A New Era Begins

After 36 years of running of one of the Bay Area's most beloved and respected performing arts organizations, Ruth Felt, the founder of San Francisco Performances, retired at the end of the 2015/16 season, turning the management of the organization over to arts veteran Melanie Smith, the former Executive Director of the San Francisco Girls Chorus. On her way out the door, Felt secured a four-year grant from The Wallace Foundation to engage and sustain new audiences, along with a two-year grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to increase organizational capacity, both of which will supplement the organization's $3 million annual budget. That is, how they say, comme il faut ladies and gentlemen, and here's wishing Ms. Felt a marvelous and fulfilling retirement.

Obviously some things will change under Smith's leadership, but the mission remains the same -- presenting an array of established artists and new talents of the highest caliber. The organization's season opens on September 30 with a black-tie gala honoring Felt and featuring performances by Philip Glass, Jake Heggie, Sean Jones, Sasha Cooke and others. Among the 50+ artists appearing during the 2016/17 season, here are my top 10 picks, in chronological order:

Who: Sarah Cahill
Why: Cahill does many things within the Bay Area classical music scene as an advocate, presenter, radio host and more, but first and foremost she's an exceptional pianist drawn toward fascinating material, which is why John Adams, Terry Riley, Frederic Rzewski, Pauline Oliveros, Yoko Ono, and others have dedicated works to her. In this Salon Series performance she'll perform a program of chaconnes from the 17th and 20th centuries.
When: December 14, 6:30 pm at the Hotel Rex.

Who: The Bad Plus
Why: The program isn't announced, but the trio of bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson, and drummer David King can, and frequently do, go where no other jazz trio dares, often with thrilling results.
When: January 21, 7:30 at the Herbst Theatre.

Who: Alexander Melnikov
Why: Melnikov made his San Francisco debut in 2011 with a staggering, epic performance of Shostakovitch's preludes and fugues that lasted nearly three hours and grew more intense as it went along. It remains among the most memorable performances I've ever attended. This program of Rachmaninoff and Debussy might not be as intense, but it promises to be worthwhile. 
When: February 2, 7:30 at the Herbst Theatre.

Who: Batsheva
Why: An evening-length work about human motion from one of the world's best and most influential dance companies. Get tickets early -- this will sell out.
When: February 15 - 17, 7:30 at YBCA.

Who: Billy Childs
Why: Nearly 20 years after her death, the legacy of American singer-songwriter Laura Nyro is is becoming increasingly influential among jazz musicians. Childs, a pianist who counts Esa-Pekka Salonen and Wynton Marsalis among the dozens of people he's worked with over his impressive career, recently recorded a collection of re-imagined Nyro compositions titled Map to the Treasure, which featured guest artists including Renee Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma, Wayne Shorter, Alison Kraus, Dianne Reeves, Chris Botti, Esperanza Spalding, Lisa Fischer, Susan Tedeschi, Rickie Lee Jones, and many more. He'll be performing that material with Becca Stevens, Alicia Olatuja, and Quartet SF.
When: March 4, 7:30 at the Herbst Theatre.

Who: Dorrance Dance
Why: Choreographer and MacArthur Award-winner Michelle Dorrance is on a mission to expand the the boundaries of the tap tradition, and brings her company's Bessie-Award winning production The Blues Project, featuring nine dancers and five musicians, to make the case that there's a future in this indigenous American art form.
When: March 16 - 18, 7:30 at YBCA.

Who: Sarah Connolly
Why: Mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly has performed all over the world, including performances at the Met, La Scala, and Glyndbourne, but this performance will be her San Francisco debut. The multiple award-winning singer brings a program including Schumann, Poulenc, Copland, Mahler, and of particular interest, R.R. Bennett's The History of the Thé Dansant. With pianist Joseph Middleton.
When: March 23, 7:30 at the Herbst Theatre.

Who: Anne-Sophie Mutter
Why: Because she's Anne-Sophie Mutter, and she only gets better with time. She'll be performing Currier's Clockwork, plus music by Mozart, Respighi, and Saint-Saens with her longtime collaborator, pianist Lambert Orkis. 
When: March 26, 7:00 at Davies Symphony Hall.

Who: Calder Quartet
Why: It's becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of all the talented quartets touring concerts venues these days, but these four men truly stand out through a combination of impressive musicianship and well-chosen, challenging repertoire. They'll be performing Thomas Adès' The Four Quarters and Arcadiana, two highly unusual, intricate, and engaging pieces they performed in 2011 at Berkeley's Hertz Hall, and more.
When: April 12, 7:30 at the Herbst Theatre.

Who: Leif Ove Andsnes & Marc-André Hamelin
Why: The SF Performances website describes this pairing of the two renowned pianists as "the unmissable event of the season. Separately, these two giants of the keyboard are formidable and beloved artists. Together—in what has been called a “music world bromance”—the combined talents of these frequent collaborators and friends create an exhilarating experience." Having seen them perform together, I can assure you it's the truth.
When: April 25, 7:30 at the Herbst Theatre.

If you liked this, like A Beast in a Jungle on Facebook for more. Top photo of Leif Ove Andsnes uncredited.