A dozen picks from Cal Performances next season

Evidently not willing to yield the limelight to the San Francisco Symphony for a year during their centennial season, the other major Bay Area performing arts organizations have extremely rich schedules getting underway this September. In looking through the more than 60 different programs to be presented by Cal Performances during 2011-12, I checked off half of them as worth making a trip across the bay. It's made all the more difficult by the sheer breadth of what Cal presents, which is almost some of everything that falls outside the traditional pop culture boundaries.

But here's a dozen (a rough, but easy to swallow fifth of the schedule) that I would choose first. Some of these choices will seem odd to readers who know what I typically like (more for what's omitted than for what appears), but the selections were based on how likely or not it would be to see the performer again sometime soon, the uniqueness of the program itself, or on sheer quirkiness- two examples: Mark Morris' Dido and Aeneas would have easily made the list if Morris wasn't conducting, as would the Mariinsky Orchestra in a year when the SFS didn't already have so much to offer closer to home (and perhaps if it wasn't an all-Tchaikovsky program). Still, there's going to be a ridiculous amount of great stuff to see on the Berkeley campus this year, so check out the schedule. I know I'll be attending more than just what's listed below. Single tickets go on sale August 7th- the descriptions were written by Cal Performances.

The Calder Quartet with Thomas Adès  October 2
The members of the "superb" (New York Times) Calder Quartet are the closest thing to rock stars in the world of classical quartets. They are joined in this performance by supremely inventive composer and virtuoso pianist Thomas Adès in a program featuring his recently-premiered The Four Quarters, alongside Arcadiana and his Piano Quintet. The Calder Quartet is the winner of the 2009 ASCAP Adventurous Programming Award, and in tribute to its eclectic musical personality, has appeared not only in major concert halls but also on the late night shows of Leno, Letterman, and Conan O'Brian and at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival. 

Kronos Quartet performs Steve Reich  October 9
A highly anticipated local premiere by one of the fathers of minimalism is the centerpiece of this concert by the incomparable Kronos Quartet. The group has long been a champion of the music of Steve Reich, and in this concert they return to celebrate the great composer's 75th birthday. This performance features three works written specifically for Kronos and includes the Bay Area premiere of Reich's WTC 9/11, a moving composition employing recorded voices from the events surrounding the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York. "There's just a handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history, and Steve Reich is one of them" (The Guardian, London).

The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer  October 21
In a work that is equal parts concert, theater, and opera, John Malkovich, a legend of stage and screen, comes to Zellerbach Hall for one night only! The Infernal Comedyrecounts the unforgettable story of Austrias Jack Unterweger, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1976 for murdering a young girl, but became a literary celebrity with the publication of his autobiography, Purgatory. Considered a model of rehabilitation, he was paroled in 1990—only to go on to murder 11 more women on two continents. With a voice that purrs with menace, Malkovich recreates this deadly Don Juan—a man both charming and utterly manipulative—while two sopranos represent the unfortunate women in Unterweger's life. Add to the mix the soaring music of Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, and others, and the expert artistry of Baroque music ensemble Musica Angelica, and you have the makings of an unforgettable evening. 

The Keith Jarrett Trio  October 29
Keith Jarrett is easily among the most creative and uncompromising jazz pianists before the public today. His "uniquely riveting" (The Telegraph, London) concerts offer a thrilling showcase for his thoughtful compositions and brilliant pianism, and are anticipated with almost religious fervor by serious jazz lovers. For nearly 30 years, Jarrett's legendary jazz piano trio—an extraordinary and ongoing collaboration with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette—has towered above them all. Peacock has served as an inspiration for several generations of jazz bassists, and brings melodic and rhythmic freedom into every musical setting. And DeJohnette is among the finest drummers in jazz, with the bold and fearless approach of a consummate musician.

Abraham, Inc.  November 13
This phenomenal and utterly unique 10-piece ensemble has audiences dancing in the aisles as well as leaping from their seats in thunderous applause. Extraordinary artists with a brand new sound—trust us, you've never heard anything like it!—Abraham, Inc. features an unprecedented collaboration between three cultural visionaries: David Krakauer, champion of klezmer music and world-class chamber clarinetist; legendary funk trombonist and arranger Fred Wesley, prized for his work with James Brown and George Clinton; and hip-hop renegade and beat architect Socalled. Add a three-piece horn section led by Wesley, as well as musicians and rappers who collaborate frequently with Krakauer and Socalled, and the result is "music that cooks from the opening note!" (Prague Post).

Compania Flamenca José Porcel: Gypsy Fire  November 19
A former star dancer with the National Ballet of Spain, José Porcel has assembled a troupe of his country's most acclaimed flamenco artists, renowned for performances that radiate emotion, vitality, and intensity. A hit at Cal Performances in 2008, the ensemble returns with Gypsy FirePorcel and his 20-member company, featuring colorful costumes and brilliant live music by an onstage ensemble. "A musical savant, a charismatic personality and a master improviser...Porcel commanded the stage, drawing much tension from oases of repose, suddenly exploding into episodes of staccato footwork" (Allan Ulrich, Voice of Dance).

Peking Acrobats  January 21, 22
Direct from China, the Peking Acrobats—the largest and most acclaimed group of its kind—have for more than 50 years held audiences spellbound with vibrant presentations of their ancient folk art. Carefully selected from the finest acrobat schools in China, these expert gymnasts, jugglers, cyclists, and tumblers transform 2,000-year-old athletic disciplines into a family-friendly kaleidoscope of eye-popping wonder. The performance features live musical accompaniment from an accomplished Chinese ensemble, and promises to range "from the seemingly impossible to the virtually unbelievable" (Los Angeles Times).

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company: Story/Time  February 24, 25
Bill T. Jones—whose major honors include a MacArthur "Genius" Award, the Kennedy Center Honor, and a Tony Award for Best Choreography for the Broadway hit FELA!—returns to Zellerbach Hall to perform a thrilling new multidisciplinary work. Jones's inventive choreography will accompany a cascade of poignant short stories drawn from his life, as narrated by Jones himself from the stage. Original music and film will create the environment for Jones's charismatic performance presence and his unique company of dancers, now in its 29th year.

Ton Koopman & the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir  March 10
Experience one of the supreme achievements of Western music performed by perhaps the best-known and most-recorded of all early music ensembles! Ton Koopman—the renowned elder statesman of the authentic performance movement—founded the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra in 1979 and imbues every performance with both boundless energy and rigorous standards of excellence and scholarship. Koopman and his distinguished forces are the supreme exponents at negotiating Bach's monumental celebration of both the joy of music making and hymn to the glory of God, expertly challenging the Mass in B minor's balance between intimacy and grandeur. 

Richard Goode  March 25
Hailed for music making of tremendous emotional power and sensitivity, Richard Goode is acknowledged as a master interpreter of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, and Schubert. A particular favorite of his colleagues, Goode probes the inner reaches of works, infusing every measure with the utmost expressivity, making his musicianship an exciting combination of grandness and humility, boldness and depth—the boldness of the mind, the depth of the heart. Always a hit at Cal Performances, he returns by popular demand.

Seun Kuti and Fela's Egypt 80  April 19
The heir to a powerful musical legacy, Seun Kuti lights up the stage in a rousing celebration of Afrobeat music! Kuti's father Fela was the legendary Nigerian musician, composer, and political maverick, and the musical form he helped create is now more popular than ever, in part due to the success of the smash 2010 Broadway hit FELA!. A musical powerhouse in his own right, Kuti continues to spread this ferocious groove, and he comes to Cal Performances fronting Fela's legendary band, Egypt 80. "The real deal...a natural, with all the sexy charisma you might have hoped for...[the group] sounded terrific, at times better than they had with Fela towards the end, taking the soul of Afrobeat somewhere new" (The Guardian, London).

Sandrine Piau  April 29
"Making her eagerly awaited Cal Performances debut, this enchanting French soprano is an artist of fierce musical intelligence who is currently riding high on a string of impressive artistic accomplishments. She was crowned Opera Singer of the Year in 2009 by the French music industry, and in 2010, her album Between Heaven and Earth won the prestigious MIDEM Classical Album of the Year award. "Piau's performance is in every respect superior: brilliantly incisive of tone, more even throughout the vocal registers and dazzlingly fluent in coloratura passages" (Sunday Times, London). Her rich and varied Berkeley program features music by Mendelssohn, Fauré, Liszt, Chausson, Strauss, Ravel, Poulenc, and Britten."

The other performers I'd want to see if could (and will if I can): Mark Morris Dance Group, The Mariinsky Orchestra, Herbie Hancock, Yefim Bronfman, Eric Owens in recital, The Trey McIntyre Project, The Cashore Marionettes, The Desdemona Project, Susan Graham in recital, Alfredo Rodriguez, Kirill Gerstsein, The Assad Brothers, Ana Moura, Andras Schiff, Wolfgang Holzmair in recital, Murray Perahia, Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, Jonathan Biss, and The Gate Theater of Dublin: Samuel Beckett's Endgame & Watt.

The season brochure can be found online here.