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Cal Performances Adapts to a Virtual Fall Season

August 25, 2020

With their cars packed, ready to evacuate the Berkeley Hills on a moment’s notice if the enormous California wildfires come too close, Cal Performances officials still managed to announce modified plans for the fall, as scheduled.

That detail — just one more challenge in 2020 — is telling in the context of the life of a big, internationally famous performance organization, which has been struggling with the COVID-19 disaster, along with the rest of the world.

Previously, Cal Performances announced a big, ambitious 2020–2021 schedule on April 28, in the second month of the pandemic, Executive and Artistic Director Jeremy Geffen’s introductory season since taking over from Matías Tarnopolsky a year before.

That announcement came in the midst of worldwide cancellations of performing-arts events but also stated that Cal Performances “looks forward to beginning its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, which forced a premature end to the 2019–2020 season.” The fall half of that in-person season has since been canceled.

Today’s announcement is of Cal Performances at Home, a streaming series featuring 15 newly produced, full-length mainstage performance video streams, available beginning Oct. 1, 2020, through Jan. 14, 2021.

Recorded on stages and in recording studios all over the world, the series includes 10 programs that were previously scheduled for Cal Performances’ live-event fall season, plus four new performances, and a New Year’s Eve “Musical Celebration.”

A new mainstage video performance will debut each week. Viewers will have access to most performances for three months after its premiere, and on the evenings of each streaming premiere, a special digital “watch party” will feature a live-chat element.

Mainstage videos will be supplemented with free “Beyond the Stage” original digital content, including artist talks, interviews, lectures, and panel discussions, which will contextualize programs and give viewers the opportunity to engage directly with artists and each other. A third area of content, the “Digital Classroom,” will focus on educational content for students of different ages, parents, and educators.

“In this moment when in-person performances are not yet safe, we have been reminded of the performing arts’ unsurpassed ability to express the power and potential of the human spirit,” says Geffen. “As we approach fall 2020 and what would have been the beginning of our in-person season, Cal Performances’ most pressing goal has become finding a way to enable our audiences to continue to experience what they love about the performing arts.”

Cal Performances at Home follows the weekly Now, More Than Ever YouTube playlists and blog posts of music and dance performances that Geffen has been curating since the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of all in-person performances. To date, two guest curators have also participated in the project — soprano Julia Bullock and cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason. Bullock, who will headline her own Cal Performances at Home recital on Jan. 14, wrote as an introduction to her playlist of July 22:

I’m writing this from Munich, Germany, the place I now call home. St. Louis (where I grew up) and New York (where I previously resided) feel both oddly distant and close during this remarkable time. Some of the work I’ve shared here was introduced to me just last month, but most of it I discovered over the past several years, and all of it is material with which I connected immediately and deeply. I hope you give yourself permission to engage fully with these artists and this art: laugh, cry, shout, be amazed and in awe, share them, and return to them.”

The online fall performance series opens on Oct. 1, with violinist Tessa Lark and pianist Andrew Armstrong in an eclectic program infused with folk sounds from Northern and Eastern Europe and featuring Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major.

On Oct. 8, the Tetzlaff Quartet returns virtually, with two of Beethoven’s late string quartets in an Illuminations: “Music and the Mind” performance. On Oct. 14, composer, flutist, and vocalist Nathalie Joachim and Spektral Quartet will present Fanm d’Ayiti (Women of Haiti), a suite of kaleidoscopic compositions and arrangements that explores Joachim’s Haitian heritage and celebrates the songs and stories of Haiti’s most compelling female artists.

The latest addition to the lineup is Leif Ove Andsnes’s streaming recital on Dec. 3, with a program of Mozart, Beethoven (the “Pathétique”), Janáček, and Dvořák.

For the full season, see the Cal Performances website. Tickets for the fall 2020 series of Cal Performances at Home go on sale on Sept. 8 at 12 p.m. PT. Prices are $15 for a single viewer, $30 for two viewers, and $60 for household viewing (three or more viewers). Inexpensive ($5) tickets are available for UC Berkeley students to all events.

Viewers will have access to most of the videos for three months following the streaming debut with the exception of Manual Cinema’s A Christmas Carol and the New Year’s Eve “Musical Celebration,” which will not be available for viewing after the streaming broadcasts.

Cal Performances is offering all fall 2020 Cal Performances at Home content to current 2020–2021 subscribers at no charge as a way of thanking them for their loyal support of the organization during this challenging time. Full access to all Fall 2020 Cal Performances at Home content is also complimentary for Cal Performances donors at the $225 level and above. Contact at calperformances.org and by phone at (510) 642-9988.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].