This month will see the beginning of the six-concert Piano Series to be offered by San Francisco Performances (SFP). These will include the SFP debut of Chopin Competition Gold Medalist Seong-Jin Cho, as well as two programs of the music of Joannes Brahms to be presented by Garrick Ohlsson. Ohlsson’s recitals will mark the beginning of a multi-year series planned to account for all of Brahms’ compositions for solo piano. In addition, Igor Levit will present a recital based on his latest Sony Classical album Life, which is scheduled for release this Friday.
All of the concerts will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Herbst Theatre. The entrance to Herbst is the main entrance to the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. The specific dates and their related performers are as follows:
Monday, October 22: Cho has prepared an ambitious program for his SFP debut. The second half will be devoted entirely to Modest Mussorgsky’s demanding suite, Pictures at an Exhibition. In the first half his approach to Frédéric Chopin (which probably led to his competition triumph) will be represented by a performance of that composer’s Opus 61, the “Polonaise-fantasie” in A-flat major. This will be preceded by two other “fantasy” pieces, Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 903 “chromatic” fantasy and fugue and Franz Schubert’s D. 760 “Wanderer” fantasy in C major.
Tuesday, November 1: Levit planned his new album to pay tribute to the virtuoso possibilities of the piano. Almost all of the selections involve the music of one composer refracted by another. On his SFP program Levit will honor Franz Liszt as the one composer that is both refracting and refracted. During the second half of the program, he will play Liszt’s arrangement of the “Solemn March to the Holy Grail” from Richard Wagner’s opera Parsifal. This will be followed by the longest selection on Levit’s album, Ferruccio Busoni’s piano transcription of one of Liszt’s major organ compositions, the “Fantasy and Fugue on the chorale ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam.’” As an additional layer of refraction, Liszt took his chorale theme from the music for the first act of Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera Le prophète.
Busoni will also be presented on the program by a fantasia he composed based on Bach’s BWV 253 chorale “Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ” (ah, remain with us, Lord Jesus Christ). There will also be a transcription of the concluding chaconne movement from Bach’s BWV 1004 solo violin partita. However, instead of drawing upon Busoni’s refraction, Levit will play the version composed by Brahms to be played by the left hand alone. The one piece on the program that will not involve refraction will be Robert Schumann’s “Geistervariationen” (ghost variations), WoO 24, the composer’s last piano work, composed shortly before the time of his admission to an insane asylum.
Thursday, February 21: The major work on Ohlsson’s first all-Brahms program will be the Opus 35 set of variations on the last of the 24 caprices for solo violin composed by Niccolò Paganini. This will be preceded by the Opus 21 collection of two sets of variations, both in D major, the first on an original theme and the second on a Hungarian melody. The program will also include the early Opus 10 set of four ballades and the Opus 76 collection of eight short pieces.
Wednesday, March 13: After what seems like too great an absence, Benjamin Grosvenor will return to San Francisco to present a solo recital. He will also be performing one of Liszt’s “refractions,” a composition entitled “Réminiscences de Norma,” which fantasizes on themes from the opera by Vincenzo Bellini. He will begin his program with two Schumann compositions, the Opus 19 collection Blumenstück (flower pieces) and the Opus 16 Kreisleriana, inspired by Johannes Kreisler, the fictional Kapellmeister created by E. T. A. Hoffmann. The program also includes “1.X.1905,” the title that Leoš Janáček gave to a piano sonata intended as a tribute to a Czech worker bayoneted during a demonstration on October 1, 1905. The remaining composition on the program will be the set of miniatures that Sergei Prokofiev collected under the title Visions Fugitives.
Thursday, March 28: Ohlsson’s second all-Brahms program will again feature a major composition in variations form, the Opus 24 set of variations and fugue on a theme by George Frideric Handel. The first half of the program will features Brahms’ second piano sonata, Opus 2 in F-sharp minor. The collections of shorter works will be the six Opus 118 pieces in the first half and the three Opus 117 intermezzi in the second.
Saturday, April 13: The series will conclude with the return of Piotr Anderszewski. The major work on the program will be (believe it or not) the only work by Ludwig van Beethoven in the entire series. This will be his challenging Opus 120 set of 33 variations composed on the waltz theme given to him by the publisher Anton Diabelli. Anderszewski will also play compositions by Bach, but the specific offerings have not yet been announced.
Subscriptions are still on sale for $420 for premium seating in the Orchestra and the front and center of the Dress Circle, $330 for the Side Boxes, the center rear of the Dress Circle, and the remainder of the Orchestra, and $240 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, which is open for receiving calls between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Single tickets are also on sale for $75, $60, and $45, accordingly. Each concert has its own City Box Office event page, and these may be accessed through the hyperlinks attached to the above dates.