Fall Arts 2016: Top East Bay Classical Events

Vitality is not lacking in top-tier East Bay orchestras this season.

It’s impossible to say who or what sets the tone for the East Bay classical music scene’s rich offerings. Is it Oakland Symphony music director Michael Morgan as he bounds like a puppy onto the podium at the Paramount Theatre then has a chat with the audience like he’s a neighbor at the backyard fence? Or Joana Carneiro, wielding her baton with equal parts ferocity and finesse to lead the Berkeley Symphony in sumptuous-to-simply-splendid repertoire? Or perhaps it’s conductor-less New Century Chamber Orchestra, marking its 25th anniversary with concertmaster and music director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg’s last season, thus proving that an open window allows both dramatic entrances and fanfare exits. Regardless of the catalyst, vitality is not lacking in top-tier Bay Area orchestras and this upcoming fall season is a testament to that.

Oakland Symphony

Lost Romantic Symphonies on November 18 provides fine fare for the orchestra’s mesmerizing, highly individual musicians who remarkably manage to sound like ancestral descendants of one musical progenitor. Guest Violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins will add razzle-dazzle in the U.S. premiere of Siegfried Matthus’ new violin concerto Dream of a Summer Night, John Williams’ Theme from Schindler’s List, and a selection from Fiddler on the Roof. Also on the program: a rare performance of Joachim Raff’s Symphony No. 3 and — back from a Cuban tour — the Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra joins the Symphony for George Gershwin’s Cuban Overture. Double dip this fall and don’t miss the Symphony’s rousing Black Panther tribute at Let Us Break Bread Together on December 11. The Symphony will pay homage to the BP history with Motown classics, gospels, and protest music of the Sixties and Seventies. As always, guest choirs add oomph and awe to the annual program. (OaklandSymphony.org)

Berkeley Symphony

This is a triple-decker recommendation because it’s just wrong to cut back when it comes to the orchestra’s Zellerbach Hall Series and chamber music series at Piedmont Center for the Arts. The lineup: Romance (works by Dresher, Korngold, Stravinsky) on October 13, and Reverence (MacMillan, Beethoven) on December 8 at Zellerbach. Before and while the symphony’s thunder rolls, lovely, intimate chamber concerts at PCA allow audiences within arm’s reach of Stuart Canin (violin), Eric Gaenslen (cello), and Helene Wickett (piano) in an all-Brahms concert September 25, or to sidle up to five string musicians presenting an intriguing combination of chamber music works by Manuel de Falla, Joaquín Turina, Pablo de Sarasate, and Gabriel Faure on November 13. (BerkeleySymphony.org)

New Century Chamber Orchestra

The silver season is likely to feel festive, but that doesn’t mean New Century won’t be full of fury and ferocity. Serious chops will impress when guest artist and Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan joins them on September 15 to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 13 in C Major, K. 415 at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church. More than rounding out the program: Anton Webern’s Langsamer Satz, Symphony No. 3 by Philip Glass and Happy Birthday Variations by Peter Heidrich. Earning extra points, New Century performs most of their ambitious programs in up to five different Bay Area venues and holds open rehearsals at Kanbar Performing Arts Center in San Francisco at $15 a pop. (NCCO.org)

Cal Performances

Cal Performances’ impressive calendar makes a full list prohibitive, but lovers of Beethoven — that’s everybody, right? — will value Takács Quartet cycling through the complete Beethoven quartets in a series of six concerts beginning October 15 and concluding April 3, 2017. Also impossible to imagine missing are conductor Gustavo Dudamel and Youth Orchestra Los Angeles October 30 at the Paramount Theatre. With a $5 ticket and a 45-minute program featuring the Venezuelan maestro and eighty musicians ages 12-18, it’s family-friendly. And straying beyond the strictest classical boundaries to enter new music by four of the Bay Area’s best classically trained musicians, Kronos’ Fifty for the Future commissioning initiative includes sure-to-be-spellbinding works by Aleksandra Vrebalov and Mary Kouyoumdjian (December 3, Zellerbach Hall). (CalPerformances.org)

Three More Not to be Missed

California Symphony Music Director Donato Cabrera — an amiable equal to Oakland’s Morgan — launches the symphony’s 30th season with a free party before the show during which live video streaming will provide guests with an inside peek at the orchestra’s pre-concert preparations. The performance includes Kevin Puts’ Network, Mozart’s Flute Concerto in G, and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2. (Sept. 18, Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek). (LesherArtsCenter.org)

The Grammy-winning Pacific Boychoir Academy has no concerts posted as of press time, but a new album features fifteen sweetly sung tracks showcasing solos by five vocalists — the majority sung by two alumni. With music by Mozart, Bach, Schubert, Fauré, Barber, and Ellington, the choir is joined by Bay Area instrumentalists including The Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra. The digital release is available on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and other digital music outlets. (PacificBoyChoirAcademy.org)

Squid Inc. bills themselves as an “indie string quartet.” Classical music never had it so good. Rigorously trained, highly versatile, unafraid to jam from back beat classics to jazz to frontline modern classical, check out the rogue foursome on November 6 at The Crowden School in Berkeley. (SquidIncQuartet.com)

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