heart of San Francisco.

Founded at Old St. Mary’s Cathedral, the series is now in its 34th year and is recognized as a valued local institution that continues to fulfill its mission to enrich the community and cultural life of the Bay Area.

Noontime Concerts are not ticketed but donations are solicited to ensure all can enjoy performances regardless of ability to pay. Performances are offered at a time convenient for downtown workers, visitors to San Francisco, students, shoppers, and music lovers in general. 

The concerts had a dramatic beginning: When London endured air raids in World War II, theaters and museums were all closed, pianist Myra Hess used the empty National Gallery to stage free daily concerts — 1,700 over six years.

Soprano Shawnette Sulker will perform African American art songs in a Noontime Concert on June 20

Ivanoff — a singer, teacher, and journalist — who is now covering the European music scene from her home in Budapest, founded Noontime Concerts in 1988 “on the kitchen table with my typewriter and a bottle of Wite-Out” with her then-husband, organist/composer John Karl Hirten, who had just started his new job as music director at Old St. Mary’s.

“We had recently moved from New York, where I had sung in the professional choir at Trinity Church on Wall Street,” Ivanoff recalls. “We both carried the idea of Trinity’s popular Noonday Concerts with us when we surveyed the beautiful interior of Old St. Mary’s, which also had a Steinway grand piano.

“On Dec. 4, 1988, we held our first Noontime Concert there with a solo pianist. From that date on, I saw a win-win situation for both the historic church and the many hundreds of fine musicians in San Francisco.”

Among Wirthlin’s many memories of the concerts, she singles out a holiday concert:

“It featured the SF Opera Chorus. We had an audience of about 250, one of the largest ever. When the first note was sung acapella, resonating in every inch of the sanctuary there was complete and reverent silence. Then came the glorious full sound of the chorus, captivating all of us.

“My heart was full because this extraordinary music, made available to anyone who wanted to be there that day, is exactly why Noontime Concerts exists and has been embraced by the community for 34 years. As the thrilled audience members were leaving the church after the program many of them, some first-time attendees, expressed deep gratitude for this unique experience.”

The program, Wirthlin says, is supported by public donations at concert time: grants and gifts from the San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund, Grants for the Arts, the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, the Schwab Charitable Fund, the Helen von Ammon Fund for Emerging Artists.

Quinteto Latino performs Latin American classical music on June 27

Upcoming concerts:

May 23, Rhonda Bradetich, flute, and Paul Grove, guitar, “Women Composers take Center Stage” Gwyneth Walker: Five Pieces for Flute and Guitar
Florence Price: Andante
Rhonda Bradetich: The Fall
Katherine Hoover: Canyon Echoes
Laurel Zucker: Peruvian Suite

May 30, Ann Elizabeth Jones, soprano, Tom Rose, clarinet, Miles Graber, piano
W.A. Mozart: “Parto,” from La Clemenza di Tito
Arnold Cooke: Three Songs of Innocence
Schubert: Romanze from Die Verschworenen
Debussy: Petite Piece
Ravel: Piece en forme de Habanera
Ben Moore: Lake Isle of Innisfree
Terence Greaves: A Garden of Weeds

June 6, Michael Graham, Emanuela Nikiforova, Amy Zanrosso
works by Astor Piazzolla, Dvořák (“Dumky” Trio), Lili Boulanger

June 13, Aileen Chanco, Ertan Torgul  
Beethoven, “Kreutzer” Sonata; Fazil Say, Sonata for Violin and Piano op. 7; Jessie Montgomery, Peace

June 20, Shawnette Sulker, soprano
African American art songs

June 27, Quinteto Latino
Latin American classical music