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A dazzling decade: Mondavi’s 10th season features New York Philharmonic, ambitious French ballet

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April 1, 2011 |

The Scottish National Ballet visits the Mondavi Center on Oct. 19. Courtesy photo

Can it be the 10th season already?

The Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at UC Davis will welcome several big names — some visiting here for the first time — during its 2011-12 season, which was officially unveiled today.

Out of a season that includes 60-some different shows — and a total of about 90 performances — “I’ve been thinking of two things I’d like to cherry-pick, which are emblematic of how far we’ve come in 10 seasons —our stature as a performing art center,” said Don Roth, the Mondavi Center’s executive director.

“One is the New York Philharmonic, with their new music director Alan Gilbert, and piano soloist Yefim Bronfman,” Roth said. They will visit on May 12, 2012, in a program of established classics that will include Dvořák’s “Carnival” Overture, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.

It will be the first time the New York Phil has played here, and the second visit to Mondavi for Bronfman, who gave a recital here a few weeks ago, on March 12.

“The other big item I’d pick out is “Blanche Neige” (“Snow White”) by Ballet Preljocaj,” Roth continued. “The piece premiered in France in 2008, and the first U.S.  performances will be here on March 17-18.

“It’s arguably the first great ‘story ballet’ of the new century — a fabulous piece. It incorporates music by Mahler, 26 dancers, numerous costumes and aerial work.”

In other words, some of the dancers will fly in on wires.

And don’t get “Blanche Neige” mixed up with the kid-oriented Disney version of the same tale.

The ballet is “a grown-up re-telling of Grimm’s fairy tale … not appropriate for young audiences,” according to the Mondavi season program book. The ballet features “mature themes.” The Queen, for instance, wears a lot of black leather, and looks a bit like a dominatrix.

“ ‘Blanche Neige’ anchors what we think is a very interesting dance series,” Roth continued. “The Scottish National Ballet (Oct. 19), a 36-dancer company, will feature Kenneth MacMillan’s ‘Song of the Earth,’ which is also set to music by Mahler. And the Trey McIntire Project (Nov. 12) will do two pieces set in New Orleans, with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band performing onstage with the dancers.

“The Trey McIntyre performance will anchor a weeklong focus on New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, including three nights in the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre with the Hot 8 Brass Band, and two documentary films by Spike Lee,” Roth continued.

“Our other focus series will be on India,” Roth said.

Featured will be table artist Zakir Hussain (March 22) and sitar player Anoushka Shankar (April 17, 2012), who’ve appeared at Mondavi before. Also planned are an appearance by Kathak dancer Rachana Yadav (date to be announced), and screenings of three Indian films in November.

In addition to the New York Philharmonic, the orchestra series will feature a pronounced Russian flavor. There will be two visits by the San Francisco Symphony — playing under guest conductor James Conlon on Oct. 13, performing the Symphony No. 14 by Shostakovich and “Pictures at an Exhibition,” in Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s piano piece. The orchestra also will play under Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas on Jan. 5, performing Lizst’s “Prometheus,” the Ligeti Violin concerto with soloist Christian Tetzlaff and the Symphony No. 1 by Tchaikovsky, nicknamed “Winter Dreams.”

And the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, performing under music director Charles Dutoit, will visit on Jan. 28, performing the Symphony No. 5 by Tchaikovsky, the “Le Corsaire” Overture by Berlioz and the Piano Concerto No. 5 by Saint-Saëns, nicknamed “The Egyptian,” featuring pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

Other classical offerings include violinist Hilary Hahn (Oct. 29) performing Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. This will be her first visit to Davis since the Mondavi Center opened. Violinist Rachel Barton Pine, with the Chamber Soloists Orchestra of New York, will perform the complete Mozart violin concertos in a single evening (Feb. 4).

Pianist Garrick Ohlssohn, who hasn’t visited the Mondavi Center for several years, will return on March 9 with a program of music by Lizst. And a chamber ensemble from the San Francisco Symphony, led by concertmaster Alexander Barantschik, will perform chamber works by Bach and Handel on May 2, 2012.

The annual “Rising Stars of Opera” program, featuring singers from the San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows program with the UCD Symphony Orchestra, will be on Oct. 21. This will be a free concert, through the generosity of local music lover Barbara Jackson, whose birthday falls in October.

The “Studio Classics” series features three programs “reshuffling the deck with inspirations from the past,” according to Roth. The group known as So Percussion will revisit the music of John Cage on Oct. 29-30. Pianist Lara Downes will play 13 new variations based on the opening theme of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” on Nov. 12-13. And a program called “Zippo Songs” on April 14-15, 2012, will feature musical settings of haiku-like texts engraved by American GIs on their Zippo lighters during the Vietnam War.

The Alexander String Quartet, which is going into its 10th season as the “house quartet” at the Mondavi Center, will focus on chamber music of Antonin Dvořák, with concerts in October, January and March.

The jazz series will be anchored by the legendary Wayne Shorter and his quartet (Oct. 1). Other artists include the Overtone Quartet, which debuted at New York’s Blue Note club in 2009, on Feb. 25, and a return visit by the SFJAZZ Collective, performing the music of Stevie Wonder on March 29.

“Studio Jazz” series artists, performing cabaret-style, will be the Tia Fuller Quartet (Dec. 7-10), the Alfredo Rodriguez Trio (Jan. 25-28) and The Bad Plus (April 18-21, 2012). Jazz fans will note that for the first time in several years, the Mondavi Center’s two jazz series will not include any members of the Marsalis family.

New music performer Maya Beiser — who’s earned the nickname “the cello goddess” — returns on April 28, 2012, with a program called “Provenance,” drawing on music from the Iberian Peninsula, inspired by Ladino, Arabic, Hebrew and Latin ethnic and musical traditions.

Another returnee will be singer/songwriter k.d. lang, who sold out Jackson Hall with her first Mondavi appearance in 2009. She’ll be back on Oct. 20.

And The Chieftains — who’ve visited the Mondavi Center multiple times — will return on Feb. 22 as part of their 50th anniversary tour.

Holiday shows will include a return visit by the Blind Boys of Alabama (Dec. 15), the American Bach Soloists doing their annual performance of “Messiah” (at 4 p.m. Dec. 18), and a mariachi band that’s new to the Mondavi Center, Mariachi Sol de México de Jóse Hernández  (Dec. 8).

The “American Heritage” series will host country artist Ricky Skaggs, opening the Mondavi season on Sept. 30; idiosyncratic veterans Loudon Wainwright III and Leo Kottke, which should make for a quirky Valentine’s Day date opportunity on Feb. 14; and vocalist Bettye Lavette (April 13, 2012).

Roth’s “Director’s Choice” picks include flamenco artists Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca (Jan. 19) and operatic bass-baritone Eric Owens (Feb. 17). He was featured in the Metropolitan Opera’s recent production of Das Rheingold.

The speakers series will include author Jonathan Franzen, author of “The Corrections,” winner of the National Book Award, Oct. 8; the ever-controversial filmmaker Oliver Stone, director of “Platoon” and “JFK,” Feb. 3; and punk/poet Patti Smith, famous for her album “Horses,” also winner of a 2010 National Book Award for her memoir about photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, coming on May 9, 2012.

The UC Davis Campus Community Book Project will feature author Sherman Alexie, author of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” on April 11, 2012.

World music artists will be Chucho Valdés and the Afro-Cuban Messengers (Feb. 18), a return visit from West African singer Angelique Kidjo (March 2) and Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista with guitarist Kevin Breit (May 16-19, 2012).

Japanese taiko drum artists Yamato will be back on Oct. 6 — this time on the “Marvels” series, since their show is as much “a through-produced spectacle” as it is a concert, according to Roth. There also will be two cirque-style troupes from Australia: Circa (Feb. 11-12) and Circus Oz (March 24-25).

Pianist Lara Downes will focus on “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss for her annual family concert (Dec. 11). ODC/Dance from San Francisco will bring back its classic “Velveteen Rabbit” program, which has been at Mondavi before, on May 13, 2012.

The offbeat “With a Twist” series will host “Cinematic Titanic,” a feature-length piece with performers riffing off movie classics, on Nov. 4; the infamous male ballerinas of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, who sold out their first Mondavi appearance in 2010, returning on Feb. 9; and The Improvised Shakespeare Company, billed as performing “an improvised play in Elizabethan style … based on audience suggestion,” on April 19-21, 2012.

The more serious  “Debut” series will feature young performers like mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano (Nov. 5-6), past winners of the Mondavi Center Young Artists Competition Alexi Kenney, violin, and Hilda Huang, piano (Jan. 14-15); another round of Curtis On Tour (musicians from the Curtis Institute, on March 10-12)and the winners of next year’s Mondavi Center Young Artists Competition (April 1, 2012).

And oh yes … for the first time in five years, the Mondavi Center will hold a fundraising gala event, on March 17, 2012. Included will be special food and wine arranged by the Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, as well as choice seating at a performance of “Blanche Neige” by Ballet Preljocaj. Tickets are $1,000 — with a maximum of 300 tickets to be sold — with proceeds supporting the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts and the Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science.

The gala will be the kickoff event for the formal observance of the Mondavi Center’s 10th anniversary in the fall. The center opened with a gala concert featuring the San Francisco Symphony under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas on Oct. 3, 2002.

Overall, “the new season is about the same size as our current season,” Roth said.

Most Mondavi events are part of a subscription series of three or four events. Roth said that “over 65 percent of our tickets are part of some kind of series, which gives us (financial) stability.” Tickets to individual events are also available. Prices vary, with student tickets priced at 50 percent of the general admission ticket price. There are discounts for UCD employees.

To download a brochure for the Mondavi Center’s 2011-12 season, visit http://www.mondaviarts.org. To request a brochure by mail, call (530) 754-2787.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or (530) 747-8055.

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