This was the month in which San Francisco Performances (SFP) launched its Vocal Series of four recitals. The next series to get under way will be the Piano Series, which will also consist of four recitals, the first of which will take place at the beginning of February. This will be a series of familiar faces, one of whom first visited San Francisco to perform with the San Francisco Symphony and will be making his San Francisco recital debut with SFP. In addition, one of those familiar faces will be that of Jonathan Biss, whose solo recital will also be included in his own four-part series, Late Style. All of the concerts will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Herbst Theatre, located on the southwest corner of Van Ness Avenue and McAllister Street. The specific dates and their related pianists are as follows:
Thursday, February 2: Alexander Melnikov made his SFP debut in 2011 with a marathon performance of the 24 preludes and fugues, one pair for each key, collected by Dmitri Shostakovich as his Opus 87. This time he will devote the second half of his concert to Claude Debussy’s second book of preludes, twelve pieces, each based on an evocative image, that he composed between 1912 and 1913. In the first half he will play two sets of variations, both composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff. The Opus 22 set, based on a theme by Frédéric Chopin, will be followed by the more familiar Opus 42. Rachmaninoff identified the source of this theme as Arcangelo Corelli; but it is actually the much older Spanish “Folia” theme. Corelli himself had composed variations on this theme as the last of the twelve violin sonatas he had collected in his Opus 5.
Saturday, February 11: This is the recital that overlaps with Jonathan Biss’ Late Style series. The program will be framed by the music of Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms. The former will be represented by his last published piano composition the Opus 133 “Gesänge der Frühe” (songs of dawn), composed in 1853, when Schumann was already suffering from mental and emotional decline. The “Geistervariationen” (ghost variations) were composed the following year but not published until after his death by Brahms. Brahms, in turn, will be represented by his last two publications of piano music, the six short pieces of Opus 118 and the four short pieces of Opus 119, both composed in 1893. Opus 119 was his last solo piano composition, although it would be followed in 1896 by both the Opus 121Vier ernste Gesänge (four serious songs) and the eleven chorale preludes for organ (Opus 122). By way of contrast, Biss will also play one of Brahms’ earliest piano compositions, the second movement from his Opus 5 sonata in F minor.
The adjective “late” will be somewhat stressed by Biss’ decision to include music by György Kurtág, who, as of this writing, is still alive. Biss has long been a champion of the short pieces that Kurtág has collected under the title Játékok (games). Biss will play selections from the seventh volume in this series. Published in 2003, this is the most recent collection of solo piano music. (The eighth volume, published in 2010, contains music for two pianos and for four hands on one keyboard.) On the other hand the one Chopin selection, the Opus 61 “Polonaise-Fantasie” in A-flat major was completed in 1846, making it one of the last pieces he wrote before succumbing to ill health.
Tuesday, April 25: This will be a “dynamic duo” recital of music for two pianos and four hands on one keyboard. Both pianists, Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin, will be familiar to SFP audiences. The focus of the program will be Igor Stravinsky with performances of both his concerto for two pianos and his keyboard version of the music he composed for the ballet “The Rite of Spring.” The program will also include Debussy’s suite for two pianos En blanc et noir (in black and white), composed within two years after the premiere of “The Rite of Spring.” The program will begin with a coupling of Larghetto and Allegro movements in E-flat major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which does not appear in Ludwig Ritter von Köchel’s catalog but is included in the ninth volume of the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe and is available for examination (only, since the content is not public domain in the United States) through an IMSLP Web page.
Saturday, May 6: Spanish pianist Javier Perianes made his San Francisco debut playing Manuel de Falla’s “Nights in the Gardens of Spain” with Charles Dutoit conducting the San Francisco Symphony in June of 2015. This concert will be his San Francisco recital debut. Falla will again be in his repertoire with the memorial piece he composed for Debussy, “Le tombeau de Claude Debussy.” This will introduce three short Debussy compositions, “La soirée dans Grenade” (the evening in Granada) from Estampes (prints), “La puerta del Vino” (wine gate) from the second book of preludes, and “La sérénade interrompue” (the interrupted serenade). This “Spanish-French connection” will conclude with “El Albaicín” (the name of a district in Granada) from the third book of Isaac Albéniz’ Iberia collection. The program will begin with two selections by Franz Schubert, the D. 664 sonata in A major and the D. 946 set of three short piano pieces.
While this is late in the season, subscriptions are still on sale for $275 for premium seating in the Orchestra and the front and center of the Dress Circle, $210 for the Side Boxes, the center rear of the Dress Circle, and the remainder of the Orchestra, and $150 for the remainder of the Dress Circle and the Balcony. Subscriptions may be purchased online in advance through a City Box Office event page. Orders may also be placed by calling the SFP subscriber hotline at 415-677-0325. Corresponding prices for single tickets are $70, $55, and $40, except for the duo recital by Andsnes and Hamelin, for which the prices are $85, $65, and $50. The hyperlinks on the dates given above all lead to City Box Office event pages for the purchase of single tickets.