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Season's Sights and Sounds

Thomas Buckner
Photo by Jack Mitchell

Thomas Buckner takes the stage locally for the Four Seasons Concerts series.

The City's performing arts scene kicks off a new year

By Ari Biernoff and Daphne O'Neal

Bay Area arts continue to be a driving force of our economy. As debate about public funding rages on, while the home video market seems to show no signs of leveling off, local arts presenters refuse to be daunted in their efforts to bring high-caliber artists to local stages. Per capita, San Franciscans and their neighbors continue to buy more tickets to live entertainment than residents of any other metropolitan area in the country. The reason is cystal clear in this 1996­97 season preview of productions in the coming months.


Cal Performances
With a mix ranging from the familiar to the novel, Cal Performances' 1996 fall season is a full six weeks longer than last year. Highlights include the passionate Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich, who rarely performs in the U.S. (Oct 5); the Mystical Arts of Tibet, nine monks from the famed Drepung Loseling monastery skilled in multiphonic singing and monastic dances (Oct 8); the ever-popular young Asian violinist Midori, who will charm her huge and adoring following (Oct 27); Welsh bass/baritone Bryn Terfel--probably the biggest hit of the fall season--who appears on his U.S. recital debut tour (Nov 2); and the incredible Diamanda Galas, who will put her voice through its range of three and a half octaves in a new program (Nov 20). (DO)
$39-$130, Zellerbach Hall, U.C. Berkeley campus, Bancroft Ave., Berkeley, 510/642-9988.

Alexander String Quartet

Composers, Inc.
Composers, Inc. has made a name for itself as a showcase for work by living American composers, and this season offers three concerts of astonishing range for as little as the price of a movie ticket fattened with popcorn and Jordan almonds: SF's own Alexander String Quartet, seasoned performers high on the list of local favorites (Nov 19); "Unusual Instrumentation," with the Modus Novus Vocal Quintet performing, among other selections, the world premiere of Allen Shearer's Fables and Robert Maggio's Two Quartets, winner of Composers, Inc.'s Lee Ettelson Award, the West Coast's largest composers' competition (Jan 28); a sonic bacchanal of "instrumentation as it was never taught in the conservatory," including Charles Wuorinen's Trio for Bass Instruments, featuring bass trombone, tuba and bass viol, Michael Gordon's Industry, for cello with attached tube screamer unleashing "feedback with class," and a piece for solo accordion by William Popp, another Ettelson Award winner (Apr 8). This concert combines classical music instrumentation with avowedly wild-child sensibilities. (AB)
All performances 8:00pm. Single admission tickets $15; $10 students, seniors and disabled; season tickets $25-$35; music students $2 per performance. Green Room, Veterans' Building, 401 Van Ness Ave., 512-0641.

Four Seasons Concerts
W. Hazaiah Williams is a figure of longevity and consistency in Bay Area classical music programming, having spent some 40 years producing and directing concerts. For the past few years, he has overseen a series split between Oakland and SF. Early season highlights include "In Celebration of Song," a medley by eight vocalists of opera, French songs, spirituals and American popular tunes (Sep 21, Oakland), and Russian pianist Sergei Podobedov in his SF debut with works by Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Beethoven (Sep 29). Fourteen more concerts emphasize Four Seasons' presence as a regular supplier of classical music to Bay Area listeners. (AB)
$30 and $35. Scottish Rite Temple, 1547 Lakeside Dr., Oakland; and Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., SF. 510/451-0775.

Nicholas McGegan

Philharmonia Baroque
Tagged by The New York Times as the country's leading early-music proponents, the 20-member orchestra performs on period instruments tuned to a slightly different pitch than modern versions. Says publicist Carla Befera, "You could argue that hearing Philharmonia play these symphonies you've heard all your life by larger orchestras is like hearing them for the first time, because you're hearing them exactly the way the composer heard them when they were written." Highlights: Handel's masterwork, Israel in Egypt, a chance for the Philharmonia Chorale, which was created last season, to really shine (Sep 20­26); the return of the extraordinary Dutch recorder player, Marion Verbruggen (Oct 10­13 and 16); the traditional Christmas Messiah (Dec 6­13) and Bach's St. Matthew Passion (Mar 15­22). (DO)
Sep 20­Apr 19. Single tickets $20­$29, series $112­$227, Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., SF; and First Congregational Church, Berkeley. 392-4400.

Harvey Milk

SF Opera
This season at the Opera is summed up in one word: expansion. The program will be two months longer than usual, stretching until February. A thousand more seats are available in the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, one of two alternative venues to be used while the Opera House undergoes seismic upgrading. The Opera has basically rebuilt the cavernous house, with no seat more than 150 feet from the thrust stage. A portion of the extra seating will be priced at $8 and $15, an opportunity for opera-lovers on a budget and newcomers keen to see a production without taking out a bank loan. The Opera is also performing this season at the Orpheum Theatre, a beautiful and surprisingly intimate proscenium-arch house seating about 2,500. Kudos to the Opera for converting inconvenience to opportunity.

The season itself includes two company premieres, Prince Igor (Sep 6­25), with Elena Zaremba as the Tartar Princess, and Hamlet (Sep 12­29); a special Placido Domingo concert (Oct 20); the West Coast premiere of Harvey Milk (Nov 9­30), based on the life of the assassinated gay SF supervisor; and a holiday production of Die Fledermaus (Dec 26­29). (DO)
Sep 6­Feb 23. Single tickets $21­125, triplet packages $41­325, all shows 7:00pm (Sun 1:00pm). Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, 99 Grove St.; and Orpheum Theatre, Market/Hyde streets. 776-1999 or 510/762-BASS.

Emerson String Quartet

SF Performances
As always, SF Performances offers an eclectic and varied season for both the more traditionally minded and those with an eye for the cutting edge. The season gets off to a truly exciting start with Evgeny Kissin (Sep 30), regarded by some as the Horowitz of his generation. Other highlights: guitar supremo John Williams (Oct 10); the Tallis Scholars, performing Renaissance and Baroque music (Oct 29); and Jennifer Larmore, who sang at the closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games (Nov 14). Look out also for pianist Andre Watts, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis (with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra performing the SF premiere of his Blood on the Fields), virtuoso violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter (playing the three Brahms sonatas in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the composer's death) and the off-the-wall Canadian Quartetto Gelato, returning for the second straight year in a Sunday matinee performance followed by an ice cream social! SF Performances also offers a program of Family Matinees for only $6 and three Saturday lectures/performances. (DO)
Prices range. Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave.; Masonic Auditorium, 1111 California St.; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 701 Mission St.; and St. Ignatius Church, 650 Parker Ave.398-6449.

SF Symphony

SF Symphony
Golden boy music director Michael Tilson Thomas puts the Midas touch on his second season. The opening gala (Sep 4) features the world premiere of Steven Mackey's Lost and Found, a specially commissioned symphony, and mezzo-soprano favorite and Bay Area resident Frederica von Stade. Lost and Found will be repeated Sep 5 and 7 and at a free concert at Justin Herman Plaza on Sep 13. The second week opens with a William Kraft work, Brazen (Sep 11), another world premiere. Other key performances will be the Sep 25­29 live recordings of works by Webern and Mahler and Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring); the Feb 12­15 program of Bach's Magnificat and Stravinsky's Persephone; and the May 15, 17 and 19 performances by Jessye Norman of works by Wagner and Mahler, the German composers she interprets like no other. Next spring, composer John Adams will lead his own work, Harmonium, with the SF debut of soprano Barbara Bonney (Feb 27­28 and Mar 1), and the SF Opera's conductor, Donald Runnicles, will lead Verdi's Requiem (Apr 24-26). Another treat should be the return of soprano Victoria de los Angeles (April 27), a huge hit as a substitute for an ailing soprano late last spring. This season also features perennial favorite Isaac Stern in an April 13 Pension Fund Concert, and popular violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg in a March 23 recital program, part of the Great Performers Series. (DO)
Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, Van Ness Ave. and Grove St., 864-6000.

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From the September 1996 issue of SF Live

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