J'Nai Bridges
J'Nai Bridges performs April 28 | Credit: Dario Acosta

San Francisco Performances announced their 2022–2023 season last week and there was one thing uppermost in the mind of Executive Director Melanie Smith: “honoring our commitments to artists who we had to cancel in the pandemic season of 2020. In total, we canceled 49 performances and we are making up every single one of them. This year we did many. Next year still has many more, nine to be exact.”

That admirable determination means that this year has projects that were conceived over the two-year period and some new ideas. Of course, these are recitals by returning favorites like Sir Andras Schiff, Midori, the Emerson String Quartet, Trio Medieval, and Garrick Ohlsson. But there are also highlights that are likely to shake things up.

Catalyst Quartet
Look for the Catalyst Quartet in February 2023 | Credit: Ricardo Quinones 

The PIVOT festival, which has recently been an umbrella for unusual and not traditionally chamber music-y performances, is being handed over to the Catalyst String Quartet for a second round of their “Uncovered” Project. Originally for recording only, Smith brought the first iteration to San Francisco this year, but realized that the project could continue further. “They’re literally digging through trunks in people’s attics to find some of this stuff. It’s remarkable what’s not been documented, what’s not been published properly, all kinds of things. They are moving forward with a new group of composers that include some Black composers, some women, and also some Latinx composers, whose work has really not been given the hearing that it deserves.”

Ulysses Owens
Ulysses Owens | Credit: Rayon Richards

Meanwhile, SF Performances has appointed a new jazz resident artist, now that Sean Jones has completed his term. In bringing percussionist Ulysses Owens, Jr. in, Smith wanted to find something that was not just a jazz set, aware that she would be competing in a crowded field if she did that. As Smith recounts, “he said, “Well, I’d like to do a program with my longtime friend this opera singer, maybe you’ve heard of her – J’Nai Bridges.” Turns out that they’ve been friends half their lives and they have conceived a concert that is somewhat of a shared personal history, ranging from French art song to Duke Ellington to spirituals and much else.

Dawn Upshaw
Dawn Upshaw | Credit: Brooke Irish

The always fascinating Dawn Upshaw returns to SF Performances with the Brentano Quartet and a concert she’s calling “Dido Reimagined.” While Purcell will be at the center of this project (probably!), there’s plenty of other Dido material to work with and Upshaw has never done the expected.

SF Performances has a history of discovering artists new to the Bay Area and one of the performers in the “names to watch” category this year is pianist Danny Driver. He’s not quite a young up-and-comer, being a regular at London’s Wigmore Hall and in Europe. “He came to my attention through a veteran manager who’s working with only a handful of artists, and she told me about him,” Smith relates. “And then I happened to be driving and listening to the radio in the car and there was this really amazing pianist in a concerto, and I thought “Who is that?” And it was Amy Beach’s piano concerto played by Danny Driver. He’s a remarkable pianist, virtuosic but thoughtful and elegant.”

Dreamer's Circus
Dreamer's Circus gets the crowd going. | Credit: Kristoffer Juel Poulsen

And then there’s Dreamer’s Circus, dreamed up by Danish String Quartet violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen. Says Smith, “the story, I’m told, is that he literally walked into a bar and met some folk musicians and they said, “let’s make a band.” So when Rune’s not playing Beethoven, he’s off touring with this Nordic folk rock ensemble.” The Danish String Quartet will come in to S.F. in the fall, and then Dreamer’s Circus later in the season, so that you can experience both.

Season subscriptions are on sale now at the San Francisco Performances ticket office at (415) 392-2545 or sfperformances.org. Tickets for single events go on sale on August 9.