Daniel Levenstein stays steady at the helm of Chamber Music SF

If Daniel Levenstein herded cats, it would be for rest and relaxation. His work as founder-director of Chamber Music San Francisco is far more complex and demanding.

While all performing arts organizations struggle to offer the best entertainment to the largest possible audience, chamber-music concerts have the additional challenge of being smaller by definition.

But Levenstein’s a proven success: His 15th CMSF season is a star-studded series of 10 recitals opening this week and running through May in the 900-seat Herbst Theatre in The City, with five repeated in Palo Alto and Walnut Creek.

Levenstein runs the organization on an annual budget of around $500,000, 60 percent from donations and 40 percent from ticket sales.

“Having a staff of one, triage is vital. We are a no-frills operation. Our concerts are really for music lovers, we don’t have fancy fundraisers,” Levenstein says. “We simply present superb musicians, although, given my checkered past, there is always awareness of the theatrical element.”

Asked to elaborate on his past, he says, shyly: “You would need stacks of checkerboards to do it justice.”

He has operated a music software and equipment distributorship, a music booking service and a school of musical theater and has written and produced shows for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, and corporate clients from Toshiba to Silicon Graphics.

A composer of works performed by artists ranging from The Mommies to the Kronos Quartet, Levenstein has produced soundtracks for clients including blues singers, a Charles Schulz ice show, country bands, Hartford Ballet and a ventriloquist. He served as associate musical director of “Beach Blanket Babylon” for 13 years.

In 1993, after working with late choreographer Michael Smuin on dozens of projects (including “Anything Goes on Broadway,” the Geena Davis film “Angie,” and even a show for Siegfried and Roy), Levenstein co-founded Smuin Ballet and was its executive director until 2001, handling marketing, fundraising and touring logistics, and also serving as music director.

Daniel Levenstein started Chamber Music San Francisco in 2003. (Courtesy photo)

In 2003, Levenstein created Chamber Music San Francisco, proclaiming this credo: “We choose our performers not only for their musical abilities, but for their ability to connect with audiences. Otherwise, you may as well stay home and listen to CDs. This is the thrill of the live concert experience.”

This season opens with Grammy-winning Canadian violinist James Ehnes, accompanied by acclaimed pianist Orion Weiss, on Feb. 11, in a performance of sonatas by Beethoven, Poulenc, Richard Strauss and additional works announced from the stage. (The program is in Walnut Creek on Feb. 10 and in Palo Alto Feb. 12.)

German-Canadian tenor Michael Schade — a Merola Opera Program veteran whose “Meistersinger” David in San Francisco is still treasured 18 years later -– appears Feb. 24 performing lieder by Schubert, Mozart and Strauss and selections from Wagner operas and Handel oratorios in a concert with violinist Livia Sohn and pianist Kevin Murphy. The program — which repeats Feb. 25 in Walnut Creek and Feb. 26 in Palo Alto, also includes all three artists playing arrangements violinist Fritz Kreisler created for his own performances with Irish tenor John McCormack in the early 20th century.

Midori, a world-renown violinist for more than three decades since her debut with the New York Philharmonic at 11, will be accompanied by pianist Özgür Aydin, performing sonatas by Mozart, Franck, Schubert and Respighi on April 22.

An important series of great and up-and-coming pianists includes: Seong-Jin Cho (March 4), Angela Hewitt (March 11), Yeol Eum Son (May 5) and Alexander Gavrylyuk (May 20).

On March 17, Israeli Chamber Project, an award-winning group based in Israel and New York comprising strings, winds, harp and piano, plays a program of works by Schumann, Stravinsky, Ravel and Brahms. (Program repeats March 18 in Walnut Creek and March 19 in Palo Alto.)

Other ensembles in the lineup include the Berlin-based Artemis String Quartet, playing works by Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann, as well as the Bay Area-based Archetti Baroque String Orchestra, playing Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos on May 13.

Chamber Music San Francisco 2018 season
Where: Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: Feb, 11 through May 20
Tickets: $48 to $65 (single); $350 (series)
Contact: www.chambermusicsf.org, www.cityboxoffice.com

James Ehnes, violin: 3 p.m. Feb. 11
Michael Schade, tenor: 8 p.m. Feb. 24
Seong-Jin Cho, piano: 3 p.m. March 4
Angela Hewitt, piano: 3 p.m. March 11
Israeli Chamber Project: 8 p.m. March 17
Artemis Quartet: 3 p.m. April 15
Midori, violin; 3 p.m. April 22
Yeol Eum Son, piano: 8 p.m. May 5
Brandenburg Concertos: 3 p.m. May 13
Alexander Gavrylyuk, piano: 3 p.m. May 20

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