12 Bay Area Shows Mark the Best of the Fall Classical Music Calendar

Pianist Yuja Wang. Photo: Julia Wesley

With the Bay Area’s classical music program finally back, there’s no doubting the embarrassment of cultural riches this region has to offer.

We have new and old operas, thrilling orchestral premieres and opportunities to revisit familiar favorite scores, all within a few miles radius. How many other metropolitan areas can boast such a concentrated wealth of musical offerings?

Here is a selection of particularly promising musical events to lead us to Thanksgiving.

Director Elkhanah Pulitzer (left), composer John Adams and SF Opera General Manager Matthew Shilvock during rehearsals for ‘Antony and Cleopatra’. Photo: Kristen Loken

“Antony and Cleopatra”

After the traditional gala concert, the San Francisco Opera opens its centennial season in a whirlwind of imperial pomp and international intrigue with the world premiere of “Antony and Cleopatra” by Berkeley composer John Adams.

With a libretto taken from Shakespeare by composer and director Elkhanah Pulitzer, the commissioned work deals with material that has attracted composers from Handel to Samuel Barber. Baritone Gerald Finley and soprano Amina Edris are set to create the title roles, under the direction of musical director Eun Sun Kim.

Sept. 10-Oct. 5. $26-$450. War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave, SF 415-864-3330. www.sfopera.com

The choreographer Antara Bhardwaj is part of the creative team of “Le Mariage de Figaro” at the San José Opera. Photo: Margo Moritz

“The Marriage of Figaro”

The season-opening production at Opera San José takes Mozart’s lively, tender comedy to India under British colonial rule. The long-awaited reinvention was a pet project for the company’s former managing director, Khori Dastoor, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 shutdown.

Now he finally takes the stage, with a cast led by sopranos Maya Kherani and Maria Natale and baritones Efraín Solís and Eugene Brancoveanu. Conductor Viswa Subbaraman is set to make his company debut, under the direction of Brad Dalton and choreography by Antara Bhardwaj.

September 10-25. $55 to $195. California Theater, 345 S. First St., San Jose. 408-437-4450. www.operasj.org

Composer Trevor Weston. Photo: Ayano Hisa

Salonen conducts Mahler

If there is one musical vein that has characterized life at the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra for the past 30 years, it is Michael Tilson Thomas who conducted Mahler’s music. Today, for the first time since he took the reins of musical direction, Esa-Pekka Salonen intends to put his own stamp on this central piece of the repertoire.

For performances of Symphony No. 2, the orchestra will feature soprano Golda Schultz and mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung. As a tantalizing accompanying offering, Salonen conducts a world premiere of Trevor Weston, the early stages of the Emerging Black Composers project.

Sept. 29-Oct. 2. $35-$165. Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave, SF 415-864-6000. www.sfsymphony.org

Composer Magnus Lindberg. Photo: Hanya Chlala

Magnus Lindberg Piano Concerto

Having Salonen on hand as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra means not only a chance to hear his compositions, but also those of his compatriots and longtime friends, composers Magnus Lindberg and Kaija Saariaho. Lindberg comes out first, with the world premiere of a newly commissioned concerto for piano and orchestra.

Yuja Wang features as a soloist, which means the piece promises to appeal to both technical dexterity and expressive depth. Music by Carl Nielsen and Béla Bartók completes the program.

October 13-15. $40 to $209. Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave, SF 415-864-6000. www.sfsymphony.org

Conductor Ankush Kumar Bahl. Photo: Arabella Arts

Oakland Symphony

In the devastating absence left by the death last year of longtime music director Michael Morgan, the Oakland Symphony has embarked on a search for a successor. This season brings a parade of six guest conductors who are vying for the position.

The season opens with a guest appearance by Ankush Kumar Bahl, music director of the Omaha Symphony, who is to conduct music by Carlos Simon, Chen Yi and Hector Berlioz. Flutist Demarre McGill is the featured soloist.

8 p.m. Oct. 14. $20 to $90. Paramount Theater, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. 510-444-0802. www.oaklandsymphony.org

“Dialogues des Carmélites” by Francis Poulenc at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. Photo: Vincent Pontet

“Dialogues of the Carmelites”

Francis Poulenc’s opera had its world premiere at La Scala in January 1957, and nine months later it was on stage at the War Memorial Opera House for its North American premiere. Its presence as part of the San Francisco Opera’s centennial season – the first time the opera has been performed here in nearly 40 years – is a tribute to the company’s history of innovation. .

For this production, in collaboration with the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, Olivier Py directs a cast led by soprano Heidi Stober. Music director Eun Sun Kim will conduct.

October 15-30. $26 to $422. War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave, SF 415-864-3330. www.sfopera.com

Conductor Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla. Photo: Frans Jansen

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

For years, the classical music world has praised Lithuanian conductor Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, while Bay Area listeners have waited for the chance to hear her perform live. Finally, she should arrive at Davies Symphony Hall with the City of Birmingham (England) Symphony Orchestra, of which she is the musical director.

Also on the program, the talented young British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, in solo in Elgar’s Cello Concerto. The rest of the program offers music by Britten, Adès and Debussy.

7:30 p.m. Oct. 16. $20 to $119. Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave, SF 415-864-6000. www.sfsymphony.org

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale musical director Richard Egarr. Photo: Marco Borggreve


One of Handel’s last oratorios, this powerful and sometimes gruesome tale of Christian martyrdom during the Roman Empire continues the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale’s long tradition of engaging with the composer’s vocal music.

Under the musical direction of Richard Egarr, the unstaged performances feature a star-studded cast led by soprano Julie Roset in the title role alongside mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston, countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, tenor Thomas Cooley and bass-baritone Dashon Burton.

October 20-23. $32 to $130. Locations in SF, Stanford and Berkeley. 415-252-1900. www.philharmonia.org

Contralto Jasmine Johnson in “Astianatte” by Leonardo da Vinci. Photo: Valentina Sadioul


The annals of baroque opera are full of lost and forgotten works, and Ars Minerva, the local opera company led by mezzo-soprano Céline Ricci, continues to find new ones to uphold each season.

This year’s offering is Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Astianatte’, which had its premiere in 1725 in Naples and now has its first modern staging, with Ricci as director. Matthew Dirst leads a cast that includes contralto Jasmine Johnson, soprano Aura Veruni and mezzo-sopranos Deborah Rosengaus and Nikola Printz.

October 21-23. $27 to $250. ODC Theater, 3153 17th St., SF 415-863-9834. www.arsminerva.org

Colin Currie Group. Photo: Chris Gloag

Colin Currie Group/Synergy Vocals

Percussionist Colin Currie founded this namesake ensemble for the express purpose of performing the music of composer Steve Reich, and that’s what this celebratory program presented by Cal Performances is all about.

One of the pieces on the program, “Traveler’s Prayer”, was co-commissioned by Cal Performances and sets three texts from the Old Testament to music. The other two works, “Tehillim” and the classic “Music for 18 Musicians”, are among the composer’s best known and most characteristic creations.

7:30 p.m. November 3. $58 – $78. Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley. 510-642-9988. www.calperformances.org

So Percussion. Photo: Shervin Lainez

So Percussion

In the first of two appearances this season at Cal Performances, the innovative percussion quartet shines the spotlight on female Gen Y composers. Angélica Negrón is represented by two short pieces for percussion and electronic noisemakers, while Nathalie Joachim’s work combines percussion and recordings of his own voice.

“Neither Anvil nor Pulley,” a recent work by mechanically-minded composer Dan Trueman, is also on the bill.

8 p.m. Nov. 12 $28-$48. Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley. 510-642-9988. www.calperformances.org

Pianist Adam Tendler Photo: Kevin Condon

Adam Tendler and Jenny Lin

Two of the world’s greatest pianists in contemporary music join forces to pay tribute to minimalist master Philip Glass, who turned 85 in January.

Among the demanding and rewarding pieces of the all-glass program are ‘Mad Rush’, ‘Four Movements for Two Pianos’ and selections from the composer’s ‘Etudes’.

7:30 p.m. November 19. $45-65. Herbst Theater, 401 Van Ness Ave, SF 415-392-2545. www.sfperformances.org


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