Best Bets: Pianist Rafał Blechacz, cellist Sterling Elliott, organist Akiko Tsuruga

Rafał Blechacz (Photo courtesy of Felix Broede / DG)

A king of the keyboard: An artist the Sunday Times of London has called “one of the pianistic giants of our times” is coming to the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco to give a recital under the auspices of Chamber Music San Francisco. Rafał Blechacz, the Polish virtuoso who took every award possible at the Warsaw Chopin Competition and subsequently captured the prestigious $300,000 Gilmore Award in 2014, will perform at 3 p.m. Sunday. On his program are three works by Chopin, the Polonaise-Fantasy, Op. 61; the first Nocturne from Op. 51 and the Mazurkas from Op. 6. Blechacz will also play Szymanowski’s Variations, Debussy’s “Suite Bergamasque” and Mozart’s Sonata in A Major, K. 331.

Tickets, $45-$70 (but half price for those under 30), are available at or by calling (415) 392-4400. 

Cellist Sterling Elliott (Photo courtesy of the artist)

On his way up: Young American cellist Sterling Elliott, a 2021 Avery Fisher Career Grant winner, joins artistic director Daniel Hope and the New Century Chamber Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Friday for a concert program at the Presidio Theatre in San Francisco.

Supported by the orchestra, Elliott will showcase his talent on the much beloved concerto for his instrument written by Franz Joseph Haydn, the No.1 in C Major. Also in the lineup are Gluck’s “Dance of the Furies” from “Orfeo ed Euridice,” Bloch’s “Prayer” from “Jewish Life,” No. 1 and Stravinsky’s Suite from the ballet “Pulcinella.”  Hope has given the entire program the title of “Playing With Structure”; you can hear him describe why in a short video posted at

The performance repeats at 3 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are priced from $30 to $70 and are available at presidio, and (415) 392-4400.  

Jazz keyboardist Akiko Tsuruga brings her trio to a free concert at Peace Lutheran Church in Danville March 10. (Photo courtesy Akiko Tsuruga)

Freebie of the week: The connection between religious worship and jazz might not be as known as church services and gospel or hymnal music, but it is there. The tradition of Jazz Vespers—religious services using jazz—developed along the East Coast and the South, and an outgrowth of sorts can be found in Danville. The Peace Lutheran Church there has a history of serving jazz concerts, many of them for free. The Jazz at Peace series often offers free music with inspiration, usually on the first Sunday of each month. It also hosts free concerts, including one this Sunday featuring Akiko Tsuruga, a New York-based rising star on the B3 Hammond Organ. The Japan native will be performing with her high-caliber Trio, featuring guitarist Bruce Forman and drummer Akira Tana.

The music starts at 5:30 p.m. at the church, 3201 Camino Tassajara, in Danville; Future shows in the series include the wonderful singer Clairdee (April 7), the wildly creative trio Charged Particles (May 5) and percussionist Silvestre Martinez (June 2). You can also catch Tsuruga 8 p.m. Friday at the San Jose Jazz Break Room ($28; and 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland ($25;

San Jose native Madhuri Shekar’s play “Queen” is getting produced by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley beginning this week. (Courtesy Niyantha Sheka and Madhuri Shekar)

‘Queen’ for a day: Bees, beautifully complex creatures who have a role in such life-affirming practices as pollination and species diversification, are mainly known for ruining a wonderful sunny day by showing up out of nowhere and leaving a painful welt on you for no other reason, apparently, than because they can.

But if but all bees died suddenly, we humans would be in serious you-know-what. And they are dying, a lot. The condition is called Colony Collapse Disorder and it plays a part in “Queen,” a play by San Jose native Madhuri Shekar getting a new staging beginning this week at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley. The play centers on science, gender politics in academia, and ethics as it follows two women scientists in the U.S. studying why bee populations are dwindling. Ethical and personal issues come into play that pit their academic goals and life ambitions against the accuracy of their study, in which only the ecological future of the planet is at stake.

For Shekar, it marks the second play produced in the Bay Area. Her historical-themed “House of Joy” played at California Shakespeare Theater in Orinda in 2019. “Queen” plays Wednesday through March 31 at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto.

Tickets are $27-$100; go to

Phil Wong stars as action hero Richard Hannay in San Francisco Playhouse’s new production of “The 39 Steps.” (Courtesy Jessica Palopoli/San Francisco Playhouse)

High-speed Hitchcock: Alfred Hitchcock’s noir murder mysteries are such a staple in popular culture, it’s only natural that the great director’s works would frequently get satire treatment. One of the most consistently amusing of these satires is being staged by San Francisco Playhouse beginning this week.

“The 39 Steps,” by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon, with an award-winning 2005 revision by Patrick Barrow, is ostensibly a spoof of the Hitchcock film and 1915 novel of the same name. But it is as much a demonstration of theatrical agility. How else would you describe a madcap production in which four actors play some 100 characters as it follows the high-speed adventures of protagonist Richard Hannay, who’s kept busy chasing bad folks through the U.K., cracking an international spy ring and, of course, getting the girl. Directed by SF Playhouse producing director and co-founder Susi Damilano, the production stars Phil Wong, Maggie Mason, Greg Ayers and Renee Rogoff.

The show will be in previews Thursday through Tuesday; the main run is March 13-April 20. Performances are at 450 Post St. Tickets are $15-$125. Go to 

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