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San Francisco Performances Calling All Stars in 2017–18

April 4, 2017

There’s so much going on in the new San Francisco Performances 2017–18 season, announced yesterday, that merely listing it all would take a thousand words. And it’s mostly all highlights, one of the strongest-looking seasons in recent memory. About 65 percent of it was planned by Ruth Felt, the founder who retired last year. The rest is the work of new Executive Director Melanie Smith and Director of Artistic Administration Christine Lim.

The big news, and the reason for my enthusiasm, is the debut of a new miniseries with the marketing-influenced title of Hear Now and Then. The idea being to yoke together new music and early music, which was it’s own new music revolution in the 1960s — just one that was built on extremely old music. Some early music performers are among our most adventurous thinkers and Jordi Savall, who shows up on May 3, 2018, with his “Celtic Universe” program, is one of the most visionary performers there is. Kronos Quartet, performing with Youth Speaks and The Living Earth Show, is also on the series, and will feature a recent work by San Francisco-based composer Danny Clay. And Philip Glass’s birthday year wouldn’t be complete without the great man himself who, along with his ensemble performs his early minimalist classic Music with Changing Parts.

Of the series, Melanie Smith commented,

This is a place to put special projects and programs that are a little outside the box from our more traditional chamber music, virtuosi soloist or piano recitals.  This is also the place to program projects or artists that I really love, and am eager to introduce, or bring back to our audiences.

The series title, and its overall theme, come from the idea that great music is timeless.  What we think of as early music was simply the contemporary music of its day, and there are often many parallels between the very old and the very new.  To paraphrase a quote from Jordi Savall, time can serve as a kind of filter for music (and all art), distilling a work down to essential elements that remain powerful, and speak to the human experience over centuries.  That’s the essence of great art – it lasts beyond fads or fashions, styles or genres.  It is truly timeless.

PIVOT, the series that premiered last season and is billed as being aimed at “adventurous audiences” is a week-long intensive course next season. It kicks off with the L.A. Dance Project (Jan. 23, 2018), and continues with pianist Sarah Cahill, Alexander String Quartet, and William Winant Percussion Group in a celebration of composer Lou Harrison (Jan. 24). Timo Andres brings a recital of his 30-something generation of composers (Jan. 26) and Joe Goode Dance Company provides a preview of a new, large-scale work (Jan. 27).

Dance is a huge part of SFP’s contribution to the Bay Area arts scene. They’re bringing in Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks for a reprise of First Fall, from Some of a Thousand Words, with music provided by the string quartet Brooklyn Rider. And Wayne MacGregor’s company brings a new work, called Autobiography, based partly (and I don’t know how) on MacGregor’s own DNA.

The Danish String Quartet makes their San Francisco (but not Bay Area) debut in a program including their own arrangements of Nordic folk music. They are joined by three other notable quartets – the Ebene, JACK, and Takacs.

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee comes in for his S.F. recital debut (Mar. 31, 2018) and those of us who saw him at the S.F. Opera last year will be happy to hear him sing again. He’ll be preceded by mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard (Oct. 1) and Dawn Upshaw, with Gilbert Kalish and the fabulous So Percussion (Oct. 26) including the Bay Area premiere of a new work by young American Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw and George Crumb’s Winds of Destiny, based on Civil War folk songs. Nicholas Phan is back for an April 12, 2018 recital.

The piano series begins with Pierr-Laurent Aimard and continues with composer/pianist/writer Lera Auerbach performing the world premiere of SFP-commissioned 21st Century Pictures, from a series of paintings by famed Ballets Russes dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky. That’s paired, of course, with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Other pianists: Yuja Wang, Sir Andras Schiff, Rafal Blechacz, and Stephen Hough.

Still haven’t mentioned guitarist Jason Vieaux with bandoneonist Julien Labro, lutenist Paul O’Dette, violinists Leila Josefowicz, Regina Carter, and 19-year old sensation Simone Porter, clarinetist/composer Jorg Widmann, jazz pianist Alfredo Rodriguez and many others. But then I did say this wasn’t a comprehensive report, didn’t I?

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.