It's that time again...
A new fall arts season is about to start, and with it comes the usual deluge of recommendations on what you should spend your time and money going to see. After moving to DC last summer, I've decided to do a smaller round-up than in years past, creating just one list of what to see and hear in the coming months instead of four. However, since I've always maintained size matters, and yet this list is smaller than what I've provided in the past, I promise, to the extent I can, all of these are performances are worth your time and money. Here's what, why, and when:
1. Taylor Mac's 24-Decade History of Popular Music
What: Taylor Mac: A 24-Decade History of Popular Music
Why: Without a doubt, this is the biggest, most essential event on the fall arts calendar. After developing it across the country in 3-hour, 3-decade segments during 2016, the entire show culminated in a now-legendary 24-hour performance in New York last fall. Now judy (Mac's preferred pronoun) reprises it over four nights in 6-hour segments. Of course it won't be the same as experiencing the New York marathon, but I imagine as the evenings progress they will build their own momentum into something uniquely glorious by the time it's all over. Of the three great, marathon-length performances coming to the Bay Area during the next year (the other two are Angels in America at Berkeley Rep and San Francisco Opera's production of Wagner's Ring Cycle), this one merits the most excitement and is the least likely to ever be remounted. The three segments I've seen were mesmerizing, provocative, and often beautiful beyond words. Don't miss it, and do see the entire show (tickets for individual nights are available). If for some reason you can't make it for the whole thing, an abridged version takes place at Stanford Live's Bing Hall on September 27.
When: September 15-24, at the Curran Theatre.
2. Théâtre de la Ville's State of Siege
What: Théâtre de la Ville: State of Siege
Why: If you were ready for its many challenges, including being performed in French with an English translation projected over the stage, Théâtre de la Ville's 2014 production of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author was one of the most impressive, powerful theatrical events to hit Bay Area stages in years. Cal Performances brings the company back for a new production based on "Albert Camus' fantastical yet frightening political allegory about the necessity of resistance in the face of authoritarianism." Director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota describes State of Siege as "a distorted mirror of a nightmarish future in which a city is reduced to silence and submission to authority" - a description that sounds less like theater and more like current American reality every day. Again, in French with English surtitles.
When: October 21 & 22, UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall.
Why: Operatic fun in the bloody House of Atreus, where family members don't quite along with one another and settle their grievances with an axe, courtesy of Richard Strauss. Of course musically, Elektra is closer to Salome than Rosenkavalier, but this time the powerful orchestral score also features actual arias. The drama of it is equally riveting if not more so, and San Francisco Opera has put together a stellar cast featuring Christine Goerke in the title role, Adrianne Pieczonka as her sister, Michaela Martens and Robert Brubaker as the doomed lovers Klytemnestra and Aegisth, and Alfred Walker makes his company debut as Orestes (the men's roles are small in this opera). Conducted by Henrik Nánási, the former music director of the Komische Oper Berlin, also making his SFO debut. A witty person in the company's marketing department says it's a good choice for fans of Greek tragedy, psychological thrillers, and Mommie Dearest. That's about right. Pictured above: Michaela Schuster as Klytamnestra (left, not performing in SF), and Christine Goerke as Elektra.
When: September 9, 13, 17, 19, 22, 27 at the War Memorial Opera House.
4. Girls of the Golden West
What: Girls of the Golden West
Why: The world premiere of John Adams' latest opera finds the Berkeley composer teaming up once again with director Peter Sellars, this time for a look at the Gold Rush era. Sellars composed the libretto from original sources. Grant Gershon conducts a cast with a lot of new faces to SF audiences, but fans of SF Ballet will instantly recognize Lorna Feijoo as Lola Montez. The title is awkwardly close to Puccini's slightly gritty but and unusual Girl of the Golden West, but this one's not recommended for kids under 13 and promises "violence, adult themes and sexual content" -- in other words, this new opera has all the standard opera stuff we've come to know and love since forever. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: please support new operas by buying a ticket and going to see them. Some are marvelous (like Adams' Nixon in China), and some are not so marvelous (like Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary). While they are a huge financial risk for the companies presenting them, more importantly they are also a commitment to keeping the art form alive and evolving. If you love opera, or are just curious about it, go see this one. If it's great you get bragging rights for seeing if first. If it sucks, there is nothing more fun to do at a cocktail party than tell people how awful an opera was. Pictured above: Adams and Sellars.
When: November 21, 24, 26, 29; December 2, 5, 7, 10 at the War Memorial Opera House.
Why: In 2015, The New Yorker's Hilton Als wrote "Barbecue is my idea of an American classic, or the kind of classic we need. Although its fecund imagination seems unlimited, the work wouldn’t exist if it didn’t have the junk of our times to feed on—and spit out." Not every review I've read of Robert O'Hara's play has been so complimentary, but every one I've read has left me wanting to see it as it's made its way across the country. A pungent satire on race, class, addiction, and other American ailments, O'Hara (who also wrote Bootycandy) gives the audience two views of the same family, one white, the other black, and eventually they collide. San Francisco Playhouse's production is directed by local treasure Margo Hall, who, along the company's co-founder Susi Damilano, plays one of the main characters named Barbara. It's language and provocations might make some people uncomfortable, which is just one reason to check it out. Pictured above: Robert O'Hara.
When: September 26 - November 11, at the San Francisco Playhouse.
6. Urbanksi & the SF Symphony
What: Krzysztof Urbański & Augustin Hadelich with the San Francisco Symphony
Why: Urbanski is one of the most interesting and dynamic younger conductors in the U.S.. His previous performances with the orchestra have been electrifying, so much so that it's a shame the SF Symphony didn't make some effort to secure his future services in a more permanent role. Instead, Urbanski, currently in his fifth year as Music Director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, signed a contract in 2015 to be Principal Guest Conductor of the NDR Symphony Orchestra Hamburg. Still, he's popular, and for good reason, and this season he returns for two subscription concert programs, both of which are of interest but I'm noting for the first, which features Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto featuring the soloist Augustin Hadelich, and Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony, which reflects on oppressive political regimes. If you like Urbanski as much as I do, you'll return the following week for more.
When: October 6, 7, 8 at Davies Symphony Hall.
7. Christian Tetzlaff
What: Christian Tetzlaff plays Bach
Why: Because it's Christian Tetzlaff playing Bach. Sure, Davies Symphony Hall isn't the ideal venue for a performance of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, but there probably isn't anyone alive that is more interesting to witness performing this music than Tetzlaff. Seriously.
When: December 17, Davies Symphony Hall.
8. Wendy Whelan & Brian Brooks
What: Wendy Whelan/Brian Brooks/Brooklyn Ryder
Why: The former star ballerina of the New York City Ballet continues her post-ballet career with a new project, presented by San Francisco Performances. Last year Whelan's Restless Creature made a strong case that her second act will be as much worth watching as her first. Still interested in duets, this time she teams up with dancer-choreographer Brian Brooks in First Fall. The Brooklyn Rider string quartet performs the score live, including works by John Luther Adams, Tyondai Braxton, Philip Glass, and pianist Evan Ziporyn, as well as a new work from Brooklyn Rider’s own Colin Jacobsen.
When: November 29, 30 at Herbst Theater.
9. Leila Josefowicz
What: Leila Josefowicz and John Novacek
Why: Since I always list an appearance by Josefowicz as worth seeing, this year I was going to suggest something different and was going to list the JACK Quartet's very interesting-sounding concert with Joshua Roman on October 13 at the Herbst Theater featuring a program of works written specifically for the performers by Ligeti, Friedman, Wolfe, Gesualdo, and Roman. Then I realized I can't in good conscience recommend that over going to see Josefowicz, who despite her frequent appearances remains one of today's most compelling musicians. She's performing with her longtime collaborator, pianist John Novacek. The program traverses wide ground, from Sibelius and Prokofiev to Bernd Zimmerman and John Adams’ Road Movies. Sorry JACK -- she's Leila Josefowicz.
When: November 7, at Herbst Theater, presented by San Francisco Performances.
10. Black Rider
What: Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets
Why: It's been more than a dozen years since Black Rider took the stage at ACT for a smash run that people still remember with a kind of awe. I'm not sure today's ACT could pull it off with the same kind of success, but Berkeley's scrappy, renegade Shotgun Players are probably the local company that's best suited for bringing it back to the area. Originally directed by Robert Wilson, with music and lyrics by Tom Waits based on the work of William S. Burroughs, Shotgun's Mark Jackson brings his own vision to the dark fairytale. Pictured: William S. Burroughs.
When: November 9 - December 31 at the Ashby Stage in Berkeley
11. MTT & SFS play Bernstein
What: MTT & the San Francisco Symphony celebrate Bernstein
Why: It's the Bernstein Centennial, don't you know, and who better to pay homage to the legend's music than MTT? They're showcasing Bernstein's music on a few programs this season, but this one has West Side Story's "Symphonic Dances" for the win.
When: September 22, 23, 24 at Davies Symphony Hall
Why: The singer Mariza adopted fado (the Portuguese version of the blues), at her father's urging, but her initial musical interests included gospel, soul, and jazz. Those early influences can be heard in her voice and arrangements, which can sometimes sound like early Shakira in a deeply contemplative mood. It's intimate music, and SFJazz's tiny Joe Henderson Lab is the perfect place to experience this singer, who was something of an overnight sensation in her home country but is barely known here, in a live setting.
When: October 26-29 at the SFJazz Center.
Recommendations for late winter and spring performances will come after the holidays.
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