Opening the Season

Big names and rich substance

With the Music Season fast upon us, Bay Area players are in their blocks and ready to sprint, the first heats of an Indian summer. Here is a short list of what is in store for us this fall.

The San Francisco Symphony opens its doors with a splash on this very Thursday, Sept. 14, with a festive Gala. Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas combines forces with “rock star” cellist Yo-Yo Ma in a program that includes Saint-Saëns’ stirring Cello Concerto No. 1, Bernstein’s jazzy Overture to Candide, and the smoldering intensity of Ravel’s Bolero. All of this and fancy dinner packages and an After Party, with live music and dancing into the wee hours! And this fun comes without guilt (and as a tax write-off) as the proceeds benefit the many educational programs of the Symphony. Call 415-503-5300 for last minute tickets, or go online to

Michael Tilson Thomas- photo by Spencer LowellNext week the SF Symphony celebrates the music of Leonard Bernstein, whose 100th birthday would be this year. On Friday, Sept 22 through Sunday, Sept 24 MTT leads an exploration into the genius of a composer who combined Latin rhythms and sacred texts. This program includes the joyous Chichester Psalms and the jazzy palette of Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.

And on Sept 30 and Oct 1 MTT brings another unusual program, Bartok’s electric and disturbing Piano Concerto No. 2 starring the deeply intelligent playing of pianist Jeremy Denk, and Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique, a work of evocative French colors and unrequited love.

October continues with a sampler of guest conductors, beginning with the triumphant return of young conductor Krzysztof Urbański on Oct. 6 and 7 with a program that balances Mendelssohn’s sumptuous Violin Concerto with Shostakovich’s darkly beautiful Symphony No. 10. Urbański leads rising star violinist Augustin Hadelich as the soloist in that program, and cellist Sol Gabbetta in the Dvorak Cello Concerto Oct 19 and 21, all new luminaries on the world stage.

Baiba Skride-photo by Marco BorggreveLater in the month, Oct. 27 and 28, guest conductor Osmo Vänskä will lead a program that includes the sere beauty of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto starring violinist Baiba Skride, and the raw hopes and sarcasm of a young Shostakovich in his Symphony No.1. A long month of thoughtful programming!

On this side of the Bay, Joana Carneiro will return to lead the Berkeley Symphony on Oct 5 and 6 in a program honoring John Adams on his 70th birthday. His Fearful Symmetries is a work that may be “symmetrical” in structure but is still a headlong rush that will leave your heart pounding. That program will also include the world premiere of William Gardiner’s Cello Concerto, featuring Berkeley native Tessa Seymour, and is rounded out with Shostakovich and Beethoven. The beloved Carneiro’s return is much anticipated after two substitute conductors last year due to her recent pregnancy and successful birth.

Getting us in the mood will be the “Berkeley Symphony and Friends” concert next Sunday, Sept 24 at 5:00 p.m. at the Piedmont Center for the Arts, featuring violinist Stuart Canin in a program of Mozart, Prokofiev and Schumann. Canin, still playing movingly at 90, will be joined by violist Alexandra Leem, cellist Eric Gaenslen and pianist Janet Guggenheim.

Joana Carneiro-photo by Rodrigo SouzaOn Sunday, Sept 24 one can browse among crowded events at the free SF Music Day held at the renovated Herbst Theater in SF from 12 to 8 p.m. Here many of our top small ensembles will put in an appearance on four separate stages, loosely organized as classical, contemporary, and jazz, in a veritable avalanche of 40 minute concerts. For more information on the 33 groups and 155 artists see

Among them are the brilliant young Farallon Quintet, remarkable Telegraph Quartet, the accomplished Lee Trio, eye-popping ZOFO duo, and edgy Quinteto Latino.

This is a perfect prelude for the chamber concerts of fall, starting with the Left Coast Chamber Orchestra in “A Garland for Weinberg.” Held at Berkeley’s Hillside Club on Sept 8 at 7:30 p.m., this concert will feature the disconcerting works of Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg along with his better known countryman, Krzysztof Penderecki. The excellent musicians of Left Coast will complete the concert with two World Premieres: Writing the Letter by Julie Herndon and Concertino by Stephen Blumberg, and both of those new pieces are tributes to Weinberg. I just ran into double bass player Michel Taddei, who anchors this ensemble when he is not principal bass in the Berkeley Symphony, and he was visibly excited to be part of this line-up. See for more information.

The New Century Chamber Ensemble has found a new artistic partner, the extraordinary British violinist Daniel Hope, who will lead them in the opening of their season on Thursday, Sept 21 at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church. This concert will include the premiere of Alan Fletcher’s Violin Concerto, which was written expressly for Hope, along with Mendelssohn’s famed Octet and Wojciech Kilar’s Orawa, a stirring work that joins minimalist architecture with Eastern European modalities. Fun!! See for more concert dates.

Also opening this month is the California Symphony, led by Donato Cabrera. Their first concert, “Lyrical Dreams,” will be Sunday Sept. 24 at 4:00 p.m. at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. And it looks like a rewarding concert, lush and tingly, with Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. Cabrera brings an electric immediacy to this excellent group of performers, and is not to be missed. That concert also includes Nathaniel Stookey’s YTTE (Yield to Total Elation), a work for orchestra and electronic improvisation. More fun!! See for details.

—Adam Broner