Digital Renaissance

The East Bay's appetite for both traditional and avant-garde classical is sure to be sated this coming season.

The East Bay is at once the intersection of new technology and innovative composition — with venerable institutions such as UC Berkeley’s Center for New Music and Technology and Mills College’s Center for Contemporary Music — and home to a massive audience for traditional fare such as Early Music and Renaissance material performed on carefully restored period instruments. This coming concert season provides a wealth of both, often on the same night, as the work of familiar titans abuts progressive local upstarts and young virtuosos alike.

Returning to the Paramount Theater (20215 Broadway), Uptown’s resplendent Art Deco landmark, the Oakland East Bay Symphony presents an evening of Russian countrymen and young mavericks for its season opening on Friday, October 2. Beginning the evening will be longtime OEBS comrade Mason Bates — local electronic artist and composer with a tendency to blur the two callings — who will present the West Coast premiere of Devil’s Radio, an alternately bluesy and bright piece for orchestra inspired by the phrase, “Rumor is the devil’s radio.” Also that night, preternaturally expressive young violinist Kenneth Renshaw leads Profokiev’s Violin Concerto no. 2. The season’s opening evening concludes with the reliable Symphonic Dances, the final work completed by the great Russian Romantic Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Other anticipated highlights of the Oakland East Bay Symphony’s 2015–2016 season — which marks conductor and music director Michael Morgan’s 25th year — include Let Us Break Bread Together on Sunday, December 13. This year, the singular holiday tradition joins Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Oakland Symphony Chorus, and high school vocal groups to present choral arrangements of songs by the beloved crooner Frank Sinatra — one hundred years after the birth of Ol’ Blue Eyes. Plus, continuing OEBS’ tradition of featuring composers from outside the Western European canon, Notes from Vietnam features the world premiere of Emmy Award-winner and Vietnamese zither virtuoso Vân-Ánh Võ’s Lullaby for a Country. For more classical with electronic embellishment, don’t miss John Adams’ The Dharma at Big Sur at the Paramount later in May.

Meanwhile, Berkeley Symphony’s Zellerbach Hall (101 Zellerbach Hall, #4800, Berkeley) series matches the evening titles Magical, Mystical, and Majestic with apt programming: Magical, slated for October 14, features soprano Simone Osborne leading a rendition of Berlioz’s song cycle Les nuits d’été, or Summer, which thematically probes the poles of passion. Mystical, December 3, boasts renowned classical accordionist Geir Draugsvoll performing a stateside premiere of composer Sofia Gudaidulina’s Fachwerk. As always, Berkeley Symphony programming also features the Family Concert series, held at Malcolm X Elementary (1731 Prince St., Berkeley), and a Chamber Series at the inviting Piedmont Center for the Arts (801 Magnolia Ave., Piedmont).

OEBS events are relatively informal and Zellerbach performances are hospitable to the collegiate come-as-you-are mindset, but Classical Revolution — a reliable chamber series held every first Wednesday at Awaken Cafe (1429 Broadway, Oakland) — is perhaps best for the flannel and IPA set. Likewise, the music startup Groupmuse caters to young and diverse crowds who appreciate chamber music but prefer the cozy environs of a living room and bring-your-own-hummus attitude. House concerts have long been an East Bay live music fixture; you might say that there’s now an app for that.

Throughout the fall, intrepid East Bay listeners would be wise to mind Mills Music Now, a concert series featuring visiting artists, composers-in-residence, faculty, and students performing for little to no cover in campus venues. For instance, the December 5 event features a tribute to the late Lindsay Cooper — whose legacy includes original compositions, membership in the inimitable avant-rock group Henry Cow, and a life of searing activism — by her old bandmates and esteemed experimentalists Fred Frith and Zeena Parkins. For more traditional fare, the November 15 event features Three’s a Company, an evening of Early Music by the likes of JS Bach and Rameau performed by multiple harpsichordists. The season opens on September 12 with electronic music performances by composers from the Center for Contemporary Music, such as program director Maggi Payne and John Bischoff. 

The Center for New Music is a descendent of the San Francisco Tape Center, founded in the Sixties by a number of young, bold composers and engineers now recognized for their massive influence. The center’s legacy now colors a whole patchwork of local avant-garde events and institutions, not the least of which is the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival. Now in its sixteenth year, the event spans September 10–13 at the Brava Theater (2781 24th St., San Francisco) and the Exploratorium (Pier 15, The Embarcadero, San Francisco) and features Buchla Music Easel enthusiasts Charles Cohen and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, whose wondrous analog synthesis makes Euclid one of this year’s finer local records; the Italian post-industrial artist and later Nine Inch Nails member Alessandro Cortini; and Mills alum Kevin Blechdom.

Programming of a similar vein — encompassing scrappier experimental acts, noise, improv, and programmatic electronic music — is also abundant this season at Second Act Theater (1727 Haight St., San Francisco), the Center for New Music (55 Taylor St., San Francisco), and The Lab (2948 16th St., San Francisco). For East Bay residents, the same artists are likely to appear in more shadowy spaces in Oakland. Details of those shows announced via chem trails in the sky. Look up.

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