Lidiya Yankovskaya
Lidiya Yankovskaya conducts Symphony San José Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 | Credit: Karen Almond

The South Bay post-COVID renaissance continues in fall 2023, as the region’s leading classical arts organizations are lining up major artists and events, as well as special projects.

Opera San José breaks from the gate the earliest, with a production of Charles Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet that runs Sept. 9–24, but Symphony San José is right behind, with the brilliant conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya leading Lera Auerbach’s Icarus, the Prelude and “Transfiguration” from Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, and Sergei Prokofiev’s score for Cinderella on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. Yankovskaya, music director of Chicago Opera Theater and a regular on the podium of the Chicago Symphony’s MusicNOW series, has become an international force, conducting a wide variety of music, though she is particularly sought after to shepherd new music into the world. You shouldn’t miss the opportunity to catch her performing locally.

And speaking of new music, L.A.-based contemporary-music guru Christopher Rountree comes to Symphony San José Dec. 2 and 3 to conduct a mandolin concerto that Jeff Midkiff wrote for himself, as well as music by William Grant Still, Caroline Shaw, and Aaron Copland (Rodeo).

Nikolay Khozyainov
Nikolay Khozyainov comes to the South Bay on Oct. 7 | Credit: Marie Staggat

Fans of great pianism have Oct. 7 marked. That’s when Nikolay Khozyainov plays the McAfee Performing Arts Center, opening the season for Steinway Society – The Bay Area. The Russian-born, Germany-based star plays Chopin but also his own transcription of three movements from Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé and three Alexander Scriabin sonatas — all of them, of course, formidable technical hurdles. Steinway Society also has Anne-Marie McDermott coming in on Oct. 29 and Mao Fujita on Nov. 18.

Meanwhile, the little orchestra that could, San José Chamber Orchestra, is dropping some astonishingly bold concerts on South Bay audiences. Violinist Liana Bérubé and violist Ivo Bokulic help break the ice on Oct. 15, as Music Director Barbara Day Turner conducts Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, but the program begins with music by a Mexican old master, Manuel Ponce, along with a major Mexican voice on the international music scene, Javier Álvarez, who died in May, much too young, at age 67.

And while you’re getting tickets for that performance, think about SJCO’s Nov. 12 concert that begins with Stacy Garrop’s Inner Demons (2007), an arrangement of two movements from her Second String Quartet. As Garrop describes it: “This piece contains four themes: a tarantella, a demented waltz, a scherzo, and the Appalachian folk hymn ‘The Wayfaring Stranger.’ The themes are stated quite briskly until arriving at the hymn. This theme consumes the man; it destroys his mind and he melts down. As his mind is slowly rebuilt, his thoughts become increasingly chaotic, until elements of all four themes are heard simultaneously.”

If you add in West Bay Opera’s Madama Butterfly (Oct. 13–22) and the smaller local groups, like Mission Chamber Orchestra and San José Chamber Music Society (which has not announced its season yet), not to mention a stacked Stanford Live lineup, it’s a pretty optimistic outlook for the Bay Area’s most populous metro area.