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Symphony's Bechtle will get a swan song to remember
Dec. 3 concert for outgoing president
David Wiegand
Wednesday, July 25, 2001
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle


Believe it or not, the San Francisco Symphony has never shared the stage before with both the Symphony Chorus and the Youth Orchestra. But that will change on Dec. 3 when all three ensembles perform a concert to honor outgoing Symphony President Nancy H. Bechtle.

The Symphony will announce the concert along with its season update in a week or two, but tickets will be available Aug. 27, when single tickets for the season go on sale.

Dec. 3 is the day Bechtle steps down after 14 years as Symphony president. Wrote Joshua Kosman in these pages last year: "Under Bechtle's energetic and innovative leadership, the Symphony has become a model of both artistic excellence and financial stability in the often treacherous world of American orchestras."

Details of the concert are still being worked out, but the program will include Beethoven's Second Symphony, selections from "Romeo and Juliet" and a few surprises. Mezzo Frederica Von Stade will be the guest soloist.

Given Bechtle's popularity, it's just possible the applause on Dec. 3 may hit the decibel level of that heard Saturday night after the final performance of "Sweeney Todd" at Davies Symphony Hall. It's probably cruel to talk further about the three astounding performances of Stephen Sondheim's masterpiece last week, but those who were lucky enough to see any of them are likely to be talking about the show for years to come.@sk,0

If the opening night was electric, the closing night was positively nuclear.

Most of the major numbers were greeted not only with sustained, show-stopping applause but also the kind of shouts and screams you'd expect if the surviving Beatles reunited. Outside Davies before the show, gaggles of hopefuls gathered in desperate search of scalped tickets. One of the more familiar scalpers used a ticket himself and sat in the orchestra. And that had to be a first.

The final curtain call was one for the books as Patti LuPone first got on her knees and then, like the faithful facing Mecca itself, went prostrate on the floor at the feet of a visibly jubilant Sondheim. No lie. Most of the cast headed off to the Tonga Room for a well-deserved post-performance party, while Davis Gaines hit Jardiniere for a late supper with friends. Among the celebs in the audience for the finale: Kathryn Grant Crosby, who went backstage at Davies to greet the cast, and composer Jake Heggie, who'd also been at opening night.

Two cast members, Lisa Vroman and Neil Patrick Harris, stayed over Sunday to catch the press opening of ACT's "Fool Moon" at the Geary. Vroman, of course, was a known and beloved quantity for Bay Area theater audiences before her "Sweeney" stint, but Harris was a real surprise. No doubt he'll be forever linked to "that role" on TV, but I'm going to do him the honor of not mentioning it. He's proved he's more than just a TV star. He's a solid actor with a sweet tenor voice, and he drew one of the loudest ovations Saturday at Davies.

Seguing into "Fool Moon," co-star Bill Irwin will talk about his work in a moderated conversation at 6 p.m. Monday at the Performing Arts Library, 401 Van Ness Ave. Note that "moderated" is not the same as "moderate." This guy doesn't do anything "moderate." In this case, "moderated" means some other poor sap is going to try to share the stage with the irrepressible Irwin. Good luck. Call (415) 255-4800 for reservations. Seating is limited.

DOUBLE PLAY: Lee Sankowich is going to be racking up mileage between Marin and Walnut Creek, where the current artistic director of the Marin Theatre Company has just been named to head the Center REPertory Company as well. Sankowich says the two jobs will enable the companies to co-produce one or two productions each season, a significant factor given the increased competition among theater companies for plays these days. He assumes the Center REP job for its 2002-2003 season.

Speaking of double plays: A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but what about a lesbian-themed play purported to be written by two women but, in fact, written by two men? That may smell, too, although I don't know if sweet is the right word. "Girl Meets Girl," now playing at Theatre Rhinoceros, is allegedly written by Sally Stover and Maggie Alexander. In fact, Stover is Ronnie Larsen ("A Few Gay Men") and Maggie is Craig Fox. Plays are written under pseudonyms all the time, but Larsen and Fox were worried that women would shun a lesbian-themed play if they knew it had been written by -- Yuck! MEN! -- their press agent told critic Rob Hurwitt. So, in other words, the boys opted to both deceive their audience and insult its intelligence. Nice play.

ROYAL OFFERING: For most theater companies, royalty is what they pay to produce a play. But for San Francisco's Shakespeare ETC., royalty describes their new patron. Mary, Dowager Countess of Strathmore and first cousin to Queen Elizabeth, has agreed to become a patron of the company. Mary lives in Glamis Castle in Scotland, the setting for "Macbeth," or "The Scottish Play," as superstitious thespians are wont to call it. Shakespeare ETC will stage the play Friday through Aug. 19 at Teatro 450. Call (415) 433-1172 for tickets. Tell 'em Dowager Mary sent you.

Helgi Tomasson has announced his rep for the company's Aug. 5 Stern Grove performance. The program will include Act 2 of Tomasson's "Swan Lake," excerpts from Act 3 of his "Sleeping Beauty" and Balanchine's "Symphony in Three Movements." It's free and begins at 2 p.m. The company heads off to London for its Covent Garden debut later next month. Speaking of the Ballet, fans of Julia Adam's nifty "Night" -- and who isn't? (I feel like Jiminy Glick) -- will be glad to learn that she is working on a new piece for the company, set to Vivaldi. It will be part of Program 5 next year.

E-mail David Wiegand at

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