Arts & culture, Performing arts

Cal Performances’ new season goes RADICAL with artistic, ecological themes

By Thomas Levy


Cal Performances’ new season goes RADICAL with artistic, ecological themes

Gustavo Dudamel

Cal Performances’ new season goes RADICAL with artistic, ecological themes

Berkeley RADICAL, a new initiative to promote artistic literacy among the millennial generation, is driving Cal Performances’ 2015-16 season, which starts with a weeklong residency by conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela.

Highlights of the new season, which starts in September, include performances by the St. Louis Symphony, choreographer Twyla Tharp, the Kronos Quartet, the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Rude Mechanicals, an Austin, Texas, theater ensemble.

The Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan performs "Rice."

The Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan performs “Rice.”

This year’s program focuses on three themes: “The Natural World,” which connects music and dance to global ecological concerns; “ReVisions,” which will add powerful visual components to traditional 20th-century concert experiences; and “ZellerBACH,” which will offer multiple perspectives on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

It will “change the DNA of Cal Performances,” said Executive and Artistic Director Matías Tarnopolsky at Monday’s announcement of the new season. “It’s about creating the new while also appreciating the old.”

An example of this DNA in action is Dudamel conducting the Bolivar Symphony Orchestra during a weeklong “inquiry into Beethoven and the equation of music, youth and community” Sept. 22-26. The residency culminates with a performance at the Greek Theatre of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, to include several Bay Area choirs.

“Dudamel is the poster child for many of these ideas,” said Tarnopolsky. “He embodies the ideas of Berkeley RADICAL.”

Berkeley RADICAL (Research and Development Initiative in Creativity, Arts, Learning) connects the UC Berkeley campus to the world’s most innovative artists through carefully curated public programs and creative residencies. The season’s performances will be broadcast on the Web, including on Cal Performances’ new iTunes channel.

 A Twyla Tharpe dancer

A Twyla Tharp dancer

A “Natural World” highlight will be a performance of Des Canyons aux Étoiles by the St. Louis Symphony, led by conductor David Robertson. Composed by Olivier Messaien, the symphony celebrates his visit to the canyonlands of southwestern Utah. The performance will be accompanied by Deborah O’Grady’s photography of the Bryce, Zion and Cedar Breaks areas, commissioned to celebrate the National Park Service’s 100th birthday.

Other “Natural World” performers include Kaija Saariaho and eco ensemble, the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan and the Kronos Quartet, which will perform Terry Riley’s “Sun Rings,” accompanied by extraterrestrial visuals from Willie Williams, both inspired by outer space audio from NASA.

As part of “ReVisions,” Cal Performances will collaborate with the Ensemble Intercontemporain, led by music director Matthias Pintscher, which will perform “Cluster X,” from UC Berkeley composer Edward Campion, to be accompanied by video from artist Kurt Hentschläger.

This strand also features the theater of the Austin-based Rude Mechanicals’ “Stop Hitting Yourself” and dance-theater artist Trajal Harrell’s West Coast debut of “The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai.”

Among others, “ZellerBACH” will feature the 50th anniversary of modern dance maven Twyla Tharp with a new work set to Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, as well as concerts by the Bach Collegium Japan, the Brentano Quartet and an all-Bach recital by violinist Gil Shaham, to include the sonatas and partitas with a visual accompaniment.

But the range of this year’s Cal Performances offerings also includes dance from Mark Morris and Alvin Ailey, classical music recitals, theater from Ira Glass and the creators of the podcast “Serial,”, and jazz from Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis as well as a unique partnership between tap king Savion Glover and the Jack DeJohnette Quartet.

Trajal Harrell talks via Skype about his work and the artists who have influenced him with Cal Performances Associate Director Rob Bailis.

Cal Performances also plans a variety of activities for K-12 teachers and students, including SchoolTime performances in partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, teacher workshops, master classes with visiting artists and classroom visits from artists before and after students visit Zellerbach.

The effort to broaden Cal Performances’ participation among millennials is being funded in part by a $500,000 grant from the Wallace Foundation’s Building Audiences for Sustainability initiative: “We are grateful to the Wallace Foundation for this important support, a significant vote of confidence in our artistic and civic evolution,” Tarnopolsky said.