A dozen picks from Cal Performance's 2012-13 season

Esa-Pekka Salonen. Photo by David Fray.

Talk about an abundance of riches- Cal Performances is offering more than 60 different programs this year and truly have something for every age and taste. There are visiting circus troupes, theater, dance and ballet companies, orchestras, musicians, and singers from around the world. Despite the attempt to judiciously narrow down the list of contenders in a second pass through the schedule, two dozen choices still remained. What to do? I decided to go with a mix of performers I've never seen and those whose past performances make me loathe the idea of missing the chance to see them again. Such a methodology leaves out a lot- it's so haphazard. It will certainly result in omissions that will embarrass me later. To mitigate that embarrassment I'm going to hedge just a bit and list the top 12 in my own personal order of preference, and then include another dozen in no particular order that I would certainly see if I could. Even stretching the rules to this extreme there shall remain omissions that you, dear reader, would include in your own top 12. But it's my list, and if you're so compelled, the comments section awaits you to add yours.

I've decided not to include what should unequivocally take the number one spot on the list (and is probably the major event of the performing arts season throughout the entire Bay Area, if not the state), because if you don't already have a ticket for Einstein on the Beach you are just about out of luck- at the time of this writing there were only six or seven seats left for the entire run. I'm also not including what would be my third choice, which is the return of the Ojai North! festival next June under the artistic direction of Mark Morris. These performances should be considered a "must" for any classical music enthusiast (and the program has yet to be announced).

Here's the dozen, starting at the top:

Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra  November 9,10 & 11
Salonen leads the British orchestra in three different programs: the first night features his own Helix, Beethoven's 7th, and Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique. The second night is Berg's Wozzeck. The third night is a performance of Mahler's 9th. I would see all three- but if I had to prioritize it would be Wozzeck first, then Mahler, and finally Beethoven. But I'd hate to miss any of it.

The Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra: Swan Lake  October 10-14
This should really not require any explanation, but if you've never seen Swan Lake, you should, and why not see it performed by some of the world's most renowned (and many would argue best) dancers?

Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott  January 24
A musician who needs no introduction, a concert guaranteed to sell out, get a ticket- the program for this evening of duos is a small miracle in its alluring grouping of Stravinksy, de Falla, Brahms, Messiaen and more. If you have never seen Yo-Yo Ma perform before, you really should. Really.

Christian Tetzlaff   February 12
Tetzlaff, a truly interesting musician recently profiled in The New Yorker (Aug. 27, 2012), returns to the Bay Area in this solo recital featuring works by Bartók, Ysaÿe, Kurtág, Paganini, and J. S. Bach. His last local performance (with the SF Symphony) was stunning. Not to be missed. 

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra   March 17
Hate the name all you want, but this is the biggest jazz event of the season.

Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela  November 29 & 30
Conductor, music director, & sex symbol Gustavo Dudamel brings 200 of his El Sistema charges to the U.S. to perform ¡MUSICA!, two programs featuring music from Latin American composers Chávez, Orbón, and Revueltas on night the first, followed by works from Benzecry, Villa-Lobos, and Estevan on the next. Though I haven't seen Dudamel conduct these performers, just about everyone I know who has raves about their performances. 

Les 7 Doigtsde la Main Circus (The Seven Fingers of the Hand Circus)  May 3-5
The Canadian cirque nouveau troupe brings their fourth production, PSY to Berkeley, which the Boston Herald described "is like having the front row seat to someone else's fever dream. Les 7 Doigts raises the bars on what cirque nouveau can do- not just physically, but emotionally."

Nicolas Hodges  January 27
Hodges returns for another provocative and intriguing recital featuring the world premiere of Harrison Birtwistle's Gigue Machine alongside works by Mozart, Debussy and Stravinsky.

The Calder Quartet performs Nancarrow   November 3
Cal Performances, in collaboration with Other Minds, celebrates the music of Conlon Nancarrow (1912-1997) in his 100th birthday year. The remarkable Calder Quartet performs Nancarrow's string quartets, as part of a weekend of performances celebrating Nancarrow's incredible, unexpected, and visionary musical voice. To quote Frank Zappa on Nancarrow's music: "The stuff is fantastic...You've got to hear it." 

Composer Portrait: Esa-Pekka Salonen  November 8
I say go "all in" during the Finn's visit and attend this performance of works composed by Salonen performed by pianist Gloria Chang and others during an evening which also features a discussion between the composer and Cal Performances' director Matias Tarnopolsky.

Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour  January 19
Celebrating 55 years of the festival by taking some great performers on the road, the line-up for this show is about as close to a guaranteed night of great music as can be had, featuring vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, Christian McBride on bass, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, Benny Green on the drums, sax player Chris Potter, and Lewis Nash on drums.

The Secret Garden  March 1-3,9,10
A collaboration between Cal Performances and San Francisco Opera, this is the world premiere of Nolan Gasser and Carey Harrison's adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's children's novel. Cast TBA. Sung in English and suitable for the entire family.

The other highly worthwhile dozen (in no particular oder): Theatre de la Ville's production of Ionesco's Rhinoceros, Mummenschanz, the Delfeayo Marsalis Octect, Mark Morris Dance Group's The Hard Nut, Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca, Mohammed Reza ShajarianSimon Trpčeski, Susanna Phillips, Eric Owens, Australian Chamber Orchestra.

And don't forget Free For All, a day long event of free performances of all types and for all ages, taking place across the UC Berkeley campus on Sunday, September 30. More than two dozen companies will be performing, including Kronos Quartet, Cypress String Quartet, harpsichordist Davitt Moroney, pianist Shai Wosner, carillonist Jeff Davis and the University Chorus and Symphony. Jazz musicians will include saxophonist George Brooks, Brazilian pianist Marcos Silva and Intersection, Pamela Rose’s Wild Women of Song and multiple performances by the UC Jazz Ensembles. Theatrical performances will be given by Eth-Noh-Tec Asian-American Story Theater, Shotgun Players, storyteller Dianne Ferlatte and accompanist Erik Pearson, shadow puppeteer Daniel Barash and UC Berkeley’s Department of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies. A wide variety of ethnic traditions will be on display by the Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company, Chitresh Das Dance Company performing kathak dance from India, San Francisco-based Gamelan Sekar Jaya, the University’s Gamelan Sari Raras, Kitka singing Eastern European songs and San Francisco Taiko Dojo performing Japanese drumming. All performances and events are free.