The Bay Area is a hub of artistic expression, attracting artists, writers and musicians from around the globe to live, work and create. We highlight some of the offerings here.
Make way for the maestros: Both Nicholas McGegan, former Philharmonia Baroque music director, and Michael Tilson-Thomas, who held that position with the San Francisco Symphony for 25 years, are back in town to conduct their respective orchestras this weekend.
McGegan, the Phil Baroque’s first music director for an amazing 35 years, hit his 1,000th time at the orchestra’s podium in a Wednesday night concert in Palo Alto, which repeats at 8 p.m. Friday at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco and 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday in Berkeley’s First Congregational Church. On his program are three 18th-century dance suites from French Baroque composers: André Campra’s from “La Carnaval de Venise,” Francois Francouer’s from “Symphonies pour le Festin Royal du Comte d’Artois” and Jean-Philippe Rameau’s “Les surprises de l’Amour.”
Tickets, $32-$130, are available at philharmonia.org and 415-392-4400.
Tilson Thomas, meanwhile, extends his re-engagement with the Symphony to a second weekend in Davies Hall, this time conducting the orchestra in a Brahms double-bill program: the Serenade No. 1, which has been called a symphony in all but name, and the Piano Concerto No. 1, with the eminent soloist Emanuel Ax. Performance times are 2 p.m. Thursday and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Find tickets, $20-$170, at sfsymphony.org or 415-864-6000.
Love lost, regained, lost again …? Is there a sadder tale to tell than that mythic one of Orpheus and Eurydice? He braves the dangers of hell to bring his beloved back from the dead but blows it with a backward look and – bang! – she’s gone again. We won’t tell you how composer Christoph Willibald Gluck ended his version of this oft-retold story when his “Orfeo ed Euridice” premiered in Vienna in 1762, but suffice it to say his instant hit revolutionized the then somewhat stodgy world of opera.
San Francisco Opera returns to his original story with a new production that opened this week and repeats at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday (with additional performances Nov. 26 and Dec. 1). But director Matthew Ozawa updates it a bit by factoring in carefully crafted references to how the hero navigates the stages of grief as understood by modern-day neurobiologists.
Soprano Meigui Zhang stars as the twice-stricken Eurydice, and countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński is her determined screw-up of a lover. Dancers are deployed to double the two principal roles, and that could be interesting, as Orliński is also a break-dancer, and judging by some of the publicity images, he may be busting a move or two as well.
The Sunday matinee will be livestreamed for $27.50 and available for 48 hours beginning Monday at 10 a.m. (go to sfopera.com/digital.) Regular performance tickets, $26-$408, are available at sfopera.com and 415-864-3330.
Freebie of the week – Bots with brushes: It’s popular in science fiction to saddle poor robots with the worst manifestations of human behavior – uncaring instruments programmed by evil masterminds or, worse yet, brainiac behemoths who turn sentient and realize we pathetic humans are ripe for plundering. But all that seems kind of harsh. After all, some robots just want to paint.
We’re talking about Digit and Spot, a pair of Boston Dynamics-created robots who now have their own exhibit in San Francisco. Well, sort of. What happened is that Agnieszka Pilat, a painter known for her evocative creations featuring robots and other technology themes, spent a year or so helping program Spot and Digit – considered state of the art in terms of mechanical dexterity – to paint contained works on canvas. The result is a dozen or so large oil paintings now on display at Modernism, a gallery at 724 Ellis St. in San Francisco.
Pilat says the robots exhibit different styles. She compares Digit’s works to those of the tragic neo-expressionist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and notes that Spot, who is indeed shaped like a dog and paints with its mouth, generated works that have a look of calligraphy to them. While the ideas for the pieces may have come from Pilat, she says it was up to Digit and Spot to interpret her ideas using their particular mechanical limitations. “Working in close contact with a robot gives the impression of an encounter with another mind,” she says. “It seems that the robot has agency.” Soon, they may need agents, too.
Pilat’s exhibit, titled “ROBOTa”,” is on display through Dec. 22. Modernism is open 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is free. More information is at www.modernisminc.com.
Open wide: Food, like art, music and literature, is a part of every culture, and of that culture’s history. Which is a nice way of saying that colonialism and imperialism are not expressed solely through the barrel of a gun.
Playwright Dustin Chinn explores that concept in his sharp new comedy “Colonialism Is Terrible, but Pho Is Delicious,” getting its world premiere at Aurora Theatre in Berkeley. The 95-minute show consists of three episodes that are independent of each other but all dwell on the subject of culinary cultural appropriation. In one episode, set in 1880s Hanoi (then the capital of French Indochina) a local chef must cook for French aristocrats who have no desire to sample the indigenous cuisine.
Another segment set in 1999 Vietnam finds two American travelers getting their first taste of pho, the hearty titular soup that is a staple of Vietnamese cuisine. The final segment is set in present-day Brooklyn, where an arrogant American chef sparks a row by demanding that diners consume their pho the right way, i.e., his way. (The segment was said to be inspired by a controversial “whitesplaining” video created by Bon Appetit on a similar subject.) “Pho,” developed at Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor new plays program in cooperation with the Chance Theatre in Anaheim and Oregon Contemporary Theatre, plays at Aurora through Dec. 4. It will also be available for streaming Nov. 29-Dec. 4.
Tickets are $20-$75. Go to www.auroratheatre.org.
Gobble, gobble: Speaking of food and cultural appropriation, City Lights Theater Company’s new play wades into the icky quagmire where political correctness, as it often does, becomes its own worst enemy. Fortunately it’s a comedy. “The Thanksgiving Play,” by Larissa FastHorse, centers on four teaching artists who are tasked with creating a school pageant about the titular holiday that honors its historical origins without offending all those who are well aware that November is also Native American Heritage Month (not to mention all those pesky vegans out there).
“Thanksgiving Play” got an early reading at Berkeley Repertory Theatre before getting an off-Broadway debut in 2018, after which the New York Times observed, “Just because a target’s too easy doesn’t mean it won’t make a satisfying meal.” Next spring, the show is set to open on Broadway, reportedly making FastHorse the first Native American playwright to have a work produced there.
“Thanksgiving Play,” directed by Roneet Aliza Rahamim, plays at City Lights Theater Thursday through Dec. 18. Tickets are $26-$54; go to cltc.org.