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California Symphony Plans Exciting Surprises for 2020–2021

April 24, 2020

It requires more optimism than usual to run an arts organization these days. All are doing their utmost to sustain the faith, which is why, amid the cancellations, we can be thankful that March through May is the calendar’s appointed time for: season announcements. Yes, let’s look forward to 2020–2021 with the same enthusiasm with which we greeted 2019–2020. As the song says, “they can’t take that away from me.”

Yesterday, April 23, the California Symphony announced its coming season, and it looks adventurous and interesting. We’ll need to see how the side-path surprises play out with the orchestra’s subscribers, but on the face of it, this is a season well worth the price of admission.

It starts on Sept. 26–27 with Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto, with Adam Golka as soloist; Haydn’s Symphony No. 82 (the “Bear,” first of the Paris symphonies); and a work by Marianna Martines (1744–1812), who was a protégée of the poet and librettist Metastasio and made the most of her first-class education by becoming an admired composer and singer and the first woman admitted to the Accademia Filarmonica di Bologna.

Music Director Donato Cabrera had apparently long wanted to do a concert centered on music about birds and “Firebirds of a Feather” (Nov. 7–8) is that idea come to life. Centered around Igor Stravinsky’s hit ballet score, the orchestra will also welcome cellist Joshua Roman to play Mason Bates’s Cello Concerto (2014), a work that Roman has played successfully across the U.S., including with Berkeley Symphony. Ottorino Respighi’s Gli uccelli (The birds) and Saqqara Bird by Australian composer Melody Eötvös round out the bird-themed concert. Cabrera confesses being instantly taken with the rhythmically propulsive yet melodic sound world of Saqqara Bird on first hearing, qualities that make it a perfect orchestra concert opener.

The California Symphony takes advantage of Cabrera’s directorship of the Las Vegas Philharmonic to share soloists with them (reducing one major expense of a concert season). The LV Phil’s concertmaster, De Ann Letourneau, plays a recently discovered violin concerto by Florence Price (1887–1953) at the California Symphony’s “Hidden Treasures” concert (Jan. 30–31, 2021), a concert that also features Robert Schumann’s Overture, Scherzo, and Finale (the composer’s symphony without a slow movement) and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fifth Symphony, which Cabrera says has been his fave of the Vaughan Williams nine for some time.

In “Symphonic Serenade” (March 27–28, 2021), Cabrera leads the California Symphony’s wind and brass sections in a concert that showcases great wind ensemble pieces, from Mozart’s Serenade in B-Flat, K.361 to Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments with Richard Fountain as piano soloist.

The season finale, “Triumph of the Spirit” (May 15–16), is built around Dmitri Shostakovich’s mighty Fifth Symphony. In the first half of the show, concertmaster Jennifer Cho plays Jennifer Higdon’s lyrical, Pulitzer Prize-winning Violin Concerto (which she’ll then take to Las Vegas), and Viet Cuong, the 10th composer in the orchestra’s hugely successful composer-in-residence program, unveils his first work for the orchestra.

The California Symphony has been trumpeting its sold-out concerts, for which the musicians and, really, the whole organization deserve credit. With a finely balanced season like this one, the optimists have all the more reason to believe the orchestra can turn the trick again.

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.