Garrick Ohlsson
Garrick Ohlsson appears July 15 | Credit: Pier Andrea

New challenges demand fresh responses, and SF Performances is bouncing back from the mandated cancelations of the past year with the first summer season in its 41-year history. “Summer Music Sessions” runs for 11 days from July 14, 2021 through July 24, 2021 at Herbst Theatre. Nine concerts include 14 artists performing on piano, guitar, and in chamber ensembles.

David Greilsammer
David Greilsammer makes his SFP debut on July 14 | Credit: Julien Mignot

According to SFP President Melanie Smith, “We are thrilled to announce our return of live performances and in a first for SFP, we will be presenting them in a summer concert series that brings some of our most beloved artists, treasured programs, and even new works and interpretations. Our plan to rebook performances postponed by COVID-19 has been in the works since last August when we realized that due to the nature of chamber music — small groups of artists performing in an intimate space, without a conductor — we had the opportunity to return to live performances safely and as quickly as possible.”

The series features artists previously scheduled to perform in the 2019 – 2020 and 2020 – 2021 seasons whose concerts were postponed due to COVID-19, many of them SFP favorites, including pianists Natasha Paremski, Garrick Ohlsson, Timo Andres, and Marc-André Hamelin, guitarist William Kanengiser, the Alexander String Quartet, violinist Jennifer Koh, and cellist Jay Campbell. This season marks debut performances from pianists David Greilsammer and Aaron Diehl.

William Kanengiser
William Kanengiser performs July 16 (with the Alexander String Quartet) and July 18 (solo).

The new season includes some brand-new music, too, including the North American premiere of Prism: Six Songs by Sting by Sting and Dušan Bogdanović, three world premieres: Ian Krouse’s Labyrinth (on a theme by Led Zeppelin), Golfram Khayam’s Lost Land, and Marc-André Hamelin’s Nowhere Going Fast. See a summary of the summer programs below.

Single tickets will go on sale to the public June 14 and can be bought online at or by phone at (415) 677-0325, Mon.–Fri., 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Patrons with questions should call the number above during those hours.

“We've been waiting a while to be able to implement these plans, and when we put the word out about Summer Music Sessions, these artists were thrilled to reschedule their dates as soon as it was safely possible,” said Smith. “This has given us an opportunity to present a first-ever summer festival. While we don't have a particular musical theme for these events, the idea of coming back together to share real live performances feels like the most important unifying thread right now.”

All performances will be in full compliance with San Francisco City and County guidelines for regathering. Safety protocols will include reduced capacity seating, increased ventilation and filtration standards, assigned seating only, no intermission, universal mask wearing (gators or scarves do not qualify as masks), contactless tickets, no food or beverage service, social distancing requirements for entering and exiting the building, and performers will be properly distanced from patrons. Read more about safety protocols for the Veterans Building here.

Alexander String Quartet
The Alexander String Quartet perform July 16 | Credit: Terry Lorant

Here is a summary of the Summer Music Session programs:

July 14 — Pianist David Greilsammer playing Janáček, CPE Bach, Mozart, Pelz, and Rebel.

July 15 — Pianist Garrick Ohlsson completes his two-year survey of Brahms’s complete solo piano works, which he begun in the 2019–2020 season.

July 16 — The Alexander String Quartet play their rescheduled “British Invasion” program with guitarist William Kanengiser of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet playing Prism—Six Songs by Sting, Ian Krouse’s Labyrinth, and works by Leo Brouwer and John Dowland.

July 18 — Guitarist William Kanengiser performs pieces by Santiago de Murcia (arr. Kanengiser), Dionisio Aquado, Frank Wallace, Bryan Johanson, and Golfram Khayam’s Lost Land.

July 19 — Pianist Natasha Paremski plays works by Chopin, Adès, and Prokofiev.

July 20 — Pianist Marc-André Hamelin plays a program of CPE Bach, Beethoven, and — joined by the Alexander String Quartet — his own Nowhere Going Fast,

July 21 — Pianist Aaron Diehl melds classical training and improvisation on works by Ellington, William Grant Still, Roland Hanna, Nathaniel Dett, and others.

July 23 — Composer/pianist Timo Andres performs pieces by Andres, Schumann, Ann Southam, Ned Rorem, Debussy, and Ellington.

July 24 — Jennifer Koh closes the festival. She’ll be joined by composer/pianist Timo Andres and cellist Jay Campbell, a member of the JACK Quartet, for works by Andres and Janáček.