Last night in City Hall and the Veterans Building, San Francisco Performances (SFP) presented A Heartfelt Gala in honor of founder and President Emeritus Ruth Felt following her retirement after 37 years of leading the organization. This included a concert in Herbst Theatre featuring artists who have been closely connected with SFP since its founding. The evening was framed by jazz offerings with three different genres of chamber music in the central portion.
The host was former SFP Jazz Artist-in-Residence Luciana Souza, who opened with a song of her own while accompanying herself on thumb piano. She then introduced a trio led by the current Jazz Artist-in-Residence, trumpeter Sean Jones, leading a trio whose other members were pianist Edward Simon and Marcus Shelby on bass. One could feel the affection that the trio put into “All the Things You Are” and “In a Sentimental Mood,” between which Jones and Simon took a lively approach to Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz.” On the concluding side of the program, jazz violinist Regina Carter made a special appearance (not included in the program book) to perform her own equally personal composition, “What Ruth Felt,” with Simon and Shelby providing rhythm.
The first chamber music offering was a piano solo by composer Philip Glass performing his own “Mad Rush.” He was followed by violinist Jennifer Koh giving a solo performance of three of the pieces from her Shared Madness project, performed in its entirety as part of NY PHIL BIENNIAL 2016 this past spring. The contributing composers she selected for last night were Kaija Saariaho, Glass, and Julia Wolfe; and all three pieces served up Koh’s ability to rise to just about any technical challenge on her instrument. The “chamber music wave” then receded to more amenable tonality with songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Robert Schumann, Jake Heggie, and Francis Poulenc sung by mezzo Sasha Cook with Heggie as her accompanist. In addition the new SFP President, Melanie Smith, introduced “Celebrating Ruth,” a video summarizing the full breadth of Felt’s career, covering her “apprenticeship” in the art world and then spanning the founding and growth of the SFP concert series.
The performance was relatively short by most standards, but the evening was all about the celebrating. Most of the festivities were held over the food and drink provided both before and after the performance. Nevertheless, the show in Herbst provided an engaging summary of where SFP is, while the video could not have been a better account of how it all came to be and then grew.