Tag Archives: Cal Performances

New music in Berkeley: Leaping into unexpected realms

Caption: Cal Performances and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players present Project TenFourteen, a series of four concerts featuring world premieres commissioned from 10 different composers.

Credit: Courtesy of San Francisco Contemporary Music Players
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There’s something irresistible about experiencing a composition at its premiere, about the possibility of witnessing an imaginative leap into unexpected musical realms. On Friday, East Bay trumpeter Ian Carey reprises his new work Interview Music: A Suite for Quintet + 1 at the Hillside Club, where he’ll be recording the suite with his talent-laden ensemble. And on Sunday, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) launch Project TenFourteen at Hertz Hall, an unprecedented season-long collaboration with Cal Performances featuring 10 newly commissioned works premiering over the course of four concerts.

Sunday’s inaugural program looks auspicious indeed, with Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz’s commission “Corpórea” for an orchestral nonet with a balance of strings and winds, and Elena Ruehr’s “It’s About Time” for a string oriented sextet. The program’s defining presence is 85-year-old éminence grise George Crumb, who’s represented by three works, including two premieres. The latest of his many settings of poetry by Federico García Lorca, “The Yellow Moon of Andalusia” features mezzo soprano Tony Arnold, Kate Campbell on amplified piano, and percussionists William Winant and Nick Woodbury, while “Yesteryear” is a radically reworked piece for Arnold and pianist Kate Campbell. … Continue reading »

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A ‘Swan Lake’ inspired by an English Royal love triangle

Joined by Berkeley Symphony and conductor Nicolette Fraillon, The Australian Ballet makes its Bay Area premiere at Cal Performances with Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake (choreography: Graeme Murphy), Thursday–Sunday, October 16–19, 2014 in Zellerbach Hall. 

PHOTOS: Jeff Busby
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If ballet is a matrix, Swan Lake is the matriarch of all matrixes.

Structured to follow rules of expression, manipulated according to form and line, the classic equation of good-versus-evil equals tragic ecstasy premiered as a four act ballet in 1877. Since then, choreographers have torqued the score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and the ballet’s synopsis in countless ways, although classical ballet audiences are generally most familiar with an 1895 version staged for the Imperial Russian Ballet by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov.

Twenty-first century film buffs may have migrated to 2010’s Black Swan, a movie starring Natalie Portman. Regardless of the medium, Swan Lake is largely a physical battle involving honor, love, betrayal and mortality.

Enter choreographer Graeme Murphy and the Australian Ballet, making their first Bay Area appearance since 1971 with five performances of Swan Lake at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Hall on Oct. 16-19. Murphy’s rendition, created for the Australian Ballet’s 40th anniversary in 2002, will feature the Berkeley Symphony with guest conductor Nicolette Fraillon, Music Director & Chief Conductor of The Australian Ballet. … Continue reading »

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Great sounds from Africa at Afropop Spectacular

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(credit: Jacob Crawfurd)
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As a griot, Mali’s Bassekou Kouyaté traces his musical lineage back to Sundiata Keita’s expansive 13th century empire, a wealthy polity that encompassed a huge swath of West Africa. His ancestors entertained the royal court and every note he plays on the ngoni, a plucked string ancestor of the banjo, embodies a tradition handed down for generations by word of mouth. But Kouyaté is not beholden to the past. Ngoni Ba, the band he brings to Zellerbach Hall on Saturday for a Cal Performances double bill with Ethiopia’s Krar Collective, represents a radical evolution.

Determined to enhance the instrument’s visibility, Kouyaté assembled Ngoni Ba, an eight-piece combo that combines the rollicking energy a rock band with the emphatic call-and-response choruses of a gospel ensemble. Given that the ngoni is traditionally played while seated, Kouyaté’s most radical move was simply standing up.

“When I started making music with friends playing guitar and bass, I decided I wanted to be at the same level as the musicians surrounding me,” he says. “That was the first modification, not to the instrument itself, but the way to play the instrument, which changed the technique a little bit.”

Looking to expand the four-string ngoni’s harmonic palette, he added additional strings and introduced Ngoni Ba on 2007’s Segu Blue (Out Here Records), garnering tremendous success in Europe and winning a coveted BBC Radio 3 World Music Award. He refined the concept on 2009’s I Speak Fula, showcasing his ingenious orchestrations for his band, which is essentially an ngoni quartet backed by a rhythm section and the incantatory vocals of Kouyaté’s wife and creative partner Amy Sacko. … Continue reading »

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Ambitious Ojai North Music Festival returns to Berkeley

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Storm large and Storm Large: the words serve double duty at this week’s Cal Performances Ojai North Music Festival, running June 19-21 on the Berkeley campus.

“Storm large” could be considered emblematic of the fearlessly ambitious annual contemporary music festival that drew the storied tradition of experimentation begun in Southern California in 1947 to Berkeley in 2011.

This year’s festival is curated and directed by pianist, writer, and 2013 MacArthur Fellow, Jeremy Denk, who promises “screwing with the canon” and related barrier-crashing, ear-burning musical endeavors.

Notably, the mighty laboratory of modern-day composers and artists gets its most-local kick from the remarkable growl-to-purr, rage-to-ravishingly melodic vocalist, Storm Large. The Oregon-based actor/singer lived and performed in the Bay Area during the 1990s, before relocating to Portland. … Continue reading »

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Such Sweet Shelby: Playing Berkeley on Friday May 2

Pictured: In a special collaboration with California Shakespeare Theater, Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra celebrates the legacy of Duke Ellington on Friday May 2, 2014 at 8:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall. 

PHOTO: Peter Varshavsky
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Duke Ellington was riding high in 1957 when he released the album Such Sweet Thunder, a suite of tunes composed with Billy Strayhorn loosely inspired by the sonnets and plays of William Shakespeare. After a long stretch in the wilderness, when it seemed that Ellington’s mighty orchestra might go the way of all the other great swing era big bands, he roared back into the limelight with the triumphant 1956 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival. The concert rejuvenated Ellington, spawned a hit live album, and returned him to his singular status as America’s nonpareil composer and bandleader, prompting the maestro to proclaim frequently thereafter, “I was born at Newport.”

No one in the Bay Area has done more to promote and extend Ellington’s orchestral legacy than Sacramento-raised bassist/composer Marcus Shelby, who brings his talent-laden 16-piece ensemble to Cal Performances on Friday for “The Legacy of Duke Ellington: 50 Years of Swing!” a concert marking Ellington’s 115th birthday (April 29) and the upcoming 40th anniversary of his death (May 24). While the program features a wide array of Ellingtonia, it centers on Such Sweet Thunder, a suite that has long fascinated Shelby. … Continue reading »

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Cal Performances season offers ‘world-beating innovation’

Robert Wilson's production of The Old Woman, with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe. Photo: Courtesy of Cal Performances
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Cal Performances this week announced its 2014-15 season, which includes cellist Yo Yo Ma performing Bach solo cello suites, Robert Wilson’s production of Daniil Kharms’ The Old Woman, with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe, a residency with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, the Australian Ballet’s Swan Lake (which includes the love triangle of Prince Charles, Princess Diana and Camilla Parker-Bowles), and Project TenFourteen, where the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players perform ten world premiers.

“You have world-beating innovation here,” said Sir Nicholas Kenyon, managing director of London’s Barbican Centre, at the launch of the program. “Anywhere in the world would be envious of what you have in this season.”  … Continue reading »

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‘Acis and Galatea’ promises to be a grand, sensory delight

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Musical morsels become masterpieces in the hands of composers like George Frideric Handel and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Spring forward 200-plus-odd years and find dance and design have their modern day monument builders as well.

When choreographer Mark Morris and designers Isaac Mizrahi (costumes) Adrianne Lobel (sets) and Michael Chybowski (lighting) unleash their collective talents in a Cal Performances presentation and world premiere of Handel’s Acis and Galatea, arranged by Mozart, you might think there’s no cause for frosting on the proverbial cake.

But buttercream aside, there’s more: the Mark Morris Dance Group will be joined by the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale and guest soloists Sherezade Panthaki (soprano), Thomas Cooley (tenor), Zach Finkelstein (tenor), and Douglas Williams (bass-baritone). Conductor Nicholas McGegan will lead the musicians, rounding out the star-studded team. And that’s not even mentioning Morris’ uniquely and collectively talented dancers.

In sum, the originally tiny work, written in chamber form in 1718, is likely to be a grand, sensory explosion of sight, sound and movement, during three performances at Zellerbach Hall, April 25-27. … Continue reading »

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Alvin Ailey’s genre-stretching adventure back in Berkeley

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Is the juice worth the squeeze?

It’s the unexpected question Robert Battle, now in his third year as Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, asks himself every day. The “squeeze” is the hard work of running a dance company and the dollars an audience spends to attend a performance. The “juice” is the legacy-upholding, future-building, legendary output of the company’s indelible dancers and choreographers.

Inheriting the heavy mantle of a dance company founded in 1958 by choreographer and activist Alvin Ailey, Battle succeeded former Ailey dancer Judith Jamison’s 1980 to 2011 term of leadership. As the troupe’s third artistic director, Battle says that during the first season, audiences showed up to see a spectacular season already fine-tuned by Jamison, a signature Ailey dancer. The second year, they were simply curious about the new leader’s imprint. In 2014, record numbers during the company’s New York City performances in December, have given him courage. … Continue reading »

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Magical, misfit marriage of Ira Glass and dance

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Dance is primarily show, don’t tell. Radio is tell, can’t show. Put them together, you get the magical, misfit marriage that is “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host,” coming to Zellerbach Hall on Saturday, Mar. 29, presented by Cal Performances.

Mysteriously blending the talky talent of Ira Glass, host and creator of the public radio program This American Life, with the devastatingly beautiful, humanistic choreography of Monica Bill Barnes and her longtime collaborator, dancer Anna Bass, a miracle arises. Both genres get a leg-up: elevating the no-talk, all-talk mediums to something one might find in a dream. A sort of surreal landscape where anecdotes are inscribed with arabesques and the moral of each story is mired in marvelous muscularity. Imagine a dichotomous duet as sweet as the chocolate-peanut butter pairing of a Reese’s, but better for your health.  … Continue reading »

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Trey McIntyre Project: Farewell tour comes to Berkeley

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Sometimes, “goodbye” is also “hello.”

Billed by Cal Performances as “The Farewell Tour of the Trey McIntyre Project,” the contemporary dance company’s Berkeley performances on March 21-22 at Zellerbach Hall are as much about starting anew as they are about ending.

From the beginning of its now-ten-year history, founder and artistic director Trey McIntyre had every intention of not grasping perpetuity — an arts organization model he calls “false” and capable of “squashing” a company. Instead, TMP was designed very much like its creator: fluid, rebellious, ambitious enough to tower or topple, and simultaneously ephemeral and mercurial. n 2014, the company announced it would enter a new phase; largely dissolving the current structure and allowing McIntyre (and a small handful of his dancers) the freedom to pursue future passions. … Continue reading »

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Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet: Creating a fearless art

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Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, which has just marked its tenth anniversary, brings its fierce, unforgettable dancers and repertoire to Cal Performance’s Zellerbach Hall for performances on Feb 22-23.

Founded in 2003, the New York-based company was given early financial wings by the billionaire backing of Nancy Laurie, niece of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. The troupe’s fearless dancers were led, beginning in 2005, by the Parisian artistic director and former Alvin Ailey dancer, Benoit-Swan Pouffer. Modeled on European dance companies, the elite fleet enjoyed year-round salaries, health insurance, well-sprung rehearsal spaces and — oh double joy! — bold choreographers with time to explore. … Continue reading »

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Martha Graham Dance Co. serves up 3 classic feasts

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Janet Eilber, Artistic Director of Martha Graham Dance Company since 2005, knows what all chefs, farmers, architects, engineers, scientists, philosophers — really, what anyone knows. The key to a delicious, sturdy, profoundly pleasing creation is all in the ingredients. On Friday Jan. 31 and Saturday Feb. 1 at Zellerbach Hall, Cal Performances and the 77-year-old modern dance company will serve up three classic feasts, with live accompaniment provided by the Berkeley Symphony.

Like the way that jazz and blues defined American music, Martha Graham swept through the 20th century; absorbing, exuding and transforming the collective experience of American modern dance.

She wasn’t alone in her pioneering career that spanned nearly a century and resulted in 181 works. Others, like Lester Horton, Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, and Twyla Tharp (the latter three trained by Graham) also propelled the field in unique ways. But Graham’s themes and frequent collaborations with equally visionary composers, writers, filmmakers, and costume and set designers, matched the grand scale of America’s ever-evolving landscape from an agricultural to an industrial to a technology-driven society. As the country breathed, so did her dances. … Continue reading »

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Shanghai Ballet produces gorgeous classical dance

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Less than two weeks after Cal Performances brought the Nederland Dance Theatre’s exquisite dancers to Zellerbach Hall, Bay Area balletomanes reveled in the Shanghai Ballet’s 50-member, classically gifted company.

The Butterfly Lovers, a four act story ballet choreographed by Artistic Director Xin Lilli in 2001, showed-off the technical brilliance of the 34-year-old company and left no doubt that Chinese culture can be found in buoyant jetés and perfectly-matched arabesques.

The ballet’s synopsis dates to a fourth century Tang dynasty tale and suggests comparisons to Romeo and Juliet. Ill-fated lovers, secret identities, familial opposition, and more than one death provide obvious, but easy to comprehend concepts through movement and mime, drama. In this case, the final scene is not a funeral; it is resurrection, as the two lovers rise from the grave as shimmering butterflies. … Continue reading »

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