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San Francisco Symphony’s dazzling holiday line-up—there’s something for everyone—and there are still seats available for these special events

San Francisco Symphony’s New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball at Davies Symphony Hall is San Francisco’s most elegant celebration.  The unforgettable evening is built around exquisite music in a stunning setting.

San Francisco Symphony’s New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball at Davies Symphony Hall is San Francisco’s most elegant celebration. The unforgettable evening is built around exquisite music in a stunning setting.

If you happened to catch Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony’s (SFS) spectacular concert last Thursday at Weill Hall, which inaugurated their annual 4 concert series at Green Music Center, chances are you’re hungry for more.  Each year SFS, offers a stellar musical line-up for the holidays, ranging from events suitable for children and families to attend together children to Handel’s classic Messiah to its spectacular New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball.  Half the fun of attending an event at Davies Symphony Hall is dressing up and entering its expansive curved lobby which affords gorgeous views of San Francisco.  During the holiday season, this elegant lobby is transformed into a Christmas wonderland, filled with towering trees decorated with handmade ornaments.  The internationally acclaimed San Francisco Symphony, nominated for yet another Grammy Award last week, is one of San Francisco’s treasured gems and the guest performers at Davies are world class.  There is nothing more precious than the gift of music shared between family, loved ones and friends.  Whether it be a matinee or evening performance, the concerts below all have ticket availability and if you act swiftly, there should be no problem attending one, or several, of these magical performances.  

HANDEL’S MESSIAH:   Thursday (12/13), Friday (12/14) Saturday (12/15) all at 7:30 p.m:  Few pieces can deliver a fresh perspective each time they are heard.  Handel’s Messiah is one of those works that yields a new secret on every hearing.  Composed in 1741, it reportedly was a favorite work of Beethoven for its “sublimity of language.”  For modern listeners, it holds a place of reverence in the canon for its universal appeal and moments of timeless expression.  Ragnar Bohlin leads soprano Joélle Harvey, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson-Cano, tenor Andrew Stenson, bass-baritone Michael Sumuel, and the SFS Chorus and Orchestra. (Approximate length: 2 hours and 30 minutes) 

Pre-show event:  “Inside Music,” an informative talk with Alexandra Amati-Camperi, begins one hour prior to concerts.  Free to ticketholders.

Post-show: meet Anthony Cirone, author of The Great American Symphony Orchestra: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Its Artistry, Passion, and Heartache (an engrossing backstage tour of symphony life) for a book signing in the Symphony Store following the December 15 concert.  

Davies Symphony Hall was built in 1980 and is the permanent home of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.  The hall was designed by Pietro Belluschi and seats 2,743 people.  Image: SFS

Davies Symphony Hall was built in 1980 and is the permanent home of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. The hall was designed by Pietro Belluschi and seats 2,743 people. Image: SFS

MUSIC FOR FAMILIES WITH SFS: Saturday (12/15) at 2 p.m:  Pass Symphony magic from one generation to the next by bringing your family to hear SFS in kid-sized classical concerts designed for families—great music, fascinating musical discoveries, and priceless memories.  Recommended for ages 7 and older.  Half price for ages 17 and under. Group discount not available. Concert length is approximately 1 hour 30 minutes.

Ticketholders will receive a free concert guide to enhance music appreciation at home.

Conductor/Performers:  Teddy Abrams conducts the San Francisco Symphony

Program: Bernstein-Overture to Candide; Handel—The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Solomon; Haydn—Excerpt from Second Movement of Symphony No. 94, Surprise; Beethoven—Fourth Movement from Symphony No. 2; Tchaikovsky—Excerpt from Second Movement from Symphony No. 4; Liszt—Excerpt from Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2; Copland—Saturday Night Waltz and Hoedown from Rodeo; Handy—Saint Louis Blues; Stravinsky—Ragtime from L’Histoire du Soldat; John Williams—Main Theme from Star Wars 

San Francisco Symphony performs a live score accompaniment to the animated family-friendly film "The Showman" on December 22, 2012. Photo: SFS

San Francisco Symphony performs a live score accompaniment to the animated family-friendly film “The Showman” on December 22, 2012. Photo: SFS

THE SNOWMAN  film and sing-along: Saturday (12/22) at 11:00 a.m:  This charming animated 26-minute film (Dianne Jackson, 1982) tells the story of an English boy who makes a snowman on Christmas Eve, only to have it come to life that night and take him on a magical adventure to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus.  SFS performs the score to this family-friendly movie, led by Resident Conductor Donato Cabrera with the Pacific Boychoir.  After the movie, hear the Orchestra will perform Christmas favorites and the audience is invited to sing along.

Pre-show event:Tier with a Twist”—Enjoy a beverage during this concert at “Tier with a Twist” in the Second Tier.  A fresh and festive way to take in a concert, the Tier with a Twist offers specialty food and drinks in the Second Tier bar and you can take your drink to your seat! 

’TWAS THE NIGHT: Carols and sing-alongs with members of the SF Symphony Chorus and Orchestra:  Saturday (12/22) at 7:30 p.m., Sunday (12/23) at 4:00 p.m and Monday (12/24) at 2:00 p.m.

Chorus Director Ragnar Bohlin leads soprano Lisa Vroman, members of the Symphony’s brass section and singers from SFS Chorus in three special concerts, featuring favorite carols, childhood Christmas songs, plus audience sing-alongs.  Robert Huw Morgan will play the gorgeous Ruffatti organ, one of the great organs of the world.  Half price for ages 17 and under.  Concert length is approximately 2 hours. 

Pre-show event:Tier with a Twist”—Enjoy a beverage during this concert at “Tier with a Twist” in the Second Tier.  A fresh and festive way to take in a concert, the Tier with a Twist offers specialty food and drinks in the Second Tier bar and you can take your drink to your seat!

NEW YEAR’S EVE MASQUERADE BALL WITH SAN FRANCISCO SMPHONY: Monday (12/31) at 9:00 p.m. Ring in the New Year at the city’s most elegant celebration, the New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball with SFS. The event stars SFS conductor Michael Francis, soprano Heidi Stober, and members of Dance Through Time.  Everyone attending the event receives a complimentary mask as they enter the beautifully decorated lobby of Davies Hall.  Beginning at 8 p.m., The Martini Brothers entertain and perform their “swingin’ cocktail music” in the lobby.  Starting at 9 p.m., SFS performs polkas, waltzes, and dances on stage in Davies Symphony Hall.  Following the Symphony concert, guests are invited to celebrate and dance on the Davies Hall stage to The Peter Mintun Orchestra.  In the First Tier lobby, Super Diamond will perform the hits of the one and only Neil Diamond.  Immediately following the Symphony performance, guests enjoy complimentary sparkling wine, desserts, savories, and party favors.  As the clock strikes midnight, colorful balloons will cascade from the ceiling as the crowd welcomes in 2013.

Pre-event:  A special pre-concert dinner package includes a cocktail reception beginning at 6 p.m., followed by a sumptuous three-course dinner (wine included) in the lobby of the War Memorial Opera House.  The dinner package also includes La Marca Prosecco served in an exclusive gathering the Loge Level lobby at intermission.  Dinner packages begin at $160 and include parking.  For more details on the pre-concert dinners and to make reservations, call the Davies Symphony Hall box office at (415) 864-6000.

Tier with a Twist”—Enjoy a beverage during this concert at “Tier with a Twist” in the Second Tier.  A fresh and festive way to take in a concert, the Tier with a Twist offers specialty food and drinks in the Second Tier bar and you can take your drink to your seat!

Highlights from the 2012 Celebration:

Getting to Davies :  Davies Symphony Hall is located at 201 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street, in San Francisco’s Civic Center, just across the street from City Hall.  The main entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street.  Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco on the weekend and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently a 15 to 30 minute back-up on Highway 101 South from Sausalito onwards due to congestion around the toll-plaza.  Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up on weekends.  Recommended Garages:  Two garages are very close to Davies— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block)(Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

Tickets and information:  www.sfsymphony.org , by phone at (415) 864-6000.  Half-price tickets for children 17 and under are available for certain performances.

Dessert Alert!  Miette Bakery, 449 Octavia Street (San Francisco, 94102), 415 837-0300, M-F 9-7; Sat 8-7 and Sun 10-5, is just 2.5 blocks from Davies Symphony Hall and offers some of the most gorgeous and artfully prepared treats you’ve ever seen— heavenly macarons, confections, cookies and several seasonal selections.  “Miette” is French for crumb… but there won’t be any… because these old world treats with a modern interpretation are just too delicious to leave even a trace behind.  Click this map to get your bearings.

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December 12, 2012 Posted by | Classical Music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale perform Handel’s “Messiah” at the Green Music Center Sunday, December 9, 2012

Japanese conductor Masaaki Suzuki leads the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale in Handel’s “Messiah,” at the Green Music Center on Sunday, December 9, 2012.

Japanese conductor Masaaki Suzuki leads the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale in Handel’s “Messiah,” at the Green Music Center on Sunday, December 9, 2012. Photo: courtesy PBO

Handel’s beloved Messiah premiered in Dublin in 1742 and combines Old and New Testament texts concerning prophecies of a Messiah, or savior. One of the most loved of all musical c ompositions, it is synonymous with the holiday season.  Guest conductor Masaaki Suzuki—director of Bach Collegium Japan, and a formidable Handelian joins the Bay Area’s incomparable Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale, and soloists from Yale University’s Institute of Sacred Music for a joyous performance of this extraordinary 18th-century masterpiece on Sunday, December 9, 2012, 3 PM at the Green Music Center’s (GMC) Weill Hall.  If you haven’t yet visited the acoustically stellar GMC, tis the season!

There is nothing in music more unstoppably beautiful than a Handel aria moving in slow, regal splendor. It is like a godly machine, crushing all ugliness and plainness in its path. (Alex Ross, New Yorker, May 8, 2006)

Guest conductor, Masaaki Suzuki.  Suziki, a renowned interpreter of sacred music, will conduct PBO and Chorale for the first time on Sunday and he hand-picked the 4 vocal soloists, all recent graduates of his exclusive Schola Cantorum at Yale University.  He combines his conducting career with his work as organist and harpsichordist and eminent teacher.  Born in Kobe, he graduated from Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music with a degree in composition and organ performance and went on to become a leading Bach scholar.  “Suzuki is one of the world’s leading Bach conductors,” says Robert Cole, GMC’s programmer, who helped put Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley on the musical map, “I had him and his group at Zellerbach many times and he always made a lasting impression.  In this hall, well, I can’t wait to hear it—it’s going to be great.”

Soloists alumni from Yale University’s Schola Cantorum

Sherezade Panthaki, soprano

Claire Kelm, soprano

Fabiana González, alto

Dann Coakwell, tenor

Dashon Burton, bass-baritone

Philharmonia Chorale, Bruce Lamott, director

Messiah Facts:

  • A  performance of Handel’s “Messiah” lasts about 2 1/2 hours. Amazingly, Handel composed the entire oratorio in only 24 days.  It was begun on August 22, 1741. The first part was concluded August 28, the second, September 6, the third, September 12, and the instrumentation, on September 14.  It is an illustration of Handel’s almost superhuman capacity for work, that at the age of fifty-six he wrote this masterpiece in 24 days.
  • Until   Wagner’s work in the 19th century, virtually all opera and oratorio texts  were written by someone other than the composer.   For “Messiah”, Handel set to music the text taken from the literal words of Scripture, and the libretto was arranged by Charles Jennens, who was not satisfied with the music.   In a letter written at that time, he says: “I shall show you a collection I gave Handel, called ‘Messiah,’ which I value highly. He has made a fine entertainment of it, though not near so good as he might and ought to have done. I have with great difficulty made him correct some of the grossest faults in the composition; but he retained his overture obstinately, in which there are some passages far unworthy of Handel, but much more unworthy of the ‘Messiah.'”
  • “Messiah” is presented in three parts. Part I (the Christmas portion) starts with the prophecy and coming of Christ. Part II (the Easter portion) describes the passion and death of Christ.  Part III promises eternal life for believers.
  • “Messiah” is the exception to the definition of oratorio because it has no characters or even a plot but it is highly contemplative.
  • No hoop skirts!  No swords! :  The first rehearsal took place on April 8, 1742 in the presence of “a most Grand, Polite, and Crowded Audience,” according to “Faulkner’s Journal.”   The same paper, referring to the first public performance, which took place on Tuesday, April 13, 1742, says:   “At the desire of several persons of distinction, the above performance is put off to Tuesday next.  The doors will be opened at eleven, and the performance begins at twelve. Many ladies and gentlemen who are well-wishers to this noble and grand charity, for which this oratorio was composed, request it as a favor that the ladies who honor this performance with their presence would be pleased to come without hoops, as it would greatly increase the charity by making room for more company.” Gentlemen were also requested to come without their swords. “In this way,” it is said, “the stewards” were able to seat seven hundred persons in the room instead of six hundred.

More About Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra:  Now, in its 31st season, San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra has been dedicated to historically-informed performance of Baroque, Classical and early-Romantic music on original instruments since its inception in 1981. Under the direction of Music Director Nicholas McGegan for the past 26 years, Philharmonia Baroque has defined an approach to period style that sets the current standard.  The group has been named Ensemble of the Year by Musical America, and “an ensemble for early music as fine as any in the world today” by Los Angeles Times critic Alan Rich.

PBO performs an annual subscription series in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is regularly heard on tour in the United States and internationally.  The Orchestra has its own professional chorus, the Philharmonia Chorale, directed by Bruce Lamott, and regularly welcomes talented guest artists such as mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, countertenor David Daniels, conductor Jordi Savall, violinist Monica Huggett, recorder player Marion Verbruggen, and soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian.

PBO musicians are listed here, along with information about the period instruments they play. In some cases, the instruments are historical treasures dating from the baroque and classical eras.  In other cases, the instruments have been produced by modern craftsmen working in the historical tradition.

PBO’s New Recording Label:  PBO has made 32 highly-praised recordings on original instruments, including its Gramophone award-winning recording of Handel’s Susanna-for harmonia mundi.   In 2011, PBO launched Philharmonia Baroque Productions, its own label and has 5 CD’s out, all of which will be for sale on Sunday at Weill Hall, along with their other older recordings.

The inagural CD for the label was the hauntingly beautiful  “Lorraine Hunt Lieberson – Berlioz: Les Nuits d’été / Handel: Arias”  featuring the great mezzo-soprano, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson.  This was a newly released live recording from 1995 of Hunt singing the Berloiz cycle named after teh French translation of the title of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night Dream.”   The Handel selections were recorded live in 1991.  Hunt Lieberson was born in San Francisco, performed often in the Bay Area on her way up and never lost her Northern, CA identity.  She  died in 2006 of breast cancer and this is a particularly arresting recording which captures the essentially primal appeal of her distinctive voice.      

PBO’s newest CD is Brahams Serenades, which I’ve played continually since receiving it and keep finding inspirational passages that delight me.  Writing of the live performance from which the Brahms CD was made, which I did not have the pleasure of hearing, Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle said, “Nothing affirmed the power of [the historically-informed] approach like the splendid performance of the Serenade… [McGegan] embraced every opportunity to give the music a musky physicality – especially in the outer movements, whose rhythmic force was arresting.”

PBO performs Beethoven, Symphony 9, 2nd movement (complete), Molto vivace:

Details:  Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra performs Handel’s “Messiah” on Sunday, December 9, 2012 at 3 p.m. at Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall, Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park.

Tickets are $90 to $35 and can purchased online (click here) OR by phoning the Box Office at (866) 955-6040. Box Office hours: Monday–Thursday 8 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. and Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. OR  in person at the Green Music Center (same hours as above).  The Box Office is also open 1 hour prior to all performances.

Parking for this Green Music Center performance is included in ticket price.  Enter via Sonoma State University’s main campus entrance or its Rohnert Park Expressway entrance (closer to GMC). Park on campus in lots L,M,N and O.  For more information, visit gmc.sonoma.edu or phone 1.866.955.6040.

December 8, 2012 Posted by | Classical Music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment