This morning Ruth A. Felt, founder and President of San Francisco Performances (SFP), announced that she will retire in the fall of 2016, after having led the organization for 36 years. Since 1980 SFP has established itself as a major institution for hosting the world’s leading performing artists and organizing their offerings into theme-based subscription series in areas such as vocal music, piano, chamber music, jazz, guitar, contemporary dance, young masters, virtuosi, and special events. Felt also established valuable partnering relationships for shared support of several offerings every season. Those partners have included the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts for guitar recitals and San Francisco Symphony (SFS) for visiting recitalists performing in Davies Symphony Hall as part of the SFS Great Performers Series.
The preferred venue for SFP recitals has been Herbst Theatre, which has provided one of the most effectively intimate settings for chamber music, solo recitals, and even jazz performances at which informed listening is of the highest priority. During the two-year hiatus for the renovation of Herbst by the City of San Francisco, Felt deftly arranged for a variety of alternative venues, generally selected according to the needs of the offerings being performed. As a result, she was able to maintain the high standards of her programming agenda while we were all waiting for the return to Herbst, which took place earlier this fall.
By prioritizing intimacy, Felt also arranged for events that involved more direct exchange between audience and performers. Most notable was the annual Salon Series of one-hour informal recitals at the Hotel Rex, which would consistently conclude by inviting the audience to participate in a Q&A with the performers. Similarly, there has been a popular Saturday morning series in San Francisco involving presentations by SFP Music-Historian-in-Residence Robert Greenberg with music examples provided by the Alexander String Quartet (violinists Zakarias Grafilo and Frederick Lifsitz, violist Paul Yarbrough, and cellist Sandy Wilson), SFP String Quartet-in-Residence since 1989.
Felt has also arranged for the presentation of a variety of fascinating “thematic projects” that extend over multiple recitals. This season’s project involves four recitals, two of which have already taken place. Entitled Bridge to Beethoven: A Journey in Four Nights, it involves a traversal of Ludwig van Beethoven’s ten violin sonatas with a “bridge” to a commissioned work included on each “night.” This project was conceived by violinist Jennifer Koh, who is performing with pianist Shai Wosner. Felt previously supported another Koh project, Bach and Beyond, which has resulted in a series of recordings.
A search for a new SFP President has begun under the leadership of a search committee organized by the Board of Trustees and its Chairman Patrick McCabe. Given that artists almost always have to be scheduled two or more years in advance, many of the plans for the upcoming seasons are already in place. These will include the return of soprano Dawn Upshaw to premiere a commissioned work by young composer Caroline Shaw, a multi-concert project curated by pianist Jonathan Biss (which will be his second, the first having been organized around the music of Robert Schumann), and a continuation of Greenberg’s Saturday morning lecture series.