The Arts Issue

by Various writers and staff December 2, 2014
 

 

art1Welcome back to another seriously stacked Arts issue. Each December, we give you a sneak peek at what to expect from the entertainment scene during the year ahead. This is our fourth Arts issue, and if these 25 pages are any indication, the entertainment calendar for 2015 is going to be bigger and better than any we’ve seen here in a while.

For our coverage this year, we’ve split the section into categories so you can easily find the entertainment style of your choice. There are features on live theater (favorites like The Old Globe and community groups like Lamb’s), music (including the newly revived Opera and our potentially Grammy-nominated Jewish Men’s Choir) plus dance and multi-purpose venues like Poway and Escondido’s arts centers. Each section is complete with a schedule containing information on shows from companies and groups in each category throughout San Diego County.

This year we’ve also expanded the definition of “Arts” to include museums and San Diego-based visual artists. Since 2015 is the centennial of Balboa Park, we thought it only fitting to highlight just a few of the incredible exhibits on display there. And while the visual artists don’t necessarily have shows coming up, you can always contact the artist directly and we’re sure they’d gladly take you on a private tour through their work.

So pull up a chair and grab your calendar, because you’re going to want to make note of all the amazing things going on now through the summer. (Oh and be sure to check back with us in June when we initiate a second Arts issue to cover the summer lineup.)

THEATER

ncrNorth Coast Repertory Theatre

Season 33 permeates with Jewish sensibilities

By Sharon Rosen Leib

“We present as wide a variety of plays as possible in all genres to surprise audience members every time they come to the theater,” David Ellenstein, artistic director of North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach, says.  The five shows on deck for 2015 range from a drama exploring adulterous relationships to a zany, full-on farce. The season features the work of three world-renowned Jewish playwrights/lyricists – Neil Simon, Harold Pinter and Stephen Sondheim. Although none of the shows have explicitly Jewish content, a Jewish sensibility permeates the season.

“Putting together an exciting and interesting season is the most challenging thing I do,” Ellenstein says. “I spend three to four months putting the titles together like a jigsaw puzzle.”

Ellenstein produces these carefully handpicked works in the North Coast Rep’s 194-seat theater. The theater’s size guarantees audience members an authentic, intimate theatrical experience.

Ellenstein chose to get 2015 off to a witty start with the San Diego premiere of  “Gun Metal Blues,” a musical spoof on 1940s film noir. The action takes place in the Red Eye Lounge – a seedy, smoky dive bar – where a tough, Sam-Spade-like private eye, a few blonde dames, and a jaded piano player invite the audience to share the fun. This campy homage to Raymond Chandler runs Jan. 14-Feb. 8.

Next up, NCR presents Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical romantic comedy “Chapter Two.”  The play centers on the recently widowed George Schneider and his neighbor, the newly divorced Jennie, as they date, fall in love and rebuild a life together. Simon based the story on his real-life romance with actress Marsha Mason.

“He was writing from what he knew.  This show is very funny and has quite a bit of heart,” Ellenstein, who will helm the production, says.

“Although ‘Chapter Two’ has no explicit Jewish references, it’s the season’s most Jewish show in the sense that it deals with the themes of a Jewish man in mourning and how he reengages with life after a devastating loss,” he says. His choice to include “Chapter Two” this season honors the enduring legacy of North Coast Rep’s founders as “Chapter Two” was the very first play produced by the theater 33 years ago. The show runs Feb. 25-March 22.

Another San Diego premiere, the season’s third play, “Unnecessary Farce” by Paul Slade Smith, runs from April 15-May 10. The show revolves around an embezzling mayor, his female accountant who can’t keep her clothes on, two undercover cops and a couple of hit men.

“This may be our wildest show ever. It’s a full-out, over-the-top farce with everything thrown in – including the kitchen sink.”

Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter’s masterful drama “Betrayal” will be mounted as the season’s fourth production from June 3-June 28.  Pinter, a British Jew, wrote “Betrayal” after ending his own extramarital affair with a journalist. So, in a dark counterpoint to Simon’s comedy “Chapter Two,” Pinter also knows of what he writes.

Ellenstein describes “Betrayal” as Pinter’s most accessible play. The work employs an innovative dramatic structure using reverse chronological order to trace the seven-year affair from end to beginning. Along the way, Pinter explores how the characters betray themselves and others.

“The play is an interesting look at human behavior and raises many questions which will linger in the audience’s mind long after the show ends.”

“Side by Side by Sondheim,” with music by Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Mary Rodgers, Richard Rodgers and Jule Styne, concludes the season, running from July 15-Aug. 9.  The show is a review of Sondheim’s early work through the mid-1970s. Ellenstein describes the production as “a musical theater-lover’s dream.”

Sondheim, a Jewish composer, has won almost every award imaginable – including one Academy Award, eight Tony Awards, eight Grammy Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. Sondheim celebrated his 84th birthday earlier this year, lauded by legions of fans for his 50-plus years of contribution to American musical theater.

With a great season on the way, Ellenstein strives to make North Coast Rep accessible and affordable to all. The theater gives special rates for groups of 10 or more and discounts for active duty military, students, educators and seniors older than 65.

“We offer a wide variety of price ranges and can make tickets affordable,” Ellenstein says. “We really want students to be able to come and see our shows.

“If we indoctrinate our kids into going to the theater now,” he continues, “they will come back to the theater as grown ups – when they have more time and money,” Ellenstein, who sees part of his mission as cultivating the next generation of theater aficionados, says. He encourages you to celebrate 2015 by taking your family to the theater.

Purchase tickets and learn more at northcoastrep.org.

jcoJ*Company

Family is forever

By Tina Eshel

As the curtain rises and the lights dim, there’s a magical moment right before the start of every production when the audience anticipates what they are about to see. Once the show begins, every connoisseur of the stage knows that the capability of theater to enrich lives cannot be understated.

For 22 seasons, the award-winning youth theater program, J*Company, has done just that and more, shining the brightest light on San Diego’s youngest stars who are spreading their creative wings under the guidance of J*Company’s Artistic Director, Joey Landwehr.

During his tenure with the Company, Landwehr has brought recognition to J*Company in the form of more than 40 industry awards. We spoke with him about the 2014-2015 season and quickly realized that it is his passion for building a home and community, which spreads among all who participate, that is the foundation of J*Company’s star-quality success.

“This is our ‘Forever Family’ season,” Landwehr says. “Each of the shows has something to do with finding your family. It’s about connecting young people with that aspect of their lives.

“This is a season I’ve wanted to do for quite a while,” he continues. “Every show and every season, I want an education component for the audience and cast. We have children that come here from all kinds of family [backgrounds]. It’s important for all kids to realize that yes, they have a family; it’s important to know that all families are different. They might not be in a traditional family…and they are just as valid as anyone else.”

It’s an extraordinary theme for a youth theater group. Landwehr explained that growing up, he had the traditional family and was, “always fascinated when we talked about things in rehearsal, some kids didn’t understand what it’s like for other kids who don’t come from conventional homes.”

His aim with “Forever Family” is to create a sense of extended and meaningful kinship for the audience and cast.

“We are about more than throwing kids on stage and making sure they don’t bump into the furniture. J*Company creates a family experience for kids, a safe, warm and welcoming place for kids, no matter who they are. We do this better than any production company,” he adds with quiet pride.

With that sense of family, J*Company is open to everyone.

“Acting classes are available to children ages 4-18. To be in a show, you have to be 7-18. We have a broad reach with children from Tijuana, East County, Carlsbad,” he says. Interested? Mark your calendar for auditions for “Annie” on Jan. 5-6 with callbacks on Jan. 7 and rehearsal on Jan. 19. For JCC members, the production fee is $215. For nonmembers, it is $255.

“Scholarships are available for talented kids who don’t have the family economics,” Landwehr, who is emphatic about charitable outreach to bring more kids to theater and more theater to kids, says.

“We’ve started something very important this season,” he explains. “It’s called our Random Acts of Culture program. It is a great way to bring families from underserved areas of San Diego to live theater.”

Through the support of corporate sponsors, J*Company designates one performance from each production as a “Random Acts of Culture” performance, during which every seat in the theatre is made open and available to underserved San Diego youth and their families. J*Company is currently soliciting donors to fund this program.

Visit sdcjc.org/jc for performance information or to support the “Random Acts of Culture” program.

oldglobeThe Old Globe

A season for every mood

By Natalie Jacobs

We’re in the middle of an incredible season at The Old Globe. November saw the close of “Bright Star,” Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s folkie-fun musical based in the post-war south, and “The Royale,” the gripping tale of an African American in the highly segregated world of boxing in the early 1900s. If you’re pinching yourself for missing these (and no one would blame you), the rest of the season promises to be just as good so pick out your favorites and get tickets now.

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” will take over until Dec. 27 and then the season will pick back up Jan. 24 with “Murder for Two,” a hilarious and wacky musical with two actors, one who plays the detective and the other who plays all 10 suspects.

“The range and variety of the season is enormous,” Globe Artistic Director Barry Edelstein said in a 2014-2015 season announcement earlier this year.

Edelstein will direct “The Twenty-Seventh Man,” a powerful story of the final Yiddish writer to be forced into Soviet prison in 1952, running Feb. 14-March 15 in the intimate White Theatre (look for a full feature on this production in our February issue). The season then turns back to musicals with the long-awaited San Diego debut of the widely known “genius of American theater,” Mary Zimmerman. The play, which NPR called “strikingly beautiful,” is an enchanted staging of a classic Chinese fable where a gentle serpent transforms into a beautiful woman. When she falls in love with a handsome young man, the serpent woman decides to stay human forever, until a wicked monk vows to destroy her.

The season brings back the laughs with “Buyer & Cellar” April 4-May 3. This “totally fictional” Off Broadway hit imagines a scenario where Barbra Streisand creates a mini-mall of memorabilia in her basement and hires an out-of-work actor to man the shop. As you can imagine, Barbra Streisand is one tough customer (and being that she is his only customer, there’s really no escape for this poor fella). As the actor-turned-shopkeeper slowly goes mad, the audience will laugh uncontrollably at the absurdity of it all.

The season takes a romantic turn with George Bernard Shaw’s classic “Arms and the Man.” This “most romantic comedy” explores the confusing place where soon-to-be-married Raina Petkoff finds herself – between love for her heroic soldier fiancé or the intriguing possibilities presented when a strange man lands, literally, underneath her bed. Touted as “one of the wittiest and most charming plays of the English stage,” San Diego audiences won’t want to miss this “smart and silly” tale of love and war.

Finishing up the season will be “Rich Girl,” May 23-June 21. Exploring the complicated relationship between mother and daughter, this play, based on the Henry James novel “Washington Square,” gives us Claudine, the awkward and shy daughter of a wealthy and famous woman who casts a very large shadow. Conflict arises when Claudine is swept away by a charming artist. Her mother not only disapproves of the artist but thinks the man is only interested in Claudine for her money. It’s a moving story of love, relationships, money and the difficulties of intertwining the three.

Purchase subscriptions or single-night tickets at theoldglobe.org.

sdrepSan Diego Repertory Theatre

Making familiar stories new again

By Natalie Jacobs

If you attended the 20th annual Lipinsky Family Jewish Arts Festival, you might recognize the title “Steal Heaven.” Playwright and actor Herbert Siguenza and San Diego Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Todd Salovey staged a reading of the political comedy as part of the annual county-wide theater event back in 2013, all the while thinking ahead to its premiere in the REP’s 2014-2015 season. And without further ado, it has arrived.

The show, written by Siguenza and based on the life and writings of the “bad-boy” political and social activist Abbott “Abbie” Hoffman, imagines the man looking down from heaven, dismayed at the state of activism today. With the need to get involved apparently embedded deep into his eternal soul, the dead Hoffman conducts a “boot camp for activists” in Heaven who want to get back down to Earth to shake things up for the better. The play promises to be a hilarious but also critical look at the state of activist affairs today. Catch it at the REP Jan. 3-25.

Rounding out the 2014-2015 season are three plays that are also built from stories you may have some knowledge of, but their theatrical reimaginings will have you seeing them from new and different angles. Next up after “Steal Heaven” is “Oedipus El Rey,” an adult look at the classic tale of Oedipus Rex, running March 7-29. Then comes “Uncanny Valley,” April 11-May 10. This is a ripped-from-the-headlines type story that sounds too crazy to be real, but in actuality it is, almost. The play explores challenges of artificial intelligence that make possible the ability to download a human’s thoughts and memories into a computer. The play posits that this computer comes in the form of a human-like robot. Things get complicated from there. Finishing off the season, May 15-June 21 is “Everybody’s Talkin: The Music of Harry Nilsson.”  This show explores the special genius of the two-time Grammy Award winner (“and legendary hell-raiser”) responsible for some of the catchiest songs of our generation.

Get season details and buy tickets at sdrep.org.

lambsLamb’s Players Theatre

The lovely local

By Eileen Sondak

The Lamb’s Players put Coronado on the theatrical map when they renovated the theater on Orange Avenue in 1994 and began showcasing highly professional productions. Since then, the plucky organization has had several mega-hits, including a memorable production of “Fiddler on the Roof” and its most recent blockbuster, “Les Miserables.”

The Lamb’s can handle anything from classics to world premieres. Its own family of artists creates annual holiday shows. With 100 associate artists, the Lamb’s prides itself on employing more local actors than any other company.

The Lamb’s winter season will kick off Feb. 13, and feature Kaufman and Hart’s masterpiece, “You Can’t Take it With You,” a humorous romp set in the Great Depression. That comic confection will reside in Coronado through March 22. Next on the roster is “Freud’s Last Session,” which had its premiere at the North Coast Rep last month. This exhilarating meeting of the minds between Freud and C.S. Lewis will run at Lamb’s April 10-May 17.

“West Side Story,” a modern re-telling of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” will bring the brilliant music of Leonard Bernstein to the Lamb’s stage June 12-July 19. “The Nerd,” follows Aug. 14-Sept. 20, and to culminate the season on a high note, look for a new musical adaptation of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” This highly-anticipated show will take up residency Oct. 9-Nov. 15.

There’s something for everyone in this year’s theatrical potpourri. As Smyth noted, “It’s like trying to put out a good meal. You want a variety of different flavors. In ‘Wizard of Oz,’ we thought, ‘How can we do it a little differently, and we actually went back to the book.’”

You can bet the Lamb’s will put its own unique stamp on every show it presents – and that usually translates to a satisfying evening of entertainment for San Diego audiences.

Learn more and purchase tickets at lambsplayers.org.

sdmtSan Diego Musical Theatre

Changing time

By Natalie Jacobs

San Diego Musical Theatre produced their first show, “The Full Monty,” in 2007. At the time, they were performing at the North Park Theatre. The nonprofit company called that space “home” for their first season of four productions. But then they had to re-station to East County for their second season. Like an always-ready gypsy, the company took the moves in stride as they settled into the Lyceum Theatre for a few more seasons and then bounced back to the North Park Theatre for their last three seasons.

For 2015, San Diego Musical Theatre will show at their fourth venue in eight years, at the historic Spreckles Theatre on Broadway downtown.

“We would love to have our own venue,” says Erin Lewis, producing artistic director for the Musical Theatre.

But the right space is hard to find in San Diego. To make all the numbers add up, the theater needs to have 700-800 seats. Without many existing buildings to choose from, SD Musical Theatre would need to build their own, which would require an investor or a committed coalition of people who could go in on it together and share the space.

While finding a permanent home is always in the backs of their minds, the show must go on for San Diego Musical Theatre, wherever they may be. The 2015 season at Spreckles will feature four shows: “West Side Story,” Feb. 13-March 1; “Singin’ in the Rain,” May 22-June 7; “La Cage Aux Folles,” Sept. 25-Oct. 11; and “White Christmas,” Nov. 27-Dec. 6. Each show boasts the SDMT’s standard live orchestra (they’re the only musical theatre company to do this in San Diego).

Tickets for the 2015 season are on sale now. Visit sdmt.org.

MUSIC

SDOperalaboheme01 copySan Diego Opera

Back on its feet and rarin’ to go

By Pat Launer

You’ve heard of “A Night at the Opera.” How about “A Year at the Opera?” This year, 2014, was such an emotional (and financial) roller coaster for the venerable San Diego Opera that the story itself is worthy of an opera.

Last March, General Director/Artistic Director/CEO Ian Campbell announced that he was shutting down the company, because the future looked bleak (though there was actually no debt, and money in the bank). The Board hadn’t been notified of the vote to close. A majority of those present at the announcement supported the leader.

Then, Carol Lazier (now Board President) came forward and insisted on saving the Opera. Some Board members walked out with Campbell. But Lazier kicked in $1 million of her own money and the community positioned itself strongly behind her. Through a crowdfunding campaign, the Opera raised another $2.1 million dollars (half from first-time donors, hailing from six countries and 36 states). With that, the 2015, 50th anniversary season was back on track.

Though we’re only just barely out of the woods, nobody at the Opera is dwelling on the past. They’re all upbeat, forward-looking, and ready to face the future, already working on booking the 2017 season. A national search for an artistic director is well on its way.

The Opera lured William Mason, long-time General Director of Lyric Opera Chicago, out of retirement to serve as Artistic Advisor during this transitional period (his 6-month contract terminates at the end of the month). Meanwhile, an executive search company is spearheading the quest for new artistic leadership.

Mason noted that, “given the history of the company, the Board was not as active as it could have been.”

Now, however, thanks to Lazier, the 26 members are “bright, involved, interested and dedicated. They believe in the company and want it to succeed.”

In tinkering with the 2015 season, Mason helped fill in some singers (“a handful of people had already taken other engagements”). In cost-cutting measures, the company laid off 13 full-time staff (now down to 30), reduced the annual budget from $17 million to $10.5 million, and reduced the number of operas from four to three (there were six a year in the late ’70s), and moved their corporate offices out of Civic Plaza, which alone saved the group $400,000 a year.

“In some ways,” says the low-key, laid-back Mason, “it’s the best thing that could have happened. It revitalized the company. Some people are calling it SDO 2.0. I feel very good about what’s happening.”

He’s excited about the intimate concerts that have been added. Stephen Costello and Aylin Pérez were a sellout in September. Stephanie Blythe (Dec. 11), doing a Kate Smith tribute, presents “a terrific entertaining concert; she has a sensational voice and an outsized personality.”

Opera leaders are not forever

“There is a shelf-life [for opera management],” Mason says. “I think 10-15 years for running an opera company is enough; time to let someone else do it. Music is a whole different world now, and the opera needs people of that world. It needs to change with the times.”

For example, he notes that “Nixon in China,” the still-relevant 1987 John Adams opera, a San Diego debut that’s third on the 2015 bill, was written to be amplified.

“The [important] thing is to keep opera alive,” Mason continues, “because music and theater are terribly important to us. They’re in our genes.”

In response to the naysayers who think the company is moving away from traditional opera, he asserts, “we’re dedicated to grand opera, but we also want to have recitals and other smaller productions, to bring opera to the community.” This year, there are two recitals and one mariachi opera. In 2016, a family-friendly, one-man “Christmas Carol” will play in North County and at the Balboa Theatre.

Mason, whose father is Jewish, mentions that the New Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv is one of his favorite companies and cities.

Though not Jewish, SDO executive Keith Fisher grew up in Jewish neighborhoods – from Newton, Mass., a suburb of Boston, to North Miami Beach.

“I love hamantashen,” he says, “and I make a pretty mean kugel.”

The Fisher-man of SDO

Fisher has been at San Diego Opera for 12 years, moving up to executive director and now, chief operating officer. His background was in the Internet/startup world.

“I knew nothing about opera,” Fisher admits. “But Ian wanted an MBA from the business world. Ian mentored me about opera, voice, productions. He loved sharing his knowledge. I’m very grateful. I was able to experience opera around the world.

“We’re really happy in our new offices,” the affable Fisher adds. “It may be 50 percent smaller, but it’s part of a new, fresh start. It fits us.”

Fisher had been “pushing to move here for years” – to the fifth-floor offices on A Street, a few blocks from their old administrative home at the Civic Theatre. It makes sense, since the costume shop is just one flight up from the new digs.

“Everyone’s feeling very optimistic, but we can’t fool ourselves. We’re all concerned about the certainty of the future – but aren’t all arts organizations?

“The crucial next step is the naming of our next general director,” Fisher says. “We hope to be able to announce the choice during the 2015 season.

“What we need is not only an executive who’s excellent and enthusiastic, and can fuel the fundraising fire, but someone who can work well in the American opera model. We don’t have endless budgets, six-week rehearsal periods or a national subsidy, like in Europe.

“I’m excited that all three productions in the 2015 season have never been seen before in San Diego. In times past, it would be the same production we’ve had for the last 20 years. This time, the productions will be fresh and new: ‘Bohème’ from the English National Opera, ‘Don Giovanni’ from Cincinnati and ‘Nixon’ from Houston, where it premiered.”

Campbell’s “formula,” Fisher says, “was to present the top 10 operas every 10 years, in the same production, that we [the SDO] owned. That’s hard for our audiences, because we remember with our eyes as well as our ears.”

Despite all the turbulence of the year, Artistic Advisor Bill Mason reiterates, “morale is very good. We remain hopeful, optimistic and excited about the future of the company.”

The San Diego Opera 2015 season opens with the beloved classic, Puccini’s “La Bohème” (Jan. 24-Feb. 1), followed by Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” (Feb. 14-22) and John Adams’ “Nixon in China” (March 14-22). There will also be a 50th anniversary concert (April 18-19) and two performances of a mariachi opera, “El Pasado Nunca se Termina,” by José “Pepe Martinez (April 25).

Performances are Saturday, Tuesday and Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets available at (619) 232-7636; sdopera.com

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Summer IntensiveSan Diego Symphony

New CEO, new plans, new ideas

Pat Launer

She’s only been on the job for 2 ½ months, but she’s settled in quite comfortably. She’s already extremely knowledgeable about the history and the needs of the San Diego Symphony.

She’s Martha Gilmer, the new CEO of the Symphony, who began her 3-year term on Sept. 24. Her predecessor, Edward “Ward” Gill, stepped down after a decade of achievement that culminated with the orchestra’s successful 2013 debut at Carnegie Hall and in China.

Gilmer has a music degree, specializing in piano, from Northwestern University. She spent 35 years with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, one of the world’s greatest. In 1976, she started as a student intern, working her way up to vice president for artistic planning and audience development.

Gilmer hits San Diego running

“After meeting Board members, musicians and staff leadership, including beloved Music Director Jahja Ling,” says Gilmer from her attractive new office, “I felt a shared passion for continued artistic growth.”

On first hearing the Symphony perform last May, she exclaimed, “I was blown away. I thought the orchestra was fantastic.”

As for her plans, Gilmer humbly says, “I hope what I bring is leadership – by motivating and bringing staff and musicians on board as a team and listening to them. There are lots of people with lots of ideas, but listening is what makes real leadership. I think I’m a good listener. And I love collaborating.”

When she arrived, Gilmer found “a very generous community of support, and a kind of openness in-house, a spirit that moved me, that said, ‘Come and take us in new directions.’”

The Board struck Gilmer as “devoted omnivores of culture: symphony, opera and theater.”

For her part, she played classical piano since the age of 4 ½. “But now, my preferred seat is in the audience.” Her three sons, ages 26, 23 and 20, are all musically inclined, though none works professionally in the field.

As are all arts leaders, Gilmer is anxious to encourage young people to attend the Symphony.

“This will be a program for first-timers, people who think classical music is too high-brow…I really think it’s ‘I don’t know how to listen to it. I don’t want to feel dumb.’

“If you give people tools, they don’t have to worry about the technical musical terms. Introduce them to something about the composer and what they were thinking at the time they wrote the piece. Introduce a musical theme and show how it comes back again, modified. We need to be able to talk to young people about the music.”

She’s “really committed to reaching out to the community. I want to shine a light on the Symphony. I want them to perform in the Central Library, an office plaza, a youth or community center, so people can see the musicians in an intimate environment, then come and see them here. We want the Jacobs Music Center/Copley Symphony Hall to be a gateway.

“You enter this beautiful 21st Century lobby, and you suddenly go back in time to this jewel of a building, originally built for movies. There’s so much architectural detail that was being missed in the darkness. I requested some lighting, so you can see the arch around the stage and the main chandelier of dancing girls, and the amazing colors of the cornice. The new lighting completely changes the look of the theater.”

Gilmer considers the Symphony musicians to be “a very cohesive ensemble, made up of very talented musicians. There’s a rich amateur musician community, too. In many ways, but most prominently musically, I’m very very happy to be here. In this crazy world, music really has the ability to center you, feed your soul.”

Among the upcoming performances this season are special concerts and guest artists, including world-renowned violinist Pinchas Zukerman in three different appearances during his two-week residency (March 21, 24, 27-28).

San Diegans will also enjoy local Christian Hoff and the rest of the original cast of the La Jolla Playhouse-launched musical megahit, “Jersey Boys,” in “The Midtown Men” (March 6-7), as part of the City Lights series. Gilmer is looking forward to the celebration of acclaimed film composer John Williams, with Williams conducting (Jan. 30-31); and as part of the Family Fest, “Girl Power,” a kid-friendly Mother’s Day concert honoring women in music (May 10).

And, as part of the Jacobs Masterworks series, acclaimed violinist Gil Shaham will play “Fragile Light,” a world premiere concerto by David Bruce, with SDS Music Director Jahja Ling conducting.

Gilmer loves to spotlight musicians.

“He’s one of the best,” she says of Shaham. “So unprepossessing, so down-to-earth; and that comes through in his playing. How exciting to play a new piece by a living composer!”

The Bruce violin concerto is the third world premiere the composer has created for the San Diego Symphony in the past year.

Acclaimed violinist Gil Shaham and a new concerto

“I’m super-excited about being there at the birth of a new work,” says the youthful and delightful Shaham. “I find [Bruce’s] music very beautiful and kind of mesmerizing. I think audiences will find it readily accessible.”

Though he was born in Illinois, Shaham grew up speaking Hebrew; his parents are proud 10th-generation Israelis (they came to the Midwest for post-doc science work). Gil moved to Israel when he was 2, but returned to the U.S. at age 11, to attend the “pre-college” program at Juilliard. The family initially intended to stay for a year, “but 33 years later, we’re still all in New York. For music, it’s incredible.”

Shaham is known for his flawless technical skill and the warmth and generosity of his spirit. In 2008, the multi-Grammy Award winner was named Musical America’s “Instrumentalist of the Year.”

On the subject of his 1699 Stradivarius, he claims, “all violinists are a little neurotic. If we cross the street and a car hits, it’s you first, not the violin.”

He remains appreciative of those who helped him along the way.

“I try to help young musicians. Tikkun olam helps others, and it makes us feel good, too.”

Shaham’s wife, Adele Anthony, is a pianist. Their 12- and 9-year old children play music; the 3 year-old hasn’t yet declared herself.

“There’s something about the music bug that’s very contagious,” Shaham says. “One becomes infected.”

Both Gilmer and Shaham hope that you, too, get bitten this Symphony season.

The extensive San Diego Symphony season continues through April 2015. Pricing: $20-$96, available at (619) 235-0804; sandiegosymphony.org.

ljscLJ Symphony and Chorus

Studying the nature of things

By Natalie Jacobs

The 60th anniversary season of the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus got underway in November but you’ve only missed one performance if you haven’t yet purchased a subscription. Each season, the music company chooses a theme to explore through a series of performances held November through June. This year, they’re looking at “The Nature of Things.”

December’s performance is “on the nature of the democratic impulse and the effacement of obstacles” with a musical tour of the ruins of the Berlin Wall through Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony” and an African American declaration of freedom with William Grant Still’s “Afro-American Symphony of 1930.”

In February, LJSC tackles “the nature of reflection,” with cellist Maya Beiser. Tenor John Tiranno of the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus will accompany the LJSC in March to explore “the nature of renewal” and Hector Berlioz’s “Requiem.”  Both shows will be conducted by LJSC Musical Director Steven Schick.

The final two performances explore the ever esoteric “nature of the space between us all” and “the nature of utterance,” in May and June, respectively. “Space” will feature Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphony No. 1 ‘Jeremiah,’” Yeung-ping Chen’s “The Moon in La Jolla” (commissioned for the Symphony Chorus) and Charles Ives’s “Symphony No. 2.” “Utterance” will close out the anniversary season with Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto,” and Jonathan Dove’s “There was a Child.” Priti Gandhi, soprano, Annelle Gregory, violin, and Edward Mout, tenor, will guest star with the company.

Tickets are available at (858) 534-4637. View more details at lajollasymphony.com.

jmcSan Diego Jewish Men’s Choir

Consistently going above and beyond

By Natalie Jacobs

“We started out thinking we are just these guys who are going to do a couple of old liturgical pieces here and there together,” says Shaun Edelstein, Board Director and original member of the San Diego Jewish Men’s Choir.

What started 16 years ago with a group of seven men looking to use their gifted voices to preserve traditional Jewish music has morphed into something much larger. Now there are 25 active members who sing to audiences large and small throughout San Diego County, and last year saw the release of their first record. The record, “Heritage,” was released to such critical acclaim (including a Global Music Award) that the group was encouraged to submit it for a number of different categories in this year’s Grammy Awards. “Heritage” has been officially accepted into the first round of the Grammy competition. Through that process, the group has been offered many other wide-ranging opportunities they could never have dreamed of.

“I think that is the beauty of our choir,” Edelstein says. “We have been able to morph ourselves into a group that is capable and up to participating in incredible wide-ranging projects and keep to our goal and our inspiration.”

In addition to concerts, weddings, ceremonies, shows at nursing homes and in synagogues, the Jewish Men’s Choir will have a song in a new documentary called “Forever Strong,” about the survivors of the U.S.S. Indianapolis. The group is also in talks with a Bollywood filmmaker to create songs that mix traditional music with ancient instruments like sitar.

On top of all that, the group is working toward their second album, “Legacy,” which they hope to release in Dec. 2015. Visit sdjmc.org for details on upcoming shows and to order a copy of “Heritage.”

secondaveklez2nd Ave. Klezmer

Revival going mainstream?

By Tina Eshel

Since its reintroduction into the Jewish music scene of the 1970s, klezmer has entertained audiences with its “old world” harmonics. Klezmer is the music of Central and Eastern European Jewry, the songs of a time forgone but not forgotten, and thanks to bands like Second Avenue Klezmer, a local group that has entertained San Diegans since 1991, the music continues to delight.

“Tradition has never been so much fun,” says lead singer, Deborah Davis. The band plays a lot of concerts, weddings and bar and bat mitzvot. Surprisingly perhaps to some, klezmer’s appeal extends outside the tribe.

“We’ve been performing for many years and are established. A third of our client’s aren’t Jewish. We play a lot of multi-cultural festivals and at many churches.”

The band recently received the California Arts Council touring grant, testament to their universal appeal and to the importance of klezmer to the world music scene.

The response from first-time listeners to the unique sounds of Second Avenue Klezmer is always favorable, says Davis, who is classically trained and can sing in 12 languages.

“People love to clap their hands and stomp their feet to the great rhythms. Many tunes are cross-cultural and people are often surprised when they hear familiar tunes such as swing music and learn that the origins are Jewish.”

The quintet, which includes Davis on vocals, Robert Zelickman on clarinet, Jiri Fvoboda on guitar, Bob Weller on drums and Bert Puretzki on bass, specializes in the Judeo Spanish sounds of ladino music. Besides bringing musical joy to its listeners, Second Avenue Klezmer wants to leave a legacy for future generations.

“We have kids in the audience, sometimes teenagers and little ones,” Davis says. “I want them to hear the gift of the music that their parents and grandparents heard.”

For more info and public show dates, visit secondavenueklezmer.com.

mainlymozartMainly Mozart

Newly appointed music director leads 27th season

By Natalie Jacobs

Normally, anniversary celebrations are saved for the half-decades. Something about numbers in multiples of five calls for honor and prestige, but Mainly Mozart is bucking the trend with a 27th season of musical fireworks. And why not celebrate every year with equal vigor?

Part of the reason Mainly Mozart is pulling out all the stops now is because they’re welcoming a new music director. Maestro Michael Francis joined the team “where genius lives,” in October but the 2015 season marks his musical debut with the company.

There are special shows scheduled all year long – about five per month – but the music really pops off during the orchestral season in June.

“Through a brilliantly curated selection of both favorites and works that have never been performed during the Festival, the Mainly Mozart Festival Orchestra will both pay homage to what Founding Music Director David Atherton achieved and offer a hint to future programming in the next era,” Mainly Mozart said in their season announcement.

Orchestra lovers will have plenty of extraordinary concerts to choose from, starting on June 6 with a three-part show featuring “Mozart Symphony No. 35 in D Major ‘Haffner’ K. 385,” “Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467” and “Beethoven Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92.” The Festival continues with different concerts and guest artists on June 10, 13, 17 and 20. All shows take place at the Balboa Theatre.

To purchase tickets and read up on the whole Mainly Mozart season, visit mainlymozart.org.

VISUAL ART

cathybreslawCathy Breslaw

Playing with light

By Natalie Jacobs

Cathy Breslaw just completed her show “Contemplation” at the Gotthelf Gallery where she presented an array of pieces made with materials like layered mesh, paint, wire and fabric.

“I have always been fascinated by the concept of light as it is expressed in art but also how it is perceived in our physical environment,” Breslaw says in her artist statement. “Radiance, translucence, and luminosity are all words that come to mind when describing thoughts behind the intent of my work. Just as natural light can warm and enlighten us, I think of the various layers of color and transparency experienced in the materials I use to create my work.”

These two pieces, “Metamorphosis” (RIGHT), and “Spirit Moves” (BOTTOM) were featured in the Gotthelf show. Breslaw works out of San Diego and has had exhibitions around the country. See more of her work at cathybreslaw.com.

artsaboundYael Gmach

The newcomer

By Natalie Jacobs

New to the art of painting but not to the joys of creating, this piece, measuring 5’x5,’ is only the second work completed by Yael Gmach. It is called “My Moons” and is signed with its message instead of the standard signature in the bottom right. Regularly in the business of custom framing, Gmach has long been an appreciator of art and those who collect it. The mood of her Solana Beach shop, Once Upon a Frame, is one of adventure where true expression thrives.

“Anyone can put a white mat and a black frame around something they admire, but to find what it is that makes their art and its presentation custom to their taste is one of our jobs,” Gmach, who has run her business for 15 years, says.

A multi-faceted artist, Gmach is also a singer in a gypsy musical ensemble, Big Boss Bubeleh. Visit onceuponaframce.com for more information on Gmach and her work.

gotthelfGotthelf Gallery

The gallery at the JCC will no doubt surprise you

By Natalie Jacobs

Behind an unassuming door on the ground floor of the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center lives the Gotthelf Gallery, a big white room reserved for Jewish artists from a variety of disciplines. Just like any major gallery you’d find downtown or along Prospect St. in La Jolla, Gotthelf Gallery curators host one show for a couple of months at a time, with an opening reception to kick everything off. The Gallery just wrapped up “Contemplation,” a showcase of San Diego artist Cathy Breslaw and her imaginative abstract forms of painting, sculpture and installation.

Opening this month at the gallery is “Hanan Harchol: Jewish Food for Thought,” running Dec. 10-Feb. 25. Harchol is a multimedia artist, born in Israel, who moved to the U.S. as a child. Attendees of the San Diego Jewish Film Festival may recognize Harchol from his animation “The Nuclear Physicist Sings to the Seventies” which won an audience favorite award at the 2004 festival.

While Harchol is a multimedia artist who paints, draws, animates and creates videos, this solo exhibition will focus on his animated series. Seven large vertical “tapestries” of stills will be arranged into comic strips and projected into the gallery. The works explore big questions discussed between himself and his father, an Israeli nuclear physicist. The panels touch on apology, forgiveness, gratitude, love, fear, and humility, among other things, and all with a healthy sense of humor.

Later in 2015, look for “Seeing is Believing: A Reinvention of Articles of Faith,” a rare group show that asks artists to contemplate how faith meshes with contemporary life, the role of ritual and symbolism, and the metamorphosis of traditional symbols as they become immersed in popular culture.

Get information on past, present and future shows at sdcjc.org/gag.

mcasdMCASD

Feats of contemporary proportions

By Natalie Jacobs

The 2015 exhibition schedule at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is huge, literally. With 16 shows at two locations, the main focus of the year is to devote significant space to feats of scale, time and material. That means the works will not only be physically giant, they’ll also be intricately detailed and/or made from unusual materials.

The Jack Whitten retrospective, which covers his 50 years of painting, runs on through Jan. 4 in La Jolla, and the Rita McBride installations will stay put downtown until Feb. 8. But after that, 2015 is in full swing for the Museum.

“Laugh-in: Art, Comedy, Performance” will be a huge group show (more than 20 artists and collectives) that studies comedic performance as contemporary art. “Gifts from Robert and Dorothy Shapiro” will technically be a group show too, highlighting the expansive collection of these long-time museum supporters. The other group show for the year, the annual “Prospect” exhibition will run May 9-Sept. 6, 2015, also in La Jolla.

The rest of the MCASD 2015 calendar will feature individual artists from a broad range of specialties. “Dear Nemesis” will feature the mid-career works of Nicole Eisenman, American printmaker, painter and drawer known for her expert ability to oscillate between the high and low brows. “Monumental Works” by El Anatsui will transform found materials such as printing plates, milk tin lids and aluminum liquor bottle caps into large installations at the downtown location March 5-June 28. Anya Gallacio’s site-specific installations will pick up where Anatsui leaves off downtown July 16-Nov. 1. Instead of found objects, Gallacio will use organic materials like flowers and fruit, sugar and even ice to explore the spatial and geological properties of Southern California’s rugged terrain.

For information on all of the exhibits scheduled for 2015 at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, visit mcasd.org.

Madonna of the RosesSan Diego Museum of Art

The Monuments Men

By Brie Stimson

Among the San Diego Museum of Art’s expansive permanent collection, two paintings currently on display highlight the tragic history of the Holocaust.

An Italian Renaissance painter, under the pseudonym Pseudo Pier Francesco Fiorentino,  completed the first of the two, “Madonna of the Roses,” in the late 15th Century.

Auguste Lederer, a wealthy Jewish man from Vienna, who owned the largest distillery company in Europe, purchased the painting sometime before the War. After Lederer died in 1936, his wife Serena inherited the collection.

In 1938, the Nazis began passing laws which required all Jews living within the Reich to register their property and then the Nazis went to work confiscating everything they could get their hands on. Serena Lederer’s paintings were seized, intended for Hitler’s super-museum in his hometown of Linz, Austria.

“As the war started turning against Germany and there was bombings and the Russians were coming from the East and the allies from the West, [Jews] started stashing all of their art collections in safe places … the most popular ones were salt mines, which, because of the low ground, were safe from bombing,” Dr. James Grebl, associate curator of research, archives, and provenance at the SDMA, says. “They established several of those and one of the biggest … was outside of Salzburg, Austria, called Altausse. It was up in the mountains and truly remote. So over time they amassed about 5 to 6,000 artworks there. They stashed it in a very deep set of caverns where they had been mining salt for centuries,” Grebl continues.

Many important works including ones by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Rubens were stored in the salt mines.

The Monuments Men, a small group of historians, architects, professors, and museum curators in a special allied military unit, discovered the paintings in the salt mines in 1945.

“Some local people, former miners who dug salt and other people in the village – kind of resistance fighters – led the allies to it and rescued it,” Grebl explains.

The Monuments Men then shipped the paintings back to Munich to be inventoried and returned to the countries of origin.

By this time, Serena Lederer had died, and her son Erik was identified as the owner. It took until 1954, however, for him to retrieve “Madonna of the Roses” because the Austrian government tried to hold many of the works hostage.

Erik had fled to Switzerland during the war, and the government claimed the pieces could not leave Austria. Lederer chose to stay in Switzerland. Not fond of old paintings, he sold the piece to the founder of Time magazine, Henry Luce, who bought it for his wife. After Henry died, his wife sold the painting to Armand Hammer who eventually donated it to the San Diego Museum of Art.

The second painting rescued by the Monuments Men, now housed at SDMA is “Cardinal Étienne-René Potier de Gesvres,” by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni. Painted in 1758, it was purchased legally by Hitler in Paris. The painting found its way, as well, to the Altausse salt mine where the Monuments Men recovered it and sent it back to France.

“[The French] don’t know who to give it back to because it was legally bought by Hitler. Hitler’s dead so they auction[ed] it,” Grebl says.

Eventually the SDMA purchased “Cardinal” at another auction.

Somewhere between five and six million artworks were recovered by the so-called Monuments Men, but unfortunately many of the paintings have not been retuned to the owners due to lack of documentation or governments claiming patrimony.

“There’s still a lot of loose ends,” Grebl says.

These two rare pieces are on display on the second floor of the SDMA. They are part of the permanent collection but may rotate in and out of showing. Visit sdmart.org for more information.

thenatSan Diego Natural History Museum

King Tut and the art of the ancient world

By Natalie Jacobs

The San Diego Natural History Museum is not an art museum. Its mission is to explore and understand the natural world and yet there are two exhibits currently on display that put art front and center. The results are beautiful representations of nature and history portrayed in ways that only artists can execute. First, the “Best of Nature Photography Show” presents, as the title suggests, the “best” in amateur and professional nature photography from San Diego and around the world. That show stays on view in the Ordover Gallery until Feb. 1.

The big one that explores natural history through an artistic lens is “The Discovery of King Tut” which is spread out through two distinct areas of the museum until April 26, 2015. This show features exquisitely crafted artistic renderings of the artifacts found in the storied tomb of King Tutankhamun. Equally as interesting as the artifacts found in the tomb is the story of the man who discovered it, himself originally an artist, Englishman Howard Carter.

“He fell in love with Egypt as a very young boy,” says David Silverman, an Egyptologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania who worked with Premiere Exhibitions to ensure the accuracy of the traveling “King Tut” exhibit. “But [Carter] was an artist and so he went to Egypt as a teenager and hired himself out to do drawings. He was so gifted that they began to train him as an archaeologist.”

And with that, Carter became obsessed with the idea of finding King Tut’s tomb. He was hired to lead excavations in the Valley of the Kings, where all Egyptian royalty of the time were entombed. After years of little success, Carter’s funder was growing tired of the expense and in 1922 informed Carter that he would support his work for only one more season. Then on Nov. 4, almost literally at the last possible moment, Carter discovered steps, a sealed door and a secret chamber. He knew it belonged to King Tut even before he made it to the innermost chamber where the sarcophagus rested, on Feb. 26, 1923.

For Silverman, the story of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb is one of perseverance and determination, of one man’s unflinching belief in the existence of something extraordinary.

“He took every opportunity to do what he wanted to do,” Silverman says of Carter. “In most cases, if you do that, you’re going to have a happy life. … Do what you want to do and it will lead to good things. I think that’s part of the message of the exhibition.”

The last time the real artifacts from King Tut’s tomb were allowed to leave Egypt was in 2005. During that exhibition, 50 pieces were toured throughout the United States. Prior to that, a smaller exhibit was toured throughout the world from 1976-1979.

“The ideal place for historic objects is in a dark room that nobody ever goes into,” says Mark Lach of Premiere Exhitions, producer of the “King Tut” exhibit. “But then, of course, nobody ever sees them.

“With the ability now to scan objects, to do high resolution digital printing, 3-D printing, you hear more and more about [exhibitions of artistic reproductions]. And maybe five, 10 years ago we would have thought that was crazy, but objects can’t tour forever. Nothing can truly replace going to Egypt and seeing the real objects,” he adds, “but if we’re able to bring reproductions of a high quality then I think we’re doing a good thing.”

The Ancient Egyptians ruled for approximately 3,000 years and had many more influential and powerful rulers than King Tut. And yet, King Tut’s story is the one we learn most about in school, the one we flock to at musuems. That’s partially because the tomb was the most in-tact tomb ever found in the Valley of the Kings (because he was so young when he died, King Tut’s tomb was finished in a hurry and therefore built in a much different style and thus hidden from robbers, and archaeologists). But Egyptologist Silverman believes that there’s something more that we can relate to in King Tut.

“It has all the elements of a good story,” he says. “There was this little-known king whose tomb, burial and life story isn’t known for thousands of years. And it was found through luck, mostly.

“When you hear about the story of Tutankhamun,” he continues, “he was a very young boy who was in a place where he probably never expected to be, at the center of a religious revolution. … His father made a change in a religion that had already existed for over 1,500 years and changed the capital, changed the art, actually changed the way the language was written as well.

“When you think about everything that he [King Tut’s father] did, concepts of kingship, religion, art, the architecture, all in a period of about 17 years, and then if you give him a couple on either end and then add the period of Tutankhamun, it should come out to a period of about 30-some-odd years of religious revolution. And then in days it goes back.

“In a modern-day analogy, it’s like what happened in Russia. Communism came in, churches were closed, religion wasn’t allowed to be mentioned … [then] everything changed [back].”

The incredible thing about exploring the artifacts on display at the Natural History Museum is that they put a lot of the story into perspective. Even though they are not the actual items, the sheer volume is incredible, and then when you think about the detail, the minutae that was found with the tomb, it’s mindboggling. Add to that the idea that each of these pieces was recreated by contemporary Egyptian artists and there’s plenty to chew on long after you finish walking through the exhibition.

“Artifacts tell us something about the people of Egypt,” Silverman says. “We no longer think of them as a dead society. We realize they had a real purpose, a religion, a government,” love and social lives, wars and domestic disputes – all the trappings of modernity, minus the cell phones and the Internet.

Of all the pieces in the exhibit, more than 1,000 in total, Silverman’s favorite piece is the torso of the King, a nondescript and largely unexplained piece found in one of the outer chambers of the tomb. The torso has no arms and is one of the only pieces that contains no gold.

“It’s the closest you get to the human side of King Tut,” he says.

Visit sdnhm.org for tickets and hours.

DANCE/MISC.

AviAvitalCa. Cntr for the Arts, Escondido

Keyboard conversations and the joys of classical music

By Amanda Kelly

On Jan. 11, the California Center for the Arts, Escondido presents as part of its “Intimate Classics” series, “Keyboard Conversations” with acclaimed pianist, Jeffrey Siegel. The program is all about bringing audiences together to discover a little bit more about classical music.

What makes a composition most indelible to an audience is the manner in which that particular piece speaks to our human experience. It’s not only about how it makes us feel, but also about what it draws from our psyche. As is the case with most classical compositions, it’s hardly possible to sit by and not experience something profound in the story that unravels in the music.

This intimate engagement is in part what motivates Siegel to perform his world-renowned program.

“I should be the first to defend the principal: music does not need anybody to say anything about it … and that is the challenge if somebody is going to say something before a piece of music is played. It should make for a much more enriched listening experience,” he says.

But what does one say about something that can speak for itself?

“Every piece of music is different in this regard,” Siegel articulates. “With ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ what is there about the piece that makes it sound jazzy? How did Gershwin end up putting it all together in three week’s time? What do we mean when we say bluesy music?”

These are just snippets of topics that might come up in the conversation that will take place before Siegel performs a section of the program.

The title of January’s program is “Gershwin and Friends.” Audiences can expect to hear not only “Rhapsody in Blue,” but also music by other great Jewish-American composers who were inspired by Gershwin such as Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein.

Siegel considers very carefully not only why he is speaking about a particular piece in a program, but also what he’s going to say about it.

“You must consider what language you are going to use to describe something that’s happening in the music and to remember basically that the audience is coming to hear the music,” he says.

In his last conversation with Leonard Bernstein, who was a significant inspiration to Siegel and the construction of the upcoming program, Siegel discussed how one should talk engagingly about music to an audience.

“A friend of mine calls it a gentle inoculation into the joys of listening to classical music.”

Ultimately, the program seeks to enhance the music for enthusiasts while making it simultaneously accessible to new listeners. The variegated performance is certain to solicit engagement in lieu of idle listening.

But all of this brings back one central question, why the piano?

“Once again, it’s the fact that we have this great piano literature, some of the greatest pieces of music ever written were written for the piano,” he says. “It is such a privilege to play and share with my audiences. It is a motivation that increases with time for me.”

Purchase tickets and view all of the shows on tap for 2015 at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido at artcenter.org.

City Ballet

High honors

By Eileen Sondak

City Ballet is celebrating its 22nd year of performances and community outreach in San Diego – a milestone few companies can equal in the precarious world of ballet.

What makes a composition most indelible to an audience is the manner in which that particular piece speaks to our human experience. It’s not only about how it makes us feel, but also about what it draws from our psyche. As is the case with most classical compositions, it’s hardly possible to sit by and not experience something profound in the story that unravels in the music.

The acclaimed company was founded by artistic director Steven Wistrich (a dancer with an enviable career on the international stage) and his talented wife Elizabeth Wistrich (City’s award-winning resident choreographer). Together, they have forged a ballet troupe with top-notch dancers and a commitment to excellence in all aspects of performance, including the all-important elements of music and technical support.

While most ballet companies have to scramble for performing space, City Ballet has its own home – the Spreckels Theatre in downtown San Diego. It’s a venerable old house that makes an excellent backdrop for dance.

“We feel [Spreckles] is the perfect venue for presenting dance,” Steven Wistrich says, “and its acoustics are the best in San Diego to hear our City Ballet Orchestra.”

As usual, this year City Ballet will perform “The Nutcracker” at Spreckels. This holiday classic will feature a live orchestra and chorus (with Maestro John Nettles conducting the City Ballet Orchestra). You can catch a performance Dec. 12-24.

Looking ahead to 2015, mark your calendar for March 6-8 if you want to immerse yourself in the choreography of one of ballet’s greatest geniuses. The troupe will perform a “Balanchine Spectacular” – accompanied by their full orchestra. The program will feature “The Four Temperaments” with music by Paul Hindemith. City Ballet hasn’t danced this magnificent piece since 2009.

Also on the program is “Rubies.” This little “jewel” is set to the music of Igor Stravinsky and like all Balanchine works, it is a taxing piece that has challenged the athleticism and performing brio of the world’s leading dancers. “Walpurgisnacht Ballet” – a Balanchine delight, set to the music of Charles Gounod, will complete the “Spectacular” concert.

The prestigious Balanchine Trust carefully monitors “Mr. B’s” masterworks and rarely allows regional companies to perform them. Giving City Ballet their stamp of approval speaks volumes about the quality and high standards the troupe has attained.

Also on tap for balletomanes is a production of “Don Quixote,” a full-length ballet with a score by Ludwig Minkus. This classic work will be danced May 8-10 at Spreckels. City Ballet hasn’t performed “Don Quixote” since 2008.

As Steven explained, “‘Don Quixote’ is very thrilling. We have incredible scenery and costumes, and this time we’re doing it with a full orchestra.”

There are two alternating couples in the lead, but the nicest surprise in the cast is a rare appearance by Wistrich himself.

“I’m doing the title role, and there’s more acting than dancing in it. It’s really a character part.”

Watching Wistrich at work is reason enough to buy a ticket to this vibrant dance drama.

Above all, he is excited about the virtuosity of the troupe – especially the new crop of male dancers added to the fold.

“They’re the best we’ve ever had,” he enthuses.

City Ballet has earned a strong following in the community. In fact, last month supporters swung into action to raise funds for the critically-acclaimed dance company. They threw a “Swinging Big Band Gala Celebration” at the U.S. Grant Hotel that culminated in a mini-performance by some of the dancers.

Thanks to the City Ballet’s savvy direction and dedicated donors, ballet is alive and well in San Diego.

To view the full 2014-2015 season and purchase tickets, visit cityballet.org.

powayPoway Center

Announcing “Dinner on the Plaza”

By Tina Eshel

For close to a quarter century, the Poway Center for the Performing Arts has transformed what it means to experience art in this north county enclave, bringing concerts, dance and theater productions to its first-rate stage. We spoke with Executive Director Michael Rennie to learn what San Diego can expect in 2015, including some newly announced offerings.

“Our mission is to put together an eclectic array of performances to challenge and entertain our community,” he says. “You’ll see a lot of music and dance with a nice mix of shows.

“We are adding a performance by Colin Hay, the lead singer for the ubiquitous ’80s band Men at Work. He’s a master troubadour able to hold the attention of the audience with just a guitar and great stories.”

Hay will perform Friday, March 13 at 8 p.m. with ticket prices ranging $25-$45.

“Our big shining jewel for 2015 is our ‘Ballroom with a Twist’ show on Feb. 28,” Rennie explains.

This production combines professional dancers from “Dancing with the Stars” with finalists from “So You Think you Can Dance” and “American Idol.”

“Fans of reality talent shows will love this,” Rennie says. Ticket prices for this dance extravaganza are $74. Come early and enjoy dance lessons with local dance studio instructors on the plaza.

And if you are the kind who likes to make a date night out of an evening, the Poway Center now offers dinner before each show. Catered by Café Merlot, a gourmet buffet-style meal is served on the plaza for $35 per person. Reservations are required and can be made up to 48 hours prior to any performance.

View the full season calendar and purchase tickets or make dinner reservations at powaycenter.com.

balboatheaterBalboa Theatre

Historical context

By Tina Eshel

In 2002, restoration on the historic Balboa Theatre began to the tune of $26 million and when it was complete, an elegant masterpiece rose from the disrepair. Fast-forward to today, the Balboa Theatre was recently named one of the 15 most spectacular theaters in the world by CNN. The building is listed on the National Registrar of Historic places, and the fully restored venue enriches the community with a performing arts experience that values diversity, inclusiveness and excellence.

Venue-goers rave about everything from the acoustics, to the sense of awe that comes from watching a performance on a stage that has literally housed history. They also gush about the intimacy of the 1,600 seat venue. On top of all that, many may not realize that when they hear the organ play, they are experiencing a real marvel. The restored 1929 Wonder Morton organ is only one of four left in the world. It’s one of San Diego’s most invaluable treasures to say the least.

The 2015 season at the Balboa Theatre has something for all theatrical and cultural tastes. From Patti Smith (Jan. 31) to Dancing with the Stars (Feb. 9) to Abba Mania (March 4), this incredible space will house some of the most eclectic and highly anticipated performances of the year.

With the stated restoration mission “to transform the Balboa Theatre into a contemporary performing arts venue treasured by patrons, producers, presenters, performers, and San Diego’s regional community while contributing to redevelopment and the advancement of a vital downtown theatre district,” the theatre is well on its way to many more vibrant years here.

Like the website says, “the historic Balboa Theatre [is] again … a venue of preference.” For the full 2015 season, visit sandiegotheatres.org.

 

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