Profusion of summer music festivals make up for missed seasons

Classical music talent madness from San Francisco, Berkeley, Napa, Santa Cruz and Carmel

By Janos Gereben

Special to The Examiner

Few metropolitan areas in the country can match the number, variety and star-studded excellence of summer classical music festivals in and around San Francisco. After two years of pandemic shutdowns and limitations, 2022 looks big, ambitious and rewarding for artists and audiences.

Here’s partial list of festivals in the Bay Area, going from close to farther away:

San Francisco

San Francisco Opera’s summer season, beginning June 4, is the finale of its 99th season as the prep to its centennial. As usual, with the combined forces of hundreds of artists and support personnel required for opera, this will be the summer’s biggest event – 16 performances attracting an audience of as many as 50,000 in the 3,146-seat War Memorial Opera House.

The season includes Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” Bright Sheng’s “Dream of the Red Chamber” and a Verdi concert led by Music Director Eun Sun Kim that runs through July 3. Bertrand de Billy conducts “Don Giovanni,” starring Etienne Dupuis, Luca Pisaroni, Adela Zaharia and Carmen Giannattasio. Darrell Ang conducts “Dream of the Red Chamber,” directed by Stan Lai with Tim Yip’s production design.

Merola Opera Program’s 65th season includes public events, July 9 through Aug. 20, in addition to its main function of coaching young artists. (The pandemic forced the cancellation of the program’s ambitious 2020 season and abbreviated it last year.)

Making its home in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s Concert Hall, the Merola season begins with “A Celebration of American Song” on July 9, curated by Craig Terry; the Merolini will go on with the Schwabacher Summer Concert on July 14; staged performances of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” on Aug. 4 and 6; and the Merola Grand Finale in the War Memorial Opera House on Aug. 20.

San Francisco Opera’s Schwabacher Recital Series, featuring Merolini, runs through July 28, when baritone Sidney Outlaw (Merola 2010) and pianist and Merola/Adler faculty member Warren Jones perform works from “Lament,” their recent collaboration, an album that pays homage to 20th-century American song.

San Francisco Symphony will announce its summer season program in mid-April, but the 2021-2022 season still has concerts within the period, including a program led by Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen on June 23-25, with S.F. Symphony premieres of Steven Stucky’s “Radical Light” and John Adams’ “Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?” in addition to Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5.

American Bach Soloists’ Summer Bach Festival, beginning July 23, takes place mostly in Herbst Theatre, featuring both classics and little-known works by Bach, Mozart, Handel, Teleman, Vivaldi, Locatelli and Mendelssohn. Artistic Director Jeffrey Thomas leads all concerts.

Soloists include: Mary Wilson, soprano; Aldo Abreu, recorder; Sandra Miller, flute; Kenneth Slowik, viola da gamba; Corey Jamason, harpsichord; Tatiana Chulochnikova, Tomà Iliev, YuEun Gemma Kim, and Jacob Ashworth, violins; Slowik and Gretchen Claassen, violoncello; Chris Aschman, trumpet and steel pan drums; Kjell Nordeson, percussion.

An example of major ABS summer concerts is on July 29: works by Handel, Rameau, Vivaldi and Bach, with Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin; Tekla Cunningham, violin; Maya Kherani, soprano; Sarah Coit, mezzo-soprano; Matthew Hill, tenor; and Mischa Bouvier, bass-baritone.

The cast for Handel’s “Belshazzar,” on July 30, includes: Eric Jurenas, countertenor, Kherani, Coit, Hill and Bouvier.


Berkeley Festival and Exhibition (BFX) runs June 5–12, including early music concerts in several locations, and the Exhibition and Marketplace, free and open to the public, June 9-11.

The exhibition features the work of instrument makers, publishers, retailers, performing and service organizations and others who provide materials, information and support for the early music community.

BFX features 17 main stage artists, including Chanticleer, Vox Luminis, Elizabeth Blumenstock, Rachel Podger and many more, as well as the rising stars of today (Sollazzo Ensemble) and tomorrow (Early Music America’s Emerging Artists Showcase).

In addition to main stage events, BFX also includes the Fringe, a collection of self-produced concerts by local performers. Cal Performances is a partner of BFX.


Festival Napa Valley runs July 15-24, serving up music and dance along with Napa’s best-known attractions: scenery, wine and food.

Headliners include Trisha Yearwood, Joshua Bell, Larisa Martínez, the Brubeck Brothers Quartet, Tessa Lark, the Young People’s Chorus of New York City (July 16), a “Tchaikovsky to Rolling Stones” dance gala (July 21) and a performance of Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’amore,” conducted by Gemma New, directed by Jean-Romain Vesperini, with sopranos Andriana Chuchman and Mikayla Sager, tenor Mario Chang and singers from the Manetti Shrem Summer Vocal Conservatory (July 22).

Santa Cruz

Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music celebrates its 60th season, July 24–Aug. 7, returning to in-person concerts in Santa Cruz for the first time since 2019. Led by Cristian Macelaru, who is also music director of Orchester National de France and WDR Sinfonieorchester, Cabrillo continues to be the country’s oldest festival presenting new music.

As it always does, Cabrillo presents world premiere commissions, this time the orchestral version of Jake Heggie’s “INTONATIONS: Songs from the Violins of Hope,” with mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and violinist Benjamin Beilman, the culmination of an expansive Bay Area collaboration commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz; and works commemorating women’s suffrage in America and exploring the recent impact of drought and wildfires in the western United States. As Macelaru says, the festival is about “music of our time, for our time.”

This year’s nine composers in residence are Stacy Garrop, John Harbison, Jake Heggie, Scott Ordway, Paola Prestini, Kevin Puts, Iván Enrique Rodríguez, Andrea Reinkemeyer and Sarah Kirkland Snider. Works by composers Gabriela Lena Frank, Jessie Montgomery and Christopher Rouse are also featured.

Guest artists include: Roomful of Teeth, vocal band, Lara Downes, piano; Katherine Needleman, oboe; Mark DeChiazza, filmmaker; Thaïs Chernyavski, youth violin; Cooke and Beilman.

“This season is a long-awaited return to the stage,” says Cabrillo Festival Executive Director Ellen Primack. “The past two years have strengthened our sense of purpose and connection to our community and to our mission. It will be an epic homecoming and a 60th anniversary celebration to remember.”


The longest-running summer music series in California, Carmel Bach Festival, will have its 85th season, July 14-30, in the Sunset Theater and the Carmel Mission Basilica as well as other venues, along with pre-concert talks, the Family Concert, Tower Music, chamber music, the Young Artists’ Showcase and more.

Several main stage concerts are led by guest conductors Dinis Sousa, Grete Pedersen and Nicholas McGegan, each a candidate for the position of artistic director, a position vacated in 2021. (The festival had two directors with lengthy tenures in the past, Sándor Salgo 1957-1991 and Bruno Weil 1991-2010.)

Among the soloists for the season: soprano Clara Rottsolk, mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle, tenor Thomas Cooley and bass-baritone Dashon Burton. Highlights of the season include Brahms’ German Requiem on July 14 and 16, Haydn’s Symphony No. 103, Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 and Bach’s Easter Oratorio.

Festival Napa Valley runs July 15-24, serving up music and dance along with Napa’s best-known attractions: scenery, wine and food. (Festival Napa Valley)

Festival Napa Valley runs July 15-24, serving up music and dance along with Napa’s best-known attractions: scenery, wine and food. (Festival Napa Valley)

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