Summer music madness

After a great year for Bay Area classical music, the summer festival season is fast upon us.

This very week Cal Performances closes out a full year of programming with its reprise of the Ojai Music Festival, held on the Berkeley campus this Thursday and Friday evening and all day Saturday, June 20. Each year this long-running festival chooses a fresh artistic director. This year conductor and percussionist Steven Schick will lead an exploration of twentieth century composers, with an emphasis on the works and influence of Pierre Boulez.

Angelique Kidjo- photo by CAMI

Schick will conduct the International Contemporary Ensemble and Red Fish Blue Fish in six exciting concerts crammed into three days, prefaced by Thursday’s free event where one can roam through the Faculty Glade and hear 80 musicians performing John Luther Adams’ Sila: The Breath of the World. ( – Accessible and edgy!)

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Symphony is in the midst of a Beethoven Festival, running through the end of June. Michael Tilson Thomas will lead a several hour marathon on this Saturday, June 20, recreating a famously chilly concert where Beethoven conducted his Symphony No. 5 and No. 6 and Piano Concerto No. 4, along with Choral Fantasy and more. Unfortunately, this is the same Saturday as the Ojai Festival, but one can also see parts of this concert on other days, along with a semi-staged version of Beethoven’s Fidelio on June 25, 26 and 28.

And then in July their “Summer in the City”  goes wild, featuring pop icon Johnny Mathis, jazz with Mark Inouye, and Afropop with the dynamic Angélique Kidjo, all backed by the mighty SF Symphony. One might also enjoy watching Star Trek or Back to the Future with the Symphony’s live accompaniment. This isn’t just a gimmick – earlier this year I saw The Godfather with the SF Symphony, and it was electric. ( – Thrilling!)

The San Francisco Opera has just opened its summer season, playing The Trojans, Two Women and The Marriage of Figaro. Berlioz’ The Trojans is so massive a spectacle that it is rarely staged (this is a collaboration with La Scala, Vienna State Opera and Royal Opera!), so this may be a chance in a lifetime to appreciate this five-hour French meditation on love and war.

Mozart’s enchanting Marriage of Figaro will be simulcast live from the stage of the Opera House to AT&T Ballpark on July 3. This popular event is free and drew 26,00 fans last year – and early birds who register online can even sit on the field! This is an opportunity to expose the young to great art. ( – The stuff of dreams!) 

David Finckel and Wu Han

This event coincides with another popular event, where Michael Morgan leads the Oakland East Bay Symphony in their yearly free July 3 concert and fireworks at Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion. ( – Kid friendly and free!)

Mid-July will be a busy time, with the kicking off several festivals.

July 17 is the first day of Music@Menlo, a three-week-long festival of chamber music that includes eight main concerts, five intimate recitals, three lectures and many free “prelude performances.”

Schubert is this year’s theme, with each concert illustrating part of his place in musical history. “Schubert represents a bridge from the Classical era to the Romantic Generation,” began cellist and Music@Menlo co-founder David Finckel in Audio notes, a lecture series that is available free from their website ( Wu Han, pianist and co-founder (and Finckel’s wife) introduced Schubert’s short and prolific life, and then musicians talked about each piece.

Part of the popularity of this series is the emphasis on education, where one can get informed before each concert. And you can hear the best artists on the planet performing Schubert’s yearning and hopeful Trout Quintet, his early lieder, the somber Rosamunde Quartet, the famed Octet in F Major and the immortal Quintet in C Major, a work of trembling hopes and sublime darknesses. Now in its 13th season, most events will sell out. ( – A hike, and worth it!) 

Emma McNairy in Lulu- photo by Cory Weaver

Also opening July 17 is Napa Valley’s Festival del Sol, a wine-food-music extravaganza with big names and great chefs. This year, the Russian National Orchestra will perform, along with famed baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky and soprano Deborah Voigt, and actor Kevin Spacey will even appear in a fund-raiser for Napa arts education. ( – Pricey but toney!) 

West Edge Opera is thriving without a permanent performance space and making a virtue of necessity. Formerly the Berkeley Opera, they will perform three remarkable operas in unexpected places. Alban Berg’s Lulu opens in Oakland’s abandoned train station on July 25. Laura Kaminsky’s brand new As One will show at The Oakland Metro, and Monteverdi’s Ulysses at American Steel, with the three operas rotating over three weekends.

Last year’s West Edge Opera summer festival garnered praise from every quarter. Led by artistic director Mark Streshinsky and conductor Jonathan Khuner, this year is also sure to be magical. ( – Accessible, hip, and adventurous!).

Held on the glorious North Coast, the Mendocino Music Festival will be running daily from July 11 to July 25, alternating big orchestral events, World music, jazz, country, choral, chamber and even a full opera, with Bay Area treasure Eugene Brancoveanu directing The Barber of Seville ( – Picture postcard and country warmth!)

Running from July 18 to August 1, the Carmel Bach Festival is justly famous, although the two plus hour jaunt make it more of an overnight excursion. If you can splurge, the town of Carmel is an absolutely charming destination, complete with beaches. For those on a budget, Laguna Seca campgrounds is just twenty minutes away… and includes a racetrack and shooting range for those weary of harpsichords.

International soloists, a rare version of Bach’s St. John’s Passion, Bruckner and Stravinsky masses in the Carmel Mission Basilica, Brandenburg concertos on Baroque instruments – and all in Carmel. ( – A real getaway!)

After the short but splashy Festival del Sol has rinsed out its last wine glass, Napa Valley hosts four weekends of chamber concerts in its Music in the Vineyards series. Also focusing this year on Schubert (and a second opportunity to hear the inimitable Trout and Rosamunde), extraordinary musicians will be performing at numerous vineyard halls from July 30 through August 21. World-class soloists and the cream of Bay Area musicians will join with the Horszowski Trio and Pacifica Quartet in bringing a range of music to intimate settings at 15 Napa Valley wineries. ( – fine music, fine wine)

Marin Alsop- photo by r.r. JonesAt the end of this timeline, but first on many festival lists (including mine), the Cabrillo Festival is Santa Cruz’ August anchor, held on two weekends Aug 7 – 16. Marin Alsop leads these five concerts of strictly modern pieces, including several US premieres and a half dozen West coast premieres, and all written for full orchestra. Some of these pieces will be the staples of tomorrow, and there is a heady sense that here is where the future of music is being written. ( – Feel the fire… and surf!)

—Adam Broner

Photos from top: Angélique Kidjo with the SF Symphony, photo by CAMI; David Finckel and Wu Han at Music@Menlo; Emma McNairy as Lulu with West Edge Opera, photo by Cory Weaver; Marin Alsop leads Cabrillo Festival, photo by r.r. Jones.