If 42 years don’t seem all that long ago, note that 1980 takes us back to the first appearances of Pac-Man and the Rubik’s Cube, the eruption of Mount St. Helens — and the dawn of San Francisco Performances.
But there are still many of us around who attended the gala fundraising concert with André Watts, produced by Ruth Felt, the event foreshadowing the birth of an important local and regional performing arts organization.
Felt, previously a senior assistant to the worst of bosses, the legendary SF Opera General Director Kurt Herbert Adler, actually launched San Francisco Performances the year before, but it was the Watts recital — performed gratis by the pianist — that helped to put the organization on the map.
Felt, who retired from SF Performances in 2016 at age 77, wanted the organization “to present internationally acclaimed and emerging performing artists, introduce innovative programs, and build new and diversified audiences for the arts through education and outreach activities that also strengthen the local performing arts community.” More than 40 years on, all that still defines SFP.
President Melanie Smith admires Felt’s accomplishments, which included presenting the local debuts of stars like Yo-Yo Ma, organizing annual presentations of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, and providing a regular home for the Juilliard String Quartet, Philip Glass, the Alexander String Quartet, and scores of other outstanding artists. Smith told SFCV:
“Ruth Felt’s legacy of finding and presenting great artists who were not yet household names, and of introducing young ensembles and innovative programs to Bay Area audiences, continues. This remains a cornerstone of SF Performances today, and I think many of the artists we’re presenting this fall exemplify this practice and philosophy.
“For example, pianist Danny Driver, while well known at the Royal Albert and Wigmore Halls in London, is still relatively unknown in this country. We’re delighted to begin to change that, with his thoughtful recital of works by [Gabriel] Fauré, [César] Franck, [Lili] Boulanger, and Schubert on Nov. 8.
“Adam Tendler and Jenny Lin, anointed by Philip Glass himself to perform Glass’s Piano Etudes, will offer a full survey of Glass’s keyboard works on Nov. 19, including a West Coast premiere.
“And Junction Trio, comprised of three stellar soloists, two of whom (Jay Campbell and Stefan Jackiw) have been seen alone and in other ensembles on our series before, will bring their visionary artistry together for the ensemble’s debut concert here. We’re committed to moving the art of chamber music into the present and future, and artists like these represent the path forward.”
The 2022–2023 season opens on Oct. 7, with Garrick Ohlsson and the Apollon Musagète Quartet performing works by Bach, Antonín Dvořák, and Dmitri Shostakovich in Herbst Theatre.
The following day, Oct. 8, the Saturday Morning Series starts with the Alexander String Quartet and Robert Greenberg, SF Performances’ music historian-in-residence. This season, rather than focusing on one composer, the series will explore the music that mirrored the technological, philosophical, and artistic sea change in the Western world between 1889 and 1918. Each of the five concerts through March 2023 will highlight music from a different country.
A gala concert follows with András Schiff on Oct. 14, with a program of works by Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert. This concert is part of the fundraising gala for SF Performances’ arts education programs. Tickets, which include cocktails, the gala dinner, the concert, and post-show toast, are sold separately.
The Danish String Quartet returns on Oct. 26, with its sense of adventure, impeccable musicianship, and sophisticated artistry. The Quartet will present a program of Mozart, Benjamin Britten, and Robert Schumann.
Then, pianist Danny Driver, already recognized internationally, is making his SF Performances debut on Nov. 8. Driver told SFCV: “I have visited San Francisco many times over the years — my wife’s family hails from Northern California — so it is with particular anticipation that I look forward to a recital debut in your city!
“Fauré modeled his Theme and Variations [Op. 73] on Schumann’s Symphonic Studies, a work that combines the idea of the concert etude and variation form and that treats the piano, perhaps for the first time in its history, like a full symphony orchestra.
“Although he was a career organist and church musician, Fauré did not write a single work for solo organ, preferring the piano and composing, for example, 13 barcarolles over his career. Two of these feature in my recital, leading us into the great organist/composer César Franck, who unashamedly imposes a church organ upon the piano in his Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue. [Maurice] Ravel and Lili Boulanger provide a breezy contrast, the Ravel particularly full of brilliant orchestral color.”
Those two famous Philip Glass specialists share the stage for a survey of some of his iconic keyboard works on Nov. 19. Adam Tendler is recipient of the Lincoln Center Award for Emerging Artists; Jenny Lin has more than 40 recordings to her credit and is widely acclaimed for her technical virtuosity.
Lin said: “I’m thrilled to be working with Adam again. This SF Performances concert is taking our collaboration to another level, as we will create our own arrangement of selections from Philip Glass’s Les Enfants Terribles especially for this program.
“I often say I want to be Philip Glass when I grow up. He is one of the busiest 85-year-olds I know, so incredibly humble and generous, as a musician and a human being.”
Tendler adds: “Playing with Jenny always feels like a kind of homecoming. Our trust and our friendship imbues our performances with an intimacy that I think is as powerful for us as it is for our listeners.
“I love playing Philip Glass’s music for the same reason I enjoy playing any great composer. He has such a distinct, individual voice, and yet the music is so inventive, so varied, so electrifying, and there is always so much to discover, both as a performer and listener. I find myself constantly surprised and intrigued and challenged, even by works I’ve known or played for decades.”
Dec. 1 marks the SF Performances debut of Junction Trio, an eclectic new group that, in addition to Stefan Jackiw on violin and Jay Campbell on cello, has Conrad Tao on piano. Their program includes works by Ravel, Charles Ives, and Tao himself.
The fall concerts wrap up on Dec. 3 with “A Night of Spanish Guitar” at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, featuring Andrea González Caballero, called “the female voice of the Spanish guitar.” Joined by Russian-born flamenco guitarist Grisha Goryachev, whose life was forever changed after being invited to play for flamenco virtuoso Paco de Lucía, the two come together for an evening of music from Spain. This program is presented in association with the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts.
For the 2023 portion of the SF Performances season — featuring Midori, the Nicola Benedetti/Leonard Elschenbroich/Alexei Grynyuk Trio, Benjamin Grosvenor and the Doric String Quartet, Dawn Upshaw and the Brentano String Quartet, and J’Nai Bridges and Ulysses Owens Jr., among others — see the organization’s website.