Best Bets: ‘Flower Power,’ ‘Wild Parrots,’ Jaap van Zweden conducts

Sam and Kristine, two of the "wild parrots of Telegraph Hill." (Photo courtesy of Mark Bittner)

Freebie of the week: Forty-one years ago, Florence and Elias Katz founded Creativity Explored, a very special art gallery, in San Francisco, at a time when thousands of disabled Americans were being deinstitutionalized. The couple saw Creativity Explored as the center of a movement to help disabled artists further their passions and get their works shown, as well as to, as the gallery explains, “expand defined notions of artistry.”

The gallery, with Katz-founded organizations Creative Growth and Nurturing Independence through Artistic Development has done just that. Today, Creativity Explored and its affiliated programs serve as a headquarters of sorts for some 130 Bay Area disabled artists whose works have been shown at fairs and in galleries and museums in 14 countries and have earned some $2 million in sales.

Works by San Francisco painter Elana Cooper will be on display in “Flower Power” at Creativity Explored gallery in San Francisco Jan. 11 through March 9. (Photo courtesy Creativity Explored)

Opening this week is an exhibit by San Francisco-born painter Elana Cooper, who specializes in monochromatic depictions of floral silhouettes delivered in bold strokes with simple backgrounds that seem both fanciful and forceful in their simplicity. The tough but tender nature of her paintings seem to reflect on the life of an artist who must overcome challenges to create her evocative work.

Cooper’s “Flower Power” runs Thursday through March 9 at the gallery, 3245 16th St, and a reception begins at 5 p.m. Thursday. The gallery’s regular hours are 3 to 6 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Admission is free but donations are appreciated. More information is at 

Bay Area Latin jazz percussionist and band leader John Santos will showcase a new album with a concert at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage Jan. 13. (Courtesy John Santos)

An icon with new music: Bay Area percussionist and band leader John Santos is so well-traveled and prolific, it’s almost easy to overlook that he’s such a revered and respected artist.

In a career spanning more than 50 years, he has produced countless recordings and performed hundreds and hundreds of concerts, all while establishing himself as a legend of Latin and Afro Latin jazz. Along the way, he’s jammed and/or recorded with such legends as Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Bobby Hutcherson, Chucho Valdes, Billy Cobham, Zakir Hussain, McCoy Tyner and others (really, we’re just scraping the surface here).

If that doesn’t sound busy enough, he’s also a noted composer, teacher, writer, radio programmer and producer. On Saturday, he brings his acclaimed Sextet to the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley to showcase a new album, “Vieja Escuela.” The show also features a star-studded slate of guest performers, including Cuban percussionist Orestes Vilató, violinist Anthony Blea, violinist and singer Fernanda Bustamante and singer and multi-instrumentalist José Roberto Hernandez.

The show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 advance and $35 door. Go to

What the flock: This movie is for the birds—and people who love them. We’re talking about “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,” a small documentary filmed in San Francisco in 2003 (after San Francisco director Judy Irving was barely able to scrape together a working budget) and went on to become a nationwide phenomenon that remains one of the most successful documentaries ever made.

The film centers on a flock of utterly endearing feral parrots that had taken roost in Telegraph Hill, and an unemployed musician named Mark Bittner who found joy and meaning in his life when he started taking care of them. Thanks to Irving’s thoughtful direction and strong word of beak—er, mouth — the film has become a semi-classic.

Now marking its 20th anniversary, “Parrots” has been digitally restored and returns to theaters this week. It’s playing Friday through Jan. 19 at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco (go to and 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael ( Irving and Bittner, who met during filming and are now husband and wife, will be on hand for the Friday and Saturday Roxie screenings and Sunday’s San Rafael screening. 

A double header: It is not often we get to hear two powerhouse symphonies by two powerhouse composers conducted back-to-back by an internationally hailed maestro. Which is why we will be grateful to be in the audience this weekend as Dutch-born guest conductor Jaap van Zweden, currently at the helm of the New York Philharmonic for his last year, will lead the San Francisco Symphony through the Fifth Symphony of Beethoven’s and the same numbered work by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Guest conductor Jaap van Zweden leads the San Francisco Symphony through the fifth symphonies of Beethoven and Shostakovich this weekend. (Courtesy Dario Acostavi)

Though both works are considered among the finest of each composer’s output, the circumstances of their origins could not be more dissimilar. Beethoven was at the height of his popularity when the Fifth, with its famed fate-knocking-at-the-door opening, came into being, along with his also-beloved Sixth Symphony.

Shostakovich, on the other hand, was sleeping on his own doorstep so that Stalin’s thugs would not disturb his family if they came to arrest him when he temporarily jettisoned his Fourth to work on a Fifth that he hoped would placate the Soviet dictator. He was successful in that regard, if only for the time being.

Concert times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday in Davies Hall, with an open rehearsal at 10 a.m. Thursday. Find tickets. $25-$169, at or (415) 864-6000. 

Soprano Sherezade Panthaki joins Musica Pacifica in three “Invitation to a Salon” concerts across the Bay Area. (Courtesy David Fung)

Party like it’s 1740 Paris: If you were a fashionable music lover in 18th-century France, you’d most likely be getting your regular entertainment fix in the elegant drawing room of some similarly fashionable resident. The Bay Area early music ensemble Musica Pacifica has graciously arranged to re-create that heady experience for us with their “Invitation to a Salon.”

Joined by talented soprano Sherezade Panthaki, the ensemble’s concert program is filled with “musical bonbons” from that productive era. On tap are instrumental and vocal works by such luminaries as Jean-Philippe Rameau, Georg Telemann, Antonio Vivaldi, George Frideric Handel and more.

Concert times are at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Palo Alto’s First Presbyterian Church, 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Berkeley’s First Congregational Church and 4 p.m. Sunday in San Francisco’s St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.

Tickets are $30-$40 on a suggested scale, but you are invited to pay less if you need to or more if you can afford it. See for details.

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