As summer’s heat begins to fade and evening shadows appear earlier every day, the advent of fall is good news for Sacramento-area residents who enjoy high-class artistic performances. The Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts (on the campus of U.C. Davis) will host its tenth season of the best of those performances with two highly anticipated concerts serving as bookends to the season.
The year will start big with the reunion of Chick Corea’s great fusion band, Return to Forever. The group made history forty years ago with its brilliant melding of jazz and rock and, along with Corea’s keyboard virtuosity, featured heavyweight jazz greats Stanley Clarke on bass and Lenny White on drums. For this reunion tour guitarist Frank Gambole and jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty will round out the quintet, which will likely perform RTF’s original material as well as new works by the band members.
Opening for the Return to Forever reunion will be Zappa Plays Zappa, featuring the music of the legendary Frank Zappa as interpreted by his son Dweezil and his band of top musicians.
The Return to Forever concert at Mondavi is scheduled for next Wednesday, September 21. The concert has been sold out for months, but our advice would be to check with the box office on the day and evening of the performance for late ticket returns or unused house seats.
Ten days after the RTF concert, another jazz great will return to Mondavi for what promises to be another night of terrific jazz. Saxophonist Wayne Shorter led the other great jazz fusion band of the early 1970s, Weather Report. His quartet will appear at Mondavi on October 1 in what had originally been the scheduled opening night of the season (before RTF was added).
More great jazz is on the Mondavi schedule with the Overtone Quartet appearing on February 25 and the SFJAZZ Collective performing a concert of Stevie Wonder’s music on March 29.
Mondavi’s orchestral concerts are always highlights and this year’s will be no exception, with the venue’s unofficial “house band,” the San Francisco Symphony, making two appearances. For the first, James Conlon, music director of the LA Opera, will conduct Shostakovich’s Symphony #14 and the Ravel arrangement of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” That concert will take place on October 13.
And then, to kick off 2012, on January 5, the SF Symphony, this time with music director Michael Tilson Thomas at the helm, will perform Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony, his “Winter Dreams,” along with Ligeti’s violin concerto, with violinist Christian Tetzlaff.
The other two orchestral concerts will also feature great Tchaikovsky symphonies. On Saturday, January 28, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by its long-time musical director, Charles Dutoit, will perform Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #5, along with Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto #5 (featuring Jean-Yves Thibaudet).
And, to conclude the season with a bang comparable to the Return to Forever opening night, on May 12, the New York Philharmonic, with musical director Alan Gilbert conducting, will perform Tchaikovsky’s great Symphony #4, along with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #3 (with the legendary Yefim Bronfman) and Dvorak’s “Carnival Overture.”
(Not to be outdone, in terms of Tchaikovsky at least, the Sacramento Philharmonic is scheduled to perform the magnificent Pathetique, the composer’s sixth and last symphony, in the spring, albeit not at Mondavi.)
Dance will also be well represented at Mondavi again this season. The highlight will be the U.S. premiere of the ballet of the Grimm’s Brothers’ fairy tale, “Snow White,” by the French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj. Entitled “Blanche Neige,” the ballet is danced to music by Gustav Mahler. It will be presented twice, on Saturday evening, March 17, and on Sunday afternoon, March 18.
Other dance performances will be provided by the Scottish National Ballet (October 19) and the Trey McIntyre Project, with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (November 12).
The Mondavi Speaker series will include addresses by Jonathan Franzen on autobiography and fiction writing (October 8), film-maker extraordinaire Oliver Stone (February 3) and ex-punk rock star Patti Smith (May 9).
And, of course, the season will include a number of excellent recital performances. Highlights this year should be those of violinists Hilary Hahn (October 29), Rachel Barton Pine, with the Chamber Soloists Orchestra of New York (February 4), and pianist Garrick Ohlsson (March 9). The San Francisco Symphony Chamber Ensemble, with violinist Alexander Barantschik, will perform works of Handel and J.S. Bach on May 2.
Other scheduled concerts of note include those of k.d. lang (October 20), the Chieftains (February 22), the Blind Boys of Alabama (December 15), the annual performance of the “Messiah” by the American Bach Soloists (December 18), Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder (September 30), Loudon Wainwright III and Leo Kottke (February 14), and Bettye Lavette (April 13).
All in all, season number ten for this wonderful venue looks like one that will be taking us across the I-80 causeway on a regular basis.
(Tickets and further information for these and all other Mondavi performances are available on-line at www.mondaviarts.org or by phone at 866-754-2787.)