Arts Listings

Classical Music Venues in the East Bay

By Jaime Robles, Special to the Planet
Thursday August 21, 2008 - 11:26:00 AM

The Bay Area has more classical musicians and venues than a glam rock singer has sequins. And the East Bay’s musical glitterati have always displayed an interest in more than Mozart and Beethoven, as some of the nation’s best musicians compose, improvise and flash their considerable talents into the dark and cozy audience of tradition. You can find everything here from the most radical to the most sedate, but what’s best of all is the combination that breeds the original and the spellbinding.  


Berkeley Symphony Orchestra 

Variety and imagination have garnered numerous ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music for this orchestra. Although this year marks the end of his directorship, Kent Nagano opens his 30th anniversary season with the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra on Sept. 18. The search for a new maestro began last year with three young directors conducting the symphony in programs of their own choosing. That search continues this fall with three more potential Berkeley Symphony Orchestra conductors at the podium: William Eddins, musical director of Canada’s Edmonton Symphony Orchestra; Paul Haas, artistic director of New York’s cutting-edge Sympho concerts; and Joana Carneiro, currently assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Phil. All three conductors will lead performances of Berkeley Symphony’s “Under Construction” series, the revelatory program that introduces new works by emerging composers-in-residence. Maestro Nagano closes the season with two concerts in May. For tickets and information, call 841-2800 or visit Single tickets, $40, $60; students, $20; “Under Construction” concerts, $10 and $20. 


Berkeley Opera 

Speaking of original, the Berkeley Opera strives to present “opera as lively, compelling musical theater.” And lively it is—no matter what they take on and how they take it on, the Berkeley Opera is always interesting. Berkeley born and educated Artistic/Music Director Jonathan Khuner has staged some wonderful contemporary operas. Last year’s double bill of Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortileges, libretto by Colette, turned its lights on the wildly dark nooks and crannies of love: both operas perfect for the intimate format that is integral to the company’s ambitions and realized in productions that were both haunting and charming. In the past, Berkeley Opera, to its credit, has commissioned lively adaptations and engaging new operas. Productions are in English or with English supertitles. The 2009 season will be announced in September. For information and tickets, call (925) 798-1300 or visit www. Tickets are $40, $16 on the sides, $20/10, seniors, student rush. 


Oakland East Bay Symphony 

The Oakland East Bay Symphony, directed by Maestro Michael Morgan and housed in the gold encrusted Paramount Theater, presents six diverse programs of music during the season. OEBS continues its sixth season of Magnum Opus, one of the largest commissioning projects of new symphonic works in the United States. Sponsored by Kathryn Gould through Meet the Composer, Inc., the grants commission, premiere and perform nine new works in the Bay Area by American composers. For tickets and information, call 444-0801 or visit www.oebs. org. Subscription series available. Single tickets, $70-$25. 

When not adorning the Paramount with their sparkling musicianship, Morgan and members of his orchestra perform in other capacities—supporting Ron Guidi’s newly reorganized Oakland Ballet Company in their holiday Nutcracker event and fall and spring programs. Live music adds luster to this dance company’s admirable performances, and Morgan’s conducting is thoughtful and appropriate. During the summer, Morgan is also music director for the Festival Opera at Walnut Creek’s Dean Lesher Center. The opera company only performs two works during the summer, but they are exceptional. 


Cal Performances 

As far as multiplicity of interest, Cal Performances has more programs than contemporary classical has time changes. With a miscellany of performance that spans the spectrum from bel canto to soul to world music, the Zellerbach Hall-based organizations programming is simply the richest and most electrifying to be found in the Bay Area. This year’s programming includes pianists Murray Perahia and the absolutely thrilling young Piotr Anderszewski; soprano Angela Gheorghiu, who will also be starring in SF Opera’s La Boheme; György Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments based on excerpts from Franz Kafka’s diaries and letters, directed by Peter Sellars and performed by soprano Dawn Upshaw and violinist Geoff Nuttall; and Jake Heggie’s new chamber opera Three Decembers ffeaturing Federika Von Stade. Laurie Anderson will perform her newest work, Homeland. That’s just for starters. For information and tickets, call 642-9988 or visit www.calperfs.berkeley. edu. 


UC Music Department 

With three series that provide a 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 compelling and free. In September alone, the concert series includes Beethoven, Morton Feldman and Alban Berg, art songs by Chausson, Debussy, Richard Strauss and American composers William Grant Still, Margaret Bonds and Kirke Mechem; and Shoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht; as well as a conference on African and Afro-Caribbean performance. Regular performances of the University Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Milnes, are scheduled at Hertz Hall ($12, $8, $4). For information and tickets, call 642-4864 or go to noon.html. Free or close to it. 


Other musical series 

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 performs in Berkeley several times during the season. For information, call (415) 252-1288 or visit $30-$72. Berkeley Chamber Performances 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 at the Julia Morgan-designed Berkeley City Club. Concerts are followed by a reception. Preconcert meals are also available. For information and tickets, call 525-5211 or visit $10-$20. Children through high school, free. Trinity Chapel at 2320 Dana St. has its own music series with a way-far-afield line-up of both traditional and off-the-map concerts—the Sept. 6 concert features violin and harpsichord duets and, on Sept. 20, Grosse Abfahrt performs, specializing in large ensemble improvisation using a dazzling mix of electronica, acoustica, and trombone! For information call 549-3864 or visit $12, $8 seniors, disabled, student. No one turned away for lack of funds. 


Other opera 

Goat Hall Productions is a cabaret-theater community of musicians and artists presenting original work written by Bay Area composers, who probably put the finishing touches on their notes at the final dress rehearsal. Energetic, provocative and originally based in San Francisco, they’re moving to Berkeley this year to present musical theater and opera in English. For tickets and information, call (415) 289-6877 or visit Cabaret table: $25 per seat; single tickets, $20. Oakland Opera Theater specializes in 20th- and 21st-century operas. Last year they relocated to a larger more acoustically vibrant space located a few blocks from Jack London Square. More experimental in outlook and edgier in taste, Director Tom Dean often re-configures an earlier opera to fit today’s heartbeat. Frequently he commissions new work. For information and tickets, go to or call 763-1146. Tickets are $25 in advance, $32 at the door. 


One more note . . . 

Not interested in performance but need those class music vibes? South campus has two excellent classical stores. Located on Bancroft across from Zellerbach Auditorium and behind the café of the same name is The Musical Offering. For the genteel and the well-heeled, the store offers a wide selection of classical cds, many displayed with helpful comments by the staff. The upstairs classical music section at Amoeba Music, on Telegraph Ave. at the corner of Haste Street, is simply the rock star of classical cds and vinyl—with prices and a new and used selection that leaves everyone, including the internet, painting its nails in the dressing room. Check it out.