Arts Listings

A Guide to Local Classical Music Performances

By Jaime Robles
Tuesday August 21, 2007

Remember when classical musicians were called “long hairs”? Maybe not. Ever since Jim Morrison replaced Tony Bennett in the popular music world the epithet has lost its meaning. Needless to say the Bay Area is long in classical music venues and musicians, long haired or not. Here’s the short list. 


Oakland East Bay Symphony 

The Oakland East Bay Symphony is housed in the Paramount Theater, redolent of gold paint, Art Deco trim and times past. The symphony, directed by Michael Morgan, presents six programs of music during the season. This year opens Nov. 9 with popular works by Beethoven and Leonard Bernstein.  

The program also features the gorgeous soprano Hope Briggs performing arias by Wagner, Puccini and Verdi. Later concerts include work by contemporary Chinese composers Tan Dun and Jon Jang, as well as 20th-century Iranian composers Aminollah Hossein and Loris Tjeknavorian’s unusual blending of western and Middle Eastern musical traditions.  

OEBS continues its fifth season of Magnum Opus, one of the largest commissioning projects of new symphonic works in the U.S. Sponsored by Kathryn Gould through Meet the Composer, Inc., it makes grants to the Santa Rosa, Marin and Oakland East Bay symphonies to jointly commission, premiere and perform nine new works by American composers over five years. For tickets and information, call 444-0801 or visit Subscription series available. Single tickets, $70-$25. 


Berkeley Symphony Orchestra 

Under the leadership of Kent Nagano, the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra has received numerous ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music, including five out of the past six seasons, while offering cycles of modern, Classical and Romantic music by Bruckner, Brahms, Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann among others. 

Nagano has since moved on to become music director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, but he remains connected to the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, directing the Berkeley Akademie Ensemble in December as well as the symphony’s season opener at the end of January.  

The remaining three concerts are led by international conductors Hugo Wolff, Guillermo Figueroa and Laura Jackson, each with an individual program of 19th-and 20th-century music featuring at least one contemporary composer. 

For tickets and information, call 841-2800 or visit Single tickets, $40, $60; students, $20, 


Berkeley Chamber Performances 

This organization presents a variety of outstanding local—and some farther afield—chamber groups such as the Maybeck Trio, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Empyrean Ensemble and the Debussy Trio in an intimate setting at a jaw-droppingly low price. Held at the lovely Julia Morgan-designed Berkeley City Club, the concerts are followed by a reception. Preconcert meals are also available by calling the Berkeley City Club at 848-7800. For information and tickets, call 525-5211 or visit $20. 


Cal Performances 

Presenting a staggering variety of theatrical and dance events, Cal Performances also presents recitals, chamber music and, best of all, contemporary composer portraits. Last year’s performance, in their “20th Century Music and Beyond” series, of work by Conlon Nancarrow played by the dazzling Alarm Will Sound was fun, fantastic and as challenging as it gets in the world of contemporary music. This year they’re celebrating UC professor and distinguished composer Jorge Liderman’s 50th birthday. For information and tickets, call 642-9988 or visit 


San Francisco Performances 

For more excellent recital and chamber music events, hop on that BART and make it over to Herbst Theater (Civic Center stop). All the events I went to last year—recitals from baritones Gerald Finley and Christopher Maltman to instrumental soloist Steven Isserlis and composer Thomas Ades playing piano—were only two-thirds full. And that is a shame. For information and tickets, call (415) 392-2545 or visit 


Garden of Memory 

Speaking of fun, the new music multiple walk-through summer solstice event presented by New Music Bay Area and Chapel of the Chimes that rocks out at the Oakland columbarium is another do-not-miss event. In the labyrinthine Julia Morgan-designed columbarium and mausoleum stuffed with gardens, fountains, and stained-glass skylights, you can hear music from Krystina Bobrowski and Karen Stackpole to Amy X. Neuburg to Terry Riley and Sarah Cahill. Sadly, it’s only once a year. For information, call New Music Bay Area at (415) 563-6355. General, $12; students and seniors, $8. 


Philharmonia Baroque 

For early music buffs, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is dedicated to historically informed performances of Baroque, Classical and early-Romantic music played on original instruments. Regularly heard on tour in the United States and internationally, the San Francisco-based PBO regularly plays around the Bay Area in Berkeley, San Francisco and Palo Alto. In addition to their Music Director Nicholas McGegan, the orchestra welcomes eminent guest conductors, as well as vocalists and soloists to perform in a new program each month. For information, call (415) 252-1288 or visit $30-$72. 


UC Music Department 

With three series that provide a wide range of classical music from western European to Asian to ethnic music, the university music department’s Noon Concerts are hard to beat in the category of free. This year’s concert series includes German lieder, songs by African American composers, Baroque harpsichord, Gospel and Gamelan. Regular performances of the University Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Milnes, are scheduled at Hearst Hall; the symphony’s September evening concert includes Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances ($12, $8, $4). For information and tickets, call 642-4864 or go to Free or close to it.